Where Are They Now?

January 17th, 2016

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing former junior researchers and ETAs working in a variety of fields, including academia, consulting, medicine, the foreign service, and community development. Dr. Balbina Hwang, Brigid Otieno, Megan Powers, Scott Purdy, and Dr. Sumit Shah generously offered to share their insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.

Dr. Balbina Hwang, Junior Researcher ‘98

Balbina

What is your current occupation?
I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in international relations and Asia-related topics at Georgetown and American University (in Washington D.C.).

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current junior researcher?
Be open and flexible to new intellectual ideas and analytical approaches in your research.  You will discover new inspiration in places and experiences you never expected.  

How did your experience as a junior researcher impact your life’s work?
The year I spent in Korea fundamentally changed the focus and contours of my subsequent research and scholarly interests, in ways I was not even able to realize at the time.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as junior researcher?
Overcoming others’ (not just Koreans, but everyone I encountered in Korea) preconceived notions about me, as a younger woman, ethnically Korean, American (citizen).

What personal achievement are you most proud of?
The honor and opportunity to be able to serve in public service for the U.S. Government (at the U.S. State Department).  It was a privilege to be able to gain invaluable insights, and it was a humbling experience.

 

Scott Purdy, ETA ’00

What is your current occupation?
I currently work as a strategy consultant. I help companies develop their corporate strategy and make M&A decisions.  

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
This will be one of the most unique experiences you have in your lifetime.  Don’t waste the opportunity to travel and experience life in different parts of the world.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
I’d say the Fulbright experience helps broaden your perspective on diversity.  

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Looking back on it, nothing jumps out besides constantly being out of your comfort zone. It’s great life experience for your future career.

What moment do you remember most vividly from your grant year?
The group doing cannonballs at a pool party at the U.S. Ambassador’s house…not sure that was quite the expected decorum.

 

Megan Powers, ETA ‘00

Megan

What is your current occupation?
International Program Officer at The McKnight Foundation

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Take advantage of the flexibility of the program to gain professional, cultural and academic experience. Get involved in your region’s school district. Take a course in a subject that interests you (calligraphy, tae kwon do). Do some research. Create some art. You may not have another period of your life that offers such flexibility and learning potential!

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
Honed my skills in curriculum development, presentation and training, intercultural awareness, and research. All of these became the backbone of my career.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Gender issues are prevalent everywhere, but especially in South Korea

Who is your favorite hero/heroine in world history?
I’m a big fan of Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous Guatemalan woman who is a champion of human rights and who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Dr. Sumit Shah, ETA ‘04

What is your current occupation?
I am a physician completing my fellowship training in medical oncology and hematology at Stanford University Hospital, and I work with a digital health technology start-up in San Francisco, called Grand Rounds.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Embrace being outside of your comfort zone for a year. It’s rare to have opportunities where we struggle to communicate, struggle to navigate, and struggle to build and maintain relationships. Through this struggle we reflect, grow, and learn to appreciate the diversity around us.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
As an ETA ten years ago, I was able to witness Korea in the midst of a rapid economic and technological transformation. With this rise of urbanization came a shift in the national healthcare burden characterized by chronic, non-communicable diseases. I am very interested in the utilizing digital technology to provide access to chronic disease care and expertise in resource-poor settings in the international community.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Being a vegetarian was somewhat difficult in Korea. My host mom made me quite a few peanut butter and egg sandwiches. I never had the heart to tell her it wasn’t the best combination.

What do you remember most vividly from your grant year?
By far, the best part of the ETA year was coming away with a group of friends who remain some of my closest to this day. We have spoken at each other’s weddings, visited each other’s children, and occasionally get together just to keep up our noraebang skills. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of such a great group of fellow ETAs.

 

Brigid Otieno ETA ’09 – ‘11

Brigid

What is your current occupation?
Foreign Service Officer – U.S. Department of State
Vice Consul
American Citizen Services, Consular Section
U.S. Embassy Rome
Rome, Italy

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Looking back at my experience with the Fulbright Program in South Korea, I encourage current ETAs to:

  • Be creative.
  • Travel extensively.
  • Learn Korean. If I could change anything, I would have started learning Korean before starting my grant year.
  • Get a hobby (or continue to do something that you love).
  • Engage with your community.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
My ETA experience was a transformative experience that influenced my personal, educational, and professional life. Professionally, working in South Korea under the auspices of the Korea Fulbright Commission was valuable for me. It helped me to think not only about what fields and practical experience most draw me but also about the type of working environment in which I work the best. Teaching in Korea with access to Ambassador Kathleen Stephens and other Foreign Service officers opened doors to many new and amazing opportunities.  I was also competitive for a lot of jobs, fellowships and graduate schools. Personally, teaching and living in Korea gave me an improved sense of self-confidence, leadership development, in addition to relationship-building skills culminating in personal growth.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
The intersection of being an African-American woman and living in Korea was frustrating. I had to constantly answer questions about my heritage, challenge perceptions of blackness and racial stereotypes.  In the end, my identity proved to be an advantage for me throughout my time in Korea.   I used my grant as a unique opportunity to educate others about my culture, and to encourage positive understanding of global diversity with my students.

What moment do you remember most vividly from your grant year?
My most memorable was my first day of school at the welcoming assembly as I stood on a stage and introduced myself in Korean to the entire school. I remember feeling a wide range of emotions in that moment including nervousness, anxiety and fear. My co-teacher gave me a thumbs-up as I walked off the stage and I knew that this was going to be a great year.

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