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Six Things I Learned from my Fulbright Fellowship

By Amerin Idell, Associate

Hi, I’m Amerin from America.

Expo marker in my left hand, I looked behind me to read the whiteboard. Toto, we were definitely not in Wisconsin anymore.

Last fall, my Mueller Communications journey took a short pause when I was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach English to middle and high school students in Hannover, Germany. In a matter of days I went from drinking copious amounts of coffee and calling news desks to still drinking copious amounts of coffee, but now managing a classroom of children at the height of puberty.

Reflecting now, an entire school year later, I am incredibly grateful for my Fulbright experience as well as my supportive colleagues for encouraging me to pursue this opportunity, log a few hours from Germany and learn some lessons along the way.

Now back at Mueller, reflecting on my time in Germany, I’ve realized that some of the lessons I learned while teaching overseas are relevant for my colleagues and the PR work we do:

Your audience teaches you just as much as you teach them: My placement was at a school where many of my students were first generation immigrants to Germany and many came from religious backgrounds that I previously had little exposure to. The purpose of my Fulbright grant was to be the one at the front of the room educating kids about America, but – truthfully – they taught me and expanded my worldview.

At Mueller, we may be the PR experts, but our clients are the experts in their business and industry. Part of what we all love about the job is that, on behalf of our clients, we get to learn about things we never would have come in contact with. We learn from our clients every day as we take their expert information and combine it with ours to tell a story.

Positive feedback: it goes without saying, we feel good when others say nice things about us and with my students it was no different. Taking a moment to compliment a student’s increased participation or improved grammar usage often led not only validation in their efforts, but an increased motivation to strive for more. Studies even suggest that we are 30 times more likely to be engaged at work when those around us focus and compliment our strengths and hard work.

Life at Mueller is fast-paced, and while we enjoy the ride and find great fulfillment in the speed of work, sometimes we don’t slow down enough to really commend the good work of the people around us. Coming back to Mueller, one of my main goals is to be mindful about providing positive feedback to colleagues, clients and more to do my part in creating an encouraging and supportive environment.

No two things are alike: Throughout the year, one of my biggest challenges was adequately meeting each student at their learning level as every student learns differently and at their own pace. Some kids learned best through creative exercises whereas others needed hard grammar drills.

As a firm, we employ some of the brightest and most talented entry-level candidates and immerse them into the world of PR. As I mentioned before…we do so rather quickly. You learn so much in your first three months at Mueller, it’s truly a crash course in PR. But I’ve learned that sometimes, a candidate might require a different approach than others to reach their full potential. It is worth taking the time to ask the right questions and develop personalized professional development plans with each employee.

Flexibility is important: At my core, I am a type A planner. I spend my Sundays planning out my outfits for the week and I plan my vacation itineraries months in advance.

Working in a classroom, I learned time and time again that, unfortunately for planners like me, that just isn’t how the world works. Between the internet not functioning, kids taking longer to understand a concept or miscommunication among us teachers, sometimes lesson planning on the fly was necessary. And every time it was absolutely terrifying. But it also forced me to be creative and oftentimes emitted some of the best, most natural delivery.

Working at an agency that promises to be there for any and every client need, 24 hours a day, flexibility is a necessity. It allows us to be open-minded toward new projects and be problem solvers for our clients. It allows us to be there for our clients in a crisis situation when they are most in need.

You are a “brand”: for the majority of my students, I was the first American that they had ever met, which was both a daunting and inspiring idea to know that I represented their understanding of the United States and its culture.

At Mueller, when I engage with clients or attend networking events, I represent not only myself, but act on behalf of the entire firm. Each and every one of us illustrates the Mueller Communications brand and I understand now the importance of being aware and thoughtful in each of these representation situations I may find myself in.

Everybody loves Cheetos: 9th and 10th graders in Germany would agree, Cheetos truly do build connections and foster cultural awareness and if you’ve ever seen the breakroom at Mueller, you know we don’t shy away from snacks ourselves.

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