Editor’s note: This feature story on Amanda Bjerke is the second of four 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.
A delayed program didn’t stop Amanda Bjerke from doing what she loves.
The 2020 graduate from the College of Saint Benedict decided to defer her Fulbright Award she earned in 2020 to Germany due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she’s set to leave in September to teach in Freiburg, Germany.
She didn’t take this time off. Instead she received the opportunity to work as a substitute German teacher at New Prague (Minnesota) Senior High School and Middle School.
Learning from her teaching experience at the New Prague schools, Bjerke is ready to take that knowledge overseas.
Bjerke was named a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA), sponsored by the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Beginning in September 2021, she will teach in the Baden-Württemberg state in southwestern Germany, bordering France and Switzerland.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as English Teaching Assistants in schools and universities overseas. The ETAs improve international students’ English abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while enhancing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.
But she had to wait a year to embark on her odyssey.
With her award put aside temporarily, Bjerke decided to “accept a long-term substitute teaching position at my local high school where I taught German and an introduction to education class,” said Bjerke, a native of Elko New Market, Minnesota. “This is the community I grew up in; and I think that I am exactly where I needed to be during this time.”
Gaining hands-on experience locally before going to another country, Bjerke feels like she’s better prepared to teach in Germany.
“I feel immensely more prepared than last year to teach in Germany,” Bjerke said. “I have been teaching in my local school district and have worked with over 1,000 different K-12 students within this past school year.
“This has allowed me to gain valuable experience teaching at almost every grade level and subject area.”
Getting this opportunity to teach students allowed Bjerke to shadow some of her past teachers.
“I have worked alongside teachers I once had when I was a student,” she said. “I have learned so much about the classroom and behavior management that simply can’t be taught in a class.”
Bjerke’s interest for the German culture, language and history developed in middle school. She began learning everything there is to know about the culture and even went to visit the country in high school.
“After visiting Germany for the first time in high school, I knew I wanted to go back,” she said. “I have been studying and speaking German for almost 10 years now.”
It’s not easy to practice a language that you’re not surrounded by, but Bjerke – who graduated with a degree in German from CSB - found some useful tools that has helped her keep up with her language abilities.
Watching her favorite movies and TV shows in German has benefitted her.
“I also follow a lot of people who speak German on YouTube and other social media platforms, so that has helped me with learning slang and conversational speech,” Bjerke said.
Bjerke is excited to teach students but she also looks forward to going out and exploring Freiburg.
Having missed social events due to COVID-19, Bjerke is itching to indulge in everything from the food to the outdoor events.
“I am excited to spend quite a bit of time exploring the city and community because I am hopeful that live music and outdoor events will be able to happen,” she said. “This past year has taught me, and I can imagine many others, how important human connection is.”
Bjerke is keeping a positive mind and feels like people are better prepared if COVID-19 does escalate again.
“I am aware of the possibility of COVID-19 significantly impacting the country again, especially as new variants are discovered around the globe,” Bjerke said. “However, I am confident in the capabilities of all parties involved to plan and prepare for this.
“This past year of teaching has been the silver lining to deferring my Fulbright grant for a year,” she said, adding she is “ready to take this next step both professionally and personally.”
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.