ETA Spotlight Interview: Madison Sewell

by Sinia Amanonce

Madison Sewell
Madison Sewell is spending a year abroad as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Benešov, Czech Republic. Below, Madison talks about her experience in the classroom, the mentor that encouraged her to apply for Fulbright, and advice on how to prepare for a year abroad.

Fast Facts 
Hometown: Texarkana, Texas
Age: 24
College, Major/Minor: University of Central Arkansas, Health Science/ Interdisciplinary Studies
School in the Czech Republic: SOŠ a SŠ zdravotnická Benešov
Favorite Czech food: Svíčková
Favorite Quote: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” --Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Madison, it is so great to finally meet you. Please, tell me about yourself.
My name is Madison Sewell. I am 24 years old. I am from Texarkana, Texas. I went to university at the University of Central Arkansas and it is about 30 miles from Little Rock. When I was there, I studied Health Science and Interdisciplinary Studies. I ran track and cross country. I also worked as a writing tutor. My hobbies are running and reading.

What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about education in every sense. I like keeping abreast with political and social justice issues, and talking about these topics with friends and family. I like being in the classroom and working one-on-one with people to help them in any way that I can. I, myself, am passionate about learning and I love being a student as well as a teacher. I think I feel most happy when I’m working with someone and I can see that things are starting to click. That is probably the best feeling for me.

Why did you choose to apply to the Czech Republic for your Fulbright grant?
I chose the Czech Republic because when I was in university, I had 4 roommates and friends who either immigrated themselves or their parents were from countries that spoke Slavic languages. I learned a lot about their cultures, countries, and languages with them. I was curious about these places because when I was in high school we didn’t study Eastern Europe very much. Meeting them was my first experience with Eastern Europe. When I was look at countries to apply for Fulbright, I looked at all these countries, but with the Czech Republic, the commission supported all of the grantees really well.

How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA Program?
I had a great advisor who was a mentor to me. She happened to be the Fulbright advisor for my university and when I was a senior, I had a seminar class that was about environmental and economic sustainability. As part of one of our projects, we had to present on a topic to our class. Afterwards, she took me aside and said “I think you’d be great in classroom. Have you ever thought about applying for a Fulbright grant?” I didn’t know what it was, so I looked into it.

Very cool. What is her name? Maybe she will read this post one day.
Dr. Allison Wallace. My university has an honors college and to finish the honors college, we have to minor in Interdisciplinary Studies. She was the first professor I had while studying for this minor. She interviewed me for this program, so we had this 4-year mentor/mentee relationship. She always pushed me to be a better writer and critical thinker, and she was a really tough professor. When she gave you praise it meant a lot. When she recommended that I apply for Fulbright I was like, “Wow, I really have a shot at it if she is telling me to do it.” I really appreciate her thoughtfulness for all of her students. She always encourages us to be the best we can be. It sounds really cheesy, I know.

Speaking of how someone has helped you, what advice would you give to upcoming grantees on how to prepare for the Fulbright ETA experience?
I think the best part about this grant has been learning about new things. I would not try to overly prepare if you know you’re coming to the Czech Republic because the discovery and the small things I did not know, and learned about by coming here, have been better to learn than to prepare for.

I understand that! Learning through experience is different from learning about others’ experiences through reading.
Yeah, it is more fun. If you were to prepare, something I did was make a list of things I was anxious about. I was very anxious to leave the U.S. because I was stepping into the unknown. I wrote about all these things like being lonely and the language barrier being too difficult. Then, in a separate column, I had a list of things I could do to mitigate that anxiety. If I felt lonely, I would say “yes” more to invitations or make an effort to connect with people in my cohort. The condensed version of that is to think about problems you may run into and then have a plan and a way to remind yourself so you don’t get lonely or homesick.

But it is so hard to be homesick in Benešov, it’s a beautiful town! How was it adjusting to living in the Czech Republic?
I honestly think it hasn’t been too hard to adjust. I thought it would be harder. I think the hardest thing is not speaking Czech and going to the grocery store for the first time. I remember I was trying to find flour, and there are so many different types of flour. I didn’t know what to do. I had to go home and use Google. That’s the main thing - adjusting to the language barrier.

What is the school that you are working at this year like?
I work at a technical school and it trains future nurses, dental technicians, social workers, and there is also a branch for public administration.

What do you enjoy about teaching English?
I think the thing I enjoy the most about teaching English is there are so many different ways to learn. Learning a language is multi modal. For example, you can read, listen to music, play games, do projects, and practice by speaking. There is a lot of flexibility in the classroom and I can always do something new.

What has been the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
You get a different perspective on how to do things. Working abroad, especially in the classroom, and experiencing what a Czech classroom is like, makes you think about your own experiences. Sharing meals or celebrating holidays with my mentor and her family is more enriching than just reading about a different culture. It’s the experience.

What has been the biggest surprise of your experience thus far?
Last Tuesday, my mentor and I were doing a lesson on cultural differences. For a warm-up activity, my mentor asked the students to brainstorm what stereotypes they had about Americans. Then, she asked me to brainstorm stereotypes what Americans thought of Czechs. What came to mind was that Czech people are cold or rude. During that same week, some of my students returned from a class trip to Switzerland and they brought me chocolate. It was super nice and I wasn’t expecting it!

Later in the week, one of my coworkers brought me homemade food stuff like pickles, spicy peppers, and pressed juice. Then, that Friday, I went to my students’ ribbon ceremony. They made me a ribbon and pinned it on me. They thanked me for being here and it was so touching.

Over the weekend, I was thinking about all of these things. Most of the Czech people I have met are warm, friendly, giving, and I thought “Yeah, this is what Fulbright is about. I’ve never met a Czech. Most of my students have never met an American. But here we are, sharing experiences, learning about each other, and realizing we are more than the stereotypes we read on the internet.” I feel so overwhelmed with kindness every day. People have welcomed me, and have been so helpful. I think, “Do I really deserve this?” I think that is why the transition has been so easy for me because I never really felt alone in the process.

How are you feeling about everything at this moment?
I feel great. I feel like time is moving really quickly and every time a month passes, I get sad that it is already over. I am loving every minute and new experience.

Ribbon ceremony


ETA Spotlight Interview: Meredith Rossignol

by Sinia Amanonce

Meredith Rossignol
Meredith Rossignol is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Litomyšl, Czech Republic. A special education teacher of four years and an alumna of the prestigious Teach for America program, Meredith is a passionate educator that encourages her students to engage their multiple intelligences and take ownership of their own learning. Read below to find out what Meredith has to say about the differences between Czech and American schools, life in the Czech Republic, and what her students taught her to say using Czech language.

Fast Facts  
Hometown: Barre, Vermont
Age: 26
College, Major/Minor: Bucknell University, International Relations and Spanish/ History
School in the Czech Republic: Vyšší odborná škola pedagogická a Střední pedagogická škola Litomyšl
Favorite Czech word or phrase: “Slon je velký [elephant is big] - really helpful because there are so many elephants here.”
Favorite Czech food: Svíčková
Favorite Quote: “Strive for progress, not perfection.”

Hey, Meredith! Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m from a small town in Vermont called Barre. I went to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania for my bachelor’s and then did Teach for America. While doing Teach for America, I got my master’s in Special Education from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Then, I was a special education teach for four years before coming here.

What led you to apply for the Fulbright grant?
My undergrad major was International Relations and I’ve always loved travelling and learning about the world. After my first year of teaching, I did an internship with the Kern Family Foundation near Milwaukee where I worked with on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test for the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and looked at different educational systems throughout the world, and I loved doing that. I knew that at some point in my career, I wanted to work more with international education. After four years in Wisconsin, it was just time for a change. When the Fulbright opportunity came up, I learned more about it, and it was basically everything I ever wanted to do with teaching, learning about international education, travelling, and learning about new cultures.

