Tricey Splan (’19) Fulbright in Austria

College of Arts & Letters Fulbrighter


SUMMARY: Tricey Splan is currently an English Teaching Assistant in Austria, where she is also studying at university and conducting research through the Fulbright Program. Splan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in honors interdisciplinary studies and pre-professional secondary education.

By Tricey Splan ('19)

One month ago, I moved to Graz, Austria. I have not seen a single kangaroo yet.

No, Austria and Australia are not the same place! While it may seem silly that people would confuse them, it’s quite a common mix-up.

Several people warned me about aggressive wildlife before I moved to Austria. In different cities and towns here, I have seen tote bags, t-shirts, postcards, and magnets that assert, “There are NO kangaroos in Austria,” so clearly the Austrians are familiar with this confusion, too. While I have not been surprised by the lack of kangaroos here, there have been other experiences that I had not anticipated.

"If I never left my comfort zone, I would not be able to experience all that a place like Graz has to offer." 

Before September, I had never lived outside of the U.S., let alone outside of Virginia. Moving across the ocean to Austria has felt like a big jump. I hadn’t realized how much I loved the comfort of my favorite grocery store (miss you, Trader Joe’s), having my friends and family within a few hours’ drive, and knowing the correct words to use when trying to open a bank account. Distance and communication struggles can be intimidating, but they are not impossible to overcome. If I never left my comfort zone, I would not be able to experience all that a place like Graz has to offer.

My New City

Through my Fulbright community-based combined award, I’m keeping very busy, which is helping me adjust to my new city. I am an English teaching assistant in three secondary schools, taking courses at an Austrian university, and working on a research project. For my project, I’m assisting with Caritas-Graz’s programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, comparing it to similar programs I’ve worked with in the U.S. I am hoping to develop more techniques for accommodating individual needs in my future classroom.

In my free time, I try to find the best farmers’ markets, catch up with loved ones on FaceTime, grab coffee with new friends, and grow my German vocabulary. Slowly but surely, Graz is feeling more like another home. 

Graz has been disignated as a UNESCO City of Design. and with countless beautiful streets like this one, it's not hard to see why. 

I have been surprised by how much of my life in Virginia is reflected by my life in Graz, more than 4,400 miles away. Hot chocolate from my favorite café is almost as good as my dad’s. A crowded tram feels strangely familiar to riding Metro during rush hour. Anytime I hear “brunch”, my mind goes straight to E-Hall. The color-changing leaves all over Graz remind me of the Shenandoah Valley. In some ways, this makes me miss the U.S., but it also helps me find comfort in my surroundings. While all the changes and adjustments can be overwhelming, I’m grateful every day for JMU and the professors who prepared me for this experience in more ways than I could have ever expected.

Thank you, Dr. Samatar, for supporting and encouraging me through every paper, project, and presentation, so that I can now be confident in myself, too.

Thank you, Dr. Fagan, for showing me that the answer to one of my students’ FAQs, “What does it mean to be American?” is as challenging and complex as it is diverse and beautiful.

Thank you, Dr. Johnson, for helping me finally understand grammar so that I can explain verb tenses and give my students the skills to move on from the past and focus on their futures.

Thank you, Dr. Mookerjea-Leonard, for revealing how shared human experiences connect us across time and place, and how they have the power to unite us.

And on a more obvious, practical note, thank you very much to the German department for making it possible for me to live in a German-speaking country!

Hiking with friends in the Wachau Valley.

I could continue listing fantastic people from the English department, Honors College, and College of Education forever, but I’ll keep it short and just say: thank you all, so, so much. It’s the people that make a place feel like home, and JMU is full of professors, faculty, staff, and students who challenged, supported, and inspired me for the last four years.

"It's the people that  make a place feel like home." 

My amazing family, both at JMU and at home, made this experience possible, and I would not be here without them. I’m really looking forward to the next nine months here in Graz, Austria. There are lots of foods to try, sights to see, and people to meet! While I do not expect to see any kangaroos, I know there are many other surprises that I will discover during my time in Austria, and I am grateful to JMU for helping me feel so prepared, and excited, to face them all.

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Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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