Catherine Blume, BA ’18, first became fascinated by Czech fairy tales as a child listening to the stories of her art teacher, a close family friend who had immigrated from the Czech Republic. This coming year, living in Prostějov, Czech Republic, and teaching at Cyrilometodějské Gzmnázium (a K-12 Catholic school there), she hopes to incorporate these fairy tales as well as their American counterparts, in addition to other children’s literature from both traditions, in order to instill in her students an appreciation of culture — both their own and that of the United States, exploring how these cultures compare and contrast with each other.
Blume, an English major with a French concentration (and, incidentally, the Class of 2018’s valedictorian), decided a little belatedly to apply for the Fulbright; she did not begin working on her application until she had arrived back on campus for her senior year. Assistant Professor of French and French Program Director Jason Lewallen, Ph.D., who had taught Blume for two years, helped her to realize that it would still be possible to do and to compile the elements of her application, including recommendations from her professors.
“All the one-on-one attention from the Fulbright committee at UD was definitely a contributing factor to my completing the process on time,” said Blume.
Blume is the 38th UD student to receive this specific type of grant from the Institute of International Education; others have received other types of IIE grants. Fulbrights are “right up the UD alley,” so to speak, with their emphasis on teaching, on language, on global citizenship.
Blume believes that her Rome semester instilled in her the desire for spending a year in another country.
“I loved that semester so much and wanted to travel more,” she said.
She wants to go to graduate school but hadn’t wanted to do so immediately, so the Fulbright provides the perfect opportunity to gather more experience not only in what she believes will be her future career — teaching — but also in another culture. In fact, her intention is to go on to graduate school after this year for a master’s degree in Slavic languages and literatures, which she hopes will inspire and inform a career teaching high school in the U.S.
As she wrote in her personal statement in her application, “Through my writing and my teaching, I hope to make the wealth of Czech culture a little more accessible to young people in the United States. Perhaps I will inspire in my own students a love for the literature of this nation in the same way that my art teacher did for me.”
Given her French concentration, France might have been a first choice, but Fulbright positions in France are extremely limited. Blume didn’t go to Prague during her Rome semester but had heard many good things about it; the town in which she’ll be, Prostějov, is rural and very different from Prague, but, being from Pittsburgh (a city with many Czech influences), Blume is intrigued to learn more about the country and to experience authentic Czech village life. She will probably live in an apartment and might be the only American in town, though there are 30 total Fulbright recipients in the Czech Republic, and they will get together for various events throughout the year.
“There’s so much I know I’m going to be learning, and I’m excited to be learning so much,” she said. “It’s an interesting country historically and politically.”
In preparation for the coming year, Blume took an intensive six-week course in the Czech language at the University of Pittsburgh this summer. The class gave Blume a full year’s worth of credits — six — but there were just two people in the class, so she received a lot of one-on-one attention; her teacher was Slavic and helped her learn more about the country where she’ll spend the coming year.
“It made me a lot more excited about being there,” she said.
Blume leaves for the Czech Republic on August 24 and will be there until June 28 of next year, exactly 10 months. She’ll be serving as an assistant teacher for ages 11-18, middle and high school, for four hours a day. As she explained, her focus will be cultural; she is teaching the language itself but also striving to give her students a better idea of American culture and what life is actually like in America through different activities and games.
Beyond teaching, the Fulbright program encourages extracurricular activities, involving oneself in the community, and forming bonds between the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
“My interest is especially literature and finding ways to incorporate my love of literature into these activities,” said Blume, who is also a writer and sees this year as influencing her writing, as well. As she said in her personal statement, “I hope to write stories that both capture the imagination of a little child and embody the characteristics of a nation, like so many Czech stories do.”
She cited specifically one of the stories she’d learned from her former art teacher, “The 12 Months,” which she described as “a unique twist on the classic Cinderella story, combining adventure, satirical humor, personification, and an unapologetic devotion to truth and justice to create a tale in which the spirit of its people lives.”
Ultimately, it is this spirit of the Czech people into which Blume hopes to tap during this coming year — and the spirit of her own people that she hopes to share with them.