Application Tips from Daniel Sichmeller

Hey, this is Daniel Sichmeller. I won a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant to the Czech Republic, and I’m here to give you some tips about the Fulbright application process. My experience is of course limited to ETA applications.

Let me first make it clear how invaluable Zoe is in the application process. If you have problems with deadlines (like me) or paperwork (also me), you can’t afford not to be working closely with Zoe. She is a great editor, so I highly advise you to send her as many drafts of your personal statement and statement of grant purpose as possible. At one point, my personal statement existed in three completely separate versions, and she was willing to look at each one to determine which would be most appealing. If you don’t feel guilty about how much you are bothering her, then you are probably not talking to her enough.

Note: Be smart and start send Zoe those drafts super early.

The first major decision in the application process might be choosing which country to apply for. Go ahead and follow your heart or something because you want to make sure you end up in a country you actually like, but there are a few other things to consider. Check out http://us.fulbrightonline.org/statistics for award statistics for the different countries you are considering and compare the awards/applicants ratios. On top of that, consider your competition and how you measure up. For me the choice was between the Czech Republic and Spain. I knew my Spanish could not compete with over 400 applicants’ and even though I spoke no Czech, it is an uncommon enough language that I would not be competing with many fluent speakers. Consider all the information available and apply to the country for which you can write the most appealing application.

Do not forget about your references. I tutored for four different professors in my time at UCSD, so recommendations were easy. You should be building relationships with your professors already, but if you have been slacking, now is the time to start your office hour visits. Though I haven’t actually seen the recommendations my professors wrote for me, I can’t help but think that their recommendations did a better job of selling me than the rest of my application.

If you still feel like your application is weak then do something about it. I was worried about my lack of language skills and had only months to improve them. Instead though, I took a calculated risk and focused on strengthening my teaching experience. In the few months before the deadline, I got a job as a substitute teacher (which is very easy once you have your BA), then volunteered tutoring elementary school kids and teaching ESL to adults. By the time of the deadline, I had only added two months of experience to speak of, but I wrote it in anyway. When I go to the Czech Republic in August I will have a full year of experience teaching a wide variety of students and subjects, and that is what I sold them in my application.

Good luck and have fun.

Daniel

Application Tips from Kalliopi Kefalas

My name is Kalliopi Kefalas, and I am a third year student in the history department studying crime and policing in Late Ottoman Crete with the guidance of Professor Thomas Gallant. I applied for the Fulbright research grant last year at the end of June right before leaving for Crete to gather more preliminary data for my research. The Fulbright had been on my mind for quite some time before then, as a few of my colleagues had received it and it made me begin considering my funding for my long research trip the following year. I had just completed my second research paper of graduate school and had decided that the topic I had written on was something worth pursuing for my dissertation. However, it was clear that digitized Cretan newspapers were not going to be enough. I needed access to materials that were not available online, and that were possibly not even listed in the digital catalogue yet.

As I mentioned, I contacted the graduate Fulbright advisor, Zoe Ziliak Michel, and began applying at the end of June. For me, this was enough time to write a few drafts of my proposal and personal statement, get in touch with my affiliate at the University of Crete, schedule and take my language proficiency exam, and ask for letters of recommendation. Some of my other colleagues applying for the grant started even earlier and attended a few informational sessions, many of which I did not go to. Thus, my two most important pieces of advice would be to start the process of applying early – at the very latest in June – and to attend the information sessions. Because I didn’t go to many of these, I ended up asking Zoe many questions that could have been answered during these meetings. The one I did go to I attended via google hangouts while I was in Athens. That is my third piece of advice – try to budget your time for research and anything related to the Fulbright application evenly. Because I was in Greece conducting research last summer and traveling quite a bit, it was difficult to manage the time I spent on the application. While it’s important to devote time to the application, give yourself some time to step away from it. That way, it will be much easier to edit your proposal and see where the problems lie or what parts of it are unclear. One way to do this, again, is to start early to actually have the luxury of having time to step away, read it with fresh eyes, and also allow Zoe enough time to give you several rounds of feedback.

