2016/11/23

Get to Know a Grantee – Sinia Amanonce

Interview By: Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Sinia Amanonce
Sinia Amanonce is an energetic 23-year-old American living in the historic town of Kutná Hora as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for the 2016-2017 school year. She was inspired to apply to the program in the Czech Republic after spending a summer working at a restaurant in her home state of New Jersey with Czech university students who were participating in the United States’ international student work exchange J-1 visa program. Sinia connected immediately with the Czech students, and decided to apply for a Fulbright grant from that experience.

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Hometown: Jersey City, New Jersey
University/Major: New Jersey City University, English/Secondary Education
School in Czech Republic: Církevní gymnasium, Kutná Hora
Age: 23
Favorite Quote: “The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar, and it was tense."
Favorite Czech food: “Beef tartare, all day, every day.”

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Sinia, where you are from, and what did you study?
I’m from Jersey City, New Jersey. I studied at New Jersey City University, and I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and Secondary Education.

What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about learning and teaching. I think you can’t stop. There’s a quote from Will Smith that says: “The two things you need to do in life are to run and to read. To run, because when something is difficult in life, you have to be able to push through and get it done. To read, because when you are pushing through and you realize it is really, really hard, someone, somewhere has written about it, and understanding that someone else has experienced what you’re going through is really helpful.”

I’m also passionate about traveling. I think this is a really good way to do both: to learn and read about different cultures, communities and societies, because I think we’re so used to our little bubbles, so getting to see a new bubble is pretty refreshing.

Why did you choose to apply to the Czech Republic?
In the summer of my third year of university, I started working as a waitress at Surf City, a restaurant in Jersey City. Our manager hired Czech J-1 students and over the summer, we got really close working long hours. They taught me words in Czech, and we talked about the differences between Czech and American education, culture and politics. It was just so cool that these girls who are essentially from a country that I don’t know anything about were so open to share their experiences with me. So when I had the opportunity to choose a country, I wanted to go to a place where I knew people would welcome me to learn.

How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
During my senior year at university, I was working on my capstone project with my professor Dr. Maini. She was also the Fulbright coordinator for the university, and she would always plug the Fulbright scholarship. It was something that I blew off, but when I was in her office going over my capstone and we finished early, she was like, “Well, since I have you here, let’s talk about the Fulbright. It’s something you could really benefit from.” I think I wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t so persistent with making me apply.

How did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic?
I don’t think I prepared effectively. I think I had this mindset of I’ll figure it out when I get there, which is pretty cool, because I didn’t know anything when I got here. Everything was way more exciting: seeing the architecture, and hearing about the culture and history. I think because I didn’t know anything, this has made my experience richer.

Can you tell me about the school that you’re working at this year?
I’m at Církevní Gymnazium. It’s a really small private school in Kutná Hora. There’s less than 300 students for 8 classes. I teach pretty much one section of every class except for third and fourth year. I like the school because it’s so small. It fosters a sense of community in the classroom where the students are more encouraging of one another because they see each other all the time. They’re more likely to help each other out.

What about the town you’re living in this year?
Kutná Hora is historically the place where they kept the national mint so during medieval times, this is where all the coins were pressed together. It was also used as the King’s treasury because the town is equidistant of the four international borders that surround the Czech Republic. We’re known for silver mining and for the Sedlec Ossuary, the bone church. It’s also known as one of the most holy places to be buried in. Kutná Hora only has 20,000 residents.

Do you like living there?
I love Kutná Hora. It’s such a small town so everyone knows each other. It fosters community, and it’s great because it gives me everything that I need. I enjoy my routine. Every morning I wake up, go to school, and after school I go the bakery. That’s become a thing that gives me a sense of security, just buying a fresh piece of bread every day for my lunch. We’re so used to buying food in bulk in the U.S., and moving on with our day, but in the Czech Republic, people really take the time to pick out what they’re eating and share their meal. I really enjoy this about Kutná Hora, because I was so afraid to move to a country on my own where I don’t speak the language, where I don’t know anyone and where the culture is so different, but to still be able have these little things in my day is comforting.

