Juneau-Douglas graduate wins teaching assistantship in Austria

Fanning's time abroad spurs his fascination with other cultures

Posted: Friday, July 01, 2005

Jeff Fanning of Juneau will spend the next academic year helping teach English to secondary students in Austria.

Fanning, 22, graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 2001 and the University of Portland this spring.

He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis in global business, and he minored in German.

His interest in other cultures was sparked when he spent sophomore year in college at a University of Portland program in Salzburg, Austria.

"I fell in love with cultural differences and the different way people live abroad," Fanning said.

In Austria, that meant getting used to a meat-and-potatoes diet. "A vegetarian would not survive very well in Austria," Fanning observed.

There, Fanning studied the liberal arts under Austrian professors, and spent his three-day weekends traveling in Europe. The American students bought European clothes to try to blend in, but it didn't always work.

That was the year when the United States led an attack on Iraq, an act that wasn't popular in Europe. A man in Spain noticed that the students were Americans and shook his fist at them.

"We were just amazed at that," Fanning said. "Some people could not understand that not all Americans agreed with the decisions being made."

Fanning joined an Austrian soccer club and made some friends. But the other players wanted to practice their English on him. So he talked to them in German and they talked to him in English.

Spending a year in Europe "fed my fire to continue learning," he said. "Seeing these differences makes me acknowledge there are many cultures in the world, many ways of life. Often we get caught up in our American-ness and forget there are other ways of life."

Under a binational commission of the Fulbright Program - a U.S. government educational exchange program - Fanning was awarded a teaching assistantship. His position is administered by the Austrian-American Educational Commission.

The Austrian government will pay him roughly $1,600 a month to assist a teacher of English at a high school for business students in Linz. He also will talk to students about American culture and be an ambassador for the United States.

This year, the Austrian commission awarded 130 U.S. foreign language teaching assistantships out of 285 applicants, said student adviser Alexandra Enzi.

Fanning grew up on Starr Hill in Juneau. He's the son of preschool teacher Kathy Fanning and former fire chief Larry Fanning, who now works for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood.

Jeff Fanning isn't sure where his education will lead him. He doesn't want to be a school teacher, but he might end up doing something like teaching cross-cultural business management to executives abroad, he said.

"I just feel like there's more for me than living in the United States, living in Alaska," Fanning said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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