BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Two Niskayuna High School alumni will lead parallel lives beginning in September thanks to matching Fulbright grants, which will foot the bill for them to teach English to students in Germany.
Terry Spinelli and Emily Wilkerson, who graduated from Niskayuna in 2010 and 2011, respectively, independently won the grants, then rekindled their high school acquaintanceship.
“Neither of us knew that the other was applying for it,” Wilkerson said. “It’s kind of a funny coincidence.”
The two have traveled to Germany together before, on a study-abroad trip with other American students during their high school years, and their love for languages stuck with them through college.
“I knew I wanted to study foreign languages coming into college,” Wilkerson said. “Niskayuna is so wonderful in that it has lots of opportunities for learning foreign languages.”
In high school, she took classes in German, Spanish and Latin. Now, she studies comparative literature and German literature at Oberlin College in Ohio.
“What that means for me is, I study literature in multiple languages,” she said.
Wilkerson speaks German and Spanish, in addition to English. She also spent her junior year of college in Munich.
“I loved living in Germany,” she said. “I’m excited about graduation because I’m excited about what I’m doing next year. But I’m just starting to realize I’ll be leaving.”
Heading back to Germany will soften the blow of turning her back on her college experience. Wilkerson said she studied in the state of Bavaria before, but will teach in the northwest, a completely different cultural experience because of the unique identities of each state.
Spinelli, who graduated a year ahead of Wilkerson, is finishing her senior year at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, where she has dual majors in history and music, as well as a minor in German.
Spinelli’s love for the German language sprouted even earlier than Wilkerson: As a musician in the Empire State Youth Orchestra in middle and high school, she traveled to Europe with her fellow young musicians.
“We went on a tour of Europe,” she said. “We went to different places: Germany, Austria and also the Czech Republic. We had a little phrasebook, and I just had a really great time.”
From that point on, Spinelli was hooked.
“I had been learning Spanish for a while, and for some reason German just really appealed to me,” she said. “It felt natural, speaking it.”
After taking her first formal class at Northwestern, she took intensive classes in Germany. Now, she’s ready to head back and pass on what she’s learned.
Spinelli hopes to become a lawyer and said she’ll probably spend part of her year teaching abroad while simultaneously applying to law schools in the United States.
Wilkerson, however, might be a little harder to lure back. Tuition is free in Germany, an especially attractive proposal for someone who might want to spend her career translating poetry between languages.
“I think my parents are a little worried about that,” Wilkerson said with a laugh.
She concedes they’ve discussed it, but she doesn’t think she’ll stay too long.
“That’s on the table, but I can’t really imagine myself living in Germany for the rest of my life,” she said.