Fulbright is really cool, right? Why did you choose the Czech Republic?
I’ve always been interested in Central European history. Last summer, my husband and I visited Prague, and I loved it. I didn’t know a lot about Czech education, it wasn’t one of the countries that I studied with the Kern Foundation, so I really wanted to learn more.

You have a lot of classroom experience. What do you think is the biggest difference between American and Czech education?
There’s so many! Wow, I don’t know if I can pick just one because it’s so different! The biggest difference is that students with disabilities are not educated in the same classrooms as their peers in regular education. I teach 150 students and I have about two or three students with disabilities.

I try to do general differentiations within lessons and give differentiated instructions to provide more support. Then, depending on the assessment or what my student needs, I’ll allow them to use notes, give them extended time, give them a separate setting. There’s not a ton of modifications I can make, unfortunately, because there are no modifications on the maturita [final] exam

But I do have a website! I put all of my lessons online before class so my students can look through them ahead of time and translate words they don’t know so they can understand.

I’d love to see your website!
Its https://meredithrossignol.weebly.com/

Do you have a project for this year?
Within my teaching, I’m trying to teach students ways of learning through Interactive Notebooks. It uses the Multiple Intelligences theory and combining it with taking notes. It combines art, with writing and notetaking to get students out of textbooks and have them take ownership of their own learning. They really do put a lot of effort in their notebooks and it's evident and awesome. When I was a special education teacher, it was one of the most helpful tools for my students.

It’s sounds like you’ve been doing great. Do you have any advice on how to prepare for the Fulbright grant to the Czech Republic?
I don’t think I’ve planned enough. I tried to learn some Czech but I could have done a lot more. I think just try to talk to your mentor as much as possible and reach out to build relationships ahead of time, so it’s not so shocking when you get here.

What town are you living in this year?
Litomyšl - it is perfect. It’s amazing. It’s a small town of about ten thousand people. It is the birthplace of Bedřich Smetana, a famous Czech composer. Music and the arts are very special to my town and the school. It feels so liberal and cool. It’s a little music and artsy town. I just love it.

What do you enjoy about teaching English?
I love teaching about (American) culture and how students get excited to learn about something that’s totally different from their own experiences. The other part, is that I love watching students become more and more comfortable with English, and then watching them start to talk. In the beginning of September my students were shy and didn’t know what to expect and had low confidence in their language abilities. But, as these two months have gone on I’ve seen them open up, talk, and get excited and motivated to speak in English.

How was adjusting to living in the Czech Republic?
It’s always challenging being part of a different culture you are not familiar with. I think the Czech Republic there is definitely more of an emphasis on community and you support your community - everyone shops at locally owned stores. There are shopping centers or fast food in my town. You can not just go to one store and get everything you need. It can be a bit of an inconvenience, but it has made me integrate more into the community.

I understand that! It is not what we are used to in the U.S. So, on the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
Meeting the people. My coworkers and students have made me feel so welcome and like a part of the community. Everyone keeps taking me out for coffee and I enjoy it because everyone is so kind and welcoming. It makes me so happy to be here.

I know it is still early in the grant year, but how do you think your life will change as a result of this year with Fulbright?
I don’t know how it won’t change. One thing I didn’t expect is how much I’m learning to appreciate America. Being away from home, I realize there are a lot of things I took for granted and things that I miss. I take for granted how Americans will speak out for injustice, and how passionate and outspoken they are about their beliefs. I think there are many cultures where people are not as outspoken and it is less normal for people to find ways to stand up for injustice. I know I will have a better understanding of what the world is like because I’ve experienced multiple cultures.

How are you feeling about everything at this moment?
I feel so lucky that I get to be here. The emotion I’ve been feeling overwhelmingly for the past few months is gratitude because the people I have met here - my mentor, my students, and Kelsey, another ETA in Litomyšl. I think the people in this town are so special and I’m so lucky I know them.

Meredith with her Czech colleague


Get to Know a Grantee - Professor Gene Terruso

By Maureen Heydt

Gene Terruso
Gene Terruso has established a diverse career working as an actor, director, producer, writer, and professor. He can now also add Fulbright Scholar to that list, as he has just completed a nine-month teaching grant to two universities in Brno, Czech Republic. Terruso taught a variety of courses and workshops this year at both Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (JAMU) and Masaryk University, where he also directed a play with the city’s oldest and only English-language theatre company, the Gypsywood Players, who are affiliated with the English and American Studies program at Masaryk. Through the Fulbright Program, Terruso was able to experience and immerse himself in Czech university and theatre life, and in a twist of good news, he will be returning to the Czech Republic this fall. Serving as a Visiting Professor to the University of Hradec Králové, he will also be collaborating again with JAMU and Masaryk, as well as working on an exciting new project to create the first English-speaking theatre in Brno, as commissioned by the Brno Expats organization. Here, Gene Terruso candidly discusses his career and experiences, as well as what the Fulbright Program means to him.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Adjunct Full Professor, College of Performing Arts, University of the Arts, PA
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Theater, JAMU; Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, Brno
  • Project: The American Century on Stage and Screen: History, Literature and Performance
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Humanities/Theater Studies
  • Academic Background: MFA, Theater, Rutgers University, New Jersey

Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself?
I have worked as a professional actor, director, producer and author, and as an educational administrator throughout my career. I have appeared on Broadway, major regional theatres and on stages throughout Europe, as well as working in film and TV. My career in conservatory/academy directorship includes stints as director of the Ira Brind School of Theatre at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and as President of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (NYC and Hollywood). The latter is the oldest institution for actor training in the English-speaking world. This was not my first position in service to a ‘legacy’ organization. I also served as Artistic Director of the Provincetown Playhouse, New York City’s first Off-Broadway theatre and the home to 17 world premieres by Eugene O’Neill, the Father of American Theatre. My current work as a teacher focuses on English and American Studies, acting for the camera, developing librettos for rock musicals based on classic artists, studying and making use of dance dramaturgy and lecturing on media and political commentary in the USA from the 1930’s to the present.

And what courses have you been teaching this year at both JAMU and Masaryk University? And what other projects have you worked on?
At JAMU I taught courses in “Current Trends in American Theatre,” “Current Trends in American Musical Theatre” and the “Meisner Acting Technique.” I also directed a production of the musical “Light Beneath the Brel Café.” This is a new show I adapted from the well-known musical revue of Jacques Brel songs. I developed a scenario/plot line, created dramatic personae, incorporated some new songs, replaced some older ones, tweaked a very few lyrics and wrote the libretto for the story. Brel’s publishers allowed the show to be licensed as an entirely new property under my name. The show was scheduled and ran in repertory at JAMU’s Divadlo Na Orli.

At Masaryk, I taught a BA course in “The American Century On Stage and Screen” and an MA course in the same subject. I also directed a production of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology,” at the Buran Theatre in Brno, with the city’s oldest and only English-language theatre company, the Gypsywood Players. The company is associated with Masaryk University’s program in English and American Studies, the faculty with which I taught.

I also taught a series of workshops at JAMU – Theatre Management, Dance Dramaturgy and Research Methods. I also gave a presentation on Election Night 2016 at the American Embassy in Prague on the topic of Hollywood’s treatment of presidential elections. I was invited back later in the year to offer a lecture on new American TV shows for Czech professors in American studies. These dealt with new performance approaches, socially relevant themes and how shows breakthrough to serial and episodic production. I gave a lecture at the International Theatre Festival in Brno in December on the evolution of the Sanford Meisner Acting technique and its prevalence in major American training programs. In the spring, I also presented at The Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (DAMU) in Prague, discussing how the Meisner work, although created for the stage actor, was actually an ideal process for training the on-screen actor.

