Experiencing the world: Engage with a community as a Fulbright Scholar

fulbright_spanier-200x300Living and working abroad can be a life-changing experience that reveals new opportunities and enlightens your perspective through engagement with new people and places. For Adam Spanier ’12, the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program provided the challenges and delights of living in a different part of the world.

In the last year, three Auggie alumni have been working abroad through the Fulbright program. One taught English in Ecuador, another is conducting research in Norway, and Spanier is an ETA in Uničov, Czech Republic. He is one of 12 Augsburg alumni who have been awarded Fulbright grants, and Augsburg College is recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Scholars.

A Fulbright ETA provides assistance to teachers of English and teaches non-native English-speakers while also serving as a cultural ambassador. Depending on the country, ETAs might teach students ranging from early elementary school to the university level.

The Fulbright U.S. student program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to participate in international graduate study, advanced research, and teaching worldwide. The program annually awards approximately 1,800 grants and operates in more than 155 countries.

Spanier reflected on his experiences as an ETA. Below are some of his thoughts, insights, and advice. Spanier will return to the United States later this year.

Spanier finds “core similarities” with people in his Czech community

The most unique and enjoyable aspect of the Fulbright experience has been the complete cultural immersion. I’m the only native-English speaker living in this tiny Czech town, and for most people, I’m also the only American that they’ve ever met. Unlike when I studied film in Prague (where there were always fellow study-abroad-students or tourists), I am completely and entirely surrounded by Czech natives.

This unique situation often presents me with two very different options: stay at home looking at my computer all day, or go out and experience as many Czech foods, customs, holidays, and other events as I possibly can. This has resulted in me developing what I’ve been calling a “yes-driven” mentality; I try to accept every invitation that comes my way. Thankfully, this has led me to attend many great events, such as a typical Czech dance ball, a GulaÅ¡ festival, a wine tasting event, traditional Christmas celebrations, cross-country ski trips, and occasional nights at the pub.

The complete cultural immersion also has its challenges. Although I’ve spent a lot of time trying to teach myself more Czech, the language barrier remains an obvious challenge and can make grocery shopping, transportation, and other simple things quite difficult.

A very unexpected challenge in my small rural town has been encountering different opinions regarding cultural and ethnic diversity—opinions that are often very different than my own. There is something very valuable in having [these] conversations… I love being able to appreciate our core similarities as human beings. In this way, every day seems to be a life lesson of sorts. I really appreciate the openness of people here and their willingness to share their stories with me.

I think that my experiences at Augsburg have given me both the professional and personal skills to best deal with these complicated conversations. It’s been great to see others share their cultures and opinions with me, while they also appreciate my opinions on the matter.

Developing confidence as a world citizen

In a very general sense, living alone abroad has led to an improved sense of self-confidence. Simply figuring out travel plans, using public transportation, practicing/using the language, and other difficulties that one has when living in a different country—all of these things have made me more confident in my ability to travel the world.

Of course, I have often made many mistakes as well, so these experiences are also very humbling. These confidence-inducing yet humbling experiences have made me more attune to the importance of developing cross-cultural understandings in the world. I am very, very thankful to be having such a valuable experience.

Advice to future Fulbrights: Share your story

As an English major, I was surprised at how valuable that particular education was to the development of my Fulbright application. I often found myself thinking about my application from the perspective of a script analysis: what is my “beginning, middle, and end”; how can I most effectively (and dramatically) present myself to the Fulbright committee; what makes me unique?

Therefore, I would suggest that you view your application as a tool to present your “story.” What makes you the way you are? How did you develop your interests? Why are you unique? Communicate these ideas in the most effective and interesting way you possibly can—make other people want to read your “story.”

Life after Fulbright

Before I begin my job search, I’m planning one final adventure upon my arrival back home. Over the last couple summers, I’ve canoed about 450 miles down the Mississippi River with my best friend. This upcoming summer, we will finish our trip down the river all the way to New Orleans. From New Orleans, we hope to bike south through Central and South America for a few months.

Career-wise, I hope to eventually get a job with a film or television production company. Luckily, while here in the Czech Republic, I’ve made many great friends from all corners of the United States. Many of them have already offered to introduce me to potential career connections and resources. While here, I also met a former film student who is now producing documentaries and short films for Czech television.