“Europe is this huge melting pot of cultures,” said 2007 Bluffton High School graduate Lauren Petersen. “That’s what I wanted to experience as a Fulbright Scholar. I wanted to be immersed in something completely new.”
In June Petersen returned from a year spent as a Fulbright Scholar teaching English to students at Wroclaw University in Wroclaw, Poland. Petersen had applied for the scholarship during her senior year at Ball State University. She received notification of her acceptance into the Fulbright Program in May 2011, the same month she graduated with a degree in Urban Planning and Development.
According to the Council for International Exchange of Scholars website (http://www.cies.org/about_fulb.htm), the Fulbright Scholarship is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government designed to increase understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential in order to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
The Fulbright scholarship paid her room and board and salary from September 2011 when she arrived in Poland until May 2012. During the year, she taught English to 20 Polish students who had graduated from college.
“They were fluent in English but desired to increase their conversational knowledge of the language,” she said. Using a syllabus, she challenged the students to think critically and share thoughts about specific subjects, such as their home lives and war and peace. At the end of the year they were required to present a speech on a topic of their choice. “I graded them on their fluency and usage of English,” said Petersen.
Although Petersen had taught piano and swim lessons to students one-on-one in the US, she had never managed a large group. She discovered a love for teaching. “My mother is a teacher and I realized that passion she has for it,” she said. “To see the students’ progress made my preparatory work so worth it.”
Outside of the classroom Petersen struggled at times with communication. She had traveled overseas previously for academic and recreational purposes but had never lived in another country.
Assigned a room in student housing of the university, she daily encountered students from other countries, including Spain, Turkey, Germany and France. “I not only had to contend with learning Polish language but other languages as well,” she said.
While trying to befriend those whom she met, Petersen learned enough of the Polish language to order food in a restaurant, travel by bus and purchase food at the supermarket. “Using the Rosetta Stone program helped me much,” she added. Rosetta Stone is a foreign language teaching program.
During the year, Petersen traveled to 18 countries and wrote for an online magazine. She met up with friends from the US who were living abroad. She also assisted the country’s Make A Wish Foundation, the same program of which she had been a part while serving as Miss Central Indiana and other pageant positions in recent years.
“In Poland I worked with a 12-year old boy who wanted to go to the Baltic Sea with his family,” she said. She met with the child’s family and promoted the program within the community.
One of the highlights of her year was working with the consulate of the US Embassy. “Together, we promoted the international exchange program,” she said. “We gave presentations at high schools and the university, encouraging students to study abroad.” She added that one of her future goals is to work for the consulate and ambassador.
Currently, Petersen is interning through the summer with the Indianapolis Colts in the Community Relations Department. She hopes to return to Poland someday. “I met so many wonderful people this past year,” she said. “I absolutely intend to make it back. It was a life-changing experience.”
Note: Lauren Petersen recorded many of her experiences of traveling and living in Europe at her blog: http://laurenlppetersen.wordpress.com/
Cutline: Lauren Petersen of Bluffton met the Ambassador of the US Embassy, Lee Feinstein, during her year spent teaching English in Poland.