Traveling is one of the best ways to expand the mind and challenge oneself. For many Fulbright Korea grantees, they take advantage of their location in East Asia to adventure before returning home. This past month we spoke with three alumna who utilized their time after Fulbright to explore the world, and they share their advice for anyone thinking of packing their bags for their next adventure.
Breauna Oldham & Adrienne Winzer (ETA grantees, 2015) Taiwan/Hong Kong/Macau
Adrienne: Bre and I went to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau for three weeks after our first grant year. My favorite location was Taiwan. The sights were good, but it was the food that made the trip. I recommend visiting the night markets, especially Raohe – its where you can find food, souvenirs and other amazing things!
Breauna: Hong Kong is super hot so bring light clothing. There are so many areas to explores, so take advantage of the city bus tour buses. However, with Macau you only really need a day to see everything.”
Tess Zaretsky (ETA grantee, 2015)
Vietnam is a beautiful, lush country filled with friendly smiles and spice-filled food. Da Lat is a small mountainous town in Central Vietnam that provides the most idyllic environment to canyon through waterfalls and hike into the clouds. It is without doubt my favorite place I’ve ever been to. Head south to Saigon and if you’re daring enough, rent a motorcycle and eat street banh mi’s you can get by on 5-10 dollars a day and about 20 bucks per night in a hostel. It’s filled with backpackers so I suggest lightly planning and going with the flow based on the people you meet!
Koh Lanta, Thailand: though it takes a few hours to actually get to this island from the mainland, Koh Lanta is unbelievable and should definitely be the Thai beach that you/anyone chooses. The majority of the population is Muslim, so the food is much different than anywhere else in Thailand. The beaches are crystal clear and you can even stay at a super nice resort for maybe 25-30$ a night.
The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing Julia Bach (ETA ’06-’07), whogenerously offered to share her insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work she does today.
Julia Bach, ETA 2006
What is your occupation/future occupation? Since graduating college, I have been involved in the field of education-very much with a global focus. Since completing my year in Korea, I have taught in the US, gotten my masters in International Education Policy, worked with teachers in India and taught in Malawi. I am in the process of applying for further studies and know that living and working abroad will continue to be an important part of my life.
What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA? Accept invitations that people extend to you. Spending time with your co-teacher, host family and other colleagues is a wonderful opportunity to see and do things you would not have the chance to do otherwise.
How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work? In the last 10 years, I have spent more time living and working outside of the US than within it. I think my year in Korea solidified my passion for exploring the world. I was always interested in education, but my experience as an ETA, working within a school with a number of talented colleagues, taught me that there are so many different approaches to education and teacher learning.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA? It has been a while, but I remember two types of challenges. One was related to work: I was a novice teacher and desperately trying to maintain the attention and engagement of 35 six year olds. I had some wonderful suggestions and valuable input from the classroom teachers which helped enormously. It was also challenging to constantly play catch-up with conversations and situations. Because of my students, I did learn quite a bit of Korean, but fast paced adult conversations made my head spin.
What is your favorite memory from Korea? I had such fun with my colleagues. I remember chaperoning field trips and having my numbers read, enjoying dinners after work and making kimchi with colleagues. They graciously included me in the life of the school which made the experience very special. I also lived with a host family where the little girl was learning to read. I would strategically sit next to her mom when it was story time so I could also practice my reading.
What is your favorite quote? “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela
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.
Protesters gather in front of the former Provincial Office in downtown Gwangju
A Time for Protest Written by Cara Mooney, ETA 2015-17
The world is watching South Korea. I am watching too.
Politics has saturated into my daily life in South Korea. It comes in snippets of news I hear from taxi radios and public televisions. It filters through whispers in the gyomushil (교무실, faculty room). I see it in the impertinent remarks made by students attempting to be funny. It is carried over the beat of samulnori (Korean percussion music) down the street and the angry call to action from truck-mounted loudspeakers…
Since October, 2016, the country has been rocked by a political scandal over President Park Geun-hye’s connection to Choi Soon-sil, a woman without security clearance or any official position, who was found to be secretly giving counsel to the president and had access to presidential and government documents.
Already, it has come to light that Choi Soon-sil was found to have used her clout and influence to extort ₩77.4 billion (around $60 million) from Korean chaebols (large business conglomerates), embezzle money from two of her foundations, in addition to rigging the admissions process at Ewha Womans University so that her daughter would be accepted. There is a palpable sense of betrayal and rage against the government and President Park for colluding with her confidant, Choi Soon-sil.
