Becoming a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant (FLTA) is a rather extensive process: each applicant completes a series of essays, fills out an abundance of paperwork, and painstakingly prepares for an online interview with a panel of four interviewers. We have to not only demonstrate our professional expertise on the subject matter but also explore how leaving Austria and taking such an opportunity might influence our own lives. “How would this experience abroad allow you to grow on a personal and professional level?”—a great question that we all have had to ask ourselves before applying to this program.
After having received the long-awaited nomination from the Fulbright Austria office in December 2021, my fellow FLTAs and I were first introduced to one another at a virtual seminar on the platform gather.town in late April 2022. We connected in the virtual courtyard and had an info session at the “beach.” Although the background audio of waves and seagulls served as a lovely ambience, we all truly became part of Fulbright when we first met in person during this year’s going-away Heuriger in June. At the time, we were still recovering from two years of regular lockdowns, social isolation, and overall lack of human interaction. So it was a true breath of fresh air to come together, a former group of strangers, and connect over a mutual love of knowledge and the joy of sharing it. The true “Schmankerl” of the night wasn’t the Styrian wine or the scrumptious apple strudel; it was the people attending.
On the way to the Heuriger, when the entire group of FLTAs was slightly delayed due to the Vienna Naked Bike Ride, my colleague Winnie explained to me how the biochemical defense mechanisms of certain edible plants were affected by how they were processed. We connected over a mutual love of cooking and geeked out over spices and herbs, a topic I am really passionate about as well. Having arrived at the event, I met Josh and we chatted about his intention of staying in Austria after having participated in the program as US Fulbright student. He seemed to have fallen in love with Austria and was excited about getting to experience more of it. As the evening progressed and we all sat down for a delightful dinner, my table with Dune and Barbara had a passionate discussion about women’s rights and queerness. Lastly, after having said our goodbyes at the dreaded closing time, Frida and I got on the same bus back to the city center, where we had a wonderful conversation about the nature of authenticity.
This evening has made one thing very clear to me, and I hope my colleagues and all Fulbright FLTAs that are preparing to head to their respective colleges are coming to the same conclusion: What is truly going to define our Fulbright experiences are the connections we will shape with our mentors, peers, and students. If this one evening of great food and stellar conversation in the outskirts of Vienna is an indicator for what is yet to come, then I am truly excited for the journey I am about to embark on.