CSB 2020 graduate enjoys being pushed out of her comfort zone
July 30, 2020
By Mike Killeen
Editor’s note: This feature story on Julia Petron is the fourth of five stories that will appear this summer on the CSB/SJU website featuring graduates who received awards from either the Fulbright U.S. Student Program or the Fulbright Austria-United States Teaching Assistant program.
There are two kinds of travelers who visit Europe.
One stays on the main highways and roadways, eats meals at American fast food restaurants and speaks English slowly and loudly to residents thinking that will make them understandable.
Then, there’s Julia Petron.
“Being in environments where I'm pushed out of my comfort zone and into - quite literally - foreign experiences causes me to thrive and do my best work, said Petron, who is one of two 2020 College of Saint Benedict graduates who received Fulbright Austria-United States Teaching Assistant positions through the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.
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 an informal cultural ambassador and promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the Republic of Austria.
Petron’s placement is in Vienna, working with high school-aged students in two schools that both focus on the sciences.
“I heard about the Fulbright during my first year at Saint Ben's and decided that it was something I would like to work toward,” said Petron, a native of Zimmerman, Minnesota who graduated with a degree in German. “I started learning German when I began (Zimmerman) high school and always loved it. The language is something that has come easy to me because it just makes sense in my brain.
“It seemed natural to continue my German studies after high school,” Petron said. “I'm also someone who greatly appreciates intercultural experiences and is 100% an extrovert, so I knew I would enjoy and learn much from an experience such as the Fulbright.”
Two international experiences – one in Germany, one in South Africa - helped shape her Fulbright dream.
She interned twice at Klinikum Augsburg (a hospital in Augsburg, Germany) and was able to gain a greater understanding of the language and culture of German-speaking countries.
“The experience of living and working in this setting was really what finalized it for me. After my second internship, I got on the plane back to Minneapolis and was determined to find a way back for a long-term stay,” Petron said. “Through the internship program in Augsburg, I found my calling and made meaningful relationships along the way.”
She also completed a study abroad tip to South Africa during spring semester 2019.
“During my time in South Africa, I was taught priceless lessons about how intercultural differences can be used to bring people together instead of divide them,” Petron said. “Without the opportunity to move across the world and begin to put the pieces together, I would not be where I am today.
“I owe both of these organizations (the Center for Global Education and the German studies area within the Languages and Cultures Department at CSB and SJU) a great amount of thanks for who I have become and who I will be in the future,” she said.
Petron was a pre-med student at CSB and SJU.
“A lot of my research - including my first-year seminar research paper, a research project for an African anthropology class and my senior thesis - have focused on women's reproductive health from a global standpoint,” Petron said. “What started as an interest for a first-year research project quickly turned into what I now believe is my purpose in life: to work in global women's reproductive health.
“With the intercultural and language skills I have been blessed with, I would love to take my work to a more global platform and pursue an international career,” Petron said. “As a pre-med student who has experienced medicine almost exclusively outside of my own country, my goal is to expand on my understanding of intercultural medicine.
“While in South Africa, I learned a great amount about what medicine looks like in a place with a culture very different from the Midwest. My beliefs and ideas were greatly challenged, which taught me to accept and want to explore the differences. My experience in Germany also taught me such lessons.”
CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2021-22 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of Competitive Fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Lindsey Gutsch, assistant director of the Academic Center for Excellence and Success at CSB/SJU.