Hello, my name is Verena and I am an English teacher in Austria. In 2016/17 I was able to take the outstanding opportunity to be a FULBRIGHT foreign language teaching assistant at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in the United States of America. In the modest Liberal Arts college in New England I could utilize my teaching and language skills as well as gain new competences as a teacher.
Having attended interesting conferences and lectures, I had the chance to exchange thoughts with colleagues from several different countries around the world. Furthermore, taking advantage of the location and spare time, I could visit many places and get a better understanding of people and cultures from all over the world.
Going to the U.S. per se was not such a big deal for me. Although I had never been outside of Europe before, I have had extensive experiences with a variety of people during my term abroad in the Netherlands. The U.S. are not very different from Austria and, because they are always represented in our media and on television, moving there for nine months did not feel like a big change.
I have, however, chosen one particular experience to write about regarding leaving my comfort zone. There is a tradition at Bates College called the Puddle Jump. Every year in January, Bates students jump into a frozen lake. This year the temperature was at -6 °C. I went with the intention to simply watch the event take place. Yet, being there at our college's pond watching the students getting excited and preparing themselves for the freezing water, also raised an excitement in me; making me almost nervous just by watching.
They seemed to be so fearless, so comfortable... and they jumped. Some students jumped in normal clothing, some jumped dressed in costumes, some jumped wearing nearly nothing at all. But all jumped. Everybody was in a good mood and had a lot of fun.
My Colombian, Japanese, and Tunisian colleagues also jumped into the lake in the frozen pond. I was scared just by watching them! I guess it was inevitable that the atmosphere caught me too. I did not move 8000 km to stay in my safe daily routine. I felt the strong need to finally leave my comfort zone. So my colleagues did not have to try hard to convince me.
Lining up felt like torture, actually jumping felt awesome. The cold water made my body feel numb and afterwards I ran directly to the fireplace to warm up.
Until ten minutes before I did it, I never thought I could ever jump into a frozen lake. But I did it! And it felt so great!
Some of the students jump every year, it has been a tradition for 42 years. But for me it was a very big deal! It felt great to leave my comfort zone! And therefore it is one of my most memorable experiences of my FULBRIGHT teaching assistantship.
Verena Wappel is a graduate of the University College of Teacher Education Vienna (PH Wien) and was a Fulbright FLTA at Bates College in 2016–17. Photo courtesy of Verena Wappel.