Before I start talking about my experiences as a Fulbright TA in the United States, I want to thank Fulbright and everybody who is involved with this wonderful program. The year I got to spend at Bowling Green State University was the most amazing one of my life and I would not trade a single second of the time I got to spend there for anything in the world. But let me start at the very beginning.
FLTA ORIENTATION AT MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
Before I actually went to be a Teaching Assistant at BGSU, I had the amazing opportunity to attend an orientation in Michigan where I met about 50 FLTAs from all over the world. We had the chance to attend different seminars and learn about the US, the culture, universities and colleges in general and what to expect in everyday life. Everything we learned was extremely useful and of course meeting so many new people made it easy to forget about any cultural shocks, homesickness or a jetlag. The professors and student volunteers from MSU were all extremely kind, helpful and understanding. Also, I was able to exchange ideas for teaching with other FLTAs, learn about their cultures and make a lot of great friends.
TRAVELLING TO THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE-BOWLING GREEN, OH
After a great start in Michigan, it was time to travel to Bowling Green in Ohio. When I first heard about this place, I had to look it up on Google Maps, because I had no idea where it would be. It turned out to be an American small town with about 30.000 inhabitants (20.00 of which are university students). At first I was a little bit shocked, because I grew up in Vienna, a big city, especially compared to Bowling Green, but I was excited to get to know something new. It was very challenging, especially because there is absolutely no public transportation, so to get in and out of Bowling Green, you need to rely on a cab or a friend with a car. However, I started loving this small town and its inhabitants very soon.
BGSU –GO FALCONS!
As mentioned before, the majority of inhabitants in Bowling Green are students at BGSU, so you can probably imagine that the university and the campus are extremely big. As FLTA it was especially interesting for me to see, that I was not the only Teaching Assistant at the university. There were 5 other German TAs (one of them another Fulbrighter), numerous French and Spanish TAs, but even completely different subjects, such as Math, Physics or Popular Culture, had TAs, which are basically graduate students that finance their college education and get teaching experience by teaching undergraduate students. It was also amazing to see, that there are so many different ways for students to get involved on campus at BGSU. There are numerous student organizations, sororities and fraternities and all kinds of different events, among which sporting events were extremely popular. Of course BGSU also had mascots, Freddie and Frieda Falcon, which were always present and promoted school spirit. I found this very fascinating, because I have never experienced anything like this before and since I really wanted to get to know the American culture, I tried to attend as many of these events as possible, even though some, such as the Football game, can be rather tedious, especially if you have no clue what is happening on the field. Something I also want to mention here is that in Bowling Green, there are some organizations especially designed for international students. One of them is called Global Connections. They help with absolutely anything you can imagine. While I was in Ohio, they had numerous events, such as one called “Free food and furniture”. International students were able to get pieces of furniture and other things you might need for everyday life (such as plates, glasses, hairdryers, etc) for free. Additionally, the members of this organization also volunteered to drive international students to supermarkets (which can be difficult to do by yourself if you don ́t have a car), or even to airports. And of course there were numerous events, such as barn dances or bowling nights, that provided a great opportunity to get to know lots of people and also learn more about the American culture.
MY WORK AT BGSU
On campus I shared an office withother German Teaching assistants and graduate students, which was great, because whenever someone needed help or feedback, there was always, somebody who could help or assist. I taught one class per semester, both intermediate courses, so I had students who already knew some German. Furthermore, I had to provide office hours for my students, in case they had any questions or wanted to talk about material we went through. I have to say that in general, all of my students were absolutely amazing. They were extremely motivated and eager to not only improve their German skills, but also to learn something about the German and Austrian culture. Because of their high level of motivation, I was able to not only teach the content of the book we had to use (which would have most likely been very boring for the students, but also for me), but also to do German scavenger hunts around campus, to try some Austrian food together, to watch German movies and a lot more. Teaching at BGSU was also challenging sometimes, especially because I had to create my own syllabus, my own exams and a lot more. However, with the help of my great colleagues and fellow TAs I was able to master everything and definitely grew from the experience. During the entire year, I was also part of the German club, a student organization at BGSU. Every week we had a club meeting where we talked in German, planned events, such as an Oktoberfest, played games, watched movies and a lot more. In the second semester my fellow FLTA and me directed a German play at BGSU, which was another challenging but great experience. The play we put together was “Die Physiker” by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and by put together I mean everything, from costumes to requisites, translations on power point slides (so that everyone could watch it) and a lot more. It was a lot of work, but the play turned out to be a great success. We not only performed it for the students and teachers at BGSU, but also presented some selected scenes at an event for high school students. Of course I also attended classes as a graduate student myself which was once again a wonderful new experience for me because the classes are rather different than in Austria. I took courses in American Cultural Studies, Popular Culture and in Teaching English as a Second Language. All of the subjects I was able to take there were enriching for me and my studies and I learned a lot from my teachers who were very inspiring and motivating.
EXPLORING THE USA
Even though I had to do a lot of work and take a lot of classes at university, there was still time to travel the US during the breaks and sometimes even during weekends. I got to see big cities, such as New York City, Chicago, Boston and a lot more, but also smaller ones, such as Cincinnati, Columbus, Ann Arbor, Toledo and so on. I was even lucky enough to go to Canada for a few days and to do a small cruise around Florida and some Carribean islands during spring break. However, one of the greatest travels I had during my year as FLTA, was the midyear seminar in Washington DC. There, all of the FLTAs got together for a few days of cultural exchange, the sharing of experiences, the attending of interesting and useful seminars and most of all a great time. It was amazing to hear from other FLTAs that I already knew from the orientation in Michigan or information seminars in Austria. The organization was incredible and the speakers we heard were very inspiring.
I know I ́ve been writing a lot about my experiences, but I just cannot stop talking about how great this year and all of the experiences were. Fulbright provides such a great opportunity and I still cannot believe how lucky I was to be part of this program. I got to learn so much, but was also able to help others learn, which was simply a perfect combination. It was great to get to know so many people and their cultures, to learn so much about the American culture and to get to know the USA. Also, I found so many friends from all over the world and I could not imagine life without them anymore. As mentioned before, I would not trade the experiences I ́ve had for anything in the world and I can only recommend everyone who considers applying as FLTA to do so and to embrace the great time that lies ahead.
Katharina Oerhuber was an Austrian FLTA at Bowling Green State University, OH in 2012-13. Photo courtesy of Katharina Oberhuber.