Mattea Koon, a fourth-year English and anthropology double major, has received both the U.S. Teaching Assistanship (USTA) in Austria and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Germany. Koon chose to accept the USTA award and will live and work in Leoben, Austria for a year.
The USTA award provides recent graduates with the opportunity to teach English in secondary schools around Austria. Koon will be teaching at the high school level in two technical schools—one focusing on IT and the other on hospitality services.
When Koon received the news that she had been awarded the USTA, her mother happened to be in the Austrian town of Graz—about an hour away from Leoben—visiting Koon’s grandparents. “I got a Skype call the next day from the entire family,” she says. “I’m still totally floored that I get to spend the whole year so close to them.” The proximity to family is one factor that led to her accepting the USTA award over the Fulbright ETA. “It’s such a stellar opportunity to spend a significant amount of time [in Austria], considering my heritage and my background."
Koon, whose mother is Austrian, grew up speaking German and became interested in language acquisition at an early age. “I didn’t conform to the traditional ways of learning a language,” says Koon. “When learning German, I didn’t learn about tenses and conjugations and the technicalities of grammar within a classroom setting.” As an American who learned German at home, she labels herself as a “heritage speaker,” a somewhat complicated identity as the German language only acknowledges “native” or “non-native” speakers.
Koon’s interest in language acquisition has led to intensive work as a linguistics research assistant, as well as an anthropology honors thesis that focuses on the role humor plays in learning a new language. “I sat in on an introductory German class, and I was surprised to find that even at that level jokes were flying,” she says. “The students were using humor as a stand-in to gain new semantic information.” Koon has also worked in a linguistics lab with Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jason Haugen, studying a Native American language.
After her fellowship ends, Koon plans to attend graduate school. “I’m hoping to go into education at the university level,” she says.