“I Didn’t Think Americans Could Look Like You”: Reflections on Being a Fulbrighter of Color

July 17th, 2017

Written by Nikki Brueggeman (ETA 2015-17)


Wanted: Foreigner model for tourism advertisement. White only, please.

I glanced over the ad posted on the foreigner Facebook page for the city of Jeonju. What followed was a tense discussion in the community about the ad’s content with the original poster finally declaring, “stop bringing your [western] ideas of race into this. Korea is different!”

For me, it was another Tuesday in Jeonju. South Korea, like every nation faces challenges when it comes to dialogues surrounding race, culture, and immigration. While I count my positive moments much higher than my negatives, I consider the narratives of people of color as essential to Fulbright Korea’s history.

The author with a doll found in a hostel in Seoul, South Korea.

Since its conception, Fulbright Korea has been a space of cultural exchange and through it people of color have shown communities the complexities of identity within American culture. While we face challenges, it is in these moments that Fulbrighters of Color step forward to humanize the situation and expand dialogues.

Photo Contest Winner: Spring 2017

April 19th, 2017

“Cherry Blossoms Over the Nakdong River Valley in Busan”
Sarah Slagle (ETA in 2009-10)

Fourth Point: ETAs Interact With Their Communities

April 18th, 2017

Besides working as cultural ambassadors through Fulbright, their schools, and homestay families, Fulbright Korea ETAs work within their communities. These activities, commonly referred to as “fourth points” (the fourth responsibility after schools, homestay families, and Fulbright) are a way for Fulbright grantees to get to know Koreans while having fun and engaging with Korean culture. From making traditional Korean crafts and practicing calligraphy to joining a volleyball league and taekwondo dojang, there is a huge range of “fourth points.”    The following paragraphs are a glimpse into several ways Fulbright grantees are interacting with their communities in their free time.

Rebecca Bower, Uiseong

I started playing volleyball as an extra-curricular activity during the second semester of my first grant year. Prior to joining the club, I struggled to form friendships with co-workers outside of my English office. After joining the club, which consisted of both teachers from my school, as well as other local elementary schools, my friendships suddenly exploded. Teachers who were too shy to even look at me before became more eager to talk to me. Some of the teachers have become close friends of mine, so now that I’m in my second grant-year we have been doing other things together like weight lifting, basketball and swimming. I’ve also been able to join a second club in another city, where I have been able to make more friends. Volleyball is the catalyst that elevated my first grant year, and continues to be the highlight of my life in Korea now that I’m in my second grant year.

Zack Horne, Gyeongju

When my host dad asked me if I wanted to learn a traditional Korean instrument, he failed to mention the cost – which I assure you was steeper than expected – until we were in the car on our way to our first lesson. Luckily for me, this was my second week in Gyeongju and I did not yet have a bank account, so I got to defer my cost to a later date! Despite that rocky start, learning the traditional Korean bamboo flute, or 대금, has been a fun and new experience for me! I am not a stranger to music, as I have played the violin since I was 11, but I also haven’t learned a new instrument since that violin! I had totally forgotten how simultaneously fun and frustrating learning an instrument can be. It took me a good three lessons before I could even make a sound on the 대금. While progress is slow and frustrating at times, learning the 대금 has been largely rewarding, and I feel that through this instrument I get a glimpse into one of Korea’s beautiful traditions. While this new instrument may be bamboo-zling (see what I did there?), I hope to keep learning and eventually bring this newfound talent back home to serenade the masses.

Jason Addy, Daegu

When we were advised to choose a fourth point during our grant year, I was sure it would be dance for me.  Thankfully, I was blessed to be placed in Daegu, which is one of the bigger cities in Korea, so I knew I would be able to find something.

At first glance, the way the studio was run was very different from what I was used to in the US. My studio is actually more of a dance academy (학원) than it is the traditional dance studio I was used to visiting in the US. The dance pieces and choreography being taught are done so over a week, whereas in the US, I was used to just being able to drop in on a class and learning one piece of choreography for the day. I actually prefer this method better to dropping in to classes because it really allows me to fully digest the choreography with extensive practice.

Dance has been a huge part of my grant year and through it, I have made most of the friends that I have here. Dance in itself is a very community-oriented activity so by entering the dance community through my studio, I was able to feel more like I was connected and established in Korea. One of my goals was to make Korean friends as well and I was able to do that because of my studio. I would say my dance friends are among some of my closest friends here. Not only was I able to make friends, foreign and Korean, but through my studio, I was able to join a dance crew and perform at different events around Daegu!

If I were to give any advice to people interested in dance in Korea, I would say get out there and try! It might be intimidating to sign up for that first class, but you won’t know unless you try. In my experience, the people at my studio were so kind and accommodating in helping me pick the classes that would be best for me and I really felt welcome right from the first day. Even if you’d like to do it for fun, there is a great community in dance and it is a great way to meet people regardless of whether you decide to continue with it or not. Go forth and dance!

