A few weeks into my role as an American English teacher at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, I found myself curious about the structure and methodology behind Polish higher education. The use of retake classes and exams, the focus on thematic lessons and academic integrity – not all of this was new to me, but I couldn’t help comparing the collegiate experience of my Polish students to my own educational background at a liberal arts college in Upstate New York. I shared these experiences with local university and high school students through my lessons, a weekly conversation club and a presentation during November’s International Education Week, but I knew I wanted to do more.
Working with the Polish Fulbright Commission and my fellow ETAs across Poznan, Bydgoszcz and Wroclaw, I hosted a panel discussion about higher education similarities and differences between Poland and the United States. My ETA colleagues – sharing their experiences at research-led institutions, men’s colleges, and state universities – discussed the advantages and disadvantages of their educational upbringing, then compared those experiences to the universities at which they taught in Poland. As the students and faculty in attendance got involved in the conversation, it resulted in a deep dialogue about the value of education and how different models and structures for educational institutions serve society and local communities in vastly different ways.
This moment was revelatory for me. It unveiled my deep-rooted passion for international education and for learning about other cultures and peoples through educational experiences. Upon my return to the U.S., I took a job working as a study abroad advisor at my alma mater and have continued to grow in the role in the years since. One of my most beloved responsibilities, however, is as the campus’ Fulbright Program Advisor, working with students through the same application process I navigated as a graduating senior and enabling them to take on the same opportunities with Fulbright as I did.
Fulbright has come full-circle for me. While I miss each day I spent in Poznan and the daily conversations I had with my students and colleagues, Fulbright continues to enable me to form relationships with U.S. students seeking international engagement and building their own connections with communities abroad.
Matt Schiesel – Fulbright to Poland 2015