Tyler Tresslar, pictured here rock climbing in Cape Town, South Africa, is one of seven VCU alumni studying abroad as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. (Courtesy photo)

A teaching assistantship in Ivory Coast is the latest adventure for this VCU Fulbright scholar

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For someone who didn’t do too well when he started college, Tyler Tresslar has come a long way.

The 27-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University graduate is a 2017-18 Fulbright scholar with an English teaching assistantship in Ivory Coast.

“I came to VCU as a transfer student, having not done too well [in] my first attempt [at the University of New Mexico],” said Tresslar, who grew up in Fredericksburg and moved around often. “I [had gone] back to community college to get my grades up, then transferred to VCU. Honestly, I don't remember exactly how I ended up at VCU. It seemed like the obvious choice as a transfer student wanting to study business. Looking back, it was definitely the right choice. I wouldn't have had the same opportunities at another school.”

An economics major in the VCU School of Business who minored in French, Tresslar hopes to gain professional experience in international economics and development to teach at the university level.

He’s gaining much of that experience during the nine-month Fulbright scholarship, which ends in June. Tresslar, who previously studied abroad in France and South Africa, is one of seven VCU alumni currently abroad as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which provides research, study and teaching opportunities to recent graduates and graduate students in more than 140 countries.

“Fulbright is competitive, prestigious, and has tons of benefits,” he said. “I can't think of a better way to get experience living and working outside of the country.”

Tresslar said he minored in French to gain a competitive professional advantage internationally. It was a good choice, because for the teaching assistantship, Ivory Coast was particularly interested in the candidate’s level of French.

Tresslar first visited Ivory Coast about three years ago with VCU’s French program (part of the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences).

“It was an eye-opening experience and I have wanted to come back since,” he said.

Fulbright is competitive, prestigious, and has tons of benefits. I can't think of a better way to get experience living and working outside of the country.

He has several responsibilities, including teaching classes; running the English Club at Lycée Amondji, the local public high school; and teaching business English and debate classes to adults. He is writing a research paper related to the shared currency in most of West Africa and is working with the U.S. Agency for International Development by editing a grant proposal to bring electricity to rural hospitals. Tresslar also participates in various U.S. Embassy Abidjan programs.

“We went to several rural villages with the embassy and a local NGO [non-governmental organization], hoping to encourage peace and reconciliation through soccer,” he said. “We got to meet two professional soccer players, one American, one Ivorian.”

In addition to improving his French, the experience has helped Tresslar decide what he wants to do in life and further ignited his interest in economics.

He is in the process of applying for the Peace Corps, hoping to do community economic development in East Timor before going back to school for a master’s degree. After that, he hopes to work for USAID, the World Bank or a regional development bank, such as the African Development Bank.

“I'm really grateful to have gone to VCU,” Tresslar said. “Thanks to VCU I was able to study in France for a year on a scholarship, and come here to Ivory Coast. I was also able to learn how to rock climb, whitewater kayak, and mountain bike thanks to VCU’s Outdoor Adventure Program. I learned a lot inside and outside of the classroom and made a lot of professional connections. Oddly enough, my Fulbright adviser also went to VCU. Going to VCU opened a lot of doors for me and I'm truly grateful.

Tresslar worked with VCU’s National Scholarship Office to apply for the Fulbright scholarship. The office provides support for VCU alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who wish to compete for prestigious national and international scholarships. Interested students and alumni can contact the office at natlscholar@vcu.edu or (804) 828-6868.