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Fulbrights gaining experience, confidence teaching in other parts of the world

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Blugold Greta Wiederhold says working as a teaching assistant in Germany through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program is a dream come true. She credits UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff for providing the knowledge, support and experiences she needed to be accepted into the highly competitive program. (Submitted photo)

The saying “if you can dream it, you can do it” is ringing true for Greta Wiederhold, a recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate now working as a teaching assistant in Germany through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Wiederhold was on campus for a high school visit when a German professor told her about the Fulbright Program and that an impressive number of Blugolds are accepted into the highly competitive program. She knew immediately that she wanted to be one of them.

“This conversation with Dr. Josh Brown inspired me,” Wiederhold says. “So, before I even graduated high school, it was my dream to do the Fulbright in Germany. I'm so grateful to have had lots of support at UWEC to help me achieve this goal.”

Wiederhold graduated in May 2022 with a German education major, a teaching of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) minor, an interdisciplinary linguistics certificate and a resume full of outside-the-classroom experiences that made her stand out among the many accomplished Fulbright applicants.

She was thrilled to learn shortly before she graduated that her dream was coming true — Wiederhold was one of three Blugolds awarded 2022-23 Fulbright Program awards.

Since September 2022, she has been teaching in Fulda, Germany, a small city in the center of the country. As an English teaching assistant at Berufsschule, a vocational school, she assists in English classes, helping students use English in their professions or in their studies.

The experience has been everything Wiederhold hoped for and more.

“Since I studied to become a teacher, I feel very comfortable in the school setting here,” says Wiederhold, whose Fulbright will continue through June. “My co-workers allow me to design and teach lessons and really value the new ideas I bring to the classroom.”

Kaitlyn Zenner, who graduated in May with majors in Spanish and psychology and a minor in neuroscience, also is teaching abroad through the Fulbright Program. She’s an English teaching assistant in a primary school in Logroño, Spain, where she prepares and teaches lessons in grammar, phonics and U.S. culture.

Zenner is enjoying all aspects of her Fulbright experience, from helping students write English storybooks to exploring Spain.

While she, too, has had many “wonderful experiences” as a Fulbright, it’s the kindness of the people she’s met in Germany that means the most, Wiederhold says.

“Everyone is so kind and appreciative,” Wiederhold says. “My co-workers are supportive, and the students are a joy to work with. Whenever I travel to new cities, I meet Germans who are excited to show me their country.”

Wiederhold is “independent and ambitious,” two qualities that make her a great fit for the Fulbright Program, Brown says.

“Greta excels because she already has taken her knowledge of German and teaching and applied them to challenging situations like study abroad and student teaching,” Brown says. “She excelled so much here at UWEC that I knew she would be invaluable in the classroom; I’m completely swept up by her ability to teach others.”

Wiederhold’s strong German language skills allow her to easily immerse herself in the local community, something that’s making her time as a Fulbright even more meaningful.

“Outside of the English classes, I never use English here, so I couldn't imagine being placed in a small city like this without a good understanding of the language,” Wiederhold says.

Her time in Germany is helping Wiederhold feel more prepared for and excited about her future teaching career.

“I work with seven teachers, and I get to see their various teaching styles firsthand,” Wiederhold says. “I've also been visiting and presenting at other schools in Germany as part of the MeetUS program with Fulbright and the U.S. Embassy. So, I get to meet students and teachers from all over and see what other schools are like.

“All of this has expanded my perspectives on education. I can't wait to put it all together in my own classroom.”

Zenner’s Fulbright also is shaping how she sees her future. She says living and teaching abroad has “driven my curiosity” in how language learning and literacy affects students’ ability to operate in and out of the classroom. When her Fulbright grant ends in June, she hopes to work in a job that involves both psychology and education.

The Fulbright Program is an opportunity for Blugolds to embrace new cultural experiences while also finding meaningful ways to apply and challenge what they’ve learned at UW-Eau Claire in an international setting, Brown says.

UW-Eau Claire’s commitment to providing learning opportunities out of the classroom gives Blugolds an edge when applying for the competitive Fulbright Program, Brown says.

“Our undergraduates have great opportunities at high-impact practices like study abroad and collaborative research that prepare them well for the challenges of Fulbright,” Brown says. “Those experiences make their applications so much stronger.”

Zenner agrees, saying the experiences she had as a student prepared her well to “thrive in a new culture” as a language teaching assistant in Spain.

“While each opportunity offered its own unique experiences, they all helped foster flexibility, critical thinking skills and a desire to challenge myself,” Zenner says.

Blugolds also have an edge when applying for Fulbrights because the Center for International Education staff does an excellent job of helping students create quality applications, an effort that is “unparalleled elsewhere,” Brown says.

As a result, UW-Eau Claire has been on Fulbright’s top producer list six times in 10 years, including on its recently released 2022-23 list of master’s level schools that produce significant numbers of Fulbrights.