Placards reading 당장 내려야 (Step down now!) and 박근혜 퇴진 (Park Geun-hye Resign!)
Following this news, protests rapidly sprung up across the country, with the largest protests being organized in Seoul. With approval ratings for the president below 4%, massive demonstrations have continued to grow in size for the sixth straight week in a row. The most recent protests on Saturday, December 3rd proved to be the largest rally in South Korea’s history with organizers estimating over 2 million people on the streets in Seoul alone. Police put that figure around 350,000, a still remarkable number. President Park Geun-hye said on November 30th that she would allow the National Assembly to determine her fateand only hours ago, the vote was passed to
The entire country has waited for this moment and shown it through their resilience, activism, and dedication that has culminated in immense demonstrations. By and large, these protests have remained very peaceful, captivating the international community. However, South Korea has not been known for their peaceful protests. Police and demonstrators have clashed in the past, with police turning powerful water cannons and pepper spray on demonstrators. In April of 2014 following the sinking of MV Sewol Ferry, South Korea’s worst maritime disaster, strings of protests erupted across the country, with many turning violent. In recent protests, many demonstrations have been led by the people who lost family from Sewol. They are calling not just for her resignation, but her arrest.
As a Fulbright Korea ETA, I feel like I am experiencing an incredible time in Korea’s history. I live in Gwangju, the heart of the political left of South Korea. Even before President Park was elected, the North and South Jeolla regions have always pulled left, favoring the Democratic Party, a social-liberal political party, in opposition to Park Geun-hye and the Saenuri Party.
I have seen the impressive protests in Seoul twice now, and although they dwarf the protests in any other city, I feel they lack a spirit that I find when I stand among the crowds in Gwangju. For those unfamiliar with this southern city, it was the place of the infamous and tragic May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980. Also known as the Gwangju Uprising, it was a mass protest against the then national military government. It was brutally repressed, with the official death toll at 170 (unofficial estimates range as high as 2,000), many of whom were college activists. While the Uprising was unsuccessful in bringing about democratic reform in South Korea, it is often considered a pivotal moment in the country’s struggle for democracy.
May 16th, 1980 – days before the Uprising – university students protested by lighting torches in the fountain of the square in front of the Provincial Office, known as the ‘Torchlight March’ (횃불데행진). In the moving video above, modern protestors emulate this by lighting torches in the same place as years before. [Image from the UNESCO Memory of the World Gwangju 5.18 Archives]
Once again, people fill the square in front of the former provincial office, where the Uprising and subsequent massacre occurred. Standing in the throngs of protestors, there is a pulsing energy; a tangible emotional charge. A strange feeling grips me as I stare across the sea of heads. All of the protests have retained an almost concert or festival-like atmosphere: street vendors dole out food and toys, and entire families–babies in tow–lay out picnic blankets along with their banners and flags. Protest organizers pass out candles, plastic placards, and seat cushions. Everything is a whirl of colors and candles numerous as stars. It is difficult to not get wrapped up in the chorus of “Park Guen-hye out!” or not to feel moved by the impassioned voices of orators and singers.
The main street in Gwangju filled with protesters.
Relatively new to democracy, the Korean people are still struggling to get the government they deserve. Their anger has been pointed towards improving the country, and through peaceful, cohesive demonstrations, they have come so close to realizing their goals. In a year of political controversy, strife, and increasing violence and discrimination, I feel like I have stood witness to something greater than a simple protest. It gives me hope that people everywhere can unify under our own banner for positive change.
FKAR had the opportunity to interview Heemang Kim, a grantee of the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program, for this winter’s newsletter. The Fulbright FLTA Program is designed to develop Americans’ knowledge of foreign cultures and languages by supporting teaching assistantships in over 30 languages at hundreds of U.S. institutions of higher education. The program offers educators from over 50 countries the opportunity to develop their professional skills and gain first-hand knowledge of the U.S., its culture and its people.
Heemang shows off her newly-acquired baking skills.
How did you choose to apply for the Fulbright Grant?
Before I went to graduate school, I was a teacher at a middle school in Mokpo and while there, I worked with Fulbright ETAs. I was inspired by their passion and hard work. Fulbright’s mission of cultural ambassadorship especially fascinated me and encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) program.
How long is your grant period in the U.S.?
9 months; I started my grant in August 2016 and will finish in May 2017.
