Fulbright Scholar Lauren Petersen Completes Year in Poland

Lauren Petersen and US Ambassador Feinstein



“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.


Lauren Petersen with some of her students.

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.


Lauren with Andrzej Dakowski, Executive Director of the Polish Fulbright Commission

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/


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Cutline: Lauren Petersen of Bluffton met the Ambassador of the US Embassy, Lee Feinstein, during her year spent teaching English in Poland.





John Baumgartner pens second novel

An enjoyment of reading to his daughter prompted Ossian resident John Baumgartner to become the author of two new books.


For the past decade Baumgartner, a 1979 graduate of Norwell High School, wrote 10 books. His attempts to get them published were dismal. After receiving dozens of rejection letters for the first eight, he was discouraged and decided to take a break from writing.


His love for storytelling did not abandon him as Baumgartner created stories for his three children each night before they went to sleep. His daughter Nicole, in particular, always asked for more. Finally, Baumgartner connected the nightly stories into a book for his daughter who encouraged him to publish it. “I was hesitant to try to publish again because of all of the rejections I had received,” said Baumgartner. “But I felt I owed it to her not to let her see me giving up my dream of being an author.”


After contacting three publishers who turned down the book, Baumgartner found success with a publisher named Publish America. “They work with first-time authors and I didn’t need an agent,” said Baumgartner.


His first book, Like Losing Your Left Hand, was published in 2011. It is written with a contemporary setting for students in late elementary grades. Last fall Baumgartner began working on a second book, Rori’s Ghost, which was published in 2012. Both books are mysteries.


While Like Losing Your Left Hand is written for younger students, Rori’s Ghost is written for high school students and is a medieval fantasy. The plot centers on an abused girl who must decide if she will help others who need her.


“The theme focuses on the self-doubt we all feel, but shows how we can  overcome this weakness for the sake of others,” said Baumgartner.


For his research into his abused character Baumgartner interviewed people at A Friend’s House in Bluffton. “I wanted to know what they thought as they experienced certain things in life,” he said, adding that  the abuse mentioned in the book is not graphic. It is also not a ghost story. “ThegGhost referred to in the title  is the name of a character in the book,” said Baumgartner.


Rori’s Ghost contains a spiritual message. “While the book doesn’t overtly refer to the Christian faith, it refers to a Creator and Healer and the innate goodness in Nature,” said Baumgartner. “There is a definite born-again experience for the heroine and there is evil present.” Baumgartner and his family, including wife Tammy and daughter Nicole, attend Apostolic Christian Church in Bluffton.


Baumgartner relies on Nicole, an eighth grader at Canterbury High School, for help with the book. “She looks at the first chapter as I’m writing it to ensure the characterization is true,” he said. Baumgartner has begun working on a sequel to Rori’s Ghost.


Proceeds from sales of Baumgartner’s books are donated to A Friend’s House. Rori’s Ghost is available at the Publish America online book store ($16.00), Amazon, and Barnes & Noboe. Like Losing Your Left Hand is available in paperback version at the same locations for $9.00, as well as the Wells County Public Library.


Baumgartner attended Ball State University where he double majored in marketing and journalism. After working in advertising in Chicago, he and his family returned to Wells County in 1988. Today, Baumgartner is director of marketing at Energy Control in Ossian.


Baumgartner credits his Norwell High School literature teacher, Marilyn Koons, for prompting his interest in reading and writing. “She brought reading to life for me,” he said. “She helped students understand the meaning of themes and motifs of a story. From her I thought it would be fun to write a book.”



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Cutline: John Baumgartner of Ossian is the author of two books for middle and high school students.

Fulbright scholarship awarded to Lauren Petersen

This article and photo on Lauren Petersen explains something I didn’t know much about – Fulbright Scholarships. That’s such a great thing about being a writer – you get to learn so many things in the name of research! She is planning such a great year for herself in Poland as an English teacher. She has worked hard for her accomplishments and I’m proud to know her.

This article appeared in the Bluffton News-Banner. If you know Lauren, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure she reads them. Thanks!

Besides winning a Fulbright Lauren Petersen held the title of Miss Central IN in 2011

Lauren Petersen, a 2007 Bluffton High School graduate and 2011 Ball State University graduate, was notified in May that she had been awarded a Fulbright scholarship.

According to the Council for International Exchange of Scholars website (http://www.cies.org/about_fulb.htm), the Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential. They study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Petersen, who graduated with a degree in Urban Planning and development, was one of three students from the college to be the recipient of the academic scholarship.

