My FLTA Experience at the College of Saint Benedict / Saint John’s University, Minnesota
I clearly remember one of the last days of the 2009–10 academic year’s spring term. I was about to complete my one-year Fulbright German-language teaching assistantship at the College of Saint Benedict / Saint John’s University (CSB-SJU) in Minnesota. German faculty and students—accompanied by relatives and friends—gathered in one of the classrooms to attend the German majors’ senior presentations of their final theses. Their in-depth accounts of German and Austrian history, culture, language, and literature impressed me tremendously and sparked academic curiosity among the audience. Having read through the various draft versions of the students’ final papers myself and discussed their topics and argument in earlier German sessions, I was particularly proud of their successful presentations. That day seemed like the perfect conclusion of my exchange program. I felt incredibly honored to be part of such a great academic community.
CSB-SJU, two partner institutions located in Central Minnesota, are well-established and respected liberal arts colleges. Students of both institutions share one academic program and attend classes on both campuses. The two colleges are approximately three miles apart and are connected by regular bus services. It is easy to commute between the two on a daily basis, and I soon started enjoying the fact that I could take advantage of the infrastructure of two campuses rather than one.
The College of Saint Benedict is literally embedded into the charming community of St. Joseph, a small town with unhurried cafés, art galleries, and a regular famers’ market. Saint John’s University is beautifully located amongst several lakes, meadows, prairie lands, and pine and hardwood forests with picturesque hiking trails. Its Victorian-style brick-wall buildings both create a motivating learning environment and represent an academic tradition dating back to 1857. The colleges are also well connected with more urban areas. St. Cloud, a city on the Mississippi River, is almost next door and offers a wide range of shopping facilities, movie theaters and American-style as well as international restaurants. The Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area is just a one-hour ride away on Interstate 94. The so-called Twin Cities are one of the cultural centers of the Midwest, with sports teams in all four major professional leagues as well as a lively music and art scene.
The state of Minnesota is famous for its high numbers of lakes, bikeways, and gophers. Other than Alaska, it is also the most northern state of the United States, which means that winters can be long and pretty cold. However, except for occasional heavy snowfall, winters are rather sunny and dry. Thus, I actually enjoyed spending time outdoors amongst snow-covered landscapes and frozen lakes during this part of the year as well. By the way, the other three seasons are gorgeous too. Apart from their weather resistibility, another quality of Minnesotans that I find very appealing is their high level of civic engagement, also indicated by one of the highest voter turnouts in the US.
Concerning my work as a teaching assistant, my personal expectations were clearly exceeded. I was involved in academic life and many of the German department’s activities. My responsibilities included teaching, conduction conversation sessions, tutoring, and providing cultural input as a native speaker as well as organizing German Club activities ranging from ballroom dance parties to movie nights and coordinating public information events. In addition, I could take two university courses each semester and presented my own research interests at CSB-SJU’s Friday Forum.
Since I am into athletics, I regularly used the wide range of sports facilities on campus and competed in numerous intramural tournaments. Many students are also active members of CSB-SJU’s varsity sports teams. One highlight of the season are the home games of St. John’s college football program, attracting an audience of 10,000 plus. CSB-SJU also has first-class theater and music departments that play an integral part in the region’s cultural life. I often enjoyed plays, performances, and concerts staged in the college's own cultural arts center. Of course, there are many student clubs and organizations present on campus as well.
To sum up, I definitely got a typical US campus university experience at CSB-SJU. But the great thing is I got even more than that. I clearly remember my first days at CSB-SJU and how quickly a new university system became an opportunity, a new environment became an inspiration, and new roommates, fellow students, and colleagues became friends. It was a lot of fun and it felt like homecoming from the very beginning.