Monday, February 10, 2014

Martin Spendlhofer, Fulbright TA from Austria, Gives His Impressions

It has now been almost half a year since I got to CSB/SJU. Wow. Time really flies. To make you understand more what my life here is like, I would like to describe five things that I enjoy(ed).
    Every semester, there is something called the 24 hour play festival at CSB/SJU. A group of incredibly talented students get together and write, direct, rehearse and perform a total of 8 plays play in 24 hours. In January, I got to write an 8 minute play and then act in it as well. Even though I was on about an hour of sleep and there was more blood in my caffeine than caffeine in my blood, I enjoyed every second of it and it was a total blast. Teaching theater in Austria, I could gather some valuable experiences as well.

One of my German club related highlights last semester was Oktoberfest. We served authentic pretzels, danced the polka and had a gummy-bear guessing game. We put a lot of work and effort into it and I think it paid off well. For advertising it we had a great flash mob with traditional Austrian music at the Gorecki dining center and we also handed out hot cider at the bus stop. All in all, I enjoyed working together with an ambitious team of German club officers.

Another highlight was definitely winter break. I left freezing Minnesota mid-December and traveled for about a month. After a fantastic Fulbright Conference in DC where I got to meet all of the other Fulbright teaching assistants, I went to Hawaii, San Francisco, drove up to Vancouver, then met up with some fellow Fulbrights again in New Orleans and ended winter break with a road trip to Boston. I met amazing people, saw different landscapes, cities, cultures, weather, you name it.
Related to this is the establishment of an unofficial cooking club. Every Sunday, some friends from German club and I get together and cook something. The menu is usually very international -- we’ve had Japanese Maki or Gumbo from New Orleans for example. It is a lot of fun recreating various recipes and getting a taste of different countries and cultures. While cooking, we also share stories about our trips all over the world.

Finally, I would like to talk about how teaching German and studying at CSB/SJU helps me professionalize my teaching skills. I am a teaching assistant for two German courses and I enjoy working with the students as well as with the German professors. This semester, I am taking two classes on ESL and last semester, I took a class on how to teach theater to children and a “Public Speaking for Teachers” seminar. It feels like those are the classes that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. What I appreciate most about them is that they are hands-on. Furthermore, the professors are very knowledgeable and have great insights into pedagogical theory. 

The only thing that I will never adapt to is the temperature here in Minnesota. I have to say that I was relieved that when there had been a low of 30 degrees below zero, I had been sitting in a cozy hotel room in New Orleans and hoping for it to pass before I got back.

All in all, I am having a good Fulbright experience here at CSB/SJU, teaching and learning, cooking and eating, performing and watching and freezing and getting warmed up again. I would like to end with a quote from Mark Twain, summing up what I've learned so far, encouraging everybody to set out on a journey and outlining the benefits:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.