You’ve worked in a variety of different capacities, from actor, director, producer, and playwright to professor. What do each of these roles mean to you?
Very hard to answer. They each have their advantages. As a playwright, I feel the greatest degree of ownership over a work, although I have long since learned that a writer should not direct her/his own work – at least not until it’s been done a few times by others. What a writer can learn about his play through a good director is incalculable. One likes to think that the beautiful nuances that a director can reveal were hidden gems within the script. More likely, these gems are often just the creative genius of the director.

As a director, one experiences both the greatest degree of fulfillment in realizing a vision more fully than anyone else working on a project, but he also incurs an unimaginable amount of pressure keeping everything together. And it is critically important that none of that stress is ever revealed to other members of the company. The balance, comfort, and momentum of a production depend upon a director who remains focused and grounded. The greatest reward of directing is engaging in the collaborative process with one’s team of designers, musical directors, and choreographers –when working in that genre and, yes, even with actors. Another great joy in directing is that once the show opens, I am free, whereas an actor must live with the show for its entire run.

Actors can be temperamental and sensitive, but ultimately the success of any production relies mostly upon them. I love actors and love working with them. Being one myself, I believe, helps me understand their concerns and is the biggest factor in the success of the shows I’ve done and in the general perception of me as an effective director.

My own acting might be my greatest source of artistic satisfaction. For a variety of reasons, I suspect it might be my greatest talent. Certainly the opportunity to focus is much greater. While an actor must be responsive to and aware of his acting partners, it is the only area of MY endeavors where I am responsible only to myself. All my other activities require that I see to the needs of many, many others. I experience a sense of self-exploration, discovery, and purgation when I am totally invested in a part and feel somehow liberated when in command of a role. Of course, as I mentioned above, an actor is tethered to a show from first rehearsal through closing so, on balance, I probably prefer working on film. You do the shoot and move on.

Working as a producer is fool’s gold. The illusion –or the reality-- of having final control over an entire production rarely brings rewards that can balance out the frustrations and challenges that come with that kind of responsibility. Nevertheless, it is a role that I have a difficult time staying away from, as is evident in my new role as Artistic Director of the new English-language theatre in Brno, which I was asked to create by the organization Brno Expats.

Of all these roles, none brings me the joy and happiness of teaching. It is something I feel I do very well and have received much affirmation on that point. The prospects of sharing knowledge in a humanities course or helping aspiring artists strengthen their technique provide an invigorating sense of helping others and making important contributions to their lives. I close the door to the studio or lecture hall at the beginning of class and I feel as though I have left the world’s troubles behind me. I open the door, at the conclusion of a great class or on a break midway during class, and I feel as though my lungs are filled with fresh air and my mind is alive with ideas that my students have evoked. I love my students. They teach me so much.

And why did you choose the Czech Republic specifically, when you were looking at Fulbright?
This mostly had to do with the “American Century On-Stage and Screen” class. It is a course that traces the history of the USA in the 20th century and studies how major events and themes were treated by dramatists during this period. It also examines how these treatments reflected evolving social customs and culture. For too many years, I have taught the class for nothing but American students. I felt that I needed to gain some objectivity about the topics I was dealing with and felt that the best environment in which to do this would be one where the political, economic, and social atmosphere had undergone more profound changes throughout its history, than the more stable environment of America. In the Czech Republic, I found a country that had successfully emerged from decades of occupation, a long post-war period of repression, and the challenges of struggling with a socialist economy. To have adjusted as well as this country has, following the conclusion of those historic chapters, has given Czech people a view of both liberty and autocracy; free markets and socialism. This was a perspective that would have been impossible for me to draw upon at home. As such, I could now bring fresh viewpoints to my teaching back home and also provide –at Masaryk—a class that they felt filled a need in their American Studies program. Finally, there has been a small research component during my time here. As mentioned above, there is a production technique called ‘dance dramaturgy’ that is fairly popular in Europe and is gaining more popularity as time goes by. It is virtually unknown in the USA. I believe I can help enlighten my colleagues back home about this new process and that it can be of tremendous help to me in the musical adaptations I work on. The Czech Republic, in addition to having many superb dance companies, is also centrally located facilitating my visits to dance companies throughout the region. 

What has been the most rewarding experience for you here during your Fulbright?
The people. My colleagues, my students and my new Czech friends. I have learned a great deal about myself and gained valuable new perspectives on the American personality/disposition through my interaction with these new associates. 

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
The Fulbright mission is living proof that only through closer interaction can cultures truly know each other and, as the world moves more and more toward a global melting pot status, nothing could be more important in terms of tolerance, understanding, learning, and enrichment. Knowledge is freedom and a large part of loving. In the end, the best world for all of us is one that is free from fear. That is best achieved by putting ourselves as fully in touch with other cultures as we possibly can.

And if you could sum up your Fulbright experience in one word, what would it be?

A photo from “Light Beneath the Brel Café” musical, source: JAMU


Get to Know a Grantee - Ariane Willson

By Maureen Heydt 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Ariane Willson
Ariane Willson just completed her grant year serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Czech Republic, where she lived and worked for ten months in the famed city of Karlovy Vary, famous for its spas, rich history, and film festival. A native of Arizona, Ariane had much to adjust to, weather-wise and more, upon arriving in Karlovy Vary. Here, she reflects back on her grant year, the challenges she faced, and her Fulbright experience living in one of the most famous Czech cities.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • College, Major/Minor: Arizona State University, English Literature/Economics
  • School in Czech Republic: Střední průmyslová škola keramická a sklářská, Karlovy Vary
  • Age: 24
  • Favorite Czech Word: okurka (cucumber)
  • Favorite Quote: "But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed- because, 'Thou mayest.'" -John Steinbeck on the power of free will, East of Eden

Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself? 
Yeah, so, I’m a big nerd. I’ve always been a massive reader and writer, that’s why I studied words in college. I’ve been all over the place in terms of my work experience. I worked for two years as a content director at a marketing firm in Phoenix, and then I was the vice president for a fashion club on campus as well, which was kind of a shot in the dark for me, so it worked out nicely that I ended up teaching at a fashion school here in Czech Republic.

And what are you passionate about?
I like making people have joy, making people happy. Not in the people-pleaser sense, but I just enjoy loving people and serving them. A lot of times it’s with food, because I love to cook, but it’s also just through conversation and things like that.

Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright to Czech Republic specifically? 
A big passion of mine is art analytics and art history; I wrote my thesis in college on destructive and grotesque forms of beauty. I argued that there’s a beauty scale and that that scale does not include anything that is considered ugly. I think the Czech Republic was fascinating to me, because as a landscape and as a united group of people, they have such a tumultuous past, and a lot of the art and the personality of the place is reflected in that. I thought it was fascinating.

What is it like living in Karlovy Vary? 
It’s awesome! I feel really, really blessed, because I got placed here. It’s just a gorgeous little city. I think the history and the beauty of Karlovy Vary is interesting, how it was right on the border of the final push from the Allies, and how it was kind of like the crown jewel of the various administrations that were in power over here. There were a lot of Nazi balls and parties, and monuments to communism that are kind of still around. It’s just fascinating, it’s very layered.

