Class of 2017

On May 6th, 2017 I graduated from Boise State University after five years. I’m the kind of person who is always looking to the future, and I often get so caught up in worrying about what I’ll make of my degree and what comes next that I forget to celebrate the accomplishment itself so let me take a moment to pause and say it’s a big deal. It was a lot of work. I learned stuff. I stuck with it. To all other graduates out there, don’t forget that you worked hard and deserve a little celebration!

Participating in the graduation ceremony was a great way to bring the experience to a close, and I’m glad I got to enjoy the ceremony with my friends and peers by my side. As I’m writing this, a little over two weeks post graduation, I can tell you that it feels strange, and a little empty. Being a student has been a large part of my identity for most of my life, and if “student” is no longer a dominant part of my identity, what takes that place? Adult? Teacher? For now, nothing seems to fit quite right and I’m still adjusting to this new phase in my life. I’ve come to the wonderful and terrifying realization that I can do whatever I want. I’m capable, educated, and relatively untethered, and all I have to do is decide which direction I want to go.

I’ve never felt so free, and I’m working hard to take full advantage of this freedom. Right now taking advantage of that means ticking off a crazy summer bucket list in my home state and frantically filling out paperwork to secure the next chapter of my life: teaching English in Austria.

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File_003All of the linguistics students in the class of 2017.

I get a lot of questions about my degree and college experience, so I thought it’d be a good idea to answer some of those questions here and explain how all the pieces have come together for me. I hope this helps paint a clearer picture of how I came to be where I am.

What did you study?

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English with a Linguistics emphasis and a minor in German, cum laude. Basically, I studied linguistics, which is the study of languages and how they work. My focus has been on understanding how languages are acquired and processed in the brain, and using that understanding to inform my teaching practices.

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So how many languages do you speak?

Not all linguists speak other languages, but I happen to have taken two years of Latin, two years of American Sign Language, four years of German (including one year studying abroad in Germany), one semester of Spanish, one semester of Arabic (taken in German while I was abroad), and I have completed the Rosetta Stone’s Swahili program. I am an advanced speaker of German, but I hope to become fully fluent. I also want to develop fluency in Arabic, Swahili, and Spanish and use those languages in the future as a teacher or services coordinator for refugees and immigrants.

File_001 My dad and I. I wore a study abroad sash for Germany, and a lei that my dad’s girlfriend had made for me of red and white flowers like the Austrian flag.

What do you want to do with your degree?

As of right now, I’m interesting in either teaching in a TESOL  (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) context or some kind of job working with refugees and coordinating services or something along those lines. If you would like more details on my teaching, I have a dedicated blog to explain the teaching program I will be participating in this fall titled “What Are You Doing After College?”, but I want to touch on how I became interested in teaching. I started college intending to become an American Sign Language interpreter, but soon worried about choosing a profession that would keep me in the United States. I switched to Linguistics, and then in 2013 I took a course titled “First and Second Language Acquisition”. A requirement of the course was to do twenty hours of service learning at one of two programs for immigrants and refugees to learn English. I started volunteering at Project SHINE- Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders, a class for refugees aged sixty and older to learn English and American history for the citizenship test. It was stressful and difficult and I was not prepared, but I loved it and have returned to volunteer teach there at every opportunity.

Since then I have served over two hundred and twenty hours at various programs with refugees and immigrants both in Boise where I taught English, and in Germany where I taught some German. I still volunteer at SHINE twice a week and will continue to do so until I leave for Austria. I never imagined myself as a teacher before college, so I consider myself lucky to have taken that course and discovered my passion for it. I’m excited to keep exploring teaching as a career option.

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I hope that answers some questions! I want to thank my friends and family for all of the support over the years as I made my way through school. It wasn’t always easy, but I am happy that I made it all the way to graduation day, and I’m excited to start some new adventures and see what comes next.

Sandra.

Photos taken by Grad Images and family members. Boise, ID May 2017

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What Are You Doing After College?

As a senior in college, the question you want to be asked the least is also arguably the most important. “What are you doing after college?” After years of investing in yourself and your future, what will you make of it all? What’s the first step? What’s the big picture?

As graduation loomed, I felt pressure to focus in and make things happen. I felt like I needed to have a polished plan waiting for me right out of college, which is a pressure I think many graduating seniors feel. There seems to be an expectation, whether it be self imposed or not, that after graduation it is time to immediately get a real, adult job and have your life settled and figured out. I decided that I wasn’t ready for that yet. I was interested in becoming an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, but I wasn’t ready to commit to further education to get certified in the States. All I knew for sure was that I enjoyed teaching, traveling, and talking, so I decided to keep doing just that and see where the road took me.

After months of research, weeks of working on applications, and a lot of waiting I had cultivated a number of postgraduate options. I happened to be one of the lucky ones who had some sort of answer to the big question before my diploma was actually in my hand. In December, a full 6 months before graduation and thanks to a recommendation and nomination by a particularly incredible professor, I was offered a job in my field. I accepted a project based position working remotely for an English school in China to develop English language learning materials and provide online tutoring and have been working on for them since. Not only that, but I was under consideration for the Peace Corps and had interviewed for a position in Uganda as an English Literacy Teacher. I had a few things developing, which is more than many have, but nothing really solid yet.