How was it adjusting to living in the Czech Republic?
I think everyone has to experience this learning curve of not knowing what you’re doing and asking a lot of questions. When it came to adjusting, I wanted to ask as many questions as possible because it was like, if I don’t ask, no one will help me. But the people were really great! They were really good at anticipating my needs: giving me train schedules or giving me a list of vocabulary words to translate so I can go grocery shopping or mail a postcard.

Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
So far this year, I’ve helped chaperone a school trip to London, and this was really cool because I got to see my students practice their English. In December, I’ll be going to Leipzig, Germany on another trip for the school’s student exchange. I’m excited to see the kids interact with other cultures, as I am interacting with their own Czech culture.

Later in the year, two other teachers and I are trying to start an English-German film club where we will watch films in English and German, and then discuss both in the respective languages.

What do you like about teaching English?
The look on the students’ faces when they realize that they’re communicating effectively is priceless. I mean, yeah, planning can be really difficult, and trying to make sure you have an engaging lesson can be stressful because you can’t entertain every student 100% of the time, but the moment when their eyes light up because what they’ve said is correct, it’s just so worth it.

What do you hope to accomplish during your grant year?
This year, I would like to learn enough Czech to order food at a restaurant, to talk about my day and to get to know people better. I think everything about food is so important because it’s a really big thing with sharing. When you travel to another country, you eat the food to get a feel for what the locals are like, and talking about your day and your experiences while doing it really brings a sense of community. I think Thanksgiving is such a big holiday for Americans because we get to do this: we share a massive meal and we tell each other we’re thankful for them. If you can master these skills in another language, that makes it better.

I also hope all my students pass the Maturita. There’s no doubt in my mind that they won’t, but I just love them so much!

What is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
The most challenging part of living and working abroad is not having my friends and family with me. I think that’s one thing I couldn’t prepare myself for when I accepted the Fulbright. I think that was the scariest part, because they are so important to me. It’s one of those things that keep you comfortable and now I just don’t have them. It’s kind of lonely too, because even when you have these little victories in your day of successfully going to the grocery store, buying the right kind of flour and using Czech language correctly, I can’t share this with anyone and the time difference is also really hard. So, even though I know I have them, they can’t be with me in the same way they are when I’m in the States.

It kind of sucks because you commit yourself to a year of loneliness, living on your own. Even the closest ETA is 2 hours away.

And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
So even though I lost my family, I kind of found a new family here, and all of the people I’ve met here that I never would have met otherwise.

Also my students, totally. They have a different kind of appreciation that you don’t see from students in the U.S. It’s not that they are better or worse, it’s just different. I feel appreciated, and as much as I feel lonely, and missing my friends and family, I know that the people here appreciate me.

What places in Czech Republic do you want to travel to?
Plzen, Karlovy Vary, and Olomouc. I’m looking forward to playing the train game, where you flip heads or tails, and if it falls on heads, you take the next train ending in an odd number, or on tails you get the next train ending in an even number. I think it’s such a beautiful country. Even though we are landlocked, the Vltava river is such a nice break from that. Just to be out in nature is really nice.

Is there something interesting you have learned about Czech culture so far?
I think it’s really weird because as a Filipino-American, living in the Czech Republic, the Czech Republic still has more history than the Philippines and America. Even though the Philippines have been around for a few hundred years, it’s not like they’re in Central Europe. Filipino history can really only go as far back as our colonizers will let us keep it recorded, and in the United States, we’ve only been a country for like 300 years. But the Czech Republic has been here, and they’ve experienced so much, and being able to walk the streets and think about the wars… I know it’s not a pleasant thing to talk about, but it’s like we’re walking through history.

It’s amazing how old the history is! Like how there’s porcelain here that’s been around longer than the United States has even been a country!

It is really amazing! What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
The Fulbright mission means that we young people are actively trying to make a difference by not just saying we understand this culture by reading about it, but making an effort to really get there, and stand in a classroom in front of these students who want to learn English, and put our best foot forward, and say, “Okay, I want to help you, I want to be the one to share, and be a part of this.”

