Christopher Edling
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Faculty Spotlight: Christopher Edling Returns to Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar

6 min read

A professor at New York University, Christopher Edling is embarking on the next phase of his career as a Fulbright Scholar at the American University of Armenia (AUA) for the Spring 2024 semester. We spoke to him about the inspiration behind completing his Fulbright in Armenia, his extracurricular interests, and his meandering professional journey.

1. What inspired you to apply for a Fulbright to Armenia? 

In the United States, I teach in the Expository Writing Program at New York University (NYU). I am excited to be at AUA and in Armenia, for both pedagogical and personal reasons. Pedagogically, the University is doing work that interests me and our program at NYU in terms of teaching writing to students for whom English is not a native language. For example, AUA’s English and Communications department offers a suite of sequential writing classes that somewhat mirrors a sequence of classes offered by NYU’s Expository Writing Program  for International/English Language Learner (ELL) students. The AUA Teaching English as a Foreign Language department’s model of offering a course (TEFL 328) to support graduate students in writing their final master’s paper is of interest, too. At NYU, I also work in our program’s Writing Center, so I look forward to being involved with AUA’s Math and Writing Center, as well. 

On a personal level, I served in Armenia as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer from 2009 to 2012. (Shout out to Khot village and Goris, which I adore and miss very much!) I fell in love with the country during that time, so I am super excited to be back in Hayastan! 

2. What do you hope to accomplish during your time at AUA?

The mission of the Fulbright program is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries. Within the scope of my Fulbright project at AUA, that mutual understanding centers on teaching writing, which has multiple dimensions including language, rhetorical conventions, genre awareness, and critical thinking. At AUA, I hope to foster an exchange of ideas about these multiple dimensions of teaching writing via team teaching, class observation, course/curriculum assessment, and collaboration with University colleagues, both inside and outside the classroom. It feels like a lot to do in one semester, but my hope is that this is just the beginning of longer partnerships.

In addition to my activities at AUA, I plan to reach out to organizations like the Peace Corps and American Councils (with which I previously worked in both Armenia and Kyrgyzstan) to see what other projects I can get involved with, including ones outside Yerevan.

3. Will you focus on any research doing your time here?

Technically, I’m at AUA on a “teaching” Fulbright rather than a “research” Fulbright, so my primary role here is teaching. But, as I often tell my students, the research process is never ending, and everything is research on some level. For example, my work here includes faculty, curriculum, and program development, which means engaging with research and best practices in our disciplines. I hope that some collaborative projects or research, like co-authoring articles for peer-reviewed journals, can grow out of my time here. 

4. What do you foresee as potential challenges?

I feel fortunate to have received a tremendous amount of support from AUA, NYU, and the Fulbright program. So far, I’ve seen only green lights, not yellow or red. Within myself, I feel mindful and somewhat circumspect about my position at AUA and in Armenia, especially any assumptions I may carry from my previous years in Armenia (which was at a different time, in a different context) or predispositions I’ve developed over 10+ years of teaching. Remaining cognizant of those internal dynamics while trying to learn from and with people this semester feels important.

5. Can you share more about your journey through academia until the present?

When I talk with undergraduates about pursuing graduate studies, I usually ask if they plan on taking time away from academia before attending graduate school. This question arises from my own meandering journey. By the time I finished college, I’d decided I wanted to pursue writing professionally, so after graduation, I worked various media jobs in Hollywood for four years. That experience taught me a great deal about writing, editing, and professional skills like networking, self-organization, and hustling (if that can be called a professional skill). I eventually decided to leave Hollywood and applied to the Peace Corps, which sent me to Armenia to teach English. My time in Armenia affirmed my passion for teaching, but I still loved writing, so after the Peace Corps, I completed an MFA in Writing with the goal of writing and teaching at the university level. I spent two years in Kyrgyzstan after graduate school, initially as a Fulbright researcher, but returned to full-time teaching in 2017 when I was hired by NYU, where I have been fortunate to teach ever since.

Back to that question I ask undergraduates: in my own experience, taking time away from academia after college to explore myself and the world helped me approach graduate school in a way that felt mature and considered. When I started graduate school (at almost 30 years old!), I truly knew why I was there and what I wanted to accomplish. Some people are ready to dive into their graduate studies right after college, and taking time away from academia may be less practical for some disciplines than it is for mine. Plus, I benefited from privileges and favorable life circumstances in being able to do the things I did. But each phase of my journey — high school, college, Hollywood, Peace Corps in Armenia, graduate school, Fulbright in Kyrgyzstan — informed and led to the next phrase, resulting in a professional path that feels like a good fit for me and that I enjoy so much.

6. What interests do you have outside the classroom?

I am, and will always be, a writer and a reader. My interest in writing and reading is not restricted to classroom teaching; writing and reading are part of my daily life. Other than clothes, most of my luggage to Armenia was books — nearly two dozen of them! 

I love hiking. I often go hiking with students back in New York, and I hope to hike a lot in Armenia. 

I would also like to do something musical while I’m here. I used to play music and sing in choirs when I was younger, and I love Armenian music. (Shant or another music channel is usually playing on my TV at home.) 

Meditation is a daily practice for me. My NYU writing classes typically begin with a few minutes of silent meditation.

I enjoy walking, so I look forward to exploring Yerevan on foot these next few months.

I am slightly obsessed with rugs, so I plan to visit museums, shops, and talk with local experts while I’m here. When I was at AUA for the European Writing Centers Association Summer Institute last May, I visited the Mergerian factory/museum, which felt like being a kid in a candy store.

Also, I love food — both of my younger siblings work in the food industry, which says something about my family’s interest in food — and I plan to eat as much delicious food here as I can. If you see me on campus or around town, there’s a high likelihood that I will be eating (or have just eaten) something tasty. 

7. What do you most look forward to receiving (personally) from this Fulbright experience in Armenia and AUA?

As a Fulbrighter, similar to when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I feel that my purpose here is to promote mutual understanding between the U.S. and Armenia in a holistic way. That happens at a grassroots level, and personally, this is what I most look forward to during my time in Armenia and at AUA: being embedded in a community and connecting with people. As mentioned above, I also aim to do a lot of work related to teaching writing, and I wouldn’t be here without those pillars of my Fulbright project. When I look back on my previous experiences in the Peace Corps and Fulbright, though, what I enjoyed most — what was most meaningful and transformative in the long term — were the relationships I built and the informal interactions that occur on a day-by-day, human-to-human level. So, if anyone reading this wants to chat — students, faculty, staff, alumni, anyone at all — please email me, and let’s find time to meet!

In conclusion, I just want to emphasize how grateful and excited I am to be here this semester. My previous time in Armenia was very formative and meaningful for me, so being back is a tremendous gift. I am sincerely humbled by the faith AUA, NYU, and Fulbright have shown in supporting me to be in the country, and I want to honor that through my work, time, and energy here.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.