In addition to editing and seeking feedback from Zoe and others, a successful application depends on standing out. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I found that starting and ending strongly was probably what made my application strong. I started my first paragraph with a statement that gave a sense of my project in its broadest terms and its wider importance. I then spent some time (and space) carefully laying out what has already been researched on the topic and some of the current relevant issues in it. Immediately after this, I asked my research questions and then tried to answer them with what I already knew from secondary scholarly literature or from reading primary sources. The point of the proposal isn’t to have a good hypothesis or a thorough analysis of your data already, although these can definitely help; it is to ask important and well-constructed research questions. Finally, while the grant advisor and other people will give you good advice, ultimately, YOU will know whether something sounds right or not. The night before the due date, I took a look at my proposal, which Zoe had approved, and reorganized it. Even though everybody had said it looked good, I knew it could be even better.

After hearing back from the foundation and, fortunately, being awarded, I set out almost immediately to gather information on obtaining a visa. Criteria vary from country to country, but make sure you learn what they are early. I, for instance, have to get a criminal background check from the FBI, which in itself requires getting fingerprints and other things, to get my visa for Greece. If this is the case for you as well, note that the FBI does not accept livescan fingerprinting, but an actual fingerprint card only, and not many police stations give these out. Also make sure to look online for their hours, since some are not open on all weekdays from 9-5 pm. Because I have not gotten very far in this process, this is the only advice I can provide on this issue. Otherwise, if you do get a Fulbright, read the acceptance letter carefully for paperwork instructions and deadlines and mark these down somewhere where you will look daily. I very nearly missed them due to not doing this. Good luck!

Introduction and Application Tips from Robert Terrell, Grantee to Germany

Hello UCSD Fulbright applicants! My name is Robert Terrell, and I am a fourth year graduate student in history and a Fulbright recipient for Germany.

My dissertation is about Bavarian beer in the decades following the Second World War. I am following the history of production and consumption from the wreckage of the war and extreme caloric scarcity through the economic boom, the subsequent social and cultural transformations of West German society, and on to the export of beer and the globalization of a particularly (or stereotypically) “German” mode of consumption around the world. I’m trying to speak to a number of debates and historical issues including the political and ideological legacies of National Socialism (Nazism), the nutrition policies of the Allied Occupation; the so-called Economic Miracle; debates about Americanization, Westernization, and European integration in the context of the Cold War; and the many questions around consumerism in late 20th century globalization.

I delayed my grant by a few months for a variety of reasons and have been in Munich since January 2015. My grant will carry me into November. Research has been overwhelming but good. Now a few months in, I feel much more in command of the archives, but it will probably always be a bit overwhelming.

Living in Munich has been fun, but on a practical level it’s also tough. I would advise all applicants and grantees to spend some time getting to know the local housing market. Germany, and Munich especially, is very tough and very expensive. If you get a grant, be sure to contact your respective handlers (I’m not sure what they’re normally called, but here it’s just called the German Fulbright Commission) and see about additional funding for housing. In Germany, they will subsidize your rent a little if it goes over a certain percentage of your income. That’s especially nice somewhere as expensive as Munich.

In general the Fulbright has been very good to me. They let me delay the grant, and they were quick in answering questions of all sorts from health insurance to residence issues to university matriculation. Once I handled all the bureaucratic business of living and working here (which is always a hassle but not the end of the world) receipt of payment was easy and straightforward.

As for applying, write statement drafts way in advance and then ignore them for a while to get a fresh perspective. Above all, I would say to be mindful of your audience. Your application has to go through a number of stages, and at each one the audience is different. Writing for multiple audiences is hard, especially in such a short application. But do the best you can to make your project description as specific yet accessible as possible, and be earnest in your personal statement. I think my personal statement actually really helped me distill my personal motivations in some interesting ways. And I think that probably translated. Avoid the clichés and write honestly. The committees probably won’t remember your name. Give them something else to remember you by.

