In January 2016, I departed “almost heaven,” or West “by God” Virginia to embark on my Fulbright Experience in “just from here is heaven,” Slovakia – and what an experience it was being filled with historical sites that were cultural, educational, and adventurous.
My Fulbright was in the College of Science at University de Mataji Bella, Banska Bistrica, Slovak Republic. In addition to developing new classes and teaching European students, I had the opportunity to visit five countries that share the border with Slovakia. The central European nations of Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine, like Slovakia are considered developed.
I participated in several international cultural activities hosted by the EU. Apart from my main responsibility at the university, I taught some classes at a School for Children with Autism and I made several presentations to other K-12 classrooms. I took a course in the Slovak language in which students from eight other countries (Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Latvia, Poland, and Slovenia) were enrolled.
Although being the oldest and most culturally diverse student in the class, all were able to learn from each other regardless of our generation, social, racial, or cultural barriers. I became friends with most and am still in communication with them through various social media. There is not a week that goes by without hearing from either students’ and/or my faculty colleagues.
My most memorable experiences during this time were a visit to the Auschwitz Memorial, an Opera in Vienna, and the many castles in Slovakia. I had an opportunity to climb the Low Tatra Mountain range (6,703 feet) in Slovakia which was a difficult undertaking. Moreover, delivering a lecture on Black history and observing Byzantine Rites during the Easter season in the Eastern part of Slovakia were highlights that will always be reminiscence of my Fulbright.
No one remains the same after an amazing Fulbright experience. It is expected that participants become more knowledgeable, but I flourished in so many ways, especially socially and globally. My social network increased as I am in constant contact with students and faculty, not only through my Fulbright assignment but also through the network of Fulbright faculty. Meeting fellow Fulbright recipients has provided a new source of academic collaboration in a variety of disciplines.
Prior to my Fulbright, I was considered an international traveler but this experience elevated me to a new level. I negotiated new frontiers in an unfamiliar country, language(s), and culture. I have met with world leaders, and indigenous people alike. Most of all, I ate a variety of new foods and have witnessed wondrous happenings. I highly recommend the Fulbright experience.
Sonya M. Armstrong – Fulbright to Slovakia 2016