I was a student at Auburn University, Alabama from 1985 to 1989 earning a Bachelor´s and a Master´s degree in English and American language and literature. Three of these years I was on a Fulbright scholarship receiving a grant from an American Teachers' Organization.
The years I spent in the USA were very defining for my attitude towards teaching and working in general. In Austria at that time university was a very hierarchical institution, where professors were hardly accessible to students. At the American university I experienced a completely different atmosphere. I felt a real interest by professors in helping students reach their best. They did that by supplying straightforward and genuine feedback, which, while sometimes including criticism, would always be delivered in a highly respectful way.
I do remember a specific situation where I had handed in a paper on Shakespeare, expecting a positive response. However, the professor told me that he had the impression that I had not given my best and he took time to give me some hints on how I could improve my work. At first I felt disappointed, but then I decided that I wanted to prove that I could do better, and so I did, for which I earned my professor´s respect.
In the last 25 years I have been working for several institutions in different positions, from teacher to manager. What I have always tried to convey first to my students and later to the members of my teams was this attitude of respect and openness, also in critical situations and a real interest in the development of people. Sometimes I realized that for students or the people I worked with this was a new approach and it took them some time to get used to this openness, but as far as I can tell, they always ended up appreciating this attitude and this type of communication.
I am particularly happy and proud that I have had the chance to establish this type of open communication and this great interest in the individual student´s development at a school here in Vienna. I accompanied that school in its first five years of existence and development from my position as a general manager. I do not know if I would have been able to develop this vision without my experience at an educational institution in the USA.
Veronika Weisskircher studied English and American Language and Literature at Auburn University as an Austrian Fulbright Student from 1985 to 1989. Photos courtesy of Veronika Weisskircher.