Emily Beauprey, who graduated with a German major from UW in 2011, writes about her experiences: “Last year, I accepted a post as a US English Teaching Assistant with the Austrian-American Educational Commission. This program, funded by the Fulbright Commission, offers qualified applicants the opportunity to teach English in a supportive capacity in Austrian secondary schools. As a graduate of UW's Germanics and Linguistics departments, I was delighted to receive such an offer and to experience living abroad for the first time.
“I was placed in the province of Salzburg, a somewhat ironic circumstance for one of the (apparently) only Americans who's never seen The Sound of Music. Life in Salzburg was quite different from my accustomed life in Seattle. Time simply seemed to move differently. Shops closed at 7:00 PM, nothing was open on Sundays... but you could get to another country with a fifteen-minute train ride. My first few weeks in Austria were an exercise in patience, levelheadedness, and above all, being willing to ask for help when I needed it. Naturally, one of my first concerns was my German fluency. I was relieved to find not just my colleagues, but perfect strangers to be very patient and understanding during my first few weeks of struggling through unfamiliar Austrian German conversations. In fact, the dialect didn't prove as challenging as I'd feared; though I certainly haven't become a proficient speaker, I suffered few if any comprehension problems after just a month or two. Of course, High German is expected from non-native speakers, but my occasional attempts to speak the dialect were cause for considerable amusement, as was the accent I apparently developed sometime around December. My colleagues enjoyed teasing me on more than one occasion, but I was able to tease them for their pronunciation of the word “Seattle,” so everything evened out in the end.
“The two schools at which I taught were somewhat distant from one another, but Austria's outstanding public transportation infrastructure made my daily commute from the city center fairly painless. My workplaces couldn't have been more different – the Tourismusschule Klessheim is a vocational school for students entering the tourism industry, while the Werkschulheim Felbertal offers simultaneous education in basic subjects and either carpentry, metalwork, or electrical engineering. Both schools were alike in one respect, though; the teachers and students were a delight to work with. I was truly impressed by the enthusiasm of my Salzburg students. They always made me feel welcome in the classroom, even during my first few wobbly weeks. I loved the challenge of creating teaching material, as well as the unexpected fun of finding it in places I'd never have expected. A lesson on Amtrak trains kept an entire school entertained for a week; word games such as Balderdash and Scattergories, staples in any American board game cabinet, were delightful to young and old alike, fluency level notwithstanding.
“USTA program participants are, more than anything, resources for students and teachers. For those students who'd never had an American TA, their curiosity was endless. I had to talk about things that were sometimes uncomfortable - “Does everyone in America carry a gun?” was a popular first-day-of-class question – but I rarely left a classroom feeling like I hadn't had a conversation that was worth having. The most rewarding part of such experiences was students turning their attention from me to one another; having my answers to their questions form the basis for a productive discussion, which could both build language skills and share ideas and information simultaneously.
“I can speak at great length about the education I provided to my students, but I should also mention the education I myself received. Of course, my German fluency improved immeasurably. I still tend to speak with a slight Salzburg accent, but as a linguist and amateur dialectologist, I find this excellent! With linguistic comfort came a general sense of comfort in my new environment. My first few months in Salzburg, I felt I'd never be at ease; by the time I left, I couldn't remember why I'd ever been apprehensive at all. When every day brings a new challenge, one builds self-confidence with remarkable speed. “If I could move to Salzburg, I can do this” has become a sort of new mantra for me when taking on difficult new tasks.
“Now that I'm home in Seattle once again, I've already begun looking into possibilities for graduate work in Austria and Switzerland. I was privileged to be a part of the USTA program and highly recommend it to any graduates with an interest in education, particularly those who’ve never worked or studied in Austria. Many students leaving the Germanics program may not even consider Austria as an option for fellowships or scholarships, looking only in Germany for post-graduate opportunities; to you, I say, you're missing out! It's a beautiful and intriguing country with endless opportunities for exploration and study. Do be aware, though, that the shops in Salzburg close at 7:00, and don't save your grocery shopping for Sunday."