A journey east

Paige Brnger ’17 has won a Fulbright to teach English to high school students in the Slovak Republic.

The honor combines her passion for teaching and cross-cultural learning. It also puts her on a path that traces the footsteps of family members, who are connected to the country and have been drawn to teaching for generations.

Last year, while studying abroad in the Czech Republic, Brnger discovered that the Slovak Republic was the home of her great-grandfather, Pavel. At that time, she traveled to his hometown, and learned he was not Czech—as previously believed—but actually a Slovakian.

“I was immediately drawn to the people and culture of Slovakia. There is a deep connection to the land, arts and folk traditions. Being there for two weeks was not nearly enough time, and I promised myself when I left that I would return,” Brnger said.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Brnger will serve as a high school teacher, a vocation shared by her mother, uncle, grandmother and cousins. “Members of my family always joke we have a ‘curse’ of becoming teachers, which I shied away from out of a desire to shape my own path. However, since high school, I keep finding myself in mentoring and teaching roles.”

The senior—double majoring in secondary education/teaching and American history, with a minor in art history—is a well-rounded student with successes both in and out of the classroom.

A May Fellow and Trustee Scholar, Brnger has thrived academically, particularly under the guidance of history professors Kathryn Tomasek and John Bezis-Selfa. She recently completed a draft of her honors thesis that examines teen girls and sexuality in the post-WWII United States. With help from Tomasek, her advisor, she conducted research in the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge, Mass.

“Going to Slovakia is a wonderful opportunity for her to expand her knowledge of Central Europe. I’m delighted that she will continue to become a citizen of the world beyond the borders of the United States and the Americas,” Tomasek said.

Throughout her Wheaton education, the senior has engaged in numerous extracurricular activities, including being the business manager of The Wheaton Wire; preceptor; vice president of the History Club; president of the Education Club; and intern in the Admission Office. Also, in 2015, she interned at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass.

She also has taken advantage of study abroad opportunities. In the Czech Republic, she researched experiential educational practices being implemented at an alternative high school. Also, she taught English in Tanzania—where she learned to manage a classroom of dozens of students who did not speak English.

Last summer, she took her interest in cross-cultural experiences further as a teaching assistant intern to Thai students learning English. “I was a dorm parent, advisor and teacher for 60 nervous teenagers,” she said. “I found new ways of teaching English, but also the importance of understanding each of my students’ cultural and personal background.”

As a Fulbright Scholar in the Slovak Republic, Brnger will teach English and other topics, including U.S. culture and history.

Brnger—who enjoys the arts, especially theater and painting, and debate—plans to incorporate these passions as a teacher in Slovakia. “Theater is a great way to get students moving, engaging with one another, building confidence and learning English. Students will not only learn the English language, but also American culture and history,” she said.

Brnger says she is still in shock by the news of winning the scholarship, and for the opportunity to live in the lands of her ancestors.

“A part of me still thinks I’m dreaming. When I toured Wheaton for the first time I remember walking into Balfour and seeing the wall of scholars and thinking to myself, I want to be up there,” she said. “I’m truly humbled by this honor and thankful for every person who has helped me along the way.”