SEA You Later

Long story short, I had to make a sudden dash to the honorary Austrian consulate in Seattle to submit my residency paperwork on a Sunday and I had to be back at work Monday morning. Future USTAs, don’t be like me. Make sure you plan ahead for the fact that you will have to go to one of the Austrian consulates in person to submit your Bestätigung paperwork. My flight touched down right at 06:45 in Seattle and my return flight took off at 14:55, so I had about 8 hours to make my appointment and enjoy Seattle.

I didn’t have much time, but I made the most of the time I had! Navigating airports, taking public transit, using maps to find my way around the city, seeing new sights, and all the other little things that come with travelling really awakened my wanderlust and made me that much more excited to go to Austria. My trip started off with one of my favorite things in the world, which is to be in the air during a sunrise or sunset. Our flight took off just as day was breaking over Boise, and the views were stunning.

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I love plane wing photos. After I landed in Seattle, I made my way to the light rail to get from the airport to the city center. I’ve always like the light rail. It’s easy to use, and it has big windows so you get to see all the sights on the way, like this view of downtown.

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Unfortunately, the bulk of my free time on this trip was between 07:30 and 09:30 on a Sunday morning, well before anything opened. I still managed to accomplish two goals: see the ocean and pay Pike’s Place Market a visit. It was nice wandering the streets while it was still quiet in the city.

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Since I was one of the first tourists wandering around Pike’s Place I got to be one of the first to snag some mini doughnuts. That also meant no one was around to see me get absolutely covered in powdered sugar like a kid.

 

 

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So that is all I saw on my mini trip to Seattle! I had eight hours on the ground, minus the time for the light rail trips and airport time and my appointment, so I was pretty pleased. I managed to walk almost six miles before 10 am, I saw some pretty views of Seattle, and most importantly I got my paperwork submitted without a hitch. It was one giant step towards going to Austria and a lovely day trip all in one.

SEA you in September, Seattle.

Sandra.

Photos taken by Sandra Walker. Seattle, WA. June 2017

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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

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.