Fulbright scholar helping teach in Estonia

Hana Bloedel in Tartu, Estonia.
Hana Bloedel in Tartu, Estonia. / courtesy photo

By Douglas Esser
University of Washington Bothell graduate Hana Bloedel is in Narva, Estonia, having “quite the adventure” as a Fulbright English teaching assistant.

“Being here is more like being in Russia than Estonia in some ways,” Bloedel said. “Many of the buildings are from the Soviet era. Everyone around me speaks Russian, and many are ethnically Russian and travel between Narva and St. Petersburg.”

Teaching and loving it

Bloedel arrived in Estonia’s third-largest city in September and will stay into June. She’s working with VitaTiim, a nongovernment youth education organization that promotes personal development and lifelong learning. She works in the Narva Central Library’s American Space (an area of the library partnered with the U.S. embassy) and helps with an embassy program called Access. It gives low-income students an opportunity to learn English. Bloedel runs a conversation club, helps facilitate a media literacy course and gives presentations in schools supporting cultural exchanges.

“I have loved getting to meet all the people I work with,” she said.

Bloedel was one of 16 UW students and alumni awarded Fulbright Student Program scholarships for the 2019-20 academic year. Nationally, about 1,900 students and recent graduates are studying or teaching abroad in the international exchange program.

From Bothell to the Baltics

The Estonia experience follows the wide-ranging interests Bloedel pursued at UW Bothell where the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS) appealed to her love of education and experiential learning. She studied abroad in 2017 in London and traveled in Western Europe. In addition, she participated in the Washington, D.C., Human Rights Seminar. She graduated in 2018 with degrees in Global Studies and in Society, Ethics & Human Behavior. She also earned a minor in Human Rights.

“I think studying in the School of IAS gave me a good background into talking about a wide variety of issues — environmental, political and social.” Bloedel said. “And throughout my time here so far, I have also appreciated the variety of methods that professors used to teach classes in IAS. I have taken some of the interdisciplinary and varied ways of learning — such as visual aids, group work, interactive games —and incorporated them.”

In some ways it’s similar to her work last year in Seattle in the AmeriCorps City Year program. She led small English literacy groups at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in southeast Seattle, which is where she grew up.

Future travel, future goals

Bloedel arrived in Estonia at Tallinn, the capital and largest city, and has visited Tartu, the second-largest city. She was scheduled to attend a media literacy conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. As time permits, Bloedel plans to travel in Russia, Finland and the other Baltic states — Latvia and Lithuania. Once part of the Soviet Union, the Baltics are now part of the European Union and NATO.

As a Korean who was adopted and raised in Seattle and who is concerned with issues of race, ethnicity and class, Bloedel was interested to see how she would be received in northern Europe. “It is very obvious that I’m not from here, and sometimes people stare at me,” she said.

Many Estonians have an image of America as a prosperous land of opportunity, she said. When she discussed homelessness, “they were very surprised that it’s a problem in the U.S.”

After Estonia, Bloedel wants to go to graduate school or law school. She hopes to teach at the college level or work in the fields of immigration or diplomacy.

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