UAA sends two alumni to Austria for the USTA Foreign Language Assistantship

by Catalina Myers  |   

Since 1962, Fulbright Austria, in conjunction with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, has placed more than 140 Americans in Austrian teaching assistantships each year. The United States Teaching Assistantship (USTA) Foreign Language Assistantship to Austria is operated under the auspices of Fulbright Austria and was created to not only provide Austrian youth with opportunities to learn different languages, but to also promote cross-cultural education.

UAA has previously sent two students, Quenton Nelson and Iona Lobontiu during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years. This year, the USTA Foreign Language Assistantship to Austria honor goes to Molly Johnson, B.A. ’19 in German with a minor in Alaska Native Studies, and Rose Kruger, B.A. ’19 in German and English and fall 2019 commencement speaker.

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UAA fall 2019 commencement speaker Rose Kruger, earned the USTA Foreign Language Teaching Assistanship to Austria for the upcoming academic year. (Photo by James Evans/ University of Alaska Anchorage)

 In a December 2019 Green and Gold News story, Kruger mentioned she hoped to one day earn a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English abroad in Germany while earning a master’s degree. At the time, Kruger was also teaching preschoolers at the German immersion school. Now, nearly a year and a half later, Kruger, along with Johnson, is in the last steps of finalizing her trip for a year-long teaching assistantship in Austria.

“From my language professor point of view, the USTA scholarship has been instrumental in shaping our language graduates' future by providing them with additional teaching and language experience abroad,” said Natasa Masanovic, professor of German, coordinator of UAA’s German program and chair of the Department of Languages. Masanovic has mentored many of the university’s German language students and said she intends to continue to guide students through the process of applying for the USTA Foreign Language Assistantships.

For Johnson, the USTA Foreign Language Assistantship was a natural step in her post-graduation life. The daughter of two educators, Johnson said growing up she always thought that she’d end up as a teacher one day, but it wasn’t until high school when she discovered her love of the German language that the path became clear.

Molly Johnson, who graduated in spring 2019 with B.A. in German and minor in Alaska Native Studies, was recently awarded the honor of the USTA Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship to Austria for the upcoming academic year. Johnson is pictured helping a fellow knitter during a Chronicles of Yarnia student club meeting in 2019. (Photo by James Evans/ University of Alaska Anchorage)

“My high school teacher was really awesome and so I decided to continue and study it at the university,” Johnson said. “The German professor at UAA is fantastic — she’s just amazing.”

Johnson said she was apprehensive about applying for the USTA Foreign Language Assistantship. She wasn’t sure if she measured up to UAA’s previous recipients, but with the encouragement of Masanovic and after talking with both Nelson and Lobontiu, and hearing about their positive experiences, she decided to apply.

Johnson said her family has German roots and she’s embraced her heritage not only through her academic studies, but her extracurricular activities as well. For nearly three years, Johnson was the president of Chronicles of Yarnia, UAA’s knitting and crocheting student club. 

After graduating in spring 2019, Johnson took some time off to strategize her next move and worked in tourism, at Great Harvest Bread Company, a job she’d had throughout college and applied to be a substitute teacher in the Anchorage School District (ASD). 

“That was really great and I mostly substituted at the German immersion school, Rilke Schule,” said Johnson. She said surprisingly most of her substitute teaching jobs were there and she was happy to get a glimpse of what her future career might be if she combined her bachelor’s in German with a master’s degree in teaching. “I eventually want to become a German teacher here in Alaska. I also read through the form (USTA Foreign Language Assistantship paperwork) that I could use this as a year of student teaching.” 

Johnson said that when COVID-19 hit, it threw a lot of her plans out the window. Substitute teaching was no longer a possibility, so she headed back to the bakery and it was around mid-spring when she was notified that she’d been accepted into the USTA Foreign Language Assistantship program — but even that was not totally set in stone. 

“It’s kind of up in the air with how this is going to work out,” Johnson said. For now, the plan is to still travel to Austria, but Johnson said that’s not without its complications and apprehensions. Additionally, Johnson said she is concerned about leaving her family for a whole year during a global pandemic and worries about what would happen if she ended up with the virus in a foreign country. It’s a lot to think about but she has a plan B, to return to substitute teaching for ASD in the fall while also working at Great Harvest Bread Company and maybe even thinking about applying for some master’s teaching programs.

Luckily, she said the USTA has extended a gap year to all its recipients who were supposed to teach English for their assistantship this year — in case anyone wants to opt out and wait until the global pandemic is over and it is more safe to travel internationally.

Johnson said she is hopeful she can go, but as with everything during this year, she said she is just learning to roll with it and even if her plans abroad don’t work out, she knows she can still have the opportunity next year.

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