My best advice for whenever and however you get wherever you’re going is to be mobile! I’ve tried to make a point of taking adventures as often as possible, some small, some large. I bought a bike, which has made my world infinitely better. I went to visit a fellow UCSD grad student in Croatia, I went hiking in the Alps, I visited the historic city of Regensburg, and I’m going to London in a few days for a conference and visit. I’m planning to do a lot more travel and I recommend it. The benefit of being almost anywhere outside of the US is that it’s not hard to go yet somewhere else!

I’ve sent along some pictures as well. The first is looking out on the chalk cliffs of Rügen Island on the Baltic Sea, made famous by the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. The second is Munich’s famous Rathausglockenspiel in the center of the old city. The third is the interior of a Catholic church in Zagreb, Croatia; pretty standard as European Catholic cathedrals go, but beautiful. Rugen

RathausCroatia

Application Tips from Suzanne Dunai, Recipient of Research Grant to Spain

Hi! My name is Suzanne Dunai and I am a PhD student in the History Department at UCSD. I was awarded the Fulbright to Spain for the 2015-2016 academic year so that I can perform the research necessary for my dissertation on food culture and food politics during the years of rationing in Spain(1939-1952). This was my second application to the Fulbright grant (my first application was rejected in the first round last application cycle), so I strongly encourage you to keep applying and refining your application as long as you are eligible for the grant.

Because of my experience in having both one unsuccessful and one successful grant, I want to share some of the things that I learned in the process. First and foremost, have as many people read your statement of purpose and personal statement as possible. They don’t have to be in your field or department. In fact, it is better to find people with different backgrounds to read your grant application because the grant committees can be diverse. This is especially true if you have to translate your grant to another language. [Comment from FPA: Spain requires applicants to submit their statements in both English and Spanish.] Second, save enough time before the submission deadline to ensure that you have the proper page formatting. Every line counts in the grant application, so do not wait until the final draft to write your heading. By my final draft, I was making revisions based on the number of letters in each word to keep my draft within the page limit.

Thirdly, what is important is that your research goals are very narrow and very polished. Remember that the Fulbright does not have to encompass all of your dissertation work, so there is no need to include ALL theory, sources, archives, etc., in the application. For my successful application, I narrowed the scope of my application to one city instead of three. While my dissertation will still include archival materials for a larger project, I only presented the most precise elements of my research in the application, which helped with clarifying my research goals for the grant and for my project. The statement of purpose should present a cohesive project which is obtainable in the time/financial allotment of Fulbright. In the end, it is the coherent project that gets funded, not the exhaustive. This also applies to the content of your proposal. Make sure that your application doesn’t favor theory to the extent that your own intervention is lost, and you do not want to present too many lists of sources or archives in your statement as this consumes space without providing interest in you as a candidate.

Finally, one major change that I made between my first application and my second is that I included the presentation of my initial research at a conference in Spain near the end of the academic year. I explained in the “country participation” section that I was going to apply to present my initial findings at a conference for young scholars in my field so I could further develop my project and academic network. This addition might have shown greater purpose or academic motivation for my dissertation, or perhaps it did not help or hurt my application at all. Unfortunately, we do not receive comments on our applications, so my thoughts are just speculative.

I hope my reflections on the Fulbright appliction help. Good luck!

Update from Casey McCoy – What Else do Fulbrighters Get to Do?

Two months remain on my Fulbright grant period in Vienna, Austria. It is hard to believe how quickly the time has passed! In my previous post I noted the value in having so much freedom as a research grantee to work on my research and pursue my interests, both at the university with which I am affiliated and elsewhere. In this post I would like to share some information on some of the other kinds of opportunities that the Fulbright program affords.

Besides the intrinsic benefits of the many events and activities here in Vienna, they have also served to introduce me to the scholarly community across Europe such that I have had the chance to travel to nearby countries to present my own work.

