Guest Post: Katherine Kovac discusses being awarded the Fulbright scholarship and teaching English abroad

Kovac (right) in a traditional dirndl for Oktoberfest

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to see the world. I would read stories of Oliver Twist’s England or Heidi’s Switzerland and want to be there, having adventures and new experiences with my favorite literary characters. Because I was always reading, this love of knowledge lead to my desire to see the world, so it is fitting that I am currently spending a year abroad in Passau, Germany teaching English as a Foreign Language. The scholarship is awarded through the Fulbright Commission, a program dedicated to creating worldwide peace and understanding, and as a teaching assistant in a foreign country, I am doing my best to live up to the Fulbright’s lofty goals.

I had heard about the Fulbright through Ball State and its professors. Dr. Dom Caristi is the Fulbright contact at Ball State, and was one of the most helpful people in the entire world through the whole application. The process itself took about six months, but it was a year until I found out I had gotten the grant and where exactly I would be going. Through the Fulbright Commission, there are three different programs that are available to potential candidates: the Full-grant, where a year is spent in a foreign country studying in preparation for a thesis or project at the end of the year; the Professor grants, where a year is spent teaching at a foreign university; or the English Teaching Assistantships, one of which I was lucky enough to receive. With the help of professors and mentors at Ball State, I put in my application to be an English teaching assistant in the fall of 2009 in Germany. I learned of my acceptance in the spring, and soon afterwards received my placement in the town of Passau in Bavaria.

The general gist of the grant is that we, the assistants or “Fullis” as we are sometimes called, are paid a certain amount of money per month to cover housing, travelling, eating, etc., and in return we spend about twelve hours a week teaching in German schools. Outside of the classes, we are also expected to be present in the community, for that is part of the Fulbright’s goal. Many people here have never met an American before, and if I’m the only one they ever do meet, I need to be able to leave them with a good impression. I would say that this is the most important part of my grant, and where I spend the majority of my time. I try to partake in community activities, such as a local theater club or maybe sporting events, and show people that not all Americans fit the stereotypes one might have of them. I have also decided to enroll in the local university and take a few classes, mostly over English and German Literature. I am taking a Czech course as well, which is rather challenging, to say the least.

The Fulbright is an amazing opportunity for people who are finished with their university education to live in a foreign country for a year and truly immerse themselves. This is not the standard “spend a semester abroad while still hanging out with college students” experience. This is truly a challenging and life-changing year that I hope will be one of the most pivotal of my life. And I would recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat.

If you have any questions about the Fulbright, please contact Dom Caristi at Ball State, or me at kakovacis@gmail.com.

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