Oral History Project Leads to Fulbright

By Mike McAlpin

Whitney Medved ’09 was awarded a Fulbright grant in March, and she will head to the Slovak Republic in September to work as an English teaching assistant in the town of Tisovec.

“The Fulbright’s focus is all about intercultural communication, education and fostering good relationships,” Medved says. “So they want me to interact with the people on a personal level, but also on a studious level.”

Medved tutored in one of professor Sandra Grayson’s classes last spring, who says she is confident that the 21-year-old will make a tremendous impression on her Slovakian students.

“Whitney is energetic, a natural-born teacher with an exuberant personality, and she is incredibly smart,” Grayson says.

Teaching did not put Medved on the path to a prestigious Fulbright. It was her curiosity about her family name. Her grandparents immigrated to America in the early 1900’s, and she has been curious about her family heritage, so she decided to study abroad in Prague in fall 2007.

Her semester in the Czech Republic was a turning point. She visited the neighboring Slovak Republic and the town of Brehy where her late grandfather grew up. She intended to develop a narrative literary project but after several translated conversations with the town’s elderly residents, an oral history project evolved.

“There were these old women, they are stooped over — missing teeth and arthritic and their ankles are swollen — and it’s kind of getting to the end of their lives,” she recalls. “They don’t have that much to show for it, and they have been so beaten down by everything. They have these incredible life stories, but no one is listening to them.”

So she listened.

Medved will keep listening with the help of the Fulbright. In addition to teaching English and immersing herself in Slovak history and culture, she will continue the oral history project. She hopes she can provide Americans of Slovakian heritage a better appreciation of the history and struggles of ordinary people in the Central European country.

Medved is the fourth Saint Mary’s student in five years to receive a prestigious Fulbright award. Rebecca Brams MFA ’04 won a Fulbright to study in Peru in 2004; Jennie Durant ’99 MFA ’06 received the award in 2006 to study in the Philippines, and Eric Giannini ’07 traveled to the Republic of Tartarstan in Russia in 2007.