The first weekend I was in Austria I attended a workshop at the university and met a scholar who works in Bratislava, Slovakia (a short 45 minute train trip down the Danube from Vienna!). A few months later, after his kind invitation, I was attending and presenting my research at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, getting to know scholars from across the Czech Republic and Slovakia who were in attendance, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the organizers and Bratislava!

Recent appointments at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, have led to the creation of a strong center of research in my field. My local advisor spends part of his time in Munich (a five hour train ride from Vienna) and extended an invitation to me to spend a week meeting the locals (and some old friends!) in January. Although I couldn’t be sneaked into the busy schedule of lectures and workshops at the center, I did have an enjoyable week listening to the great talks, chatting over dinner or the famous Munich brews, and taking a memorable stroll through the famous English Garden with new and old friends.

Most recently, the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission hosted their annual Seminar in American Studies, this year held in Strobl, Austria in the Salzkammergut (the Austria “Lake District”) for the first time. Fulbrighters from the U.S. and from Austria gathered together to hear lectures by some of the U.S. Scholars (professors on Fulbright grants) on topics ranging from Gender in Education and Society to Food in American Culture to The American Theme Park Industry. There was also time for the Americans and Austrians to join together in breakout discussion sessions to discuss transatlanticism, food practices in the U.S. and Austria, and others. It was a great time for “promoting mutual understanding!”

These have been great experiences for me personally, and I think give a good glimpse of what kinds of opportunities can arise during a Fulbright research grant (especially in Europe). I look forward to continuing the relationships with new friends and colleagues, and with my host country in the future!

Annie Dimitras on Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Being an ETA in a Developing Country

Everyone that is or has been a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) will tell you that experiences vary completely by placement. Every placement comes with its own requirements, responsibilities, and challenges. I can’t emphasize enough how carefully you should consider the information provided in each country summary on the Fulbright website before deciding where to apply.

I have been an ETA in two schools in Kosovo for seven months now. I didn’t know what to expect from the schools and education system before I arrived. I wondered what resources would be available, what class sizes would be like, what the curriculum would consist of, and what methods teachers would use. I thought I would write this post about my experiences to give any future ETAs an idea of what their school situation might be like if they are applying to a developing country (especially one in eastern Europe).

Resources:

At both of the schools I work in, there is no technology in the classrooms. The classrooms are very bare-bones with chipping paint walls, rusting blackboards, and tables and chairs for the students. Some classrooms I work in don’t even have functioning lights, so when it’s cloudy, it is difficult for the students to read anything on the blackboard because the room is so dark. Even if they do have lights, the power goes out frequently and can’t be relied on.

One of my 8th grade classrooms


                                                            One of my 8th grade classrooms

 

All the doors are broken
                                                All the doors are broken, and some don’t close

 

Though the classrooms don’t allow for technology-centered lessons, both schools have computer labs (which they call “cabinets” for some reason) equipped with class sets of computers, digital projectors, and speakers.  There is only one of these rooms per school, so all the teachers have to share and coordinate with each other. I am only allowed to use the tech room at one school. It has been great to use videos, audio, and powerpoint in my activities. It helps the students to understand English in different ways and it’s important to mix up activities so the students don’t get too bored. However, because everyone at the school has to share one tech room, it is not feasible to conduct frequent class activities requiring technology.

The tecnology cabinet at one school


                                                In the technology cabinet at one school

 

Since resources are limited in my schools, I have tried to work around using technology in the class. I brought a blue tooth speaker with me from the US. It has been invaluable. I use it in conjunction with my iphone to play bits of audio and music in class. I just record what I need to on my phone prior to class, and the speaker is portable and loud enough to make in an effective classroom tool.

In addition to limited access to technology at school, I also do not have access to a printer or photocopier. If I want to use worksheets for a class, I have to go to a print shop to print and make all my copies. This can get very expensive when you are working with hundreds of students every day. I do prepare worksheets sometimes, but I have opted for more speaking and blackboard based activities. It was difficult and frustrating at first to plan lessons that worked around these limitations, but there are plenty of engaging and effective activities that require no resources at all.