Petersen applied for the Fulbright at the beginning of her senior year. “I wondered what my next step should be after graduation,” she said. “I didn’t know if I should go to graduate school or study abroad. I knew being awarded a Fulbright would allow me to celebrate the joy of diversity of culture I’m so passionate about.”

Lauren Petersen and her sister Claire stand in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

As a first step, Petersen submitted an application stating her qualifications as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA). “The people who approve the Fulbright want to see how well-rounded an applicant is and his or her desire to serve as an English Teaching Assistant on the global level,” she said. “I love to delve into cultures different from my own and stated that I would relish traveling the world for this purpose.”

She specifically applied as an English Teaching Assistant to Poland. “I was fascinated with how the European countries had rebuilt themselves since the Cold War,” she said. “Also, Poland didn’t have a language requirement.”

Petersen’s prior experiences in leadership positions, many of them in Wells County, assisted her in her application. “I had been a tutor at elementary schools, teaching piano, lifeguarding, as a camp counselor, and leading architectural workshops,” she said. “My mom is a teacher and instilled in my sister and me the importance of education.”

Following the written application, Petersen completed a round of campus interviews. After being nominated by the university to the regional level, her application was submitted to the national level where it was approved.

Petersen will leave in September for her nine-month position at Wroclaw University which included travel expenses, room and board.

As part of her application, Petersen had to propose a service project she would attempt at the Polish university. “I would like to initiate community-based planning discussions with university students and help them explore their neighborhoods,” she said. “The city was demolished after WWII. It has 12 canals and 100 bridges, which creates water-logged problems. We could bring like-minded people together that have a desire to improve the city’s infrastructure.”

As an added bonus, Petersen, who carried the title of Miss Central Indiana, competed in June at the Miss Indiana pageant. While she didn’t  win the main title, Petersen did win $1,800 in scholarships. Petersen plans to use the money from the pageant to enroll as a student at the university and take Polish classes.

She has another goal for her year abroad. “I want to visit every country in Europe,” she said. After graduation, Petersen had her first experience out of the United States when she and her sister, Claire, traveled to Italy and Greece. “It’s a blessing to have received the Fulbright,” she added. “I’m passionate about this type of job.”

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Lauren Petersen-Miss Central IN

Lauren Petersen is one of the most ambitious young women I’ve met. She has much going for her. Read this and be amazed.


It may seem as though competing in pageants is becoming old hat, so to speak, for Lauren Petersen. During the past couple of years, the Bluffton native has won the title of Miss Ball State University (2009) and Miss Huntington (2010). She was an Indianapolis 500 princess in May and first runner up for Miss Indiana in 2010.

But Petersen, who, with her sister, won the Lilly Scholarship as a senior at Bluffton High School in 2007, admits to an area she struggles with when competing. “The talent sections of the pageants are a challenge for me,” she said.  “I did not grow up playing the piano for others, so for me to do it on stage was fearful.”

To the average ear Petersen’s hard work and discipline belie her fear as she plays classical pieces on the piano as her talent. Petersen was a 10-year student of well-known Wells County piano teacher Daisy Cox.

The solution, according to Petersen, was to work through her fear. “As I continued to enter contests, my fear of playing the piano in public gradually eased.” For the talent portion of the Miss Central Indiana contest which took place on September 18, 2010, Petersen played a concerto in A Minor by Schumann on the stage in front of 300 people. The judges were pleased not only with her talent but also her replies to interview questions. They chose Petersen among 14 contestants to wear the crown for Miss Central Indiana 2010.

The pageant took place at Westfield High School near Carmel, Indiana. It was open to young females who lived in the area surrounding Indianapolis. As Petersen had worked at an internship at the State House since January 2010, she met the requirements.

Besides participating in community outreach activities and fundraisers during the next year, Petersen, who is a senior at Ball State University (BSU), will continue to support the program she has chosen for her pageant platform, the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “As a member of the speakers’ bureau for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, I hope to meet people and get involved on several levels in the Indianapolis area in helping people,” she said.

Petersen plans to graduate in May with a degree in Urban Planning. She would like to attend graduate school and has applied for various scholarships, including Rhodes, Marshall, and Fulbright. Her career goal is to work in real estate development and urban planning. “Through my internship, I’ve seen how people who care can make a difference,” she added. “For that reason I would like to go into politics at some level of government, either local, state, or national.”

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Reprinted with permission from the News Banner