Can you briefly tell us about your day-to-day life in the U.S.?
I’m working and studying at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. My first priority as an FLTA is teaching. This semester, I’m teaching an advanced Korean-language course to undergraduate students. Also, I hold Korean cooking and conversation class every month; so far, we have made 팥빙수 (patbingsu), 김밥 (kimbap), and 떡볶이 (tteokbokki). In addition, I volunteer at a primary school for community service once a week. I teach the children about basic Korean language and Korean culture.
What do you like the most/the least about the U.S?
The best thing about the U.S is variety. Various people from different backgrounds work and study together, and they respect each other. I’m learning from them every day.
What do you miss the most about Korea?
양념통닭 (Korean fried chicken) and talking to my close friends and family in my mother tongue.
What are the biggest differences you see between the university experience in the U.S. and in Korea?
I was really surprised when a student started eating a sandwich in the middle of my class (laughs). Besides that, campus life is very similar between Korea and the U.S.
What is the general perception of the U. S. in Korea? Are those perceptions correct? In your opinion, what are U.S.’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Before I came here, my knowledge about the U.S was mainly from Hollywood movies. I thought people in America would develop romantic relationship easily, but I was totally wrong about that. Everywhere, people live and love in a similar way because love is the most basic instinct of humanity.
In my opinion, the greatest strength of the U.S is tolerance for individual differences. I think that’s because the U.S earned its freedom from its history and experience, and not from books. Therefore, seeing American people acknowledge the differences among one another is very important to me. The greatest weakness is the public transportation… I miss the buses in Korea (laughs).
Heemang explores Chicago’s “Bean”
Can you describe a situation in which you felt it necessary to be an ambassador for your country? For example, has there been a situation in which you needed to clarify erroneous stereotypes or assumptions about Korean culture? How did you handle that situation?
In the midwest area of the U.S, where I’m staying, there is limited diversity compared to other areas in the U.S. So, sometimes I encounter various questions or preconceptions about Korea or Asian countries. Sadly, most of those questions are awkward or sometimes offensive. For example, “Are you Chinese?”, “Do Asians speak the same language?”, “Do you need Kimchi?” (when I was teaching calligraphy).
At first, when I had these types of experiences, I was confused because I wasn’t sure if it was offensive or if I was overreacting. Later, when I told the people that it was offensive, most people said they didn’t mean it in a bad way, which made me feel more confused. However, I talked to many friends, professors, coworkers, and students about this issue, and they shared advice with me. I tried to explain why I get offended by the questions, and we discussed how I should deal with these situations, and what I can do to promote my country as a cultural ambassador.
First, I realized that the reason I felt offended by those questions was that sometimes I interpreted them as, “My [mother] language is not sophisticated enough that I can understand other languages and cultures,” or “I don’t care about what you are doing now. I just want to make sure I know something about your country.”
Second, I could deal with these issues with a clearer reaction and without feeling too emotional. For example, I can notify them if I felt offended by it, first. Then, I can explain how it could be interpreted by other people. Finally, as a cultural ambassador, I can give a better explanation of my culture. The most difficult thing about this is not being emotional. One of the most important things we all should remember is, no one culture is better than another, but there are varieties of cultures, and we should appreciate them as they are. I hope that I can do my job as a cultural ambassador successfully, and that I can contribute making a better world where people understand each other.
Has your experience here helped you gain an ability to communicate effectively within and among diverse cultural groups?
Oh, definitely. My experience as an FLTA has changed all my prejudice against different cultures. And I’m still learning a lot. I used to take a long time to become friends with new people because I felt insecure with strangers, and I was afraid of being rejected. However, my FLTA colleagues and the many nice people here taught me that there are no barriers to being friends, and if you open your heart to them, they will open theirs to you, and every culture deserves to be respected. I’m really grateful for my FLTA friends because they are very patient with me and kind to me. Rather than “Foreign”, the ‘F’ of FLTA means “Family” to me.
Finally, what is your favorite English slang word/phrase you’ve learned since arriving in the U.S.?
The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing three alumni with differing interests and career paths post Fulbright. Angela Eikenberry (ETA 1994-95), Ammy Yuan (ETA 2012-13), and Sammi Marcoux (ETA 2013-16) generously offered to share their insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.