What’s the school that you’re working at this year like? 
It’s a cross between a science and an art high school. It has fashion, ceramics, and we work with Moser glass factories, some of our students are apprentices there. There’s also chemistry, ecology, graphic design. It’s an interesting divide between kids, certainly. You can definitely tell the difference between the fashion kids and the ecology kids, and it’s not bad in any way, it’s just funny to be back in high school in the sense that there’s fashions and stuff.

And do you have an extra project you are working on this year, like an English club?
To be honest, it never took off. I attempted a couple of things in the beginning, but they didn’t get enough organization or support, and there wasn’t a good schedule fit for clubs, but I hang out with a lot of the students privately, either doing tutoring, or just getting drinks. It’s like a non-official English club.

You also attended a conference earlier this year in Stockholm on beauty, is that right? 
Yeah, I presented some research in Stockholm and that was really cool. I was the youngest person in the room. For college, I wrote a massive, exhaustive paper on for my thesis on themes of grotesque female beauty and modern art and fashion, and so I presented one of my chapters, which was on the trope of the female vampire, and how it’s threatening to gender and beauty stereotypes.

Very interesting. And what do you like about teaching English? 
I like that it brings out a lot of positivity in me. I’ve changed a little bit. I’m not as quick to make critical comments, for example, or have negative thoughts, and I definitely am grateful for that, that’s really cool.

What is the most challenging part of living and working abroad? 
Winter. Without a doubt, and not just the snow, but the darkness in more ways than one. Certainly, being really far from a support system that I’m familiar with, when also experiencing bouts of depression. It definitely was a challenge to learn to be alone and learn to make new connections and family, while I didn’t necessarily feel strong in myself.

How did you push through that? 
Conversation. Conversation with people here, I think I would highly emphasize, while also getting support for people back home, although no one there is going to really understand what you’re seeing and feeling, and the atmosphere you’re moving around in. I definitely got a massive amount of support from my friends both in the ETA program and in town here, so I just think it’s cool, because the demeanor and the type of people who live and work abroad, I find that a lot of us are very flexible, kind, open, and friendly, and we all have our moments of doubt and our low moments, so it’s easy to talk to people like that.

And what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
The people that I’ve met. Within the 20 ETAs here, we were incredibly close and there’s been no disagreements, everyone likes each other. It’s a very supportive, kind, and inspiring group of people to be around, and on a personal level, I’ve met some really wonderful expats in Karlovy Vary and created a little life for myself, which was definitely worth it.

What was one of your favorite things you have experienced during your grant year? 
Two things, getting to know Prague like the back of my hand. That’s cool to know one of the most famous cities in the world as if you’ve lived there. Another thing, I’ve had a relationship here, and that’s been really wonderful.

What places in Czech Republic did you enjoy traveling to? 
I really loved going down to Mikulov in Moravia in September, right when the wine season was coming to an end. That was definitely a top trip, and I definitely recommend road tripping. Even if it’s just an aimless drive, I’ve really enjoyed driving through the cities and countryside.

What does the Fulbright mission mean to you? 
I find myself having to believe and defend it more often, given our current situation financially with the administration. I think it means giving countries a face and a name, and personalizing the world on a small scale, because you have to start somewhere. If you think about it, it’s a bigger scale than we give it credit for, because I’m one person, but I work with almost 300 people, many of whom had never met an American, and vice versa, I’d never met a Czech person before. I think it’s incredibly valuable to learn things about yourself, and sort of force perspective on people and challenge worldviews, not necessarily in an argumentative kind of way, but in a way that you can see beauty, and you can identify humanity in others.

And how do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright? 
I no longer feel any fear and intimidation with moving somewhere new and knowing no one. I know that I haven’t gotten a job for next year yet, but I will be in the process of applying for nonprofit work, and I literally say I would go anywhere in the world at this point. I actually would like to challenge myself more with the next move, and get more of a culture shock by moving somewhere in southeast Asia or South America. I seek kindness in people more, I think, and I’m not doubtful of people I don’t know or understand.

And do you have any advice for the next group of ETAs, or for people considering applying for a Fulbright? 
For the next group, I would say, don’t doubt yourself and your decision. Definitely this position requires emotional strength, and you have to know that you’re enough for the task. There were certainly days that I needed to remind myself that I got here and I’m enough for that. And for people considering applying, either to Czech Republic or other places, don’t be afraid of applying somewhere that you don’t know anything about. I know when I first started researching Fulbright, I was only looking at countries that I recognized, in the sense that I would know a bit about the culture and the language, and I’m really appreciative that I ended up in a place where I didn’t know that much about the history or the language, and it’s certainly more eye-opening and world-rocking.

If you could sum your Fulbright experience using only one word, what would it be? 

And is there anything else you would like to add? 

Good luck going back to high school to whoever is coming next, because it’s certainly hard not to feel like a kid again!

Ariane Willson with friends in Prague

Get to Know a Grantee - Max Gollin

By Maureen Heydt  

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Max Gollin
Max Gollin is a Princeton University grad, and has just finished up his grant year serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to the Czech Republic. Max spent this year teaching at a gymnázium in Jihlava, a prominent provincial capital that straddles the dividing line between Bohemia and Moravia. Max is also an avid musician, and frequently incorporated music into his classroom to help make lessons fun and exciting for students. Read below to find out what Max has to say about his grant year in the Czech Republic, his advice for future Fulbrighters, and what he plans to do next.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • Hometown: Bowie, Maryland
  • College, Major/Minor: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
  • School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium, Jihlava
  • Age: 22
  • Favorite Czech Word: “Panelák” (apartment block)
  • Favorite Quote: A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”- William Shakespeare

Hi! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself- where you are from, what you studied, and what your interests are? 

I’m from Bowie, Maryland; I’m 22 years old. I graduated last spring with a degree from Princeton School of Public and International Affairs with a focus on Conflict Resolution. I’m really into writing and performing music, distance running, and rock climbing.

And what are you passionate about? 

Music is definitely a big one for me. I think it’s one of the best ways you can express yourself creatively, and it’s an awesome form of cross-cultural communication. It really works in any language. I’m also passionate about traveling, and getting to understand different cultural perspectives and seeing things in new ways. I’m also really passionate about getting out into nature and experiencing the natural world.

Why did you choose the Czech Republic specifically when applying for a Fulbright grant? 
It started with my uncle, because he’s Czech, and his family immigrated to the U.S. back in 1968, during the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion. His life story was always inspiring to me, and he actually organized for several summers this English teaching program for university students to go overseas to the Czech Republic. I was too young to go at the time, but he always brought back these great stories and talked about all these awesome experiences they had. It was also just an adventure for me; I hadn’t been east of Germany before that, and the fact that it’s in the dead center of Europe is perfect. Also, it let me be closer to my girlfriend, Isabelle, so that was a really nice bonus, too.

How did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic? 
The summer before, I started reading everything I could about my town and the Czech Republic in general. I tried to learn a bit of Czech through some audio learning CDs I got at my local library, and actually it was really sweet, some of my students before I even met them or got there emailed me a PowerPoint welcoming me to the school and telling me about the facilities and what to expect. That was really nice.

That’s so nice! And what is the town like that you are living in this year? 
I’m in Jihlava, a small city of around 50,000 people. It is the capital of the Vysočina, or ‘Highlands’ region. Historically, it was a German-speaking, silver mining town, so it’s sort of a unique island within the Czech Republic. There’s a lot of naturally beautiful areas, and the historic town square; it’s really pleasant. It has pretty much everything you need in terms of shops, restaurants, and local culture.

What’s the school that you’re working at this year like? 
It’s a gymnázium, meaning that the students there pretty much all intend to go to university. It’s this really beautiful 19th century baroque building, and the students are just so smart, funny, and motivated, and I can tell that the teachers really genuinely care about the students, and are invested in their education. It’s a really great school.