Kaitlyn Gulick, Seoul

My fourth point is Taekwondo. I started training in college and got my blue belt in Korea last year. I’ve been training in Korea for 2 and a half years now, including my time during orientation. Even though both of my dojangs have been in Korea, the way they react to me and the strictness and training styles are very different. For background, last year I trained at a Hakwon in a small town. This year, I train with a university’s international club. Maybe it’s because there are more people closer to my own age, but the university club pushes me harder. Sometimes I even think their expectations might be a bit too high for me; the master is very insistent that if I don’t miss practices, I can get my black belt in a year. On the other hand though, I haven’t been able to make friends through Taekwondo here. Last year, all the other students were much younger than me and this year, most people only attend for 2 months to a semester, so it’s hard to build lasting friendships. Kicking things and shouting for practice is a great way to de-stress after a long day of classes!

Laura V. Viera Gonzalez, Jinju

Asking around for inexpensive pastimes, I was told about Korean calligraphy or ink drawing. It seemed very interesting and saw that the materials could be found at any office supply store at a good price, compared to other art disciplines. While on my way to the first day of class, I realized what kind of mess I got myself into. Alone and with beginner knowledge of the language, I signed up for a class completely in Korean. When I nervously entered the classroom the teacher gave me a very warm welcome. Everyone else did the same and no one was startled by the foreigner in class. It was a 2.5 hour class with a break in between where we ate gimbap, fruits, cake, drank tea, and mingled a bit. It was easy to follow the teacher and understand how everything worked. At the end of our first class, a very nice ajumma asked where I live and offered me a ride when realizing it was on her way home. I recommend calligraphy drawing for anyone with any level of Korean and wanting to experience real Korean culture. This class was offered at a regional university and had easy access by bus. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this class would be one of the best experiences while living in Korea; and it’s a hobby that you can take back home.

Nikki Brueggerman, Jeonju

I have always been interested in the arts of other countries, so for my time in South Korea, one of my focuses has been on hanji, traditional paper art. I live in Jeonju, which has a long history of hanji, so finding a teacher was relatively easy. She taught me how to make some amazing projects that range from fans to boxes. While learning hanji has been fun, the relationship I’ve built with my teacher has been one of a lifetime. Our conversations are in broken English, Korean, and even Japanese. She speaks about five languages and has so much drive for life. Learning from her has been one of the highlights of my Fulbright grant.

Tien Le, Andong

At 8:15 PM on a Thursday night, I’m on a bus to the Andong community center across from EMart. I come into the room most often to laughter and always to kind smiles. Harabojis, ahjummas, ahjussis, and a handful of other English foreign teachers sit on the ground in a big circle surrounded by buks and janggus. This is a highlight of my week. Through this pungmul group, I’ve gotten to befriend an older crowd of Koreans. We’ve built a community on teamwork, rhythm, and an appreciation of the traditional Korean music of pungmul. But it also doesn’t hurt that we sometimes eat snacks and drink after our sessions. When I first started to learn the jjangu, I would be only focused on hitting the right beats and my left pinky would tremble after playing through the whole set. Now, I crave the musical high of having my whole body reverberating in sync with the buks and kwaenggwkari. While much of my time here in Korea has been navigating through a language barrier, this extracurricular activity has been a concrete and joyful reminder that people communicate much more than through just words. Catch us at our next performance on June 10th at one of the senior homes in the local area.

June Featured ETA: Mike Roderick

June 6th, 2016

FKAR sat down with current first-year ETA Mike Roderick to catch up and talk about his experiences this grant year, including his plans for the future.

Mike originally hails from the13256055_1842741649286685_9111024469416038579_n northeast in a little state known as Rhode Island. He loved it there so much that he stayed in-state for college, attending University of Rhode Island, a school that may or may not have ripped off UNC when they decided their school colors would be baby blue and white and their mascot would be a ram. But Mike found a home there, as he double majored in political science and history as an undergrad and studied elementary education as a graduate before getting certified to teach first through sixth grade – guess where?! – in Rhode Island. Mike embodies what it means to be a Rhode Islander, or at least so he says, as this writer knows no other person from there to confirm or deny his claim. But it is surely a claim most from the state should want to embrace because, quite frankly, Mike is a great guy. Despite believing fool heartedly that soccer will catch on soon in America, Mike is a fun-loving, kind soul that makes everything he takes part in just that much more exciting and full of life.


