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Sommer Ireland ’15 Awarded Teaching Assistantship in Austria

Washington and Lee University senior Sommer Ireland, of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, has been awarded a U.S. Teaching Assistantship (USTA) in Austria for the 2015-2016 academic year. Although it is a one-year fellowship, she has the possibility of extending it for another year.

Ireland surprised herself by coming full circle in her feelings about teaching. Before coming to W&L, she didn’t feel she would be a good teacher. Today she volunteers as a German teacher to elementary students.

“What I love most about working with pupils when they’re learning about a foreign language and foreign cultures is their extreme curiosity,” Ireland said. “Giving these children the opportunity to learn a foreign language and explore a different culture is in my opinion the most important thing that I have done this year.

“I know that most of these children will probably never go to Germany, Switzerland or Austria, but I have in a way brought these countries to them and shown them that the world is so much bigger than Rockbridge County, Virginia.”

Ireland has studied in Germany and is eager to return. Austria will be the ideal experience because she speaks the language, but will have different opportunities.

“From essentially her first day on campus, Sommer has made it a priority to become an expert in German-speaking cultures,” said Paul Youngman, professor of German. “In her pursuit of this goal, she enjoyed multiple study abroad opportunities in Germany, serving as the W&L DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) student ambassador and as the president of the German Club at W&L. In short, she was perfectly positioned to be honored with an Austrian Teaching Assistantship. It is always a pleasure to watch our students achieve their goals, but it is especially gratifying in the case of Sommer, who has contributed so much to the department and to the University.”

“The Austrian teaching assistantships, organized through the Austrian-American Educational Commission, are quite competitive,” said Roger Crockett, professor of German.  “They involve teaching English at one or, in Sommer’s case, two schools. She will be teaching in a beautiful and rural part of Austria, Western Tirol. Sommer was chosen because of her academic excellence at W&L but also because of her extensive foreign study experience.  She has spent two semesters at German universities and six-weeks on another language immersion program. She is highly proficient in both spoken and written German, and her strong desire to teach came through clearly in her application. The Department is proud of her, and two schools in Tirol will be most fortunate to have her.”

Ireland is a graduate of Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. At W&L, she is an economics and German double major. She has been a first-year resident advisor; a volunteer at Central Elementary School and a volunteer German teacher at Mountain View Elementary School; a phonathon solicitor for W&L; a summer research scholar for the economics department; and a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.

“I feel that so many people approach teaching with the ‘anyone can do it’ mentality,” said Ireland. “My experience this year working in a primary school has taught me just how wrong that mentality is. Teaching requires patience, dedication, time, creativity, enthusiasm and a firm hand. I will be located in Imst, teaching at the Bundesrealgymnasium (essentially the high school), and I will also be teaching at the Bundesrealgymnasium in the neighboring town of Landeck. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.”

Each year, more than 100 college graduates from the United States teach in Austria under the auspices of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs (BMBF) Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship Program.