Jul 09, 2019

An English teaching assistant in the Bavarian Forest

By John Ryan Isaacson

I’m an English teaching assistant in the Bavarian Forest. If you don’t know where that is (I sure didn’t last April), it is a forest in Niederbayern that borders the Czech Republic. I’m teaching in three school’s there; primarily the Realschulen in Viechtach and Zwiesel, but I also help out at the Realschule in Regen. Before I came to Germany, I had never heard of these towns. I had heard of Regensburg, which is the closest Germany city… but it’s an hour and a half ride with the Waldbahn.

Before my Fulbright year, I had previously lived in Hannover, Germany, as an exchange student. All of my host families there told me that I wouldn’t understand a lick of Bayerisch—the regional dialect. That was true. My German friends told me that Niederbayern would be very different from Niedersachen. That was true too. When I was at the Fulbright orientation in September, another German from Berlin told me that I would be a very lonely man in the Bavarian Forest. That was NOT true. 

It may sound cliché, but I’ve had the year of my life working in these small Bavarian towns. I’m friends with my next door neighbor, who also happens to be one of my mentor teachers, and I’ve filled a journal full of the adventures I’ve had with him and his friends. Each of the three schools I’ve worked at has treated me like a valued colleague. Instead of being micromanaged, I’ve been able to independently form relationships with my German students as I’ve helped them to prepare for their speaking tests. I’ve also grown up in ways I didn’t expect, but that often happens when a person is placed outside their comfort zone. During my year in the Bavarian Forest, I’ve been given a responsibility in helping students to learn. I’ve had to navigate myself through living in a country where I couldn’t understand the dialect.  I’ve had to brave a whole winter of snow, which is a strange phenomenon for a kid from West Texas. 

If I have any advice for future ETA’s, it’s this: don’t be afraid when you are not placed in the metropolitans of Berlin or Hamburg or Munich. Don’t be afraid when your placement says that you’ll be shipped off to some little German town that is almost two hours away from a big city. However, if you are like me—placed in one of those ‘distant’ towns— just chin up and travel to your new place with an open heart. You’ll be surprised at the kinds of people you’ll find and the adventures they’ll drag you into. And, by the time your year with Fulbright is over, you might just have expanded the circle of people that you love. That’s a special thing that you can take back with you to the US; it’s a reason to always come back.

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