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I’m definitely leaving as a more empathetic and knowledgeable person, to not just look at a history book, or go to a museum and say, “hey that’s really cool,” but to understand how and why it has affected these people and our world altogether. I think it will also make me a better teacher because when I was teaching English literature in the States, I never really had to think about why the English language is constructed this way. I’m so used to talking about the big fancy things at school like themes and symbolism, but now it’s just like, why does English use articles and Czech doesn’t? I don’t know, but I think it will make me a more well-rounded teacher and student.

And what do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
Really, really wishfully thinking, I want to be in Oxford University’s Master’s program for International and Comparative Education. I think there’s just something about it, understanding what our purpose is here as humans. Trying to figure out our place in life is really hard, but what we can do is learn together. Learning is so important, that if we can figure out a way for everyone to be successful, and to get an education, that would make us better off.

Anything else you want to add?
Shout out to my momma!

Sinia Amanonce (center) with students

2016/11/16

Get to Know a Grantee – Clara Cushing

Interview By: Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Clara Cushing
Clara Cushing is a 22 year-old American working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the historic town of Benešov, Czech Republic. Cushing arrived to the Czech Republic by way of California, but before that she spent five years living with her family in Germany on an American military base. This early exposure to travel and new cultures instilled an appreciation for diversity and cultural exchange in Cushing, experiences that inspired her to teach abroad after graduating earlier this year. Below, she describes living in the town that was once home to Archduke Franz Ferdinand and what it is like to work at an agricultural high school—Surprise! It involves going horseback riding once a week.



-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------


Hometown: Monterey, California
University/Major: Santa Clara University, Classical Studies/English
School in Czech Republic: VOŠ a střední zemědělská škola, Benešov
Age: 22
Favorite Quote: “Learning to dance in the rain."
Favorite Czech food: “I like it all. It's all good.” 

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Where are you are from, and what did you study?

I’m from California, and when I was seven years old, I moved to Germany for five years because my dad was a doctor in the army. When I was 12, we moved back to California, and we’ve been there for ten years now. I graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies and English from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.

What are you passionate about? 
I think I’m most passionate about writing. I enjoy writing my own stories and essays, but I also like helping other people write. At my university, I worked as a writing partner for three years helping ESL students with their writing. My roommate was from Shanghai, China, so I helped her a lot with her papers. I think that’s where I found my purpose in helping other people communicate and express themselves with the written word. I’m also passionate about literature, communication, cultures and food too, but just eating it, not cooking.

Why did you choose the Czech Republic?
Part of the reason is because I lived in Germany for five years and I’ve always wanted to come back to Europe; it was really hard for me to leave. I also studied in Italy for four months during my university studies, so I wanted to see another side of Europe after seeing Germany and Italy. I also have family that is from the Czech Republic: my grandmother’s grandmother immigrated from Czechoslovakia. My other grandparents are from Hamburg, Germany. They grew up during the war where as children they were sent to the Czech Republic in an effort by the Germans to preserve the brains of the country. The history is really interesting, and it ties to my family history as well. I wanted to learn more about it and come back to Europe.

How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
I first heard about it my junior year of college. I was in an Argumentation class and my professor, who had done Fulbright somewhere in the Caribbean, was telling us about the program. I’d been thinking about teaching after my university studies, so I had the Fulbright program in the back of my mind from my professor. Then, when I started researching more, I realized that I really wanted to go back to Europe. My sister also pushed me to apply for the Fulbright program.

In what ways did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic?
I spent a lot of time with my family because I knew I would be away for a whole year. I also took a couple of trips by myself to get used to solo traveling, and I visited my grandparents. My 84 year-old opa did a lot of research for me. He Googled my school, he Google-walked all the streets of my town, he showed me everything! I also bought a Czech textbook, and I tried to start learning, but it’s a difficult language. I’m still struggling with it.

How about the school you’re working at this year?
It’s a specialized agriculture school. They have a few different branches, mainly agriculture, veterinary and natural sciences. They have gardening, golf, horse breeding and horse riding. The school is about 400-500 students. All of the students have practical training in addition to their classes, which is interesting, because Czech school timetables change a lot more than American ones do. This school especially changes a lot, because as far as I understand, the practicums depend on the weather. There has to be a lot of flexibility. It’s an interesting juggle of the school and practical work. They practice driving tractors in between the lunch and the school buildings. They have a farm that they practice on too, which is really cool because I get to go horseback riding every week.

