My year abroad as Fulbright German language assistant can be best described as a crazy rollercoaster-like adventure that led me on physical and mental paths that I had not even in my wildest dreams thought I would ever walk. I found myself teaching my native language and culture by analyzing and contrasting it to U.S. culture basically 24/7, sometimes even without consciously realizing it as it slowly but steadily became part of my everyday life at the College of Wooster. Simultaneously, I became part of a language community, distinguished by the language dorm and suite I was living in. My year abroad would also not have been the same without my Fulbright friends who I met in Austria as well as the United States. Without them, I could not have imagined many road trips with and probably would not have survived this year. Being away from home often was a challenge and it was comforting to have people to talk to who were going through the very same thing as I was.
The one experience that made my year as a language assistant a truly valuable life lesson was living in the German language suite for it not only made me a better teacher but also helped me make friends for life. I must say that being put up in an apartment with eight other people who theoretically were my students was weird to me at first and was not easy to say the least. I had to be teacher, tutor, RA, mom and friend at the same time. It, however, was exactly the mixture of all those roles that significantly influenced my personal and professional development, for it allowed me to witness language development on an every-day basis and made me understand the process behind language learning even better. Regular cooking sessions, pronunciation tutorials, field trips, the suite’s phenomenal performance of Rumpelstiltskin at the school’s culture show or simply hanging out in the suite not only functioned as bonding experiences but are best described as a one-year-long Austrian German language and culture class. Watching my students improve their language skills and listening to their plans of how they were going to continue their language studies (e.g. Fulbright, studying abroad, doing their master’s degree abroad) was truly inspiring and it is great knowing that I have contributed to those developments. Being a Fulbright German language assistant made me realize the extensive role language teachers play in their students’ professional but also personal development.
Claudia Loidolt was a Fulbright FLTA at the College of Wooster in 2016–17. Photo courtesy of Claudia Loidolt.