Graduate, then head for Europe.
It’s kind of becoming a pattern for 2021 Saint John’s University graduate Max Ditzler.
That’s what the Eagle River, Alaska native did after graduating from high school in the spring of 2016, taking a gap year to attend school in Germany through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program.
“That was a really great experience for me,” Ditzler recalls. “When I was a (high school) senior, I didn’t feel ready to go to college just yet. And my German teacher recommended the program to me. I attended a German high school. I got to live with a host family.
“I was really able to immerse myself in the culture.”
Ditzler ended up majoring in German at SJU after he arrived on campus in the fall of 2017. And he was able to study abroad in Salzburg, Austria during his junior year before the onset of COVID-19.
Now, following his graduation last May, he is due to depart this September for Rankweil, Austria – a city of 11,855 people in the western portion of the country – where he will teach high school students at the Higher Technical Federal Training and Research Institute.
He received the Fulbright Austria-United States Teaching Assistant position through the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
For decades, Fulbright Austria has worked with the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research to bring qualified university graduates from the U.S. to teach English in secondary schools in Austria. As teaching assistants, they help Austrian students develop the linguistic skills that will help them succeed.
They also serve as informal cultural ambassadors and promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the Republic of Austria.
“I plan to go to medical school eventually,” said Ditzler, who completed his Medical College Admission Test in June and has worked in a hospital setting the past two summers.
“It’s the same thing as after my senior year in high school – I didn’t want to jump into it right away. I wanted to take this time doing something (teaching) I know I’ll enjoy and use it as a reset to figure out exactly what the next steps should be for me.”
Ditzler, who completed all his pre-med classes at CSB/SJU and plans to apply to 11 different medical schools over the course of the next year, believes his time in Austria will also help prepare him for an eventual career in medicine.
“People forget that as a doctor one of your biggest jobs is teaching people about their illness, or about their medication, or about how to take care of themselves,” he said. “I think getting this teaching experience will be extremely important.”
That’s in addition to allowing him to spend a year exploring Austria and soaking up the culture.
“My hope is that the COVID situation allows me to be in the classroom in person as much as possible,” said Ditzler, who begins his teaching assignment Oct. 1. “But either way, I’ll be able to get to know my students. And I’ll be in Austria, getting the chance to go out to see things and learn more about the country.”
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2022-23 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of Competitive Fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of Undergraduate Research at CSB and SJU.