Where in the world is Stephen Hilger ’16 ’17? After stints in Slovakia and Kenya, a Fulbright grant has taken the Alverno alum to Romania.
Hilger is in the eastern European country on a Fulbright English Language Teaching Assistantship. During the nine-month program, he’ll teach university students, conduct research and serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States.
“I really enjoy being a part of the social fabric of post-communist countries like Romania,” says Hilger. “There is a vibrant atmosphere in this part of the world, as people are working to rebuild their societies and rediscover their cultures that, for so long, were under suppression.”
Since October, Hilger has taught English at the Transilvania University of Brasov, located roughly 100 miles north of the Romanian capital of Bucharest. “I love working with Romanian students, learning from them and helping them develop the language skills they need to have to shape the destiny of their country and its role within Europe,” he says.
Joining Hilger abroad is his wife, Kaleigh. Together, they have sought out opportunities to help other Romanians of all ages practice their English.
“That’s the best thing that we can offer people,” Hilger says. “English is the second language of Europe. They want to practice, and they want to sound fluent.”
Hilger, who earned his master’s degree in Education from Alverno last year, has previously taught at the middle school, high school and college level. Regardless of who and where he teaches, he draws on the philosophies he learned at Alverno, such as the importance of encouraging students to take an active role in their education.
“That’s something I always really strive to do – to have them make the discoveries, not me,” he says.
This emphasis on exploration extends to Hilger’s own life, too. He and Kaleigh once spent a year teaching English in Bratislava, Slovakia. And last summer, the couple traveled to Kenya to assist with a reforestation project.
Besides teaching and travel, the Hilgers share an interest in agriculture, which they’re continuing to cultivate in Romania. They’re particularly enjoying learning more about beekeeping, a popular activity there. They’re hopeful to take what they’ve learned back to Wisconsin, whether that’s through urban agriculture or realizing a dream of starting an organic orchard and farm.
When Hilger returns to the U.S. later this summer, he hopes to teach social studies or mathematics to middle schoolers. He knows his experiences abroad will make him a better teacher and a more well-rounded person.
“I know that my time in Romania will deeply enrich my life in unexpected ways,” he says. “The different traditions, values, foods and perspectives of the Romanian people add a greater diversity to my world view.”