Those are only a few of the reasons why the quaint, little city of Jinju was lucky to have Mike this year as an elementary school teacher. Mike has spent the last ten months teaching at Chunjun Elementary School (천전초등학교). And by all signs, it has been a great fit. Mike will go on and how about how much he loves his third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. Not in a bad way, but in a way that makes you wish that you and every other teacher in the world were as obviously made for the job. It goes without saying that Mike had the same adjustment period to South Korea that most all of us Fulbright ETAs face, but he quickly overcame such obstacles, sometimes just by weathering an awkward situation with a smile and his characteristic chuckle. Mike has shared his journey this year with all of us through Facebook photos that will have you wondering whether or not he always just has a photographer following him around to capture the sweetest of moments you could imagine. It is seriously unfair. What is also unfair is how great Mike’s homestay family is. Sure, they were a little apprehensive before our departure day because all they had was a picture of Mike with a buzz cut which led them to hypothesize he might be a “military tough guy”. Sure Mike was a “military brat” so to speak, having lived all around the world as he grew up, but they quickly discovered his congenial attitude, which all of us current ETAs have come to love, and it was a match for the ages.

Mike, his nine-year-old host-brother Do Hyun, and his host parents Sang Wook and Keumsoon all love their situation so much in fact that… they will all be renewing for another year! Mike is overjoyed for the opportunity of another year to continue to build off the relationships he has formed this year in Jinju. Though it will eventually mean tougher goodbyes, as students like Minju, a beautiful girl in his school that despite her developmental disabilities has made an immense effort to build a relationship with Mike by visiting him every day just to spend time with him, will be graduating and moving on to middle school this winter, Mike is confident and excited in his decision to stay. “One more year! One more year!” – and we could not be happier for him and wish him the best as this first year comes to an end and his second year is just beginning!

Beyond Politics: Connecting with the North Korean Community

April 17th, 2016

Photo caption: LiNK’s English Tutoring and Cultural Exchange Program

By: Matt Walters (Fulbright ETA 2015-16)

The subject of sensationalist buzz, alarming news reports, and controversial comedy films, North Korea receives a great deal of attention that often obscures the plights of ordinary North Koreans. Many within Fulbright Korea , however, have come to look beyond the face-value images they are inundated with in order to make a positive impact within this unique, often disadvantaged, community. From larger and older programs like Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) to newer ones, such as Running 4 Resettlement, plenty of opportunities for involvement exist. These are stories of how grantees have made North Korea an integral piece of their time in South Korea.

Current Fulbright Korea junior researcher Joyce Kim has been conducting her research on Liberty in North Korea. Founded in 2004, the nongovernmental organization has made great strides in rescuing and resettling North Korean refugees hiding in North Korea. As Kim explains, “LiNK’s vision is to work with the North Korean people to accelerate change to North Korea.” Kim further outlines four main initiatives of the program: rescue, resettlement, empowerment, and “changing the narrative.” LiNK has rescued and resettled over 400 refugees, but also provides education and career information to further assist the defectors. In addition, the program’s over 250 worldwide teams work to, as Kim describes it, “shift [media] focus from the high politics to North Korea’s changing society and the people’s potential as agents of change.”

In addition, several Fulbright Korea ETAs are involved in NKD, or the North Korean Defector program. As a part of this program, ETAs both mentor and teach English to North Korean students. Nikki Brueggeman, a current ETA in Jeonju, comments that even her short time participating in NKD has broadened her perspective.

“When we look at North Korea, I think we tend to…overlook the human aspects,” she says. “But working with [the students] has helped me see that they are children first. They love stickers, they love to color, and [love to] laugh. It has made me see North Koreans in a new light.”


Photo caption: At the starting line of the Kim Dae Jung Marathon

Three-year participant and regional coordinator Cait Cronin offers a similar viewpoint to Brueggeman. She notes the tremendous contrast between the attitudes of her high school students she regularly teaches—at one of Korea’s top four high schools—and the North Korean student she has mentored for the past three years.

“For [my high school students], understandably, class is often viewed as an obstacle [or] a memorizable soundbite; for my resettler student, however, class is only ever an opportunity,” she says.

She finds the growth and progress of her mentee particularly inspiring. Cronin adds, “When I visited Pyongyang in 2014, I saw students using computers as bookstands because there wasn’t enough power to access even the country’s domestic internet service—and that was the top 1% elite.” Such powerful images and anecdotes point to the continued importance of NKD as an essential program.

Cronin also leads another program called Running 4 Resettlement, or R4R. The program, while not officially affiliated with Fulbright, has seen great success since its conception two years ago by ETA Eric Horvath. The program draws inspiration from NKD, and aims to contribute donations to Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR). NKHR aims to allow North Korean refugees in China to exit the country safely. Those interested can sign up to run in the Kim Dae-Jung Peace Marathon on Sunday, June 12, all the while fundraising to support NKHR. Even those not interested in running may still donate to help the cause. Further details can be found at R4R’s website.