Annie Pic Blackboard


                                                            Blackboard at my primary school

 

Functioning of Schools:

Saying that schools in Kosovo are very different from schools in the US is an understatement. It has been fascinating to witness how another country’s system of education functions, but it has also been extremely frustrating at times. First, there is a shortage of schools in my host country. To remedy this, all schools work in two or even three shifts. This means the school day is very condensed and students may only attend for four hours a day. Some students don’t finish school until after dark, while others have to be at school by 7am but might have to travel an hour by bus from their home. These shifts make the classes too short to accomplish much, and it also makes it very difficult to coordinate any extracurricular activities.

Another difference here is that teachers do not have their own rooms. Instead, students remain in one room for the duration of the school day and the teachers travel from class to class. This makes extensive prep or clean up from a lesson difficult. Teachers also are not actually trained as teachers; they just have a BA in their subject. This means they have never studied pedagogy or teaching methods. Teachers are also not paid well, and many of the teachers I work with have one or two additional jobs to help support their families. So, they might be a little less invested in their position at the school than you might expect. This became very apparent to me through the lack of lesson planning and general organization of lessons. It is common practice throughout my host country for teachers to arrive in each class, take a book from a student, and ask the student where they left off last class and if they had assigned any homework. Can you imagine a teacher doing that in the US?

Students are very similar to students in the US. The main difference is what is expected from them. From an early age, some learn to just copy everything from their more motivated friends. Teachers do not object or pay any attention to this practice. Cheating and plagiarism are huge problems at all levels of school in my host country. Even professors at the university have plagiarized their research (this was recently proven). It is difficult to witness these practices and not really have power to do anything about it. I think it affects students’ motivation. Why study, why do homework, why be engaged, when you can pass the class in the end without doing the work? This attitude has proved very challenging for me to alter with my activities and role in the classroom.

There is also a vast lack of a disciplinary system at my schools. If a student is too loud or doesn’t do his homework, a teacher will most likely yell at them. Maybe the student will be sent out of the classroom for the duration of the class. I have also seen many teachers hit many students (this is banned by law but not in practice). The most serious disciplinary measure is calling the student’s parents. Unfortunately, these are the only measures that are practiced at my schools and they are incredibly ineffective. Also, some behaviors are not seen as problems, like fighting, for example.

The "playground" at school


                                                The playground at my primary school

These are just some examples of what I have experienced as an ETA in a developing country. Again, every host country and every placement location within differs from the next. I didn’t know what to expect when trying to mental prepare myself for my Fulbright grant last summer. If you are thinking about being an ETA, applying to be an ETA, or awaiting the start of your grant as an ETA, I would recommend preparing yourself to be flexible and ready for anything. My time as an ETA has definitely helped me to become more adaptable, resourceful, and to always have a backup plan.

Update from Harrison, ETA in the Czech Republic

Just a couple of weeks ago, the US Fulbright students in the Czech Republic crossed over the midway point of our grant term. I had an extended Christmas holiday this year because my school didn’t want to open dormitories for just two days out of an entire week – they just gave us an extra week off. I had the opportunity to attend three Christmas dinners with colleagues from my schools and taste the traditional Czech Christmas meal, which includes dishes like fried carp, schnitzel, wine sausage, potato salad, and lots of homemade cookies. I also spent the time off exploring Prague with some fellow UCSD alumni who were in Europe.