Angela Eikenberry, ETA 1994-95
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska Year of grant: 1994-1995 Current position/location: Professor, University of Nebraska at Omaha Fulbright placement: Ulsan
Looking back, what is your most memorable moment in Fulbright Korea? One of my most memorable moments was coming home to my host family in Ulsan and finding squid drying on the clothesline—not something you see very often in Nebraska!
How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work? I think it reinforced my interest in pursuing a master’s degree and doing something in public service—I eventually did a Master’s in Public Administration with a focus on nonprofit management and then went on to get my PhD and now I’m a full professor. I also recently completed a Fulbright in the UK, studying giving collaboratives. None of that would have likely happened without my Fulbright ETA experience.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA? Living in another country and culture, far away from home was sometimes lonely. I’m not sure I always coped very well, but I did learn a lot about myself, which stays with me still.
What words of advice do you have for current ETAs in South Korea? Take it easy with the soju! Seriously, exercise. I joined a local Hash House Harriers, which was one way I stayed active and kept the loneliness at bay.
Favorite quote to live by? “When they go low, we go high.” ~ Michelle Obama
“If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it.” ~ Billy Bragg
Ammy Yuan, ETA 2012-13
What is your current occupation? What do you see yourself doing in the future? Management Consultant for A.T. Kearny Global Management Consulting Firm in San Francisco. Ultimately, I want to work for an organization that fights for victims of human trafficking.
What is your biggest piece of advice for current ETAs? Roll with the punches. Life never goes as planned, and that’s actually a good thing as it keeps things interesting. Whether it’s your teaching lessons or your weekend plans, learn to adapt in any situation and see the glass as half full.
How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work? Being an ETA has really permeated a lot of aspects of my life (case in point, I live with Fulbrighters and still travel with Fulbrighters to this day)…The skills I’ve accumulated from teaching in Korea have been useful in that I can speak confidently in front of groups, tailor my presentations depending on my audience, work with those from different cultures, etc…It has definitely made me more aware of the importance of education, foreign affairs, and the necessity of being open-minded.
What is the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA? The biggest challenge I faced was learning how to communicate while taking into account all the different cultural nuances. Miscommunication and unintended offenses often led to unnecessary stressful situations. For example, within the first week of placement at my school, I had to say no to my Principal when he asked if I could teach additional weekly Saturday and Sunday classes. Unfortunately, I was not more careful about my words and it led to the Principal being offended, which led to me having to do damage control.
What is your favorite memory from Korea? This is a tough question as I have so many great memories. I may have to name a few: Busan Film Festival with a bunch of the Fulbrighters; going on a weekend field trip with my students to Buyeo, Everland, and JobWorld; going on a Membership Training with my homestay family over Chuseok; and going off-trailing hiking with the 아저씨s from my school.
Is there any funny anecdote you would like to share? During my year, we created the first Fulbright KPop group as a joke. A group of Fulbrighters wanted to check out the famous salt farms and mudflats on Jeungdo Island… We were walking around exploring when we came across a torn down, broken umbrella on the beach and someone mentioned how it looked like it could be a photo shoot spot for a kpop group. Long story short, Dream Makers, aka DM for short, was born. Whenever we took pictures that weekend, we turned it into a photo shoot and it became a lasting inside joke for all involved. I still laugh when I look at this picture:
Sammi Marcoux, ETA 2013-16
Hometown: Denver, CO Years of grant: 2013-2016 Current position/location: Visiting Professor at Jungwon University, Goesan, South Korea Fulbright placement: Daejeon Saint Mary’s Girls High School (‘13- ‘14) and Jungwon University (‘14-‘16)
What is your most memorable moment in Fulbright Korea? The first time Director Shim addressed my cohort. She told us, “If you love your students, everything else will fall into place.” And that is exactly what I did for my three years in Fulbright. I started every lesson with the intent of loving, encouraging, and connecting with my students. My students always knew that I was there for them when they needed me. My students always knew I loved them.
How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work? I have become much more interested in English as a second/foreign language education and Korean as a foreign language education. My next goal is looking more closely at Korean studies and language education pedagogies, specifically in the realm of how Korea is contributing to foreign language education.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA? I feel as though my biggest challenge as an ETA was adjusting to the professional work setting. It took a while for me to leave student mode, and switch to a professional mode that centered on how I can help and build others up around me.
What words of advice do you have for current ETAs in South Korea? 1. Learn to connect while you are here or better hone your connection skills if you already have a strong base. Connect in love, devoid of harsh judgment.
