Once a month, we’re going to talk about awesome/weird/adventurous jobs that you (maybe) didn’t even know existed and talk to people who have done them. If you’re sick of your current gig, get to applying! You can read about other awesome jobs here.
Teaching assistants are usually placed outside of capitol cities (so, no Paris for you), assist English teachers and act as cultural representatives of sorts. When you apply for a position, you can only apply to one country (rather than applying to the program, being accepted and then choosing a country) so you’re more likely to get a posting if you choose a less popular locale. Again, maybe not Paris.
In order to apply for the program you must be a US citizen, have a BA and be proficient in the language of your proposed host country.
Jennifer did a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Germany and was kind enough to share her insights with us.
Can you tell us about your Fulbright experience?
I was placed in a very rural area of Germany right outside of Nuremberg, in the state of Bavaria.
Because I received the ETA (English Teaching Assistantship) grant as opposed to the Research Grant, my grant began in September of 2010 and ended in June of 2011. I think the terms of the research grant are different, though.
My duties were to teach English 12 hours a week. My hours were split between two schools; a Gymnasium and a Hauptschule. Part of the grant stipulates that the grantee is never to teach alone but should always assist. This was not the case at my schools – the teachers chose to leave me alone with the students quite frequently.
I was told by Fulbright that if this happened I should object, but I honestly didn’t mind. In some instances, I felt I reached the kids better when their “normal” teacher wasn’t around; they seemed to let their guard down and open up. Another stipulation of the grant prevented me from issuing grades; I was there only to teach and represent my country and culture. I’m sure this played a role in their being open with me, as they never had to fear that I’d punish their English mistakes with low marks.
Why did you decide to take part in the Fulbright?
I studied abroad at the University of Salzburg in 2009. Upon returning home, I missed Europe so much, longed for the adventure of constant travel, had German language withdrawals, etc. I decided that I needed to return to Europe as soon as possible!
Can you tell us about the application process?
The application process was a bit hellish. I started the process in July 2009 and I received word that I’d been given a grant on March 31, 2010. There are many different steps in the application process; the grantee must advance past the university level, then the national level, then the international level. Because of the multiple deadlines, I worked on my application for nine months straight. There were interviews, language evaluations, grant proposals and personal statements. I was constantly reviewing, preparing, editing, re-writing.
How did you prepare for your Fulbright posting?
I didn’t have much time to prepare for my posting because I spent the four months prior in Vienna interning with the US Embassy. Had I been at home in the US like the majority of the other “Fulbrighters,” I would have been more focused on preparing for my posting — like finding housing, making contacts in my area. In hindsight, that would have made the first months of my grant much easier.
Can you tell us about an average day in the life of a Fulbright-er?
For all the stress that goes into applying for a Fulbright grant, the life of a Fulbrighter is shockingly low-key. Since I was only required to work 12 hours a week, my work week consisted of four hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I had so much free time to travel and invest in community activities, which is Fulbright’s objective in mandating we work so few hours.
How much money are you earning?
I earned 800 euro a month from Fulbright, which is very low, but considering how little I worked, I suppose it’s fair. I also tutored on the side for additional income.
What were the biggest challenges about your experience?
Fulbright does not hold your hand as you walk through this process. This has its advantages and disadvantages. I found it beneficial because I was forced to take complete responsibility for myself and my actions and live completely independently. But when it came to finding housing, making friends, dealing with everyday struggles/cultural differences/language barriers, I often found it very difficult to manage on my own.
What did you take away from your experience?
I gained a lot of confidence and matured in ways I had not predicted. During the first half of my grant, for instance, I was in a very stressful living situation that brought me to tears on a regular basis. At home, I would have called my parents and relied on them to solve the problem but living in Germany, I was forced to resolve my own conflicts without the help of my parents.
In the second half of my grant, after a very peculiar health problem, I was hospitalized for a week. Had I been in a hospital in the US, my parents and siblings would have been by my side. However, dealing with these issues on my own – communicating with the doctors in a foreign language, resolving financial disputes with the insurance company – really helped me mature. I learned that I can take care of myself. I also learned that my parents’ help and support is invaluable and I’ll never take it for granted again!
Who would be a good fit for Fulbright?
Someone who is resilient. Not to say that the life of a Fulbrighter is extremely taxing — because, as I said, it’s really quite easy, work-wise. But the challenges you face when it comes to assimilating into a foreign culture and surviving on your own can be very exhausting.
Also: outgoing. Because you’re so isolated as a Fulbrighter, it’s absolutely essential that you step out of your comfort zone and make friends. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time in isolation and will get lonely.
Have any of you guys done a Fulbright? If you have, leave your suggestions in the comments!
This is really similar to the program that I did! It was through the Spanish Government but it basically sounds like an extremely similar experience… down to crazy applications, few working hours and learning to settle housing and everything on your own! I'm pretty sure the French government does one as well, though I can't comment on it as I've never done it! If anyone (North Americans only, actually) is interested specifically in Spain, here's the website: http://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html
Kelsey, I did the French version of your program: 12 hours a week in a public middle school, through the French government, on our own for housing and everything! Although I got very lucky, and the school where I worked had some apartments and let me stay for free- it was a very rural area and a huge bonus to their school system to have a native speaker on staff.
Jennifer, I had the same thing happen with being left alone with the students despite my contract saying otherwise, but I agree that it was easier to connect with students when it was just me and them.
It took me a while to find my groove; I didn't have teaching experience, and the program I was in didn't provide much at all in the way of training. The first month or so was rough, but then I got to know the students and what sorts of language activities they enjoyed.
For anyone interested in the French program, the link is http://www.tapif.org. It was tough to transition into a new culture all by myself in another language, but I did find it rewarding. The program itself has a lot of kinks that need to be worked out, but it's still worth it. With 12 hours of work a week, there's lots of time to explore the culture, travel, eat a lot of cheese, etc.
I highly recommend the TAPIF program, too!
I was an assistant in the 2010-2011 school year and I loved it! It was one of the best experiences I have ever had!!! The schedule was flexible and I had the fortune of working with teachers who were so kind and generous! Although that isn't always the case, most people in my region of Nancy-Metz also had pretty pleasant experiences.
If anyone out there want to know more about being an assistant in France, I wrote about it on my old (now defunct) blog right here: Teaching English in France. Another great resource is IE Languages: The Teaching Assistantship. 🙂
And thanks, Sarah, for posting this article and Jennifer for sharing your experience! 🙂
I'm an ETA in Germany right now! Yes, the first part is a bit terrifying (especially since you have to deal with a mile of German red tape), but eventually you settle in and it gets better. I'm not looking forward to being finished at the end of June, which is a good sign – I have wonderful teachers to work with and the students seem to like having me around.
If you're considering it at all, you should apply! For Germany you can defer student loans and the Fulbright commission pays for your flight there and back, so although I'm not saving any money, I'm also not spending more than I'm making.
Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!
Hi there! I have a question about Fulbright in Germany.
1. How did you get in!?
2. Do you get to state your preferences of where you would like to be placed?
3. You mentioned that you did tutoring on the side for extra money, so with the visa are you allowed to get a second job or did you have to work under the table? Is there a limit on how many hours you can work at a second job?
4. Do you have any advice on how to get started on the process of applying?
5. Did you interact with other fulbright grantees much? Or were you the only one at your school?
6. What are the ages of most fulbright TAs?