by Anna Bjorlin
Recent graduate Anastasia Pederson is a perfect example of how students from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul are making a difference in the world. After Pederson graduated in May of 2013 with a major in education (specializing in English as a second language) and a minor in intercultural studies, she set out to teach high school classes in Levice, Slovakia as a Fulbright scholar.
After Pederson was encouraged to apply for a Fulbright scholarship by Dr. Feng-Ling Johnson, she filled out a general application and wrote two pages introducing and describing herself and her plans for the country. Then she got a committee of teachers to recommend her to the Fulbright commission. After waiting six months to find out if she had received the scholarship or not, Pederson was accepted and began planning her move.
“I was determined to live abroad, so I’m very grateful that it came in the capacity of a Fulbright,” said Pederson. “It’s been a great learning experience.”
Now, Pederson teaches 12 classes per week to high school students.
“My classes vary from 11 to 25 students ranging in ages from 11 to 19. My main work is with the senior students preparing for their final exams,” Pederson said. “I co-teach with Slovak teachers and give input in a variety of teaching approaches, and I also lecture on American systems.”
Although Pederson experienced some initial difficulty growing accustomed to an unfamiliar culture, she soon grew to love her new home.
“Adjusting to a new culture, especially alone as I am the only American in the city, can be really difficult,” said Pederson. “I went through times where I was unhappy and frustrated with the culture, but once I overcame my initial culture shock and made connections and friendships throughout the community, I found it to be wonderful.”
After her move, Pederson started a blog to keep her family and friends updated on her activities in Slovakia.
“I didn’t keep one before and was almost against it for a time,” said Pederson.
“I didn’t think I would be able to write about things I was doing, and I especially thought people wouldn’t want to read it, but I grew tired of telling my family what I had done over the weekends. So I decided to tell everyone in one go with a blog.”
In addition to her high school work, Pederson also teaches a variety of other classes outside of school for other students throughout the community of Levice, such as her conversation classes in which she worked with students of varying ages. She also enjoys exploring the destination cities nearby.
“I also scrimmage basketball, and on the weekends I either spend time with people I know from the church I attend or travel. Throughout the year, I have been to Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow, Ljubliana, Split, Venice, Verona, Vienna and smaller cities throughout the country,” said Pederson.
One of the unique aspects of Slovakian culture that Pederson appreciates learning about is post-socialism.
“If I choose to teach ESL in the future, I want to know aspects of the post-communist worldview of my students. I’ve found a variety of viewpoints on socialist ideas, typically depending on age or socioeconomic standing,” Pederson explained. “Additionally, I’ve learned about Slavic languages that will also help me in my future career.”
By the end of her 10-month stay in Slovakia, Pederson will have been gone for over a year.
“I’ll finish up teaching at the end of June. I hope that I can return for some shorter trips in the future because of all the wonderful people I have met in Levice,” Pederson said.
“I don’t know if I’ve made a difference, but the people of Slovakia have definitely made an impact on me. Through them, I have experienced God’s faithfulness, divine plan and church community with all nations. It has been incredible. I don’t know what I’ll take away from the experience, but I’m sure that God will use it.”