Editor's Note: A previous version of the article incorrectly mentioned the status of Valerie Weingart's master's degree. A change has been made to correctly reflect her completion of the degree.
Valerie Weingart’s great grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1920s. In January 2021, she will return back to her ancestral home as a Fulbright scholar.
Weingart, who received her bachelor’s degree in English and vocal performance in 2018 from Ball State and completed her master’s degree in creative writing in 2020, will be traveling to Poland to complete an assistantship in English teaching.
Her Polish ancestry was passed down to her by her grandfather, which sparked her interest to learn more about the daily life of Poland. She said she believes it’s her responsibility to learn the culture of her family's country of origin first hand.
Weingart said she first heard about the scholarship in her Honors 100 course when Barb Stedman, the director of national and international scholarships, gave a presentation about different opportunities to teach and study in a foreign country.
Around that time, she said her friend was applying for the scholarship, which also motivated her to do the same.
“I was excited to learn about other cultures.” Weingart said.
She said the process involved with applying for and receiving the scholarship was lengthy and required her to submit two essays outlining why she wanted to go to Poland and what she planned to do once she returned the United States, complete an application listing her academic, leadership and volunteering experiences, receive feedback on her application from a committee of Ball State faculty, and finally be interviewed by the Fulbright commission in Poland.
“After several months of being nervous and wondering if I would be selected, I was finally starting to be excited.” Weingart said.
It was in late March that she was selected to travel to Poland for the assistantship.
Jill Christman, professor of English at Ball State, had Weingart as a student in her M.A. English program and was one professor that recommended her for the scholarship.
“Valerie is one of the most extraordinary students I have ever worked with.” Christman said.
While Christman didn't teach Weingart when she was an undergraduate student, she said she was happy to hear she would be teaching her during her master’s program.
“I would finally get a chance to work with the student my colleagues told me was one of the most exceptional in the history of the department," she said.
Another professor who recommended Weingart for the scholarship was Elizabeth Dalton, associate teaching professor of honors humanities, who taught her in her undergraduate years.
Dalton mentioned Weingart’s involvement in singing and music as an undergraduate student. Weingart was involved in creating music in the humanities sequence along with Dalton, who spoke highly of her abilities.
“Her vocal performances were impressive both in terms of her talent and her desire to educate the audience.” Dalton said.
When Weingart learned she would be going to Poland, she said that she felt honored to represent the United States as a cultural ambassador and teacher.
In Poland, she said she would be involved in activities including in-class teaching and assisting, leading English conversation hours, participating in different university clubs or activities and hosting office hours.
She also talked about her plans to experience and learn more about Polish culture. She intends on volunteering in community groups and joining a local church choir.
“During all times, I’ll be on a mission to try as many different kinds of Polish food as possible.” Weingart said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Weingart said she was uncertain about aspects of her assistantship like what her full schedule in Poland would look like. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful and ready to adapt to what comes next.
“I’ve always counted on being flexible throughout this experience,” she said. “I’m looking forward to learning more as my departure date progresses and the COVID-19 situation develops.”
Weingart went on to say that after seven years of having a set schedule, she is excited for a change of pace. While she doesn’t know where in Poland she will be going, or which university she’ll be teaching at, she is keeping an open mind about the experience.
“I anticipate that each day will be fast-paced and filled with some combination of teaching learning, community engagement and travel,” she said.
Contact Jake Merkel with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jakemerkel4.