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Fulbright recipient excited to return to Germany to teach

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: Michael Konetz, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in December 2020, is shown here during a visit to Frankfurt, Germany, during a study abroad trip in 2018. Konetz will return to Germany this fall as a 2021-22 recipient of a Fulbright English teaching assistantship. (Contributed photo)

One of Michael Konetz’s fondest memories of his University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire education was a six-month study abroad opportunity in 2018 in Marburg, Germany.

“My language skills grew so much in my time there,” Konetz says. “It was really hard to leave.”

Konetz, a December 2020 graduate who majored in German education with a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages, will have a chance to return to Germany this year after being named a 2021-22 recipient of a Fulbright English teaching assistantship.

With the teaching assistantship through the U.S. Department of State’s international education exchange program, Konetz will spend the school year in an as-yet-unknown city in the western German state of Hessen from September 2021 until June 2022.

“I’ve always had an interest in teaching abroad, especially in Germany,” says Konetz, a Milwaukee native. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to go back to Germany, and teach and gain new experiences in a country I love being in.”

Another Blugold, Mary Kate Schneeman of Mendota Heights, Minnesota, is an alternate for an English teaching assistantship in Germany. Schneeman, an English linguistics major and German minor who graduated this month, studied abroad in Marburg in spring 2020.

UW-Eau Claire has for several years been among the top master’s universities in the nation for the number of students who receive Fulbright grants.

“This was a particularly competitive Fulbright year, so it is very exciting to have Michael get an award and Mary Kate still be under consideration,” says Cheryl Lochner-Wright, a senior study abroad coordinator for UW-Eau Claire’s Center for International Education and the campus Fulbright program advisor. “Fulbright received a huge number of applications, and many countries carried forward some of last year’s grantees who were unable to take up their awards due to COVID-19, effectively reducing the number of awards available. Given that, the fact that seven of nine UW-Eau Claire applicants made it to the semi-finalist round is amazing.”

Konetz, who is an English as a second language teacher in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield with a goal of being a German teacher, was excited to learn he was a Fulbright winner. He praised UW-Eau Claire faculty members who he says helped make it possible.

“My German professors were amazing; they were so supportive of me,” Konetz says. “They were a big part of me winning the award.”

Dr. Joshua Brown, associate professor of German and linguistics, says his former student always wanted to learn more about the German language and related cultures. The Fulbright experience in Germany will give Konetz exposure to a variety of teaching contexts that will help him in his ESL and German teaching career, Brown says.

“I was thrilled to hear the news that Michael had been chosen for a Fulbright teaching opportunity,” Brown says. “He follows a long line of German language students who have received Fulbrights, many of whom are still teaching in those same schools today.”

Brown recalls meeting Konetz when the then-high school student was visiting UW-Eau Claire.

“I was already struck then by his passion for language education,” Brown says. “He has a real zeal for wanting others to feel that same way about language learning as he does ­— which makes him an excellent educator.”

Konetz believes his Fulbright teaching assistantship will give him new insights into teaching English.

“I’m really excited to go back and teach,” Konetz says. “One of my goals is to show the importance of German culture on the United States. When I return, I can be a stronger teacher and create authentic classes about German culture from my experiences.”