Since my last update, I’ve also spent some time doing various other things around town. For Thanksgiving, because the official Fulbright Thanksgiving for grantees actually took place on Friday, I decided to host a community Thanksgiving at the local youth center, which consisted of a meal of turkey stew (cooking a whole turkey here would have been a little too difficult) and had about 20 attendees present, including my students, several parents, teachers, and the local European expat volunteers community. I also participated in the events of a local language school’s intercultural evening, where I had the support of the US Embassy, American Center, and Fulbright Commission to run a booth and give a public presentation with info about the United States. I’ve also offered to volunteer my time to some of this school’s other cultural events (which I’ve also enjoyed a ton because they do an amazing job at bringing the community together).  Teaching has also been going well. Some of my favorite lessons are those that focus on solving problems and activities I’ve named “There’s an App for That” and “Let’s Save the Zoo from Going Broke.” While I’d love to tell you more about these lessons, there really isn’t much to say beyond the title – I purposely designed them to be relatively open-ended and allow student creativity. The next big thing I’m looking forward to is a volunteer panel during the open lesson that I will be hosting for Czech students who might want to take a gap year and travel to another country through various EU schemes.

In my free time, I’ve been volunteering for the Multicultural Center in Prague helping to proofread and edit materials available for the public and papers to be discussed at an upcoming conference for both academics and immigration policy practitioners. I’m also going to be teaching a course that I’ll be calling “English Conversation for Social Science and Humanities Majors.” It’s an extracurricular course at my region’s university primarily for political science, anthropology, and sociology bachelor’s students. It’s amazing to think that this grant has provided me the opportunity to connect with a local university and be able to work with them through my own initiative, and I’m very excited for our collaboration over the next semester. In fact, there are so many students, it is looking like I will have more than one section. We have 50 students on the interest list. Additionally, I heard that a local organization that provides language classes to adults lost its volunteers and some grant funding. I told them I’d be willing to fill in because being a Fulbright grantee provides me with enough free time that I am able to share my experience and connect with local Czechs through other means than just my time at the school. Reaching out to places like local universities, language schools, and NGOs, while difficult, provides a venue for me to make the most of my time here.

As for my living situation, living alone still proves to be a bit of a challenge when you are not fluent in the language. There are often misunderstandings, but, with a few exceptions, the living arrangement has been acceptable. Most importantly, I’ve had functional Internet for the last month, after getting permission from the school to have the phone company drill into the apartment walls and finally reaching the person I think may have been the phone company’s single English-speaking employee. (I felt like Radim, the phone company customer service agent, and I had a special relationship from all the back and forth involved in the process.) Still, if I knew some things going into my Fulbright about how to handle renting an apartment abroad, I would have done some things differently. (Future Fulbrighters: I encourage you to start looking at the housing arrangements as soon as you have your grant and know your placement)

Update from Casey McCoy – Halfway Through his Stay in Austria

My first semester at the University of Vienna comes to a close at the end of January. It has been an extraordinarily rich experience so far, and I very much look forward to the spring semester. My Fulbright grant is a full research grant to work on my project, “Philosophical Implications of Inflationary Cosmology.” Most of my time has been devoted to this project, but there have been many opportunities to interact with the local academic community and participate in cultural activities sponsored by the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission, the University of Vienna, and the Austrian governmental agency funding my Fulbright-Mach grant, the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation.

One of the greatest personal benefits of the Fulbright grant has been the opportunity to focus full-time on my research project. Besides the valuable time to write, my project has benefited greatly from my interactions with my local academic supervisor, Dr. Richard Dawid, and other contacts made in the local community. A difficulty that I expect many Fulbright research grant recipients face, though, is this very time and freedom. Graduate programs in the U.S. can be fairly structured, with seminars, colloquia, reading groups, advising, and teaching rapidly filling out one’s time. Transitioning to an environment where a lot of this familiar structure at one’s home institution disappears ironically presents a challenge to efficient time management and productivity. With a lot of time on one’s hands, it’s easy to waste a lot of time unproductively! Many anecdotes from my fellow Fulbright scholars support this observation as well.

The solution is obvious in theory, but can be difficult in practice. In the first place, one can replace the familiar events from one’s home institution with similar events at the institution with which one is affiliated. For me, this has included regularly attending one of the lecture series in the Department of Philosophy, and participating in the Vienna Forum for Academic Philosophy.