And do you have an extra project you are working on this year? 
There’s a couple of things I was doing. For example, I do have an English club that meets weekly in this local tearoom we have which is a really nice peaceful place where we drink tea and do some fun activities together. I also teach English lessons to other teachers in my school, who were interested in learning, but didn’t really have other opportunities to learn English. And as a smaller side thing, this spring I rehearsed for and performed with a group of my students in this spring charity concert at the school. We performed a bunch of Irish folk songs for an audience of the school and the local community.

That’s wonderful. What instrument did you play? 
For that performance, I was playing guitar. I normally use the guitar in my classes, just because it’s so portable, but I also play piano and electric bass. Also formerly a trumpet player, but it’s not the easiest to maintain.

That’s a great idea to use the guitar in your classroom! 
Yeah, I know there’s this saying, “Co Čech, to muzikant, meaning “Every Czech is a musician,” and I find it’s really true! Even my students who say they aren’t really into music, they all can hit the pitch and remember lyrics, and it’s just a great way to bring some English into the classroom and have fun with it. We do singalongs in class. Especially around the holidays, I remember we exchanged the English and Czech versions of some Christmas songs, and I even brought some Hanukkah music for them to check out.

And what do you like about teaching English? 
There’s a lot to like about it! I think partly it’s just such a flexible subject, so whatever the students are interested in and whatever I’m feeling would be fun or unique, there’s a way of weaving that into an English lesson, which I think is great. I also just think it’s really valuable. It’s something the students will almost invariably need in their lives or future careers, so just as a subject it’s something great to be able to pass on and have fun while you’re doing it.

What was one of your favorite things you have experienced so far during your grant year?
 My girlfriend and I went to the Svatý Martin, or Saint Martin’s, celebration in the Jihlava town square. I had no idea what it was about; some of my students and teachers had told me about it during the day, but I really thought that it was just this wild parade, with these enormous puppets marching through the street by torchlight, children running to pick up chocolate coins that this guy was throwing from the top of a horse, while dressed as a roman soldier, and there were these wonderful holiday markets with all this food, and then this crazy fireworks display, that went off over the whole city. It was a really unbelievable cultural event to be a part of.

And what is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
I think just the language barrier, especially when I first got here. It made everything that was already logistically difficult a bit more challenging, and if I could do it over again, I think I would have studied Czech a little more intensively before I got here, and been more dedicated to improving my language level as soon as I arrived.

And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
I think it’s really the people I’ve met here. I’ve interacted and become friends with people I just never would’ve met otherwise. I confronted cultural perspectives and beliefs that I never would have in another circumstance, and I think I’ve become more open-minded and a more mature person as a result, so yeah, that’s been great.

Why are international education and exchanges important for people to experience? 
I think it’s a chance for you to look beyond your normal day-to-day routine and realize that there’s more than one way to approach every issue and think about the world. I think that participating in a program like this has made me more independent, self-reliant, and adaptable, and I think that’s something that would really benefit anyone interested in a program like this.

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you? 
To me, the Fulbright mission means not just conveying your own perspective in an understandable and sensitive way, but really listening to what people on the other end of the exchange have to say and internalizing that, and taking it back with you.

Have you traveled anywhere in the Czech Republic that you really liked?
Yes, where to begin! I was in Kutná Hora with Isabelle visiting Sinia, another Fulbrighter, and the city is just absolutely gorgeous. The St Barbara’s Cathedral, that looks over this sunlit valley all the way to the nearby Sedlec Ossuary, which is this chapel decorated with human remains. I think there is something about that city that is so beautiful and so fundamentally Czech and unique.

And how do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I think that in the future I will definitely be less hesitant than I was before to pursue opportunities abroad and to go outside of my comfort zone and travel more. I think being more flexible in terms of listening to new ideas, learning languages, and adapting to local circumstances. I’m also interested in global education development and education policy, so this experience working on the ground among teachers for a year has given me this new understanding and respect for what teachers really do in a classroom setting.

What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year? 
I’ll probably spend the summer reconnecting with friends and family back home. In the fall, I’m hoping to join Isabelle, who will be pursing her Master’s in Geoinformatics at the University of Copenhagen. I’m looking into international development work or future English teaching positions in Copenhagen.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright grant? 
I would say do it, but definitely do your research and find what would be a good fit for you personally and culturally, and be prepared for some logistical or personal struggles or difficulties, because it’s just sort of the process of getting adjusted. I think in the end, anyone who has had a similar experience would say it’s a such a process of growth and personal development and that it’s absolutely worth it.

And if you could sum up your Fulbright experience in one word, what would it be? 

And is there anything else you would like to add? 
I would like to give a shout-out to my friends and family for supporting me while I’m over here, to Isabelle for being an awesome partner to have every step of the way here, to my fellow Fulbrighters, who have all been so fun and cool to get to know better and hang out with, and to the Commission for helping me out and supporting me whenever any issues came up.

Max Gollin with Isabelle


Get to Know a Grantee - Spring Scholar Mini Interviews

By Maureen Heydt 

The Fulbright Czech Republic program welcomed several new US Scholars for the 2017 spring semester. The Scholars are teaching at universities throughout Prague and the Czech Republic. These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Professor Stanley Thompson 


Professor Stanley Thompson
Professor Stanley Thompson of Ohio State University is serving this semester as a US Fulbright Scholar to the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic. Professor Thompson’s discipline is economics, and in particular agricultural economics, and he is coordinating a wide array of activities at his host institution for his Fulbright stay. Below, he discusses his work this semester, how he thinks it will affect his teaching on return to OSU, and what the Fulbright mission means to him. 

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Professor, Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Economics and Management, Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague
  • Project: Agricultural Policy Analysis: Econometric Model Building and Policy Evaluation
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Economics/Agricultural Economics

What work are you doing this semester at the Czech University of Life Sciences?
I have full responsibility for two classes, Applied Econometrics and Research Methods in the Social Sciences. Both of these are attended by MS/Ph.D. students. In addition, I have guest-lectured in a bachelor-level policy course. Shortly after I arrived, I gave a Department of Economics research seminar on the topic “Capitalization of the SPS into Farmland Rental Prices under the 2013 CAP Reform.” Over twenty attended the seminar, and this was a great way to introduce myself to the entire department early in my stay. I will also give an invited seminar on April 11th at the Jan Evangelista Purkyně University.

I also have two collaborative research projects with faculty in Economics. First, a paper with Jiri Mach for presentation at the 2017 Agrarian Perspectives conference in Prague, happening in August. Secondly, with Lukas Cechura, I am conducting an econometric investigation of the abolishment of milk quotas on the Czech dairy industry. The latter is targeted for a top-tier scientific journal. In addition, so far in my stay I have twice served as an external reviewer for scientific journals.

Why do you think international education and exchanges are important for people to experience?
You never really understand a country and its people until you have lived with them. Not just in the confines of the university, but in their homes and villages. And, they don’t fully understand you and your county until you share your life and first-hand experiences with them. They are very curious about what it is like to live and work in the US, and your experiences and background never fail to enlighten their understanding. The US is not exactly like the media or Hollywood portrays it!

And how do you think your semester here in Prague will effect, or influence your teaching back at Ohio State University?
I have always tried hard to ‘put myself in the shoes’ of the student, especially those of different cultural backgrounds and experiences. This was even more challenging here in Prague where all of your students are different from you! This added awareness will strongly influence my teaching upon return to Ohio State.