I also teach special English classes, like veterinary English. It’s been difficult, but also really interesting because I get to learn anatomy and things like that. It’s pretty cool so far, and I don’t have to go to dissections or anything, so I’m okay with it. 

What town are you living in this year?
Benešov is about 40 kilometers south of Prague. The population is about 16,000 people. The town has pretty much everything I need in it. Everyone I’ve met has been really helpful and kind. The town also has the castle Konopiště, which was Franz Ferdinand’s castle. It has some interesting history because it was also the Nazi SS headquarters during the war.

What was it like adjusting to life in your town?
Surprisingly, it was not very difficult. I was afraid I was going to be lonely, but when I got here my mentor was super helpful and friendly and their family kept me busy. I just didn’t feel alone at all, and all the Fulbright people are so cool. We all have similar interests, so it makes it easy to hang out and get along. It hasn’t been difficult because I’ve met so many amazing people. However, winter is coming, and that might make things more difficult [laughs].
[Editor’s note: Clara is from California, and has no concept of what winter is].

Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
I have two coffee clubs: I meet once a week with students and once a week with teachers. They all have different levels of English and it’s fun to get everyone together. The stronger ones can translate back and forth and help the other students. The teachers have different levels also. In both clubs, we talk mostly about cultural differences between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. It’s just a great chance to talk outside the classroom in a more informal setting.

What do you like about teaching English?
I love English and I love grammar. I’m probably one of the only people who does, but I really feel strongly about it! I like being able to help people express themselves and realize that they can communicate their ideas, because I think everyone has ideas and opinions that are worth hearing. It’s frustrating when you can’t communicate in speech or in writing, so I like that side of helping people realize that they can communicate. It’s really fun here, especially because with the cultural differences, we get to come to cultural understandings while we’re also learning the language.

What do you hope to accomplish during your grant year?
I hope to make a difference, an impact in the people that I meet here... I know that in teaching English, I won’t be able to make any one student fluent in English by the end of the year, but I think mostly I can help by promoting cultural understanding. I want to learn from other people, and I want that exchange. I want to make an impact and show them what another lifestyle or culture is like, and help them make the same cultural connections that I really like to make. By seeing another culture, you learn a lot about what you want, what you value and what you don’t value, so it goes both ways. I want my students and the teachers I work with to see that even as they’re learning from me, I’m learning from them at the same time.

What do you think is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
Language barriers and cultural differences. Living on my own in a foreign country and figuring out what to do when things break and my landlord only speaks Czech. That’s been difficult.

A cultural difference that was a challenging, or it was important for me to realize early on was that we have different ideas of things like hobbies and how interested you are in something. I think for Czechs, when they’re interested in something, they’re really interested in it. I’m more spread out and dabble more into hobbies. For example, I said I was interested in hiking or biking, and I ended up going on a 40 km bike ride through plains, rocks, and rivers. It was the same with the hike: I thought it would be like a two-hour hike, and it turned into a whole day hiking! Little cultural differences like that. It can be difficult to navigate them, but the difficulty is figuring out those differences and staying positive even when you’re in the 35th km of your bike ride. You have to stay calm and positive, and just enjoy where they take you. 

What is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?

That’s probably also the most rewarding part: overcoming the challenges of different barriers or cultural differences. Getting to know people, and seeing how totally different their lives are, but also how similar they are. Finding value in the different lifestyles. I think it’s nice to be able to see the pros and cons to both lifestyles; it’s rewarding to see the other side.

What places in Czech Republic do you want to travel to?
I want to see as much as I can! I really want to go to the Trosky Castle. Also Karlovy Vary and Český Krumlov are at the top of my list.

