Oral History Project Leads to Fulbright Grant Award for Whitney Medved

Fulbright scholar Whitney Medved.Come this September, senior Whitney Medved will head to the Slovak Republic in Central Europe for 10 months. In March, the 21-year old SMC English major was awarded a Fulbright Grant as an English teaching assistant, and she will teach at the Evanjelické Gymnázium, a Lutheran English High School in the town of Tisovec.

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

Medved will teach 15 classes a week across a variety of English-comprehension levels, from basic language skills to mastery courses.

Medved, who is considering teaching as a profession, also wants to bring the Saint Mary's Seminar approach to her Slovakian students.

"They will read Hemingway, but they are never reading the entirety of works like ‘The Sun Also Rises' or ‘The Old Man and the Sea.' They are just reading snippets of them and perhaps a biography of him," she said. "They will know the facts about Hemingway's life, inside and out, but there is no in-depth analysis happening, and that is something I like to do – a lot – so hopefully I can help bring the Saint Mary's approach over there."

Professor Sandra Grayson said she is proud of Medved.

"Fulbright grants are incredibly prestigious, and this is a wonderful event for Whitney, for our English department and our College as well," Grayson said. Medved is a tutor in one of Grayson's English 4 classes, and the professor says Medved works with her students on everything from basic sentence structure to shaping essay arguments.

Grayson is confident Medved 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," she said.

However, Grayson adds that teaching English isn't what set Medved on a path to a Fulbright. It was Whitney's curiosity about her family name.

Her father, John Medved, owns an auto dealership near her hometown of Golden, Colo.

"He is a first-generation American, the fourth of six children from Slovak parents who immigrated in the early 1900's," Whitney Medved said. "We don't really speak any Slovak because at the time my dad grew up in Detroit, it was the classic vanilla assimilation story. It wasn't cool to be different or the immigrant kid. He felt embarrassed because his parents couldn't speak proper English. So he didn't really ever fully learn Slovak."

As a result, Whitney says the next generation of Medveds – herself and her four siblings – had little connection with the language.

Even so, she said some cultural connections remained. For instance, Medved means "bear" in Slovak. And there's a family saying, "Medveds don't quit," which referred to hardships endured by her Slovakian ancestors during World Wars I and II.

A member of the College's crew team, Medved says those family sayings resonated with her as an athlete, but also fed her curiosity about their origins. To satisfy that curiosity, she decided to study abroad in Prague in fall 2007.

Her semester in the Czech Republic proved to be a turning point. She made a brief trip to the neighboring Slovak Republic and the town of Brehy (pronounced Bray-hee), 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 recalled. "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.

She will keep listening with help of the Fulbright. In addition to teaching English in the Tisovec high school and immersing herself in the Slovak language and the country's history and culture, Medved will continue the oral history project she started in 2007.

She hopes by chronicling the stories of elderly Slovaks, particularly women, she can provide Americans of Slovakian heritage with 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 Russian in 2007.

The 10-month Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant provides funds for international transportation, a living stipend, book and research allowances and medical insurance. Some host countries also provide tuition assistance and other grant enhancements for dependents and in-country orientation.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

It was established in 1946 by the U.S. Congress to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries.

While Medved is proud of her academic achievements, her oral history project and being selected for a Fulbright, she points to the grant award as a teachable moment for her peers.

"I don't know how many people at our school know about this opportunity or similar opportunities. That's the biggest thing – you just have to have the initiative. Go out and start something, because nothing happens if you don't."

-Mike McAlpin, Office of College Communications