What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
While my Czech students have told me many times that they have learned a lot from my lectures, I am 100 percent certain that I have learned more from them. Much of this learning goes beyond the subject matter of the course into other dimensions of life in the US and the Czech Republic. There is a clear synergy of mutual understanding!

Professor Jennifer Harding 


Professor Jennifer Harding
Prague’s Charles University is hosting a new US Fulbright Scholar this semester, Professor Jennifer Harding, an Associate Professor from the Department of English at Washington and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania. Professor Harding first fell in love with Prague on a previous trip through the capital, and is delighted to be working this semester in the Faculty of Arts at Charles. Here, she discusses the courses she is teaching this semester, as well as why international education and exchanges and the Fulbright mission are important to her. 

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Associate Professor, Department of English, Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, PA
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague
  • Project: Interdisciplinary Connections in American Literature
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Literature/American Literature

What work are you doing this semester at Charles University?
This semester I am teaching two courses, ‘African American Women's Literature’ and ‘American Literature Civil War - WWII.’ The first one is a Masters' level course that I designed, and is similar to a course I offer regularly at my home institution. In the course, the students are reading a slave narrative, studying poets from Phillis Wheatley to Elizabeth Alexander, and reading classic novels by black women including Passing and The Color Purple. So far, we've discussed topics that include endurance, racial identity, and struggles for power.

The other course is a standard undergraduate course offered by Charles University, and I am teaching some of the standard texts, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and As I Lay Dying. We've had many interesting discussions about American Realism, and the use of colloquial dialects, regional themes, and distinctive narrators.

I am also offering lectures at Charles University, and throughout the Czech Republic on American literature and figurative language, which is the subject of my recent book, Similes, Puns, and Counterfactuals in Literary Narrative. By the end of the semester, I will have traveled to Ostrava, Ústí nad Labem, Brno, and Pilsen to give lectures. I will also give a lecture to my home department at Charles University in May.

And why did you choose to do a Fulbright to the Czech Republic?
I had visited Prague before and knew I loved it. I really wanted to teach American literature, and the Czech Republic offered the opportunity to do this with two teaching positions in American Studies. Altogether, it seemed like a great fit for me and my family, who are spending the semester here with me.

Why do you think international education and exchanges are important for people to experience?
The chance to have open discussions provides a forum for comparing cultural differences and similarities. Studying a literary text is a perfect way to do this, because literary texts are all, on some level, about the human condition and the types of things we all experience, like relationships and emotions and the desire to tell stories. But works of literature are also culturally situated, so they can enhance cultural awareness and sharing.

For example, my students read a slave narrative about a woman who stays in hiding for seven years to escape a sexually abusive master. This text provided an opportunity for me to teach the students about the slave system and the sexual powerlessness of enslaved women. But we also compared this situation to situations in other countries in which people had been hidden for significant lengths of time, such as Jews during the Holocaust. This provided a wider opportunity to consider what motivates people to take the risk to hide someone, what it must be like to live in fear of being discovered, and how people can have the emotional endurance to remain in hiding for years and years. I've learned a lot from my students, who are mostly Czech, but also from countries including Korea, Belgium, Germany, and Scotland.

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
This is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. I have already met so many interesting people, and have had so many amazing discussions, especially in my classes. I hope my students are learning a lot from my perspective and expertise as well.

There are many authors and texts who are like great friends to me. It is a pleasure to introduce Czech students to American authors like Sojourner Truth, Charles Chesnutt, and William Faulkner.

Professor Jeff Frolik 


Professor Jeff Frolik
Professor Jeff Frolik of the University of Vermont is serving this semester as a US Fulbright Scholar to Czech Technical University, in Prague, Czech Republic. Professor Frolik serves as Professor and Fulbright Distinguished Chair to the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and is involved in a multitude of projects. Here, he discusses these endeavors, along with why he believes international education and exchanges are important for all people to experience, and what the Fulbright mission means to him.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Professor and Chair, Department of Electrical and Biomedical Engineering, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Czech Technical University, Prague
  • Project: Channel Characterization and Antennas for Future Wireless Systems
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Engineering/Communications Engineering

What work are you doing this semester at Czech Technical University?
I’m doing a variety of things. For teaching, I have two classes. One is for Master students in Electrical Engineering, and is related to how wireless signals travel in various environments. This is a new variation on a course I’ve taught several times in the States; so it’s nice to revisit how I present this material. The second class is a scientific writing course for Ph.D. students in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. My goal is that by the end of that class, students will be ready to submit their research results to a conference or journal. I’m also meeting faculty throughout Electrical Engineering to learn about the curriculum and research, and to see if student exchanges might be possible between UVM and ČVUT. Finally, I’m doing some research in the Department of Electromagnetic Fields, where I am advising a bachelor student working on his thesis, and working with a couple of the research engineers conducting channel measurements.

And how do you think your semester here in Prague will effect or influence your teaching back at the University of Vermont?
I’m teaching material I’m very familiar with, but from a different perspective, and that has been quite refreshing. Hopefully, this experience will encourage me to revisit my well-worn class notes for my UVM classes.

Why are international education and exchanges important for people to experience?
I think it is important for people to have all sorts of experiences, including ones that put them in unfamiliar environments. It has been very interesting being here when there’s so much change going on in the States. The Czech faculty, who well remember communism, have interesting perspectives on what is happening; ones I would not have heard back in the States. So, I think the main benefit of such exchanges is that you don’t really know what is going to happen, but it’s bound to be eye opening.

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
Because of the mission, being here is certainly unique as compared to interactions that would be had if you were traveling abroad as a tourist, for business, or even for a sabbatical. In those scenarios, I would say one’s view is to take care of your own business be it recreation, job tasks, or one’s research, respectively. I view my position differently, and am trying to understand how I might contribute in some way beyond writing a research paper or teaching a class. I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but that is my mindset.

Professor Russell Goodman 


Professor Russell Goodman
American Professor Russell Goodman, Ph.D. is serving this semester as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. A Professor Emeritus back home at the University of New Mexico, Professor Goodman specializes in philosophy, and is teaching two courses in Olomouc centered on American philosophy. Read below to find out how living in Olomouc differs from living in Albuquerque, why international education exchanges are important, and what the Fulbright mission means to Professor Goodman. 

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of New Mexico, NM
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Arts, Palacký University, Olomouc
  • Project: Philosophy before Pragmatism
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Philosophy/History of American Philosophy, Pragmatism, Wittgenstein

What work are you doing this semester at Palacký University?
I’m teaching two courses, one called ‘American Philosophy before Pragmatism’ (based on my 2015 book of that title), covering Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. The other course, more expansive, is called ‘Voices of American Philosophy.’ It includes some of the pragmatists, as well as the contemporary philosophers Stanley Cavell and Cora Diamond. I’m also working on some new essays on Emerson, and have given papers here to the Philosophy department and the American literature program.

How is living in Olomouc, Czech Republic different from living in Albuquerque, New Mexico?
It’s colder on the whole! I really like it. It’s a great place to walk, with lots of interesting places and little nooks. My wife and I are relying on public transportation entirely, something we never do (do airplanes count?) in New Mexico. It’s a great tram system here and we’ve traveled all over the Czech Republic.

People are more restrained, but really friendly and considerate. You encounter more people if you’re not always driving around in your car. I like watching Czech families talk to and with their children in the park or tram; and note the comparative absence of electronic gadgets for the kids. The architecture is of course fantastic. I like the colors of the buildings, the carvings and ornamentation, the older winding streets up the hill to the university area.

