Alumni Spotlight: Where Are They Now?

April 18th, 2016

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing 5 former junior researchers and ETAs working in a variety of fields, including technology, film, public health, art, and education. Laura Ahn, Stephanie Ahn, Mina Fitzpatrick, Tivon Rice, and Carolyn Straub generously offered to share their insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.

Laura Ahn, ETA 2013


What is your current occupation?
Earlier this year, I worked at Perkin’s School for the Blind in Massachusetts. Now, I am student teaching in a substantially separate classroom, which specializes in severe special education, while completing graduate studies at Boston College.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Love what you do and take advantage of every day as an ETA. You have so much to offer your students, not only by teaching English, but also by sharing your experiences, which are so new to them. In the same way, your students have so much to offer you—their experiences and culture. Be an influence in South Korea and be influenced by South Korea. Also, make sure to explore the rest of the world during this awesome time in your life!

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
My experience at Hanbit School for the Blind confirmed my passion to work in special education and my desire to change society’s view of those with disabilities. The relationships I formed with students at Hanbit made working in this field more personal, which lit a fire in me to use these experiences to make a difference.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Being a Korean-American in South Korea was both a blessing and a curse. I looked Korean and so there were expectations imposed upon me, from unfamiliar social etiquettes to a complete understanding of the language. It was tough navigating social and language barriers especially because there were no physical ways to distinguish myself as a foreigner. The Korean mindset often felt foreign to me, thus I struggled with identity and felt certain cultural disconnects. After a while, I learned from my Korean-American background in order to make my experience in Korea special, personal, and meaningful. This can look different for everybody!

What is your personal motto?
I don’t have a personal motto, but my general view on life is that we are a miniscule part of this world. Things may seem so grand in the moment, but really, our problems are insignificant in comparison to the big picture in life. I live day-by-day remembering that I am just a small part of a larger picture. Though, I have experienced many struggles in my life, they remind me to live my life with a smile on my face. Those same struggles remind me to live “yulshimhee,” because the world has more to offer than adversity. 

(Yulshimhee – “Work hard. Believe. Never give up and stay strong”)


Stephanie Ahn, Junior Researcher 2008


What is your current occupation?
I am a Program Officer on the Market Dynamics team at Results for Development Institute in Washington DC. We apply business-oriented approaches to increase access to health commodities in developing countries.  

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current Junior Researcher?
Take the time to really engage with the communities that your research is about and also with the host country’s culture in general. You’ll be surprised by the amount of data, information, and stories you collect by just listening and showing interest in the world around you.

How did your experience as a Junior Researcher impact your life’s work?
My Fulbright research further validated my interest in public health and issues affecting children, in particular. It also showed me areas of growth that I needed to address moving forward in order to be an impactful public health practitioner.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a Junior Researcher?
I often times would feel frustrated because I had an idea of what I wanted to further investigate or implement, but was unsure of the best way to go about doing so. Pushing myself to take risks and asking for help when I needed it were the only ways I persevered.

What is your personal motto?
In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, everyday is a new opportunity “…to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, [and] to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.


Mina Fitzpatrick, ETA 2011


What is your current occupation?
I am currently in graduate school, studying to get my MFA in Documentary Media at Northwestern University.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Use your time in Korea to explore your interests, and be open to change. Don’t just do what you’ve always done.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
Journalism was one of the ways I connected with my students, and it was also how I explored my new environment. I allowed myself to explore the idea of doing a documentary, which led me to a career as a documentary filmmaker. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
From the beginning I taught alone, and created all of my lesson plans. Learning to do all this, while also learning how to manage a classroom, motivate students and use discipline was the greatest challenge I faced. 

What is your personal motto?
Be Kind.


Tivon Rice, Junior Researcher 2011


What is your current occupation?
I am finishing my PhD in Digital Art and Experimental Media at the University of Washington, where I teach studio courses on video art, digital photography, and contemporary visual culture.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current Junior Researcher?
Try to connect as much as possible with your host city’s local cultural scene. Even if it falls outside of your specific research area, go to concerts, independent art shows, flea markets, and performances. You will be amazed who you meet when you engage with individuals at these events.

How did your experience as an Junior Researcher impact your life’s work?
Living, studying, and making artwork in a completely different culture helped me identify what was either very personal or very universal about how I understood a particular topic. I have carried this into my current projects, and see it as the most valuable, enduring aspect of my Fulbright experience.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a Junior Researcher?
Reverse culture-shock upon returning to the United States. After a year of excitement and daily discoveries during my Fulbright, I have found myself constantly looking for the next opportunity to engage with a new community or individual, either locally or abroad.

When and/or where were you most happy?
During my Fulbright year in South Korea! I was fortunate enough to be joined by my wife for the final 6 months of my research, and our child was born at the local university hospital shortly before returning to the States. We recently re-visited Korea with our now 3-year-old “Fulbright Baby,” and were able to share with him many of the sights, neighborhoods, and foods that were part of my daily life as a Jr. Researcher. 


Carolyn Straub, ETA 2009


What is your current occupation?
I am a project manager on the Google team, which does three main things: 1. Writes the Google help center for consumer (non-ads) products, 2. Trains the vendors who do phone/email/chat support for Google users who have questions about consumer products, and 3. Drives the analysis of user feedback to share back with product.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
My biggest piece of advice is to just really enjoy the grant year–it’s a magical, special, awkward, evolving experience that can shape who you become forever after. Don’t hold back, try everything, go everywhere, meet anyone.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
My grant year truly changed the course of my life. I was accepted into a PhD program in Ethnic Studies and deferred to do the Fulbright. Throughout the year I realized that I no longer wanted to pursue a PhD, despite having spent the past 4 years driving towards that goal, and took the risk to enter one of the worst job markets in US history instead. My year in Korea not only changed the path I took after the grant was over, but instilled in me a courage to take bold risks with hopes for high rewards (happiness!).

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Everyday in Korea involved a little something awkward (slurping spicy hot soup into my eyes in the cafeteria) or a little something uncomfortable (trying to explain to my host mother that I’d prefer she doesn’t do my laundry), and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable was the biggest challenge and the greatest reward.

What is your personal motto?
“Go after happiness”
I truly believe that if you wait for your life to inspire happiness in you, that you will be perpetually disappointed. Feeling efficacy to enable happiness is a beautiful and powerful feeling.

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