What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
It’s about everything that I think is really important in learning a foreign language, and that’s cultural understanding. It promotes cultural understanding between everyday citizens, and getting to know people on a personal level where you’re giving your actual opinions and showing actual American values through everyday interactions. It’s much different from reading about Americans, or meeting American tourists, because this is about creating friendships. I haven’t been as afraid of being imperfect, because the idea is to get to know our culture on a personal level, including flaws and different opinions. It’s about communicating and exchanging different ideas.

What was one of your favorite things that has happened so far?
There have been so many! I’ve gone to some really cool events like Velká Pardubická, which is the steeplechase event. Seeing cultural events like that has been really cool. I think one of my favorite experiences was when I lived with a family for the first month. It was a teacher’s family, and her husband and two boys, who are five and seven, do not speak any English. They took me into the family completely, they called me their third child and it was great to be taken in like that. I went to a wedding with them, and I took the boys to school in the morning before work. The boys actually taught me my first Czech words! My Czech vocab comes from playing Legos with the boys.

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I think I’ve already changed a lot. I’ve become more comfortable traveling by myself, and more reliant on myself for figuring things out, but also more willing to ask for help. That’s something at home I kind of hesitate to do, but I got over that here because you have to ask for help. I’ve also gotten more comfortable talking to people I don’t know, and accepting help in addition to asking for it. I think all those things have changed me a lot, as well as learning more about different cultures and historical backgrounds, like different governments between communism and democracy. I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve gotten a lot better communicating, and it’s increased my appreciation for cultural differences as well. I would love to continue working with other countries and cultures.

Do you have plans for what you’ll do after your Fulbright year?
I have no plans! I’m open to the possibilities. I’m hoping I’ll have an epiphany this year in realizing what I want to do next year. I’ll probably go back to be around my family in California, although I would like to stay in Europe. I’ll probably work a bit in editing and publishing before going to graduate school, something with writing and cultures.

Anything else you want to add?
I think growing up in Germany changed me a lot. I feel like my childhood was spent in Germany. I’m not sure I would have gone for something like this year abroad without that experience. If it hadn’t been forced on me, I wouldn’t be here now. It made a big impact on me to realize when I was young that I’m not the only culture and to realize there are different ways of doing things and different languages, and to realize there’s no right or wrong associated with it, which when you’re young, can seem that way. It was normal to me to not be able to communicate with my neighbors.

My family are my favorite people in the world, which maybe my siblings would not say the same about me, [laughs], but they’re my favorite people. I think part of it was growing up in Germany in a military community where there was a lot of change and moving. We spent a lot of time together and they have always been my best friends.

Clara Cushing (second from left) with her students

2016/11/09

Get to Know a Grantee – Teal Vickery

Interview By: Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Teal Vickrey
Nestled at the foot of the Šumava mountains lays the picturesque town of Vimperk, where Teal Vickrey is serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant this year. As a native Coloradoan, she is used to living in mountainous areas, but still finds herself awed by the nature and beauty of Šumava, as well as impressed at how active the community is in hiking, cycling and skiing. Vickrey herself is passionate about education, communication and writing, and at only two months into her grant year, is already starting to feel at home in her South Bohemian town of 8,000 people.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------

Hometown: Louisville, Colorado
University/Major: Colorado State University, Communication/English
School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium a SOŠ ekonomická, Vimperk
Age: 22
Favorite Quote: “What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” –Buddha
Favorite Czech food: “I love svíčková and creamy mushroom soup.”

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Can you give some personal background details, where you are from, what you studied, what your interests are?
I studied at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, Colorado, but I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. I studied Communication studies, and had the original intention to become a writer for a TV show, which is still in the back of my mind as a possibility. I also took on English creative writing when I became more interested in becoming an educator, and I graduated last year.

What are you passionate about?
I really like to write, mostly creative nonfiction, which is exploring real elements of your life through creative lenses. Additionally, I’m really passionate about human connections, and how to do that in a way that benefits both people. Especially with communication across cultures, I think it’s really important to learn which parts of that are valuable and good, and I think the whole world can benefit from learning those kinds of communication and behavioral skills. So I’m very conscious of myself and how I act in situations. I always try to be the best I can be, and as understanding as possible.

