Parents are some of the strongest influencers in life, and for 2014 UW-Eau Claire alumna Courtney Ostert, her earliest school memories are of her time as a student in her father's classroom. Ostert, who actually earned a bachelor's degree in social work, will be following in her father's footsteps after all, and has accepted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant to teach in Taiwan.
About her father, Ostert says, "He and his students would banter back and forth, laughing, challenging one another and making learning an experience rather than just work. Although I decided to study something other than education in college, I received an offer to join the Peace Corps and happily accepted a position working as a Peace Corps English education volunteer in the Republic of Georgia. Throughout the past two years I have simply fallen in love with teaching."
Ostert is the second UW-Eau Claire Fulbright U.S. Student Program award recipient to be announced this spring, bringing to 19 the number of Blugolds who have received the award over the past decade. In February, the U.S. Department of Education listed UW-Eau Claire as tied for 15th among all U.S. public and private master's-level universities for its number of student Fulbright grant winners.
Cheryl Lochner-Wright, the UW-Eau Claire Fulbright program coordinator, points out that Courtney's Fulbright award is somewhat unique given her path to the program.
"People often are unaware that they can apply for a Fulbright even a few years after graduation. Courtney is a great example of someone who started to build an international resume while at UW-Eau Claire, and she hasn’t stopped. She has done a semester in Harlaxton, England, and her social work internship in South Africa through UW-Eau Claire, Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia and now the Fulbright ETA in Taiwan. In the words of one of her references, she is ambitious, organized and fearless. I look forward to seeing where her journey leads next," Lochner-Wright said.
Ostert's experiences in Harlaxton and King William's Town did indeed help create the "international resume" Lochner-Wright mentions, and she says that the latter served to most deeply influence her path toward teaching internationally.
"It was the intercultural immersion in South Africa that really contributed to my decision to pursue both Peace Corps and subsequently Fulbright. Having the opportunity to work abroad through my internship opened my eyes to something I previously didn’t know I was even interested in — I quickly learned that I thrived in an international environment. I looked forward to each day sharing knowledge, culture, techniques and experiences which allowed for a completely unique work and personal context. It became apparent to me that I wanted to continue working and living abroad, especially following my Peace Corps service which led me to pursue Fulbright," Ostert said.
Ostert's academic adviser at UW-Eau Claire was Jeffrey Wright, who was thrilled to hear she had received this grant, stating, "Courtney was a very motivated, conscientious and disciplined student. Right from her freshman year she knew exactly what she wanted to do both academically and beyond school. Her primary interest was always in finding work to do overseas, so it was no surprise at all that she was able to achieve that goal. Being awarded the Fulbright will enable her to continue the important work she wants to do, and I can't think of anyone more deserving."
As she looks ahead to the Fulbright assistantship, Ostert has already identified three overarching learning objectives for her program, outcomes that will bring her closer to her long-term goal of a master's degree in international education and TESOL, teaching English to speakers of other languages.
"I hope to further my skills as a teacher, collaboratively sharing teaching techniques, best practices, new ideas and activities with my partner teachers in Taiwan. Second, I want to increase my ability to adapt, be flexible and live and work in different contexts. I love the challenge of learning a new language, being in a foreign environment and learning something new each and every day," Osterts explains. "Finally, I am most excited for the relationships I will build with my students, my partner teachers and community. To me, that is the most important part, having the opportunity to connect with people you otherwise would not have met or gotten to know."
Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire alumna Courtney Ostert, pictured above with her elementary school students, is currently a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in the Republic of Georgia. Ostert has received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Grant to teach English in Taiwan next fall.