Ten days! That's it! I now have ten days until I board my Continental Airlines flight in Rochester, NY destined for Podgorica, Montenegro. My exact departure date is August 21, 2010. Rest assured, suitcase packing is well underway. In preparation for Montenegro, I have started to study their language (they use both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet), I have read a detailed book exploring Montenegro's history and contemporary society, and I have shipped two diplomatic pouches to the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica filled with over 100 books to donate to my department at the Universitet za Crne Gore and the American Corners Program.
If there is one thing I have learned so far, it's that preparing to leave your home country for one year is no easy task. There is far more to it than just saying "goodbye" to family, friends, and colleagues. Of course, anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to be on the over organized side, to-do-list in hand, and few scheduled moments for breaks and rest. However, I promise I have taken time this summer to relax, enjoy post-graduation life, and gradually begin checking away at my Fulbright Pre-Departure to-do-list.
Once July arrived, my Fulbright preparations took spark. I attended Fulbright Orientation and Teacher's Training in Washington D.C. with the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State. Fulbright orientation and training lasted five days. I had an incredible experience in Washington, DC. Here, I, along with other Fulbright ETA and Research Fellows, were formally introduced and welcomed into the Fulbright community. Furthermore, orientation and teacher's training answered all of my immediate questions in regards to Fulbright grant administration and provided me with a thorough introduction to methodologies for teaching English, classroom management strategies, ample teaching resources, and practice developing lesson plans.
My favorite part of Fulbright orientation was having the opportunity to meet new and returning (Alumni) Fulbrightor's. Everyone was either a.) extremely social and eager to get their Fulbright Fellowship underway or b.) willing to answer any questions and offer pearls of wisdom. My first night in DC I had the opportunity to meet the other Fulbright ETA Fellow going to Montenegro. She is AWESOME! Also, I met many other Fulbrightor's going to other countries throughout the Balkans, Russia, and the Caucasus. I am thrilled to think we will be able to share this once-in-a-life-time opportunity together.
For those returning from their Fulbright abroad, they quickly welcomed our questions and gave us the insider's view into the geographical region, contemporary issues, and culture that we will soon experience first hand. They were completely honest about their overall teaching and personal experiences. I found hearing stories about their classes, university faculty/structure, students, and side-projects to be intriguing. It definitely gave me much to think about and consider. However, by the end of orientation and teacher's training, I recognized that each persons Fulbright experience is entirely different, even for those who lived in the same city. Each Fulbrightor will encounter his or her own unique challenges, obstacles, successes, and cultural adjustments. No Fulbright placement is the same. I can't wait to tell you more details/specifics about mine.
I will conclude this post by mentioning that I have done a lot since my graduation from Juniata College to prepare for my Fulbright to Montenegro (i.e., beginning to learn the language, reading about Montenegro's history, asking questions to returning Fulbright ETA Fellows, applying to present my research at a Global Higher Education Conference in Wales, UK, etc.) Yet, like many of my prior abroad adventures to Scotland, Israel, Uruguay, and Africa, there is no one "right" way to fully prepare for an international teaching experience and that is part of what makes Fulbright so worth while, so worth pursuing. It's going to be an extraordinary experience. I'm ready!