Tony Smith (’22) Takes His GU Degree to Kenya as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant

Headshot of Tony Smith, Fulbright grantee and Gonzaga student.
Tony Smith, Fulbright grantee

November 09, 2023
Gonzaga University News Service

When Tony Smith (COML ’22) first considered applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) around the same time he first considered applying to Gonzaga to pursue his master’s degree, he came up with an ambitious decision.

Why not both?

Rather than choose one or the other, the teacher and filmmaker from Long Beach, California, first joined Gonzaga’s Communication and Leadership Studies program, and followed it up with a successful application to the Fulbright organization. Now he finds himself teaching in Kenya and pursuing his dream of making the world a better place through education.

Teaching in Africa, along with my city back home, has empowered me to be the change I wish to see.
Tony Smith

The journey to Kenya wasn’t necessarily easy for the first-generation college student, but a Peace Corps stint in Malawi, Africa, that he concluded in 2019 was formative, and ultimately led him to Gonzaga and then back to Africa.

His Peace Corps years sparked his passion for teaching, and when he completed his time he searched for programs that would add to his skill set and set him up to teach internationally. Gonzaga’s COML program popped up as he researched options and “looked like a great program and had an online section which allowed me to work in LA as I completed my courses.” He was able to do substitute teaching in Los Angeles while pursuing his master’s degree, further cementing his love of the classroom.

“Now teaching is part of me,” Smith says. “Teaching in Africa, along with my city back home, has empowered me to be the change I wish to see and influence the change I hope will make the world a better place.

“I never had a teacher that looked like me, and I didn’t really have a male role model to look up to in my day-to-day life, so I became the man I wished I had known, and serve as the role model and teacher I wish I had.”

While on Fulbright assignment, Smith hopes to learn about Kenyan culture and learn some of the KiSwahili language.

Applying for the Fulbright ETA was a challenge, Smith says, because the “application apparatus can seem daunting and unclear,” but his past experience in applying for the Peace Corps along with support from his Gonzaga community -- “Dr. Mike Hazel was always a huge support to me as a teacher and as an advisor” -- helped him navigate the various deadlines and requirements.

Smith selected Kenya as the place to go teach English because it’s close to where his fiancee lives in Malawi, and he has experience doing online tutoring with at-risk kids in Kenya, “so I had a connection that drew me there as well.”

At the time we communicated about his assignment, Smith was living in Malawi until he got his exact assignment from the Fulbright organization. He anticipated working in an after-school program outside Nairobi, but that was subject to change. Wherever he works in Kenya, he’ll be paired with a local counterpart to help him adjust to his new home and get up to speed with life among the locals.

Smith's Goals

While on Fulbright assignment, Smith hopes to learn about Kenyan culture and learn some of the KiSwahili language.

“I also hope to refine my teaching skills and communication approach in hope of establishing sustainable connections and support structures for myself and communities,” Smith says. “And I hope to lay more supportive groundwork that will eventually evolve into preliminaries for my doctoral degree.”

As he pursues those goals, Smith will lean on his experience with Gonzaga and where it led him – into classrooms across the globe.

“I was equipped with tools and skills that helped me establish more abilities and credibility,” Smith says of his experience in the GU COML program. “It helped me progress towards my next steps in my academic and professional lives.”

Learn more about Fulbright's connection to Gonzaga, and its many opportunities!