There are a million and one stories I could tell about my year as an FLTA in the US. I was lucky to receive the chance to teach German at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in what follows, I will attempt to provide insight in my personal Fulbright experience.
F: Fortunately, not only the word Fulbright starts with the letter F, but also the term friendship. I am grateful to have met so many incredible people during my year abroad and even more grateful to call some of them my friends now. In the beginning, it was extremely scary to live that far away from home and be all by myself. However, I was warmly welcomed not only by other members of the Fulbright family, but also by my colleagues, university staff, and, most importantly, by my students. Every day they welcomed me with a smile on their faces and were eager to learn more about my native country, culture, and language. I have made friends for life and I cannot wait to see them again soon.
U: One of my main goals in teaching this year was to foster an understanding of different cultures and viewpoints. I encouraged my students not only to learn my native language, but also to become interested in Austrian culture and traditions. Understanding different practices helps decrease cultural misunderstandings as well as cross-cultural tensions. I hope I was able to achieve my goal and raise cultural awareness.
L: Clearly, a big part of my everyday life was learning. Learning how to find my way around campus, cash a check, understand letter grades, get used to air conditioning, keep up with the Kardashians, not to eat too unhealthy, teach American students, practice small talk, enjoy peanut butter on top of everything...
It was not only my students who learned a lot; I also had to learn new things on a daily basis.
B: Bad days are also part of every journey. Of course, life in the US was at times difficult and overwhelming. Some days one just has to survive and get over sad news or missing family and friends back home. At this point I want to thank my wonderful housemate who became the sister I never had but always wanted. We were there for one another in good and bad times and formed a friendship that will last a lifetime.
R: Being an ambassador of Austrian culture was a responsibility that proved to be both challenging and rewarding. My students and I constantly encouraged one another to think critically and reflect on our traditions, practices, and viewpoints. Also outside the classroom I was often confronted with essential questions that forced me to reflect on my background and sometimes led me to alter my opinion.
I: When I first looked up Illinois on the internet, I saw the skyline of Chicago and fell in love with it immediately. I should have probably paid more attention to the endless cornfields and even acres that cover the rest of the state in the Midwest. To be honest, it took me some time to adjust to life and the extreme weather conditions in the home of Lincoln, but I came to love every inch of land in the course of my stay.
G: Teaching German was something I had already done before, but certainly never in an American educational institution. I can still remember being extremely nervous before my first day of class, but I can also recount all the excited faces in front of me and the sudden feeling of doing exactly right thing. I enjoyed every minute of teaching, and I was more than moved when I read the positive feedback students provided at the end of each term. I’m even prouder to see some of them spending a semester abroad in Vienna soon.
H: Americans know how to celebrate their holidays. Never will I forget celebrating Thanksgiving in New Orleans or visiting the Christmas tree in front of Rockefeller Center in the heart of the Big Apple. I’m still blown away by the incredible Christmas decorations and the effort Americans put into ensuring a great holiday season. Finally, I was able to attend the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC, and once again, Americans proved that they are proud of their nation and its achievements.
T: Last but not least, it was a year full of traveling, as I wanted to see as many different parts of the United States and their distinct characteristics as possible. I cannot even decide which city I liked most, as I fell in love with all of them. I’ll never forget traveling to New Orleans by train (it took me 17 hours from Champaign all the way down to the South!), watching the Memorial Day Parade and visiting the Capitol in Washington, DC, attending concerts in Chicago, or taking a road trip to Nashville in great company. Clearly, spending spring break in Mexico is another highlight that needs to be mentioned at this point.
All in all, I cannot say more than a simple THANK YOU, FULBRIGHT, for a most wonderful year!
Kathrin Wenny received her Magister of philosophy in English and Russian from the University of Vienna. She spent the 2018–19 academic year in the US as a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant.