ETA in Germany

Posted by Robert H.

Hey y’all, Robert here.

I am from Mobile, Alabama and a 2018 graduate of the University of Alabama in political science and lifelong Blount Scholar. I originally thought I was not able to pursue a Fulbright Scholarship because of my GPA. It was good, a 3.28, but not great compared to the GPAs of other applicants for the three most prestigious international scholarships: Rhodes, Gates-Cambridge, and Fulbright. Further, I was a first-generation college student with no one in my community who had even thought about ever applying to Fulbright. Yet at the recommendation of Dr Feminella, who at the time was my German Professor (bless him for having to read my German essays back then), I set out to make an application for masters studies in Germany. Looking back as a graduate student now, this application was lacking a precise vision for what I wanted to study and how I wanted to apply both my time in Germany and my Master that I would gain in Germany. However, with the incredible support of UA’s Fulbright advisors, I was able to pass the first round and on to the final decision. However, around the time that I was about to graduate, I received a rejection letter. Distraught as I was set on starting my masters and being in Germany, I decided to seek out advice from both UA faculty and friends abroad and came to the conclusion that I should spend a year taking a job abroad and building up my resume to apply again. That decision, with encouragement from the entire advising staff, ended up being the best year of my life at that point. My time living and teaching English in Korea gave me the confidence and showed me a love for teaching that influenced my second Fulbright application as an English Teaching Assistant to Germany. Amidst the advent of the pandemic, I received notification that I had been accepted for a Fulbright Scholarship, which turned out to be a life-changer. I would have to wait another year to start my Fulbright, however, until we had the tools we had today to fight the pandemic with full force. Once August 2021 came around, I prepared myself for my flight to Germany with the assignment to the small city of Plauen, Saxony.

Since being here, I have constantly been surprised by the shared culture Germans and Americans have in, including finding love for American culture in cafes and shops. I even found a place that sells twinkies, of all things! Learning the language has been a continued struggle of renewing where I left off from undergrad and missed when I lived in Korea, yet I do surprise myself with how much I am now able to understand and communicate. My colleagues at my school regularly switch between English and German and I have gotten used to the Danglish needed to switch between the languages with ease. I am also taking an Academic German course with the goal of receiving my CEFR B2 by the end of the summer. I feel that I am almost entirely adjusted, joking with my German friends and the other foreign teaching assistants around Vogtland (Plauen’s county) that I need to save up to buy one of these amazing houses. I am currently living in a small apartment on the top floor that overlooks a small garden area and a part of the city. Saxony used to be part of East Germany so a lot of the buildings here are known as DDR-Builds, which my apartment is one, although updated. So far I have been on a good deal of adventures. I recently tried to learn how to ski and as a Southern Gulf Coast guy I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Needless to say, I had a nice visit to the doctor’s office after slamming into a tree.

COVID-19 has limited a lot of social and community life in Germany, with most places now having a “2G” requirement: either vaccinated or recovered. However I was happy to attend Plauen’s 900th year of existence book event and I am now assisting Fulbright Germany and the US Embassy in Berlin with Meet US, touring German schools and presenting on US culture and values. Education in Germany is far more specialized by education type than in the United States. I currently teach at a Gymnasium, which is a type of high school that is focused on university preparation, but there are several other types of schools that all have their role towards the different job and education needs in society. So to be able to travel and see all these types of schools and their amazing students is a fantastic opportunity.

Returning home I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends again and to picking back up in-person classes at my graduate school, American University’s School of International Service. I will certainly miss my time here and I will almost certainly be planning my return as soon as I get back to the US, yet to me, there is something beautiful about chapters of life coming to a close and thanking that time we have to give lessons to carry with us for the rest of our lives. After my final year of graduate school, it is my current intention to apply to Cambridge University’s POLIS PhD program, Gonville and Caius College.

My advice to a future Fulbright student is to keep your life goals certain but be flexible to all the ways life gets you to those goals. 10 year old me could have never imagined being in the position I am now. 20 year old me could have never imagined how I would get to the position I am now. 

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