March Featured ETA: Arria Washington

March 1st, 2016

Arria_headshot_cropMarch in Korea heralds the coming of spring, with winter temperatures slowly melting away and flowers blooming throughout the peninsula. For Fulbright ETA’s, it also means the beginning of a new school year – which often proves to be a whole new teaching experience! To kick the new semester off to a great start, FKAR is delighted to feature second-year ETA Arria Washington.

If you’ve heard her name before, it’s probably because Arria is heavily involved with several of Fulbright’s most prominent initiatives in addition to being a rockstar teacher! She is a Managing Editor for the Fulbright Infusion magazine and has been a key contributor to the success of events such as the Black History Month Festival in Daegu.

Read on to learn more about her experience as an ETA!

FKAR: Arria, tell us a little bit about who you are and where you come from!

I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It’s a small eastern city known for its defunct steel mill or its universities, if it’s known at all. I love the mid-Atlantic region, and everything from New York to Virginia feels like home. After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English Literature, I spent a couple years in Pittsburgh doing technical writing and a few other jobs. I didn’t mind it, but there weren’t enough kids involved. After while, I started babysitting just for the fun of it.

Fall Featured ETA: Maeve Wall

December 14th, 2015

As the 2015-2016 ETA cohort nears the close of their first semester teaching in Korea, FKAR wanted to highlight one of Fulbright’s most inspiring teachers: Maeve Wall.  Exuding a signature aura of warmth, acceptance, and encouragement within and beyond the classroom walls, Maeve’s life and pedagogical philosophies are simply galvanizing.  She was kind enough to share some of her background and thoughts with FKAR in the following interview.

FKAR: Hey Maeve, tell us a little about yourself~

I’m from Columbus, Ohio and went to undergrad at Northwestern University. I studied English Literature, and was obsessed with it (Go Henry James!). I started teaching while in college through the Jumpstart Program for Young Children which works in high needs preschools.  Additionally, I had a few teaching internships including a stint in East Harlem at an Independent charter school, thanks to which I fell in love with New York. After school, I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn and became a Kindergarten and First Grade teacher through Teach For America. I was lucky enough to get my Masters Degree in Childhood Education at Fordham University during that time.

FKAR: What’s been one of your favorite memories this grant year?

I love figuring out how to work with kids who don’t speak your language. Those moments when students “get it” – amidst language barriers and diverse cultural backgrounds – are immensely rewarding. I think a favorite illustrative moment was working with my after school class and trying, shakily, to talk about gender roles. The students were asked to make a list of things boys can and can’t do before discussing where those ideas came from and which ones they might reconsider or question. When it was time for the girls to make a poster about what girls can do, (I was thinking along the lines of “build things” or “do math,”) one student asked me, “Can we just say girls can do everything?” Yes, WIN.

Elaine Townsend: Rockstar ETA

July 8th, 2015

Elaine Townsend, a proud UNC alumna with a degree in Middle Grades Education, recently finished two years as a Fulbright Korea ETA (’12-14).

A self-described shameless selfie expert, Townsend attributes her growth both professionally and personally to her Fulbright experience, which she says has opened new doors to the meaning of community, family, and culture.

My grant years were a wonderful whirlwind of experiences as I learned so much about myself, others, and my surrounding world. I also learned how to take shameless selfies, surf-balance on turbulent buses, and grub on makchang (막창) like it’s no one’s business.

Elaine spent her time as an ETA at the Attached Elementary School of Kyungpook National University in Daegu. Passionate about education and naturally good with kids, Elaine soon became a rockstar teacher with an equally impressive student entourage.

Ben Harris & Judith Foo: Open Windows

June 7th, 2015


First-year ETAs and creative writing aficionados Ben Harris and Judith Foo are coming together to start a new initiative aimed at showcasing the creativity of Korean students.

The project will take the form of a satellite student literary magazine in partnership with Fulbright Infusion, the long-standing literary magazine that highlights creative works from Fulbright grantees. The name of the magazine is Open Windows, intended to represent the freedom of creativity and opportunity, and it is currently accepting rolling submissions (through current ETA nominations) for its first online publications.

Ben and Judith say that they came up with the idea through a shared desire to see their students have more motivation and encouragement to write.

[This initiative] is important because our students are often told that their success is measured by their test scores. They don’t have many chances to write analytic or expository essays for classes, much less creative work. But so many of our students are extremely talented and deserve not only to have their work published, but to feel that their talent in this regard is attention-worthy, commendable.

The ETAs say that the magazine as an online publication is only the beginning. “One day, we’d love to see it become a print magazine. […] For right now we’re excited about what’s in the works, and we can’t wait to go live and start seeing what these students can do.”

Keep an eye out for the first issue of Open Windows Magazine, coming your way soon!