Ambassadors abroad

SJU graduates headed to Greece, Colombia to serve Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships

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July 2, 2013

By Mike Killeen

Evan Howard '12
Collin Motschke '13

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry needs to know what is happening in Greece or Colombia, he'll call U.S. Ambassadors Daniel Bennett Smith or P. Michael McKinley, respectively.

But when students in Greece or Colombia want to find out about the U.S., they'll likely pull aside Evan Howard and Collin Motschke. The two Saint John's University graduates are set to begin one-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETAs) shortly.

Howard, a 2012 graduate, will tutor English for high school-aged students at the Hellenic American Educational Foundation's Psychico College in Athens. Motschke, a 2013 graduate, will tutor English at the Universidad del Magdelena in Santa Marta, Colombia.

The Fulbright ETA Program, which is currently offered in 68 countries, places U.S. students as English teaching assistants in schools or universities overseas. Students in the host country improve their English language abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while the ETAs enhance their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.

"I'm just trying to be the best possible ambassador, while being respectful of both cultures, and still maintaining and preserving my own American nature and sharing that with other people," Motschke said.

"Being in this classroom, I have the opportunity to share with these students different parts of American life, something that they may not really know anything about. I think it's exciting to be in that role," Howard said.

New roles, different paths

Howard traveled abroad to Israel and Egypt (through SJU Campus Ministry) and studied abroad in Galway, Ireland. He enjoyed his trips, decided he wanted to continue traveling and looked for opportunities to do so. That's when he first found out that ETA's were offered through Fulbright.

He initially applied as a senior, but was turned down.

"When I had a chance this year, I re-applied, and I was much more focused and much more targeted. I knew exactly what I wanted and how I could say it," Howard said.

"This really fits into my studies incredibly well - world history, the entire democratic idea, that emerged from the ancient Greeks," Howard said. "Even today, seeing what's going on in the country today, that's definitely fascinating to me."

Motschke said he's always been fascinated with studying the cultural and ecological diversity of Colombia. His interest was intensified when the Arhuacos, an indigenous group from Colombia, visited the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in April 2011 and brought a message of environmental protection and harmony to the Earth. He also visited nearby Guatemala on a CSB/SJU Education Abroad trip.

"Fulbright recognized that I wanted to be with the Arhuacos, and they actually placed me in the nearest city (Santa Marta) to where the Arhuacos are," Motschke said. "I said I was also interested in the ecology of Latin America, so they put me in a place that is sort of the eco-tourism mecca of Colombia. Coincidentally, it's right next to where the Arhuacos live."

The gifts that keep on giving

Both Motschke and Howard look forward to telling people what they experienced in their respective countries when their ETA assignments are over.

"Understanding the culture is the ultimate mission of Fulbright, to facilitate cross-cultural understanding," said Motschke, a graduate of St. Cloud (Minn.) Technical High School and an environmental studies and Hispanic studies double-major at SJU. "The cultivation of personal relationships is huge, too - breaking down the illusionary barriers that separate country from country."

Howard said he's found that while some people know much about ancient Greece, their understanding of modern Greece is limited.

"Obviously, Greece has these huge political divisions. I'm trying to really get a good grasp of what's driving those divisions while I'm over there," said Howard, a graduate of Rochester (Minn.) Lourdes High School who majored in political science and social science at SJU. "What I'm hoping to do, after experiencing what Greece is actually like, is to bring those ideas back and be able to portray to my students and peers what is driving this force."

More than a degree

Both value the tools CSB and SJU gave them to prepare for these experiences.

"The opportunity to be on those trips (to the Holy Land and Ireland) got the spark going. Without that spark, I don't know if I would have applied (to be an ETA)," Howard said. "But, the liberal arts background gives me an understanding of the vastness and the dynamics of the world. It's just not one part of the country that we're living in, it's the entire world."

Motschke said the schools have given him the "scholastic tools necessary" and the opportunity to partake in an Education Abroad trip to help him become an ETA. He also was appreciative to be sought out for the position.

"If it weren't for this university, I would have heard about the Fulbright program, but I still would have thought it was an intangible idea," Motschke said.