Five CSU students – the most in recent memory – will be headed to four different continents to study during the 2016-17 academic year, thanks to grants from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. One of those students is Teal Vickrey, a recent alumna from the English Department. Teal will be serving as an English Teaching Assistant in Prague, Czech Republic.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The CSU recipients are among the more than 1,900 U.S. citizens selected this year on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as their record of service and demonstrated leadership in their fields.
Recipients represent the U.S. as a cultural ambassador while overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in their host country. More than 100,000 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni have undertaken grants since the program began in 1948, including four from CSU last year.
Teal Vickrey graduated with a B.A. in Communication Studies and English in May of 2016. Her passion to work with youth began while she was growing up Louisville, Colo., where she loved playing with her little brothers and volunteering at her local library reading with youth in her community. In college she has spent her time volunteering as a Reading Buddy at Cache la Poudre Middle School in Fort Collins and last fall she acted as a mentor for CSU’s very own Campus Connections. She will be returning for her second year as counselor at Rocky Mountain Day Camp before she embarks on her journey to the Czech Republic in August.
Teal became enamored with Czech culture last spring when she studied abroad in Prague at Charles University. While she was abroad she had the opportunity to teach English at Londýsnká Elementary School. Teal plans to pursue a career in educational leadership upon her return to the United States.
The following is an interview with Teal:
You were recently named a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship and will be traveling to teach in Prague. What inspired you to choose Prague?
I will be teaching an hour outside of Prague in a town called Vimperk. I first went to Prague in 2014 as a part of the AIFS study abroad program at Charles University. I took a number of literature classes and an even more interesting surrealist film class that I will never forget. I fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, the beer, and the moment I got home I began researching a way I could get back!
What are you most excited about for your time abroad? What are you most nervous about?
I am excited to become fully immersed in the small town of Vimperk, its people, and its culture. To the point where I will become a regular at the local coffee shop, grocery, and make friends and connections with my students that will make saying goodbye hard. But what I am most nervous about are the initial introductions and “firsts” that I will endure when I arrive: the limbo between leaving home and becoming a stranger to somewhere new. I guess that is the necessary discomfort and growth that will allow me to transition as a local and have the experience that I am hoping for.
Do you have any plans (career or otherwise) after your time in Prague?
At this time, no. I have a goal to receive my Masters in the next 10 years and get published at least once in the next year, but that is the limit of my “plans” so to speak. I have entertained the idea of becoming a principal and I have also entertained the idea of becoming a screen writer- so no I haven’t decided on anything concrete.
How do you think your degree in English has prepared you for teaching abroad?
What I found the first time I was abroad was that connecting with the literature allowed me to connect with the culture. Reading “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka in high school was a wildly different experience than when I read it again in Prague- this time sitting in the same school Kafka attended. Suddenly the culture, the motivation and the setting was tangible and the story was one I could share with those around me. I plan to connect with my students through common stories such as popular Czech lore, pop culture, news, and as an educator, I hope to discover the common stories that bond youth around the world.
What did you like about the English program at CSU? Why did you choose to study here?
To say I took a lot of time picking a college would be a lie. I grew up in Boulder and wanted a change in scenery so I picked the next best thing, CSU. I majored in the Communications Department before finding my way to the English Department to finish up my second major senior year. I was already extremely impressed with the professors and education I had encountered in the Liberal Arts Department, and the English Department was no exception. I felt comfortable connecting with professors on a personal level which allowed me to feel comfortable when stretching my creative boundaries-because I did not fear being criticized or discouraged by professors. Their over all focus wasn’t to teach us one way of learning, or one school of thought but to expand out horizons and allow us to discover the terrain on our own. So no, I didn’t put much thought into coming here but I believe it was where I was meant to be.
Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department?
I spent only a year in the English department itself, but the teacher who challenged me the most was Mathew Cooperman. He had such an inspiring outlook on education and he designed our capstone in such a way that if we wanted to succeed, we needed to rely on ourselves not the complex system set up by higher education- based on passing a certain number of tests and writing enough convincing essays to get a decent grade. We had to put ourselves in the field and force ourselves to discover the world around us. There was no right or wrong answer; our class was just based on the mere speculation about place and where we came from and it’s where I discovered the most about myself and my values.
What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
In the words of Cheryl Strayed and the words I live by…
“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
You can read more about Teal and the other Fulbright scholars here.