Every month, Fulbridge interviews Fulbrighters around the world (both current grantees and alumni) to get a sense of what life is like in different placements. This month, Parul Srivastava, a 2020-2021 Fulbright Researcher to the U.S.A, spoke with Chester Eng, a 2011-2012 Fulbright ETA from the U.S.A about his exciting journey to Dieter-Forte-Gesamtschule, Germany.
1. Why did you choose to go to Germany for your Fulbright?
An ETA fellowship in Germany was an ideal way for me to continue to work towards my goal of increasing mutual understanding among different people by increasing the amount of useful and truthful information in the world in my own small and meaningful way, to use my college education in German studies and English literature for the greater good of the country and a wider international community, and to pursue the passion for German language and culture I’d developed up to that point in my life. I’d also become fascinated by German multiculturalism during my study abroad in Germany in college and strove to understand this aspect of modern Germany more deeply through immersion in its primary and secondary education systems. I had had a long fascination with and admiration for Germany as a child. Learning about my familial ties (on my mom’s side) to Germany and developing relationships with cousins of mine there made me all the motivated to contribute to the special relationship between the United States and Germany.
2. Where were you based and what organization were you affiliated with?
I lived and worked in Düsseldorf, one of Germany’s largest cities, and was affiliated with Dieter-Forte-Gesamtschule, a public comprehensive school for students from grades 6 to 13.
3. How did a normal weekday look like for you as an ETA?
I would normally wake up around 6:45 (which was really difficult during the winter without any daylight) to prepare for school. After arriving at school and making my way through the throngs of students at the tram station and school entrances, I would go to the teachers’ room to greet my colleagues and finalize my plans before beginning my lessons for the day at 8:00. My classroom duties at my school varied day to day: On some days, I would serve as a “living German-English dictionary,” and on others, I would lead lessons. A duty I had every day was privately tutoring students who had recently immigrated to Germany and needed lessons on basic English. I believed I made even more of a positive difference by working with these students who benefited more immediately from our work together.
My school day typically ended at 12:30, leaving me lots of time to do what I wanted in the afternoon before my evening commitments. My typical after school activities were shopping for groceries, making lunch at home (I learned to cook to save money and learn a valuable life skill), reading, watching movies, and napping. In the evening, I’d either go out with other English teaching assistants in the area, who were with Fulbright ETAs or British university student teachers, or go to Frisbee practice with a local club called the Frisbee Family.
4. What were some highlights?
One of the special teaching moment that I still remember vividly easily is a primary grade student who sprinted at me from the other side of the hallway we were in to hug me and tell me that she’d earned a 1, the highest mark a German student can receive on an exam, because of the help session I had held for her and her classmates two days before. That was one of those moments that shows teachers why they love teaching. I felt as if I’d joined that special club at this moment.
Also, seeing the students I worked with during my Fulbright year grow as students and young men was immensely rewarding. Saying bye to them and other students I’d gotten to know on the last day, which coincided with my 23rd birthday, with an especially bittersweet but incredibly special occasion. I won’t ever forget them singing “Happy Birthday” to me outside of the teachers’ room.
My most memorable non-teaching moment at my school was a presentation by a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. consulate in Düsseldorf I’d arranged. Because my school had never hosted a representative from the local U.S. mission, this occasion was especially exciting for students, teachers, and school staff. I still remember going around to several 12th-grade classes to help students understand the basics of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, including introducing the major Republican candidates and attempting to explain the Electoral College. I remember comparing the Electoral College to a giant pizza with different amounts of toppings on different slices.
Visiting Christmas markets is a winter must-do in Germany, and visiting the different Christmas markets in Düsseldorf, around the region, and throughout the country with other Fulbrighters and teaching assistants was such a joyful way to celebrate the holidays.
During the annual team holiday celebration the week before Christmas, we danced until late into the night, much later than any of us expected. On Christmas Eve, which is the main Christmas celebration day, attending a church service, having Christmas dinner, and singing Christmas carols in German with four Frisbee Family teammates who are, in fact, a family (husband, wife, and two sons) made me feel at home in Düsseldorf as I never had previously.
