Keri Hartman, '12
Fulbright Student Scholarship and English Teaching Assistant, Austrian Ministry of Education and Culture
After graduation, I traveled to Austria for a Fulbright Student Scholarship. The Fulbright Commission would sponsor my enrollment in a master’s degree program at the University of Vienna, and in return, I would spend 13 hours a week teaching English to Austrian secondary school students. This was a fortuitous turn of events. I loved being in the classroom so much that I’m extending my stay in Austria for a second year, where I will continue working as a teaching assistant, before returning to the United States to earn my teacher certification.
I work primarily with the Oberstufe, high school-aged students who already have a solid background in the English language. My primary role in the classroom, then, is to teach them about American society and culture – and I can’t think of any discipline to better prepare me for this role than sociology. I spent four years learning how to think systematically about society – how it’s arranged, what inequalities are present, what interactional norms exist, and how and why all of this developed historically – and in my lessons, I try to develop similar structured patterns of thinking, the first stirrings of a sociological imagination, in my students.
Sociology was also excellent preparation for the daily challenges of living abroad. In sociology, we think about culture as malleable and complex, as something both real and constructed. This is hugely important to keep in mind when confronted with the realities of another culture. It is no so, for example, that “All Austrians are X,” but there are norms in Austria that are different from those in the United States. Living abroad, I come into contact with people whose worldviews are fundamentally different from my own, in areas I would have assumed that worldwide consensus reigned. Sociology has given me a vocabulary for dealing with these intercultural experiences, and provided a framework for thinking about how and why things here might be the way they are.