Teaching Digital Storytelling in Kragujevac, Serbia: The English Language Fellowship

Sep 04, 2019
Beth Wendt (third row, fourth from left) at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Kyle Scott (third from left), after an awards ceremony

The English Language Fellow Program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, promotes English language learning and international diplomacy around the world. The ten-month program places highly qualified educators in various regions around the world to serve as full-time English language teachers for college students and professionals. Fellows typically have a Master’s degree in TEFL/TESL or Applied Linguistics, and receive a stipend, roundtrip travel, and benefits during their time abroad.

We talked to Beth Wendt, a recent English Language Fellow, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.  

1. What inspired you to apply for the English Language Fellowship? 

I have been working in education since 2002, when I co-founded a private international school, which I helped run for 10 years. In 2012, I moved to South Korea and taught at a middle school for one year. From there, I moved to Dalian, China where I taught at a university for three years. A colleague at the university in China had told me about the English Language Fellowship Program and it seemed like the next logical step in my career. The fellowship promised adventure, cultural immersion, and the opportunity to hone my education skills while being a cultural ambassador — all things that I was interested in. 

I just finished my first year as a fellow in Kargujevac, Serbia and I can say that I achieved all that and more. As my Regional Location Officer (RELO) told me–your fellowship will be what you make of it. It will be the only job in your life where you have the ability to be as creative as you want.

Beth and other fellows at a training event that took place in Hungary and Serbia

2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?

Kragujevac, Serbia is a city of 120,000 people, and I am the only American living in the city–talk about culture shock. In all of my other jobs abroad, there was an international community. This was a new level of cultural immersion for me.

My main job is teaching English at the University of Kragujevac. I also teach at a secondary university in the city of Jagodina, where I have given workshops to preservice teachers and guest lectured about the American education system. Additionally, I teach in the Access microscholarship program for economically disadvantaged middle school students. I recently finished working at a weeklong summer camp with the Access students. I also teach a class at The American Corner, where what started as an adult class has become a mom and teen daughter class where we practice English and enjoy each other’s company. I also give teacher training workshops and present at conferences, but my favorite part of my fellowship is cultural diplomacy. I thoroughly enjoy meeting Serbian people and learning about their culture and sharing  American culture.

 One of my most eye-opening discoveries was seeing how hard the Serbian people work to get by financially. The average Serbian makes the equivalent of 250 US dollars a month. At the same time, I am always stunned by the natural beauty of Serbia. I have traveled to 32 countries and Serbia is easily in the top five for natural beauty. In addition, the kindness of the Serbian people–they are a generous and loving people–is something I will always remember. I have been invited into student homes for dinner and they made me feel like family. One of my most unique experiences was being asked by the U.S. Embassy, Belgrade to work with a cultural diplomacy program called U.S. Geography and Me. I traveled to three small cities in Serbia and gave presentations on U.S. geography to middle school students. Many of these people had never met an American, so being able to talk to the students and teachers was an amazing experience. The finalists in the program and I were invited to the U.S. Ambassador’s house. It was an honor and incredible experience. I have many, many more unique experiences–I could go on forever.

As a part of the fellowship, we are given the ability to create a secondary project. From the first day that I arrived in Serbia, I was asked if I heard bad things about Serbia and the Serbian people. This became a common question. I wanted to give my students the ability to show the world the Serbia that they knew and the one I had come to love. My students created digital stories with the prompt- What do you want the world to know about Serbia. The University of Houston Digital Storytelling program has been nice enough to place the digital stories on their website.

Students with whom Beth worked in the Serbian mountains

3. What tips would you give others applying to the English Language Fellowship? 

Look at the website and read the details. They are very clear about what they are looking for. Take your time on the application as it is long and very intensive. If you make it to the interview stage, make sure that you have thoroughly researched the program. Only 1 in 5 applicants are chosen, so you need to show an understanding of the program as well as meet the requirements. 

I think my background in administration and teaching made me a standout. Being a fellow means working on your own without much supervision or guidance as you are in control of your fellowship, so I think they want to see applicants who can work well  their own and don’t mind being isolated. 

Beth Wendt is a Wisconsin native, but resides in North Carolina. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with an MS in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Higher Education and a graduate certificate in Post-secondary, Technical and Adult education. She also earned a graduate certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language from Hamline University. Beth co-founded a private international pre-k through 12th-grade school that earned accreditation from the University of Cambridge International Examinations and The Core Knowledge Foundation. After ten years of working as a school administrator, she began teaching English as a second language and has taught in the United States, South Korea and China. Currently, she is an English Language Fellow teaching in Serbia. Beth loves to travel and has visited 32 countries.

Interested in applying? Bookmark the English Language Fellow Program to your ProFellow account.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.