Why are international education and exchanges important for people to experience?
William James wrote an essay that I’ve been teaching called “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings.” It’s about our blindness to the reality of life for others—including animals. Some people may prefer not to know too much about others, and other ways of life, and that’s fine. There’s a limit to this, of course. But I do think, as James suggests, that learning about others (and others’ learning about us) offers us all some lessons in understanding, to respect other ways of life as equally satisfactory to our own, and to see our common humanity, how much of the American way of life and the Czech way of life are mutually comprehensible.

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
It’s an honor to have the chance to present some ideas and ways of thinking that are natural for me as an American scholar; I cherish the opportunity to be in the classroom with the dedicated students who are working with me, and to live in a country I’ve always admired.

Professor Schuyler Foerster


Professor Schuyler Foerster
American Professor Schuyler Foerster, Ph.D. is teaching Political Science this semester at Masaryk University as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. Foerster is the former Brent Scowcroft Professor for National Security Studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and is currently a Visiting Professor to Colorado College, both located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Professor Foerster is teaching three courses this semester, and conducting a number of lectures throughout the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. Below, Professor Foerster details his work at Masaryk, the differences and similarities between the various institutions he has taught at, and why the Fulbright Program and other international education exchange programs “are more important now than ever before.”

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • U.S. Position: Former Brent Scowcroft Professor for National Security Studies, US Air Force Academy; Visiting Professor, Colorado College, and Principal, CGST Solutions
  • Czech Affiliation: Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno
  • Project: Strengthening Education on 21st Century Global and Regional Security Challenges, U.S. Foreign and Security Policy, and the Role of NATO in Europe
  • Major Discipline/Specialization: Political Science/Security Studies, Strategic Studies, U.S. Foreign & Security Policy, European Politics

What work are you doing this semester at Masaryk University?
My work has principally been teaching. Three courses in varying formats during the semester: US Foreign and Security Policy, NATO and European Security, and a Seminar on Managing International Conflict. Within Masaryk itself, I have also lectured in other courses in the Strategic and Security Studies program and participated on a conference panel.

Outside the university, I have done lectures and media appearances in Slovakia (Bratislava, Košice, and Prešov) through the American Embassy in Bratislava; presented at the America Center in Prague; presented at a conference at Metropolitan University in Prague; and lecturing at the University of Lodz and the America Center in Lodz, plus meetings in Warsaw.

How is your host institution, Masaryk University, different from your home institution, the United States Air Force Academy?
The USAF Academy is my former home institution, since I left there in May 2016. I am now a Visiting Professor at Colorado College, a small liberal arts college.

The differences from the Academy are substantial, owing to the fact that the latter is a military academy as well as an undergraduate institution. But Masaryk is not entirely different from Colorado College (CC). Both of these are undergraduate institutions, whereas my classes in Masaryk are a mix of graduate and undergraduate students. Also about a third of my students at Masaryk are from other countries, drawing from the Erasmus and other programs, which makes for interesting discussions on foreign policy issues.

The biggest pedagogical difference is that students at Masaryk are not as accustomed to an interactive classroom environment, although they seem to prefer it. We have had excellent discussions, plus we have had the opportunity to engage in classroom simulations to give students an experiential sense of the difficulties of making policy in a crisis. These prove to be very useful teaching tools, but not ones that are common at Masaryk or, apparently, elsewhere in universities in this part of the world.

In one respect, students are the same the world over — if they are hungry to learn and willing to do the work, teaching is a most fulfilling experience. And I have found many students who fit that description. It has been a delight to work with them.

And why are international education and exchanges important for people to experience?
They are more important now than ever before. Most conflicts in this world stem from communities of people who know little about others who are different from they, which often engenders fear, promotes stereotypes, and blocks productive human interaction. The more we interact with people who are different, speak differently, believe differently, look different, the more we realize our common humanity. In truth, when we work with those who are different from us, think differently, and see the world differently, we gain a better understanding of the world around us, see things differently ourselves, and find ourselves more creative.

This realization is best accomplished by “doing” it. It is a lesson grounded in experience, when one has to adapt to a world dominated by another language, culture, etc. Then we realize that we and those like “us” are not the center of the universe, but one important part among many others. An important lesson.

And lastly, what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
Just that … an opportunity to encourage an exchange of ideas and views, to build transnational networks of colleagues, to see the world differently, and to get out of one’s “comfort zone” to experience another person’s or community’s reality. This and similar programs are the single most important contributor to peace that I can imagine.

Get to Know a Grantee - Raheal Mengisteab

By Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Raheal Mengisteab
Raheal Mengisteab has been serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Gymnázium Jiřího Wolkera in Prostějov, Czech Republic. A first generation American of Eritrean descent and an alumna of the prestigious Teach for America program, Raheal has devoted herself to her school this year, where she works to actively engage and dialogue with students, colleagues, and community members about the similarities and differences between life in the United States and the Czech Republic. Here, Raheal discusses what her life as an ETA in Prostějov has been like for her these past ten months.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • Hometown: San Diego, California
  • College, Major/Minor: California State University, Dominguez Hills and San Diego State University, Communications/Marketing, Master’s in Education
  • School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium Jiřího Wolkera, Prostějov
  • Age: 24
  • Favorite Czech Food: Smažený sýr
  • Favorite Quote: "Turn your wounds into wisdom." –Oprah Winfrey

Hello! Can you please give some personal background details, where you are from, what you studied, and what you have been doing in the time before Fulbright?
Hello! I come from San Diego, California by way of Eritrea. I am a first generation American, and am proudly the daughter of two Eritrean refugees who were fortunate to seek asylum in America’s finest city after fleeing their war torn home. During undergrad, I studied Communications and Marketing, and then went on to graduate school to study Education while simultaneously teaching in San Diego via Teach for America (TFA) as a Corps Member. My interests include social justice, diplomacy, civic engagement through service, mentorship, leadership, and the creative fields.

And what are you passionate about?
I would say that my passions vary from social justice issues to education reform, and traveling. Traveling is my favorite form of education. As a global citizen, I think it’s really important that we go out and see the world and learn about different cultures and people. I’m also really passionate about many different creative fields, from music to communications and journalism. I love making sure that I practice my civil engagements by staying up to date on current affairs, and I also love reading blogs.

Why did you choose to apply specifically to the Czech Republic for your Fulbright grant?
I initially first traveled to Prague while on study abroad in Italy. I fell in love with the aesthetics of the city, but I think what made me walk down the streets and tell myself, that if I ever lived in Europe again it would be Prague, was the Czech people that I encountered during that trip. I really believe in the power of storytelling, and I really learned that during that trip, specifically. I was staying at a Czech-owned hostel, so I got to actually meet Czech people, and a few of them were telling me about their experiences in education. During that time, I knew I was going into TFA to become a classroom teacher for the next two years, and so I was telling them about the reason why I was going into that work, and about the changes that I thought needed to be made in the American education system. Then they were telling me about how different it was compared to their own experiences in the education system in the Czech Republic. So when I applied for Fulbright, I thought back to that moment of the stories that the Czech people told me during that visit to Prague, and I was like, that’s where I need to go. I really wanted to see what it was like in practice.

How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
One of my mentors knows how much I love traveling, and she knows how important international relations is to me, and so she recommended that I look into Fulbright. I did my research, and I realized this is the perfect program for me, that would grant me the opportunity to not only see a different country and to see it from a classroom perspective, and but also from a diplomatic view, through this cultural exchange of being able to help others see Americans in a new light. I think it’s really common for, especially young people, to stereotype what Americans sound, act, and look like based off American films. I don’t think it’s really fair, because of how big America is, and I think that unfortunately the way the media industries work, it doesn’t accurately reflect most of the young people in America; so I was really excited to apply for the program.

