Experiencing the world: Engage with a community as a Fulbright Scholar
Living 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 canâ€”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.
Fulbright Scholar teaches in Indonesia (2009)
Emma Sutton ’09 always wanted to know more about people who were different from her neighbors. Growing up in a Caucasian, Irish Catholic neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, Sutton said she never had contact with people from other races. But her mother, a Chicago police officer, did.
“My mother is very opinionated,” she said. “so I was automatically driven to investigate for myself if the things she said were true.”
And investigate she did. Sutton’s quest to learn about others eventually brought her to Greece, Turkey, the British Virgin Islands, and to Tanzania. This August, she will begin a nine-month assistantship in Indonesia teaching English as a Fulbright Scholar.
In her studies abroad, Sutton learned about “different” people—about ways of living and thinking that were nothing like those she experienced in Catholic grade school and high school. “You need to have some background about people to communicate with them when you don’t have the same personal experiences.” She believes her studies abroad and the Fulbright program will help her better connect as a nurse and teacher to people around the world.
After she completes the Fulbright program, Sutton plans to become a nurse and work with underserved populations in the U.S. Her long-term goal is to work internationally in areas confronting poverty, war, and natural disaster.
Sutton came to Augsburg for two reasons—to play volleyball and to study science. She was interested in attending a Division III school because she wanted to participate in a sport and have time to focus on academics. Augsburg gave her not only the opportunity to play volleyball for three years but to study biology and chemistry on campus and abroad.
Last fall, she spent a semester on the island of Zanzibar studying coastal ecology and conducting research on the biodiversity of fish in the Nyange reef. She spent hours under water, identifying species and learning how the fishing industry has affected the reef.
As a first-generation college student, Sutton said the Fulbright application process was challenging but rewarding. “It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.” Between a full class schedule and working part time as the peer advisor for Augsburg Abroad, she met with Dixie Shafer, director of Augsburg’s Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity program, to write and revise her application essay.
“It forced me to articulate what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she said. “At the end, I was proud. I told myself it was a great exercise even if I didn’t get the scholarship.”
Fulbright Scholar teaches in Malaysia (2009)
Katie Macaulay ’09 didn’t know much about the Fulbright Scholarship program last spring. She had heard about the program, but kind of dismissed it as a realistic possibility.
“I thought it was a scholarship of the Ivy League, I thought it was out of reach,” Macaulay said. “I’m a small town girl from Minnesota.”
But something happened one day last April when Macaulay was studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She hopped on her computer, logged in to Inside Augsburg to check her e-mail and stumbled across the story of how fellow Auggies Ashely Stoffers and Erin Olsen had been awarded Fulbright scholarships.
A year later, Macaulay received word that she too had been selected to be a Fulbright Scholar and will spend the next academic year teaching English in Malaysia.
Macaulay, who graduated from Augsburg in December with an International Relations major and minors in political science, history, and anthropology, had been checking her e-mail in hopes of finding out whether she had been selected.
On Monday morning, her mother called from New Ulm and left two messages on her cell phone. The first said a thick envelope had arrived. In the second, her mother said she couldn’t help herself and she had opened it.
Macaulay is the second Fulbright winner from Augsburg this year, joining Emma Sutton, and is the fourth Auggie in two years to receive this scholarship. The Fulbright Program, which is run by the Institute of International Education, has sent students across the world to study, teach, or conduct research for more than 60 years. About 7,500 grants are awarded each year.
Macaulay is looking forward to the experience in another part of the world and to learning how to teach.
“I want to get some more exposure and more experience with Asian cultures,” she said. “It’s an up-and-coming part of the world.”
Macaulay applied to go to Malaysia as it is one of the countries where Fulbright scholars aren’t required to be fluent in the native language. She also considered Indonesia (where Sutton will teach English) and Hungary.
Macaulay also proved to herself that achieving a prestigious scholarship is something that she could accomplish. After meeting with Dixie Shafer, the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO) last spring, Macaulay spent the summer researching the Fulbright program and deciding where to apply. In August and September, she worked through the application process and on her essay.
“As I was going through the process with Dixie, I learned that while I might not have the background, I do have the foreground.”