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Samuel Benshoof received a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship to teach English in Macedonia for nine months. Submitted Photo

Fulbright scholarship: BHS alumnus travels to Macedonia to teach English

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Samuel Benshoof, a 2005 graduate of Bemidji High School, is one of the first in the nation to participate in an English Teaching Assistantship in Macedonia.

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Benshoof was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship to teach English as a foreign language for nine months in Macedonia, a small country between Yugoslavia and Greece.

"I'm so excited," said Benshoof. "There are still so many details of the program I have yet to learn."

The Fulbright Program, the United States' flagship international and educational exchange program, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program operates in more than 155 countries worldwide.

Muhammad Yunus, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and Javier Solana, foreign policy chief of the European Union, are among the more prominent recipients of the program.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields.

In applying for the scholarship, Benshoof was asked to write down a country of his choice on the application.

"I was advised to play the odds," said Benshoof. "I didn't think many people would choose to go to countries in Eastern Europe."

Benshoof will live and work in Bitola, a city of about 100,000 people in the southern end of the country, only a few hours from Greece. It is the second-largest city in the country.

Fulbright has sent people to Macedonia before on research grants, but this is the first year an English Teaching Assistantship Grant has been offered in the country.

"It's exciting to be one of the first ones to try out the new program," said Benshoof.

To prepare for his trip, Benshoof attended a five-day orientation in Washington, D.C., this summer along with other scholarship recipients. The sessions were arranged by the State Department to train Fulbright participants on teaching and living in Eastern European countries.

"I studied some of the Macedonian language this summer - it wasn't as difficult as I thought," said Benshoof.

This isn't the first time Benshoof has traveled abroad. He studied in Spain for three months while he was a student at Carleton College. He hopes his experience in Spain will allow him to feel more comfortable with new changes.

"I've read Macedonia has a very relaxed attitude about things," said Benshoof. "I think this will be my biggest challenge because this is something I've never known."

Benshoof said learning his job as a teaching assistant will keep him busy, but the Fulbright program encourages participants to use free time to volunteer in the community or do a small research project on the side.

Benshoof hopes to take a class in his free time to help him learn the language, since he will be teaching youth unfamiliar with the English language.

Benshoof arrived in Macedonia Thursday. Since then he has kept an online journal of his experiences living there.

Before arriving in Bitola, Benshoof first landed in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia (population of about 600,000). Upon his arrival he wrote the following:

"The Skopje airport is barely larger than Bemidji's airport, and certainly much smaller than the Grand Forks airport."

Benshoof's experiences in Macedonia can be read on his blog: sam-in-bitola.blogspot.com.

"I don't exactly know what I'm in for, but for me that's part of the adventure," said Benshoof.

awilliams@bemidjipioneer.com

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