Why did you choose the Czech Republic?
I chose the Czech Republic because I studied Czech literature at Charles University in 2014, and I loved it, but I felt like I didn’t get to see Czech culture as a whole. I saw the little part of culture that existed in Prague, which I felt was very westernized and Americanized. I wanted to get back and live somewhere else so I could get in a whole new level of Czech culture.

How did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic?
I took a lot of time for myself to prepare for leaving to make sure I was mentally ready to embark. I also worked at a summer camp to save up some money, and I worked with kids, which also helped me to get into the education mode. There’s only so much you can do and then you just have to go.

Tell me about the town you’re living in this year.
I live in Vimperk; it is a very active town. Every weekend people are up at their cabins, walking, hiking and cycling. My mentor cycles 160 kilometers every weekend. They are very connected to the land and are very active with it. They take everything from the plants of Šumava. For example, I’ve gotten honey from flowers, jam from berries, and herbal remedies for when I was sick.

Tell me about your school that you’re working at this year.

I am teaching at Gymnazium a Stredni odborna skola ekonomicka, I believe it’s a little less than 300 students. The school used to be economics, but the new focus is on sports training. We have a very serious cycling and cross-country team, which mirrors this community and how active they are. The hallways are lined with pictures of people who have gone on to represent the Czech Republic in cross-country skiing. But unfortunately, there is almost a lack of any liberal arts channel for students who might be interested in that. It’s not a requirement to be in sports to study at the school, but that’s why a lot of them are here. Students come from all over the country specifically to study in Šumava.

Does that remind you of being in Colorado?
Yes, but they take it to another level here than in Colorado. Here it’s traditional, it’s not a new wave of health consciousness. It is culturally driven. It’s embedded.

Where are you living this year?
It was actually fairly easy. I was sent two options and instead of living at the school hostel, I decided to live with Magda. All of the Americans who have ever lived in Vimperk have lived with Magda, so I agreed! I call her my Czech mom because I get cookies every day, I’m invited out with her family and I’ve become friends with her daughter. I know a lot of other ETAs are living alone, and I feel really grateful that I get to live with this family.

How has it been adapting to life in your town?
Honestly, it was really hard for me. I think I overestimated my ability to adapt into new situations because I grew up my whole life moving around. I thought I was really good at going in between places, but that was in the same culture and language confines. Coming here was a lot more difficult for me, and I felt almost really isolated. It was strange; it was this feeling of loneliness I have never felt before. I was like, what the heck, I’m surrounded by all these people, yet I feel so far away from all of them. It was just the cultural and language barriers. On top of that, I really wanted to impress them. Finally, I just needed to be myself. And they needed to take it or leave it. I am not all of America, and I am not all English speakers. I am myself. That was a really healing realization to have. It’s just me here. I’m not carrying the weight of everybody, and I don’t need to change the world right away.

Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
Yes, I have a creative writing club. We meet at this café every Wednesday. I teach them about different creative essay forms, which we practice and do free writes. We’re also working on developing a blog so they can publish their own material. On top of that, I’m collaborating on a project with the school to publish a creative writing magazine for one of their Maturita projects. It will be poems, short stories, essays and photos about Vimperk.

I think it’s one thing to be able to write in English, and it’s another to creatively express yourself in English. It’s a really good skill to have. [The club] has become like a therapy session. It’s mostly girls in the club, and we’re exploring really personal parts of our lives. I talk about safe spaces with them, that what we discuss doesn’t leave this space. We’re really sharing with each other.

What do you like about teaching English?
I just really like teaching. It’s something I think I’ve always known about myself. I’ve always been able to connect with youth. I’m excited to wake up in the morning and connect with kids, because they really do have some of the best ideas and they deserve to be listened to. It’s also a unique experience, especially in the Czech Republic, because they’re not always asked for their input, so it’s really fun to hear what they think and what their opinions are.

What do you hope to accomplish during your grant year?
During my grant year, I don’t think I’m going to do anything extraordinary. If I can make an impression on a few students and change the way they think about the world, and in return, learn some lessons from students or people in the town...

This is really a give-and-take experience, an exchange, and if there is even a little growing or some seeds planted for the future, I will feel like I had a successful time here.

