Four years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to the town of Laufen, Germany—a tiny “city” on the border of Austria. During my 10 months as an ETA, I learned a new language, a new culture, and a lot about myself. But perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience was the opportunity I had to meet other amazing ETAs. Among them, I can name Oxford, Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown graduates. Some are in the United States doing important things for the government, some are pursuing graduate education, while others are working abroad—in Sri Lanka, China, Germany—you name it.
As we approach the four year mark of when we began our Fulbright journey together, I thought it’d be great to catch up with a few of my fellow Fulbrighters to see where they are today, and how their Fulbright has affected their personal and professional trajectories.
First up: Austin Volz. Austin completed his Fulbright year in Dresden, Germany in 2010, where he taught at the Berufliches Schulzentrum für Gesundheit und Sozialwesen (Professional Education Center for Public Health and Welfare).
1. Why did you decide to apply to become a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Germany, and what did you expect to gain from the experience?
Two of my goals were linguistic: I wanted to polish my German and I wanted more experience teaching English. I’d studied and taught ancient Greek and classical Chinese during my undergraduate years, which gave me a good foundation for teaching dead languages that I wanted to apply to learning a modern one. I wanted to immerse myself in another culture, both to better understand Germany, and to gain a new perspective on myself.
2. What did you actually gain from the experience (e.g., insight into your own personal values, goals, etc.)?
That year was pretty big in terms of personal development. I learned that I much prefer to teach foreign languages over teaching English because I enjoy sharing solutions to difficulties that I encountered myself. I also learned that I’m passionate about education, but feel confined by the classroom, which strongly influenced the direction I took after my Fulbright year.
3. What have you been up to since Fulbright and what are you up to now?
I’ve been moving a lot the past few years. After Fulbright, I studied Mandarin at Cornell University and spent a semester at Peking University. Then, I returned to Germany for the summer to work at the Bayreuth Music Festival, which focused on fostering intercultural understanding. Then, I returned to Beijing and worked at the JUMP! Foundation, running youth leadership programs throughout China and internationally. Most recently, I graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education program in International Education Policy where I focused on international partnerships in higher education. This year, I received a Critical Language Scholarship and will be a visiting researcher at Fudan University doing research on liberal arts in China.
4. Do you believe your Fulbright year has impacted where you are today? How?
Definitely. First, Fulbright gave me space to more deeply understand myself and refine exactly where to apply my passion for education. That year also impacted my ability to perform effectively across cultures, a skill that has proven very valuable as the world becomes increasingly more interconnected. My sense is that Fulbright was my big break–without it, I couldn’t have studied at Harvard or Cornell and wouldn’t be where I am now.
Erin Osterhaus was a 2009-2010 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) to Germany. She served as an ETA at Rottmayr Gymnasium in Laufen, Germany from 2009-2010. After her Fulbright grant, she completed a master’s degree in German and European Studies at Georgetown University in 2012. While in graduate school, she interned at various nonprofits in Washington, DC, as well as the U.S. Department of State before moving back to her native Texas where she is currently on the Software Advice marketing team, a small tech start-up in Austin.