It is also a great idea to take advantage of the many events sponsored by organizations invested in your presence in the host country. One of the highlight events of this semester was attending a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Vienna, where I had the opportunity to interact with the many people involved in supporting the Fulbright program in Austria, former and future Austrian Fulbrighters, and my fellow U.S. grantees. There have also been many opportunities to take part in cultural and community service activities, such as taking guided tours of the city of Vienna, visiting exhibitions in local museums like the Vienna Museum Karlspatz, attending a traditional ball at the Imperial Palace (waltz lessons included), preparing meals for the homeless, and many others.

Of course, one cannot know about many of these events in advance, but it pays to think ahead before arriving in the host country about how to organize your time. The several months of one’s grant period go by quickly, and it is no good to spend a lot of that time figuring out how to spend the rest of it! Show up with a plan, enforce personal deadlines, etc.

Just be ready to throw the plan away when opportunity comes knocking, as it certainly will!

Introduction to Annie Dimitras, ETA in Kosovo

I began my ETA grant in Kosovo around three months ago. My Fulbright cohort arrived in mid-September. We were picked up from the airport by embassy representatives and attended a two and a half day orientation in the embassy, where we were briefed on security, health, cultural heritage projects, the education system, school conditions, and our placement sites.

The embassy informed me of my placement city a little less than two months before I arrived. I did not know what schools or what age group I would be working with until I attended the orientation at the embassy. Since Kosovo is a small country, there is no Fulbright Commission. The Public Affairs section of the embassy handles all Fulbright grantees. Most of my fellow Kosovo Fulbright grantees and I attended an earlier orientation in Washington, DC, along with other Eastern European and Eurasian grantees headed to countries without a Fulbright Commission. In DC, we met alumni that had just returned from Kosovo, and their information was invaluable.

After a few days in the capital city, I was transported to my placement city by the embassy. We had a whirlwind visit to apartments that I had about five minutes to look at before deciding where I would live for the next year. They also took me to one of my two schools and introduced me to the principal (who spoke no English) and my contact person (the main English teacher I would work with). This all happened a little fast for me, so fast I almost wasn’t sure how to get back to my new apartment.

I have been placed in a small city in the north of the country called Mitrovica. It is infamous in Kosovo for being the city with the most ongoing conflict and for being one of the most depressed cities in the country. Until the ’80s, Mitrovica was booming with culture, and everyone worked at the big mine nearby and had lots of money. Then miners started to get laid off, conflict began to increase, and now the city is split in half (ethnic Albanians in the south and Serbs in the north) and there is no new industry to put all those miners back to work.

I had no training or experience with either local language, Albanian or Serbian, prior to arrival in Kosovo. I live on the Albanian side of town and have started learning Albanian. However, there is no class available to me and few materials for English speakers to learn Albanian, so I only have a very basic grasp of the language. I use my Albanian to buy things and conduct simple interactions, but most of the people I interact with speak enough English to converse.

I work at two schools in the southern half of the city. I began working at an upper primary school with grades 6-9 right after I moved to Mitrovica. It took a month for someone from the embassy to come back up here, introduce me to the principal of my second school, and have the proper documents signed. So for the second month, I have been working half the time at the primary school and half the time at a gymnasium high school with 10-12th graders. It took weeks for me to work out a schedule so I could see as many different students every week as possible and work with nearly all the English teachers at both schools without losing my mind. I now I have a complicated schedule where I work four days with eight different teachers and over 500 students. I still don’t know everyone’s name, but I am doing my best.

There are four other ETAs in Kosovo with me, one student researcher, and one scholar. The student researcher, scholar, and one of the ETAs are based in the capital. One ETA is on his own in a mountain village. His placement is so isolated that he had to purchase a car to reach both of the schools he is assigned to. The two other ETAs are placed in the same city in the south of the country. They share an apartment by choice but work in different schools. All of the ETAs are at primary or high schools, and all but one work at two schools. Working at two schools gives you a greater perspective on the education system, but it means a lot more students and teachers to keep track of. Every teacher may have different expectations, and every class may have different needs and demands.