2. Think about when you need to speak up and when you need to listen more.
Favorite quote to live by? “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~Epictetus
Students across the Jeollanam-do region express their opinions over a variety of topics.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the American presidential election, forty Koreans specially selected from the provinces of Jeollabuk-do and Jeollanam-do huddled around tables at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Gwangju and debated what the new administration might mean for their country.
For 60 tense minutes, they drafted a speech that sought to address how Trump’s threat to decrease American military aid might complicate already dicey diplomatic problems on the peninsula, foremost being how to counter North Korea missile testing without disrupting trade relationships with an increasingly assertive China.
It was easy to forget that these events unfolded not in a situation room but a library, with the interlocutors not diplomats but high school students.
You’d even be forgiven for forgetting that the students delivering speeches at the Youth Diplomacy and Activism Conference, or YDAC, were speaking knowledgeably about international diplomacy in what for them was a foreign language.
Participants pose with Consular Officer Morton Park after the competition.
Ten high schools from across the Jeolla region sent students to the fall 2016 YDAC, a one-day event for the students of Fulbright ETAs to develop their English skills by debating issues affecting Korean society with their peers. ETA Anthony Cho started the YDAC program in 2011, and hundreds of students across Korea have participated in YDAC events in the years since.
The event format closely resembles Model United Nations. About a month before the Fall 2016 conference, Fulbright ETAs at participating high schools selected teams of four first and second year students, and those teams then picked a topic, researched, and wrote speeches under their ETA’s guidance.
On the day of the event, the students and teachers traveled from their respective schools and convened at the Gwangju American Corner, a resource room connected with the U.S. Embassy in Korea. The U.S. Embassy typically sponsors the conference, but in cases where funding has been unavailable, ETAs or their schools have covered the costs for lunch and transportation.
Once at the American Corner, students took turns presenting on topics ranging from Korean education policy to presidential impeachment, from artificial intelligence to disputes over international and territorial waters. After each presentation, the students had time to ask questions and challenge the presenters on their arguments.
The morning session finished with a presentation by Consular Officer Morton Park, who traveled from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to talk to students about his job and what diplomacy looks like in practice.
After eating lunch together at a nearby restaurant, students from different schools divided into teams to tackle a diplomatic “mock crisis” — something of a misnomer this year since the Trump-focused scenario adhered more closely to actual events than past crises.
FKAR polled current ETA grantees asking them, “What Korean celebrity would you most like to meet?’ The final results of our survey are as followed: Majority of the responders at 72% were clamoring at a chance to meet mega idol group Big Bang, with heartthrob Song Joong Ki at 14% coming in second.
The rest of the responses were made up of a wide ranging list of Korean celebrities:
Actors: Jo In Sung, Park Bo Gum Film Director: Park Chan Wook Poet: Ko Un K-Pop Stars: BTS, EXO, Twice, 2NE1, SHINee, IU, Dean, Jay Park, Zico, Eric Nam, Roy Kim Other: Choi Soon Sil– confidant of impeached President Park Geun Hye
Here are what current grantees had to say about their chance encounters:
“I remember once I was in Sinchon and Suzy was there shooting a Sprite commercial. There were crowds flocked around to see her and everyone was freaking the freak out, including my friends. This was back when she was in MissA, and there were people nearly crying just to catch a glimpse of her. I remember thinking it was the weirdest and funniest thing to see.” –Maddie Hawk, ETA 2016-17
“I went to the final Jeju United FC game at the World Cup stadium in Seogwipo this year. Not only were tickets free, but they promised a live performance by Ailee. After the game, people rushed out of the stadium, and I was confused because I was awaiting Ailee’s performance. Turns out she was outside by a park instead! I had to push my way through a sea of fanboys to see her. When I finally did, she waved at me! I fangirled so hard the rest of the day.” – Anonymous
Song Joong Ki, a famous Korean actor
“I have never met a Korean celebrity, but my host brother met Mina from Girls Day at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They kissed. Just kidding about the kiss- but talk about romantic, am I right?” –Cam Rylander, ETA 2016-17
“I was walking around Hongdae one afternoon when suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a huge crowd and my friend and I were only a few feet from a variety TV show filming! There were two celebrities walking down a street of Hongdae talking while some cameras followed them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out who the two guys were, and the people around us also didn’t know (but we’re all taking pictures of them anyway)..” –Lisa Chang, ETA 2016-17
“I saw 2ne1 super up close at an Ikigayo rehearsal and got so excited I hit my friend in the head…” –Zack Horne, ETA 2016-17
“I unexpectedly ran into a Jay Park fan signing so I got to see him but you had to have a ticket to actually get his signature….ㅠ” –Anonymous
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Can you provide a small bio that outlines your hometown, education background, and a fun fact?