How did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic?
I prepared more on just moving to the Czech Republic, as opposed to trying to figure out what my life would be like as an ETA. I remember trying to find blogs, there weren’t many blogs at that point, I know it’s changing now thankfully, and so because I couldn’t read much, I think I focused more so on just trying to understand the country I was moving to. I did a lot of research on the political state of the country and I did some readings on different Czech educators who influenced the education system. I definitely dove into the history of the country, because I didn’t know much prior to coming, and I wanted to make sure I knew the people and the country before I set foot in it.

And what is the town you’re living in this year like?
Prostějov is a beautiful town! Being from San Diego, which is I think the sixth largest county in America, I felt like it was a really small town initially, but my students would always check me and make sure that I said it was actually a medium-sized town. There’s about 50,000-70,000 people that live here, and it’s really, really beautiful. It’s pretty warm, and we’re really close to Olomouc and Brno as well, so it’s well located. They say it’s the heart of Moravia. They have their own dialect of Czech that they’re really proud of, and there’s a big young population of students here. There are about 14 secondary schools in the city. So there are definitely a lot of young people, which is nice, because I really believe in the youth, and so being around that many young people was really refreshing. It’s nice, I like it. I like the fact that I’m getting to know Moravia. 

And what is the school that you’re working at this year like?
The school I’m at is, I would say, a pretty elite school, because the students pretty much all speak really good English, including the first year students. They are all very smart. A lot of the Maturita [graduating high school] students didn’t have to take entrance exams for university, that’s how smart they are. The school has really amazing teachers, and the fact that the students are so smart is obviously a reflection of the great leadership of the school and the teachers.

The students’ English levels are pretty high; they all take the official Cambridge English exam at the end of the year, and most of them usually pass it. It took me a while at first, because I came here thinking I’m going to teach English, but I realized I could use it to my advantage, that because I don’t have to focus so much on the language, I can help them form mature opinions on issues that actually matter, that some students weren’t used to talking about. A lot of my lessons were focused on that. They’re not used to critically thinking about these issues.

Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
I have two weekly conversation clubs. One with my Maturita students where we dive into the subjects they are going to be tested on in their exams and the second is open to all students. The second club is more focused on diving into issues in both America and Czech Republic related to race, class, and gender. This is an extremely safe space where students are able to talk about any preconceived notions they have and we unpack them collectively.

What do you like about teaching English?
What I love about teaching English is the fact that we are providing our students with what almost feels like a key to life. With the English language becoming completely globalized, our students not only have to learn English because it is compulsory, but they actually need to learn it in order to successfully communicate and compete with students around the world.

And what would you say is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
I would say the most challenging part is challenging your own mindset and perspective. I think is really easy to feel like an outsider, and if you constantly think about it and you constantly internalize that, then it’ll effect the way that you are with people and the way that you interact. So understanding that although sometimes society makes you feel like differences are bad things, there is strength in understanding and owning those differences. That’s probably the most challenging thing, understanding that and then moving forward with it. I think it’s important to process it in the beginning, but not internalize it, so that you can actually find ways to find beauties in the differences. Once you get in with Czechs, you’re like family, so despite whether or not you look like family, I think once you’re in, you’re in. So just owning the differences and being brave.

And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
I think that you grow the most when you are pushed outside of your comfort zone, and so the most rewarding part of living and working abroad is being able to see how well you can do alone and how comfortable you can become when you’re outside of your comfort zone. And also being able to expand your identity. I feel like Czech Republic has now become a part of me. This has become a part of my story, and my heart feels warm being able to talk about this experience.

What was one of your favorite things you have experienced so far during your grant year?
One of my favorite things I experienced so far has been the Maturita ball. Seeing such a beautiful ceremony that is truly an incomparable event in the States was heartwarming. I was expecting it to be prom, but it’s different. Here, every student gets a sash, and at our prom, there was only a king and queen. Everyone is recognized at their prom here, and it was just a really beautiful sight. There was so much to love about it. I would say that was and still is the highlight so far.

What is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?
The teachers are giving me a lot more autonomy on what I can do with students in the classroom, so I’m super excited to see how far I can take conversations within the last month. There’s an even stronger sense of urgency for me to dive into issues that matter that I’ve had to push aside in the classroom, because we’ve been so focused on staying within the curriculum. There’s also a lot of fun events at our school coming up that I’m excited about, and just summer time! I’m excited to see Prostějov during the summer and to see everyone just glow.

Why do you think international education and exchanges are important?
It’s important because we’re more alike than we are different, and I think the only way you can really learn that is through education and through an exchange of different cultures and nations. I think if anything, thinking back to my last two years in the classroom in San Diego and my last nine months in my classroom here in Czech Republic, there are so many more similarities within my students than there are differences. I would’ve never expected that, I really thought I was going to be teaching students that were completely different, but there are so many similarities! It’s important, because when we look at all the issues going on in the world, I think it’s a time where we should focus more on our similarities- and some of our differences, because that’s how you learn and grow, but when we think about values and morals, I think through these exchanges that’s the only way you can realize that ultimately we may be doing things differently, but the underlying values and morals are a lot more similar than they are different.

And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
The Fulbright mission means to me this idea of exchanging cultures and challenging preconceived notions people have of each other’s cultures in the rawest and most authentic way. Through Fulbright, I’ve been able to share my own personal story, which is very different from the next American’s story. Fulbright is a gateway between nations that may think they are more different than they are alike. I know my students here think America is this place that is nothing like Czech Republic, and until I started telling them stories about my own high school experience, or the students that I taught before, and they realized they are actually more alike than they are different, and Fulbright does just that. It permits this ability to help us challenge each other and our thinking, to open our minds, and ultimately to become more accepting and more tolerant.

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I don’t think my life is ever going to be the same! I grew up in a big family with people around me all the time and I have a twin sister, so I wasn’t used to being alone, and I’m also from California, so I’m used to being around people who tend to have this progressive, liberal mindset. Coming to the Czech Republic, where that wasn’t always the case, I was able to really take a step back, and listen, learn, and try to understand. I think it’s something that a lot of the times in American schools, we tend to want to talk more than we want to listen, just because it’s this natural competitive environment, and so I’ve been able to sit back and learn how to actively listen, and have a desire to understand why people think things, and why people are the way they are, even if they have opposing views. I had to learn how to listen and understand in a way that wasn’t undermining or devaluing other people’s opinions. I will take those skills and apply it to whatever I do next.

What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
I am currently exploring all of my options. I am a lifelong learner, so I definitely will continue education in some way, shape, or form, I’m just in the process of determining the right program. Timing is really everything; I think I’ve spent more time trying to be present here, so I didn’t get to figure it out quite yet, but with time I will.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright?
I would completely say to go for it! I know ten months initially seems like a long time, but it goes by so quick, and you wouldn’t imagine how much one can grow within ten months. The Fulbright truly puts you in a room full of people who are not only likeminded, but are equally as passionate and committed to this idea of connectedness. You don’t find the type of people you meet in Fulbright very often, so I definitely encourage people to apply and to just go for it. Have no expectations, because I think expectations can kind of diminish the experience. So, if you come, come with an open mind and try to leave all expectations behind, and try to be very present. Read the blogs, reach out, and ask questions.

And how are you feeling about everything at this moment?
I’m in a really happy place! The weather is warming up and my students are great. My Maturita students are celebrating being done with their exams. I’m in a really good place. A part of me is anxious, because I don’t know what’s next, but I also know that I’m going to continue to just be as present as possible, and to enjoy the last waves.

If you could sum up your Fulbright experience in one word, what would it be?

Raheal Mengisteab in Prague