Overall, my first three months have had a lot of ups and downs. It is been exciting to explore a new country and begin relationships with so many interesting people. It has also been extremely challenging to work a new environment. I have encountered many communication barriers and misunderstandings. It is a process to figure out how to best communicate with my teachers, students, and administrators. It is also a process to establish my role in each class. Despite the challenges, the experience has been great so far—very rewarding and entirely unique. I think the beginning is the hardest part. I am happy to have overcome so many challenges thus far and am looking forward to the rest of my time in Kosovo.

Harrison Gill on Teaching and ETA Life in the Czech Republic

Although I took some time to get up to speed, most of my experiences thus far have been pleasant, and everyone is helping out to make sure I can succeed in my role teaching in the classroom and to ensure that I have a comfortable living environment. Originally upon my arrival, I was living in a wing for students, which was offered to me essentially for free. It was particularly challenging to live there because students move out on the weekends and the building essentially shuts down, something that is not ideal for someone who is often (but not always) spending his weekends in town. I was able to move into special accommodations for teachers, and while I now have to pay rent, it is quite affordable and provides me a larger space, a more comfortable bed, and a private bathroom and kitchen. Unfortunately, the apartment was unfurnished, but teachers and staff were more than willing to help me out in acquiring furniture. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that living in a rural community can be challenging at times. Sometimes it is hard to get stuff I need for my apartment because it requires a car, and sometimes Internet does not work properly (especially the email ports, which makes submitting this blog post a particular challenge). Overall, however, my accommodations are quite nice and much larger than anything I could probably afford in the States as a recent college graduate.

As for my teaching, it took awhile to figure out. I teach at two schools – one of which is divided into three different campuses, including one that is about ten kilometers away. I switch between schools each week. At one of my schools, I teach lower level students interested in technical subjects, business, and fields requiring apprenticeships. At this school, I sometimes teach whole lessons, which last for 45 minutes, but sometimes just add insights to other lessons. As Rychnov nad Kneznou is close to the second largest car factory in the Czech Republic, many of the students focus on eventually working as auto mechanics or technicians. Often this means it is helpful to tie my lessons in with automotive subjects. For example, this might mean planning a lesson on how one would apply for a job as an auto mechanic in the US. My other school is a college prep gymnazium. Here there are three different types of English classes: compulsory, voluntary, and open. I teach in all three. In all three, I often am responsible for the whole class period. With compulsory and voluntary English, the teacher sits in the back or the side of the room and we decide on a topic together, often with the teacher placing an initial suggestion in a calendar on my office desk. Open English, however, is a class that I teach on my own for a 90-minute period. I get to choose the topic, and it is essentially my own class. It is optional for students to attend Open English, but since it was so popular during the first week, we decided to add a second class every other week when I am at the gymnazium.

As for other things I am doing on the side, one of the teachers set me up with a recent alumnus who is interested in practicing his English. We’ve met so many times already that I think we could probably consider each other friends or at least acquaintances, something that is not particularly easy to do in the Czech Republic. Eventually we will speak with each other using just Czech (until I get stuck). Additionally, some teachers have promised to take me to their homes for different weekend activities like learning to cook Czech cuisine and watching movies. I also hired a private tutor to improve my Czech, something that still remains well within my financial means here. On Halloween, I will be helping out at the local youth center. I’ll also be helping out at the gymnazium’s open house and showing parents how the students learn in their English classes by giving them a mock lesson. In my free time, I have also started a project called What YOUth Eat, when I realized one day while sitting in the dining hall that Americans probably have no idea what Czech students actually eat. In the true spirit of international exchange, I also opened the site to contributions from all around the world. You can check it out at www.whatyoutheat.com. By the time my stint in the Czech Republic is over, I would love to see contributions from all around the world and have something that can exist as a sustainable project to share with as many people online as possible.