Just a little under a month before graduation I got my concrete answer: I have been offered and have accepted a position as a U.S. Teaching Assistant in the Teaching Assistant Program of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education (BMB), administered by Fulbright Austria (Austrian-American Educational Commission) Vienna, Austria. Say that five times fast. For the sake of brevity, I refer to this program as “USTA”. I will be a U.S. T.A.,  a USTA!

This program is a way for the Austrian government to provide their high school students with native English speaking teachers who can also speak German. It strengthens the relationship between Austria and the United States, and gives aspiring teachers like myself a chance to hone their skills in a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) environment. There are less than a hundred and fifty positions across Austria, and each year they select a hundred or fewer new TAs, so the positions are highly competitive. It’s kind of a big deal.

I am honored to have been selected for the program, and busy getting all of the paperwork done and finding an apartment and gathering teaching materials, etc. etc.  I have been placed in Reutte, Austria, which is a little resort town of about six thousand people in the Alps. I’ll be living and working in Reutte for at least one Austrian school year, October 2017 through May 2018. If I do a good job and want to continue, I can extend for another year either in Reutte or in another city. I have already been busy researching a lot of opportunities that would shape the next five years of my life, so we will see where I end up!

To anyone still feeling the weight of the post-graduate unknown, just know that it may take some aggressive googling, a lot of application paperwork, and the full extent of your patience, but good things will come your way eventually and it all sorts itself out!

Sandra.

 

Photo by Molly King. Lowman, Idaho. April 2017.

Wherever Whatever

Having completed the five year journey that was my undergraduate studies, I find myself with a diploma in one hand and a plane ticket in the other. In September 2017, I am moving to Reutte, Austria to work as a teacher’s assistant. It’s the first of many adventures in the works, so wherever I am and whatever I get up to, I invite you to join me.

My name is Sandra, and this is my blog.

Sandra.

Photo by Sandra Lyn Walker. Banks, Idaho. April 2017.

Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?

This is the first blog post in a series showing the highlights from cities I traveled to or experiences I had while I studied abroad in 2015 and 2016. I’ve adapted these blogs from my original study abroad blog. When I booked my tickets to Europe, I realized I had a chance to do something purely selfish. I was travelling by myself, and I realized I didn’t have to fly straight to Germany. If I could go anywhere, and no one could stop me, there was one thing I wanted to see: Chernobyl.

I quickly learned that there were two general reactions when I told people where I was going. There were the “WHY?!” people and the “that is so cool, take me with you” people. Chernobyl interests me both socially and biologically, and I wanted to see the Exclusion Zone and the original sarcophagus of reactor #4 before the new sarcophagus was slated to be completed in 2016.  I knew it was a now or never kind of opportunity, and I am glad I seized it. Here are a few facts that stand out to me:

  1. The accident happened on April 26, 1986. An error in operation caused an explosion, and withu
  2. If a wildfire were to break out in the forests in the zone it would kick up so many radioactive particles that there would be another widespread nuclear disaster.
  3. The radiation exposure I got in two days in the zone was about the equivalent to a long-haul flight.
  4. It is possible to get contaminated with radioactive particles, but you would have to be doing something dumb like rolling around in the brush where the particles linger more easily.
  5. The first responder firefighters to the disaster went to fight the fire without any protection against radiation, and many suffered fatal cases of Acute Radiation Sickness.
  6. The disaster was not disclosed by the USSR for several days, until pressure grew from scientists around the world who noticed increased levels of radiation and pressed for a cause.
  7. There are a few elderly people who still live in the zone, and we got to meet two of them.
  8. The original structure encasing the reactor was only designed to last 30 years, and deteriorated faster than expected. The new sarcophagus was assembled on rails next to the old one, and was completed and slid into place in 2016.
  9. Workers on the new sarcophagus spend only 1-2 weeks in the zone and then a mandatory period of time outside of it so that their bodies can process the dose of radiation.
  10. The new sarcophagus is strong and built to  withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, but if the old structure were to collapse inside it would tear the new sarcophagus apart and result in Chernobyl disaster #2. For this reason the next step is to slowly dismantle the old sarcophagus inside of the new structure.

I booked my tour through SoloEast, and I spent two days and one night in the Exclusion Zone. I had an amazing time, and I definitely recommend doing the two day tour instead of the one day if you can. My group was composed of a tour guide, a government appointed guide, and six tourists including myself. Our guides were really friendly, funny, and knowledgeable. You can even request certain guides who are radiologists, scientists, botanists, or biologists. And please, spare yourselves and don’t rent a Geiger counter unless you are a full blown scientist and want to take readings of every object. The guide has one and will show you any hot spots, and no one wants to listen to two Geiger counters clicking and croaking away. I do however advise bringing two clif bars.

Chernobyl, and Ukraine in general remains in my top five favorite places that I have visited. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have! Here are thirty of my favorite photos from my tour of Pripyat and Chernobyl.

 

 

 

Photos taken by Sandra Lyn Walker, or fellow tourists, or the tour guide. Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine. August 2015. Post updated from previous blog.