What is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
I was just thinking about this the other day. In class we were talking about animals and the noises they make, and in the Czech Republic, it’s absolutely different! I felt this is so reflective of my time here: everything is different, down to the noise an animal makes. I’m not only different in the language I speak, but culturally I am a minority here. It was really hard to get used to feeling misunderstood, but I’ve learned to relax into that gray area. I try really hard not to see my culture as good, or theirs as bad, or vice versa, but to accept that its different, and to just revel in that feeling. It’s very uncomfortable, but I am trying.

What is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
I think the growth that comes from that discomfort. I’m learning a lot about myself, others and the world at the same time. For example, how you see another culture, your initial reactions and how sometimes it can be negative. You need to push past that to understanding. World peace is never going to be reached unless everyone leans into that discomfort a little more. I think it’s a very valuable thing to understand.

What places in Czech Republic do you want to travel to?

Moravia. I’ve never been before! I’ve just heard legends of the amazing wine cellars! Also, I’ve heard Czech Switzerland is incredible. I’d like to go visit some of the towns that are near Poland. After going to Vimperk, and seeing how different it is from Prague, I can just imagine how the towns by Poland and in Moravia would have different vibes as well, and I’m interested to check that out.

Do you have any other travel plans for this year?
Denmark, where my ancestors are from. Also, I’m trying to get an Asia trip underway when everything ends. I hope to be in Asia for a month, to teach or work in a kids’ camp.

What is something interesting you have learned about Czech culture?
On top of them being very knowledgeable about the land that surrounds them and being very resourceful, something I didn’t know about was their holiday where the devil comes to your house- St. Mikolas Day! I thought it was like St. Nicholas Day in America, where you leave your shoes out, and he puts candy in your shoes, but no, I was informed he actually comes to your house dressed up as a devil. I was in complete shock! I know I would be terrified. Also, the fact that it’s baby Jesus who comes [on Christmas Day to deliver presents]. But then I was reflecting on Santa Claus, and I realized that’s equally bizarre. I really enjoyed myself thinking about all these weird things we do, like we have this old dude, who’s breaking and entering at night. At least baby Jesus comes during the day here. It’s more polite for sure.

What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
When I was applying for Fulbright, I was excited for this opportunity to feel uncomfortable. I really do believe that this uncomfortable state where things are growing and changing is so important to put yourself in. Fulbright offers that opportunity for Americans to live somewhere different, and experience it. On top of that, I wanted to learn about education systems in other places because I think the American education system is taking a fall for the worse.

It’s the opportunity to discover around the world, which I hope to continue afterwards. It’s fantastic that they’ve allowed me to take my first step. I can take back to the U.S. what I learn, and hopefully, I can contribute to some sort of change, either as a teacher or as an administrator. Fulbright really opens the doors and provides that initial opportunity for students. I wish more students knew about it, because it’s such a valuable opportunity.

The Fulbright Commission makes it as comfortable as possible for you so you can focus on what’s important.

What do you hope to get out of your year here in Czech Republic with Fulbright?
Professional practice to see if teaching is something I really want to pursue, which at the moment, it absolutely is, as well as, lifelong connections with students, the town and townspeople that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. If I can leave with real relationships… sure, they’re not tangible, but they’re the most important things to me.

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I saw, on a smaller scale when I went for study abroad and came back, how differently I saw everything. You realize that the world is a lot bigger and some problems aren’t as important. It really changes your perspective. After a year away, I can only imagine what returning home will be like. I think it’ll push me in the direction of my future in the way it is supposed to go. I can’t even know what that is yet because there are things I still need to learn and realize.

What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
Currently I’m really interested in staying abroad and checking out more of the Czech Republic school system, or school systems in other European countries. I want to keep doing more of my research on what works, and what doesn’t work for educating our youth.

Eventually I’m interested in going back to school, but I’m still on the fence about what to get my master’s degree in. All I know is that it will be education focused, but I don’t know what angle that will be from yet. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just love teaching. I’m super happy. Thank you Fulbright!


Teal Vickery (center) with students in Vimperk, South Bohemia