During my first year as a USTA, I was assigned to a Gymnasium that both students and teachers described to me as one of the city's worst. That wasn't at all my experience. Sure, every so often we would arrive back from a weekend to find that someone had graffitied over the glass doors of the entrance. And no, we didn't get money to repair the heater for the fourth floor until some concerned parents called the Krone Zeitung to complain. But never have I seen students so desperate for an education. And our school took a chance on them: the sons and daughters of immigrants, illiterate themselves, but working hard to ensure a better life for their kids. The refugee kids, who arrived in Austria overaged and undereducated, and had to fight tooth and nail to be put on the college track. The kids who had escaped domestic violence. The kids being raised by older siblings, or who were raising their younger ones. These kids may have struggled with the Zentralmatura - despite my best efforts, including offering extra practice in the afternoons at a nearly youth center - but they were a near-constant inspiration to me.
Keri Hartman was a US Fulbright Combined Student in Vienna, Austria in 2012-13 and a US Teaching Assistent in 2013-14. Photo courtesy of Keri Hartman.