I was nominated to the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program by Fulbright Austria at a rather turbulent time of my life. I was about to finish my master’s degree and was trying to get my footing back in Austria, as I had recently returned from a study-abroad year in Florida. Due to my past study-abroad experience, I did not believe I had a chance of being nominated for the program, but my desire to gain teaching experience motivated me to still give it a shot and send in my application. I was in the midst of writing my master’s thesis when I received an email from Fulbright Austria giving me the opportunity to teach at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. I remember the excitement I felt when I saw the email from on my phone, and I agreed to participate in the program.
Overcoming uncertainty: an FLTA's journey14 October 2022
Though 2021–22 FLTA Sylvia Rainer considered withdrawing from the program before her FLTA year started, her Fulbright experience culminated in joy and fulfillment.
By Sylvia Rainer
The initial excitement then slowly turned into fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being a good teacher. Fear of not being able to finish my thesis and my degree. I was pondering for days and nights whether it was really a good time for me to leave and whether I would be the right person for the position. I had never taught before, and I began doubting myself in every way possible. I seemed to be forgetting that this was exactly the reason I had applied in the first place: I wanted to gain teaching experience in a foreign country.
I seemed to be forgetting that this was exactly the reason I had applied in the first place: I wanted to gain teaching experience in a foreign country.
I started making structured plans on how I could make it work to participate in the program and finish my thesis before going abroad. However, preparing myself for teaching abroad while simultaneously writing my thesis seemed like an impossible task. This is why I had a setback and decided it would be best if I didn’t participate in the FLTA program at all. I wanted to give up my position at Agnes Scott College and gave into my fear. However, thanks to my amazing friends and family coming to the rescue at the last minute possible, I made up my mind to push through and to just try it no matter how hard it might get or what might happen along the way. Special thanks at this point to Fulbright Austria and the FLTA program officer, who gave me a chance and believed in me. After all this time spent pondering, I felt a strong relief once I knew there was no turning back and that I was finally going to push through no matter what.
I managed to finish my thesis just in time before I took off to the United States. As soon as my feet touched US soil, most of my fears and worries faded away and were replaced by my original excitement. I knew that I had made the right decision. My colleagues were really supportive from the moment I met them, and I was given a lot of freedom in my teaching. I had the opportunity to teach my own conversation course and so-called language labs. They were grammar-based courses meant to help the students better understand the materials taught in the main class. When I received a thank-you note signed by all my students at the end of the semester, I was incredibly touched but also proud of myself that they could tell that I had put my heart and soul into my teaching.
In the end, I enjoyed my experience so much that I tried to prolong my stay. Unfortunately, the FLTA Program is limited to one year, so I wasn’t able to extend my time at Agnes Scott College. Still, I am grateful that I was part of the program and that my initial fear was ultimately not strong enough to get me to withdraw from the program. Because of all the friends I have made and the joy and fulfillment teaching has brought me, I cannot even imagine what my life would look like without my Fulbright experience.
Overall, the Fulbright Program made me step outside of my comfort zone, which has helped me grow as a person.
Overall, the Fulbright Program made me step outside of my comfort zone, which has helped me grow as a person. It made me believe in myself. A task that had at first seemed so impossible to me had become possible, and I was the one who had made it possible. I had a great time in the classroom and did not at all face the things that I had imagined in my deepest and darkest fears. I was met with a lot of respect and interest from my students, and I rekindled my love for my own country and culture. Teaching a language while combining it with the intercultural aspect of storytelling and sharing your knowledge about your own country is something I could have never imagined to be more exciting and fulfilling. I can only encourage everyone to participate in the Fulbright Program despite any fears they may have. When all is said and done, it will be more than worth it.
All photos courtesy of Sylvia Rainer