I grew up in Hamilton, Michigan, a rural town on the west side of the state. I earned my BA in English, Spanish and French from Hope College and my MA in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Fun fact: I once met G-Dragon’s dad.
Can you describe your research? How are you usingpersonal narratives as a method of empowerment? My research focuses on Korean transnational adoptees and their experiences with birth family search and reunion. The birth family search process is quite difficult and most people aren’t able to find their birth families; a recent article in the Korea Herald stated that from 2012-2015, only 14.7% of the nearly 5,000 adoptees who searched during those three years were able to reunite with their birth families, and that’s one of the highest statistics I’ve read regarding birth family search success rates. I’m interested in seeing if I can pinpoint anything about the birth family search process that might shed light on ways to improve post-adoption services and increase adoptees’ chances of finding their birth families. As a literature scholar, I’m also interested in discourse analysis and the ways adoptees utilize their personal narratives as acts of personal empowerment and/or political resistance. Adoption discourse has long been constructed and controlled by adoption agencies and adoptive parents, with the voices of adoptees and birth families kept in silence. It’s pretty fascinating to analyze the ways that adoption agencies and adoptive parents use language to perpetuate these kinds of power structures — and the ways that adoptees use language to push back.
What inspired you to choose this research? I’m a Korean-American adoptee myself, so I obviously feel personally invested in anything having to do with adoption issues. There’s not much research out there regarding birth family search and reunion, particularly the latter. The media tends to display a very one-dimensional image of birth family reunion — a sentimental moment in which the long-lost birth mother and adoptee tearfully embrace, and after that, they live happily ever after. However, it’s much more complicated than that due to the language and cultural barriers that often stand between transnational adoptees and birth families, and the story doesn’t end with that single moment of reunion. The adoptee and family have to continue navigating their relationships — with each other, with the rest of their family members — and all the trauma they’ve suffered from their separation doesn’t magically disappear just because they’ve reunited. No one really talks about how hard and complicated all of that can be, which is why I hope to shed some light in adoptees’ own words through their personal narratives.
This picture is from my last few days as an ETA. My students always worked so hard and showed me so much love — I’m so lucky to have had the chance to spend two years with them!” –Katelyn Hemmeke
How does it feel returning to Korea after being an ETA? Can you describe a little about your experience as an ETA? I love being back in Korea. This isn’t my first time back since my ETA days — I came back once for my students’ graduation and another time to study Korean through the CLS Program — but it’s wonderful to be back for a longer period of time. It’s fun to revisit some of my favorite places, but it’s also mind-boggling to see how quickly things keep changing here.
I also loved being an ETA and have so many great memories from those two years. It was so fulfilling to work with fellow ETAs on projects like Infusion, YDAC, and FEIP. And teaching my Korean students is one of the most rewarding things I’ll ever do. I still keep in touch with a lot of them, and they continue to inspire me with their utter brilliance, unfailing work ethic, and genuine warmth.
What do you hope to do with this research? What are some of your future goals? The big dream is to publish a book. I may go on for a Ph.D someday, but for now I think I’d like to work in editing or publishing, as well as continue to write essays and creative nonfiction.
What do you do in your spare time in Korea? I’m taking intensive Korean language classes at Ewha, so that occupies a lot of my time. I love exploring Korea — there’s so much to do and see just in Seoul, but intercity travel is one of my favorite aspects of living in Korea because it’s so easy and cheap. I also try to stay pretty active among the adoptee organizations by going to their events and volunteering whenever opportunities arise. Most of the time, though, you can find me in a café somewhere reading, writing, or studying.
Do you have any advice for ETAs or those interested in conducting research in Korea? Keep your ear to the ground for events and lectures happening around the city that are relevant to your research interests. Even events that aren’t directly related to your research interests are still worth attending, because you never know who you might meet there. Happy to talk to anyone interested in contacting me!
What’s your favorite part about living in Seoul? There’s always something going on — maybe too much! There’s never enough time to attend all of the cool events happening here.
Katelyn Hemmeke is a current Junior Researcher with Fulbright Korea and also earned a grant as a Fulbright Korea ETA between 2012-2014.