My Fulbright Story or: A Journey to the Land of 10,000 Lakes and Infinite Surprises
“It´s going to be cold”—that was the first reaction I got from my family when I told them that I would be placed in Minnesota. They would be right, but…
First, I arrived at the idyllic, tucked-away liberal-arts campus of Saint John’s University in Collegeville in mid-August and was treated with a perfectly coordinated welcome and, on top of that, four gorgeous weeks of nicely tempered summer in the upper Midwest. Not only was the weather fine for the most part; the small community at SJU (1,900 students) and its sister College of Saint Benedict proved to be extremely caring and definitely lived up to their trademark “Minnesota nice” way of life.
Since I was the first female TA in a decade and the first actually living at the all-male university, there had to be some adjustments to my living situation: I was accommodated at Huschle House, conveniently located next to Lake Sagatagan (the biggest of seven lakes on campus), the extensive woodlands, and the monastic cemetery, which all granted tranquility and peaceful dreams every single night. I shared the little house and many evenings with an American pottery apprentice who worked at the university´s studio (home of North America´s largest kiln and nicest pottery artists) and three other more temporary housemates who all grew to be good friends of mine.
My main duties in the German Department included assisting the three experienced professors with their courses, taking over portions of classes for cultural insights, and helping with vocabulary and grammar training. Apart from that, I organized activities like film screenings, game nights and authentic cooking evenings to keep the students motivated. If needed, I was a tutor, an ambassador for Europe/Austria, a meal companion, and responsible for parts of the oral exams as well as helping prepare the Salzburg study-abroad group. Because I was interested in the education system, I watched some German classes at the on-campus prep school in late spring.
I was allowed to take two courses per semester at CSB/SJU, and since it provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I registered for a US history (“The American Dream”) and a US politics (“Intro to US Politics”) course in the fall and for “US Presidency” and “US and the World” during the spring semester.
That I hugely enjoyed all four courses would be an understatement—the professors went every extra mile for the students, and it was extremely fascinating to be able to sit in these courses during midterm elections and the current presidency.
SJU is home to a wide variety of college sports, and I was able to watch the Johnnies (as they are called) compete in the Minnesota college football league in the fall and their baseball counterparts in early spring for free. The same is true for the CSB/SJU Fine Arts programming (Japanese drummers, magicians, writers, a cappella groups, a former White House chief of staff…), which was amazing to experience.
As noted above, Minnesota is known for its Scandinavian and German heritage and its cold, rather long winters –that can include (as was the case this year) a polar vortex that makes the temperatures drop to record depths (-37 degrees Celsius was my personal low). But everyone on campus (advisers, faculty, students, staff, monks, and nuns) made this period as enjoyable and heartwarming as it could be, and when I was traveling to California, New York and especially Florida in June before flying home to Austria, I truly missed the cold and the people braving it.