The biggest and most famous annual regional festival in the Rheinland is Karneval, the Lent-time celebration, the largest of which takes place on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. With all the creativity on display in the parades of floats, the elaborate costumes a lot of people wore, and the overall cheerfulness and fellowship of the occasion, I understood immediately why Karneval is called the “fifth season of the year.” Celebrating the occasion with American, British, and German friends was incredibly fun to say the least. The American equivalent of Karneval in the Rheinland would be Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
The best international Ultimate Frisbee tournament I have attended up to this point in my life is Windmill Windup in Amsterdam, one of Europe’s premier annual tournaments. My German friends and teammates on the Frisbee Family and I were lucky enough to earn an invitation to compete against high-level teams from 25 different countries in this three-day competition that has only become more competitive to enter since we went eight years ago. The games we played in and watched were high-level and high-energy, as this tournament attracts Europe’s best teams and players. Never had I been around so many people from so many different places whom I hadn’t yet gotten to know but felt as if I already knew.
5. How has the Fulbright grant helped you after coming back to the U.S?
My Fulbright grant was a major reason I was able to secure an internship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s program on U.S. power and influence on the world stage. Fulbright made me hungry to learn about the rest of the world and helped me better understand the practical effects of the people-to-people relationships the Fulbright Program fosters on the lives of ordinary people in their everyday lives. When people do genuinely understand each other around common ideals and interests, they are more willing to cooperate and not seek conflict.
My Fulbright grant also sharpened my research skills, as I was constantly learning, processing, and sharing new information with different audiences. I’d often have to explain facets of U.S. life, culture, and history that are common knowledge among Americans, but unknown or misunderstood among non-Americans, as well as to my students, colleagues, and friends in Germany during Fulbright. Such experiences proved to be especially helpful when I worked as a tour guide in Washington, D.C. and found myself in the same position when I worked with international guests who hailed from more than 60 different countries.
The passions for teaching, explaining, and relationship-building that I developed during my Fulbright experiences then motivated me to serve in the Peace Corps in Kosovo.
6. Why should prospective Fulbrighters apply to Germany?
On the grand vision level, I think Fulbright Germany embodies the success of the Fulbright Program’s mission and ideals. On the person-to-person level, Fulbright has helped Americans and Germans become such close friends and remain so. Though Americans and Germans will always look at the world and lead their lives differently in a lot of ways, such differences make conversations about life ideals, values, and practices all the more enlightening and enriching.
On the programmatic level, Germany offers countless opportunities for Fulbrighters to transform lives as teachers and conduct innovative research as scholars. I think it’s safe to say that there’s no limit to what Fulbrighters can do in Germany, a leader in just about all major global academic and professional fields. Germany’s historic reputation as the “land of poets and thinkers” is still well-deserved but yet should be updated to include scientists, engineers, and creators.
Germany is highly diverse culturally, socially, and geographically. No two corners of the country are alike. South-eastern Germany has the breath-taking Alps (where Neuschwanstein, the “Disney Castle” also is), while north-eastern Germany has towering chalk cliffs that are just as impressive. The modern cosmopolitanism of major international hubs in Germany like Berlin and Hamburg are just as uniquely German as the classic romanticism of smaller cities like Weimar and Heidelberg. As a destination for travellers and a place for expats to create a new life, Germany does truly have it all and offers something for everyone. Germany’s second to none as a travel hub: It shares a border with nine countries, and its selection of travel options by bus, train, plane, and boat is unmatched. The ease and convenience of traveling from and within Germany are unmatched by any other country.
7. What do you currently do and what do you miss the most about your Fulbright experience?
I’m currently a researcher for an NGO, private English language teacher, and youth mentor in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. I have lived and worked in Kosovo for the past four years. I chose to return as a private citizen as I still find my life and work in Europe’s youngest country interesting, meaningful, and rewarding.
Above all else, I miss the people who made my Fulbright experience so memorable and enjoyable.
Chester Eng is an English language teacher and researcher currently based in Pristina, Kosovo. In addition to teaching and mentoring local youth, he currently works as a Grant Writer and Researcher for the Kosovo Oral History Initiative (oralhistorykosovo.org), a Kosovo-based NGO dedicated to finding, recording, presenting, and preserving meaningful stories about the country. He previously taught English language and led youth development projects as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a town in north-eastern Kosovo, worked in Washington, D.C., and was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Düsseldorf, Germany. He speaks German, Mandarin Chinese, and Albanian. He grew up in New Jersey and earned his B.A. in English literature and German studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, photography, cooking, crossword puzzles, and reading biographies.