Apart from the many positive personal experiences I had during my year in the USA, I’d like to mention one aspect which surpasses all others. It started with being awarded with the Fulbright Travel Grant in 1973, which enabled me to work as a geographer and glaciologist over a period of several weeks on a project run by the Glacier and Artic Science Institute (then - Michigan State University) on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska and called the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP). This was the beginning of research projects in Alaska. Then, between the years 1976–77, I was a visiting professor at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho (the JIRP was then based in Moscow under Dean M.M. Miller).
On being awarded the Max Kade scholarship for post-doctorate studies, my whole family was allowed to accompany me. After being there for half a year, my English had improved enough to be able to give a lecture about Austria and the Alps. It was, however, astonishing to see how well our children learned the language. Our two daughters, Patricia and Nicole were then 10 and 4. Patricia went to elementary school and Nicole went to a day-care centre.
In the beginning, Nicole spoke to the other children in her mother tongue, as she had learned to communicate in German but of course, nobody understood her. The consequence was, she didn’t want to go to the nursery anymore. However, as soon as children of her age moved into the neighbouring house, she learned English very quickly. Patricia was given extra help in English at school but after three months, she didn’t need this anymore.
How do our two adult daughters reflect on this time? Patricia Stadler-Slupetzky (49): “The year in the States has strongly influenced my whole life. It´s not only the ability to speak English, but also the different experiences that made me open minded to different cultures and countries. I´m a teacher myself and I know how important it is to pass on the fun in learning, especially when learning a foreign language. My pupils profit a lot from my proficiency in English. A year abroad can influence generations”. Mag. Dr. Nicole Slupetzky (43): “Learning English as a child was a great experience and has been an advantage all through my life. In addition, speaking English without an Austrian accent has definitely been an advantage. Additionally, I was enabled to choose an American topic for my thesis in history and consequently was asked to teach Austrian history at the University of Minnesota.
Coming back, I had the chance to teach English at adult education centres. Meanwhile, I am a managing director in one of these centres. We often have English-speaking guests and I am still the only one who enjoys giving lectures in English. Also, I believe that by living abroad and having to start off learning a new language helps you to be more tolerant towards people with migrant background – those who don’t know the language of the country they find themselves in and therefore are not able to communicate at the very beginning.”
Even after almost forty years, I am still happy about the advantages the year abroad in America brought to me and my whole family, especially the deep-seated language knowledge and abilities of our daughters...and it all began with the Fulbright Travel Grant in the year 1973. Thank you so much!
Prof. Heinz Slupetzky was an Austrian Fulbright Scholar to the Michigan State University in the field of geography in 1973–74. Photo courtesy of Prof. Heinz Slupetzky.