On Saturday, July 3rd, over 100 English Teaching Assistants met in Seoul at Yongsan Military Base’s Dragon Hill Lodge to have one, final dinner together as the Class of 2015-16. Of those who attended, 81 Fulbrighters will join the ranks of more than 1,400 Fulbright Korea Alumni currently living in the US and abroad. 38 ETAs have chosen to renew for their second and third years. As alumni of Fulbright Korea, many of us commemorate the gathering as an inherently bittersweet moment of the grant year. A longstanding milestone of the Fulbright experience, Final Dinner is a time of reflection and a time, for many, to say final goodbyes before parting ways.
Executive Director Jai Ok Shim commenced the event with an opening address, where she thanked the assembly of ETAs on the (near) completion of yet another grant year, while also extolling the “exceptional” work of Program Coordinator Amelea Kim and Executive Assistant Ben Harris. After Director Shim concluded her speech, Mark Canning, a Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Seoul, took the stage and gave advice to those who would soon be leaving the Fulbright program, informing them of several opportunities to take advantage of in Korea after the grant year, specifically scholarship programs like the Korean Government Scholarship Program, the Korea Foundation Fellowship, and graduate studies scholarships offered at Yonsei University and Seoul National University. Canning likened the “decisive” experience Fulbrighters gain to the life-changing experience of Kathleen Stevens, the Ambassador to South Korea from 2008-11, when she taught in South Korea as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Next was the customary final dinner slideshow, which was organized this year by first-year ETAs Allana Wooley and Robert Little. The video can be viewed here. After that were FKAF project presentations by Allana Wooley, who created a student newspaper, Robert Little, who cultivated a student-led community garden, Katrin Marquez, who made art with her students, and Mave Wall and Alessa Strelecki, who worked with elementary school students with disabilities. ETA performances included Abhik Pramanik and Matt Walters as the K-Pop idols “GD & T.O.P.,” Emily Shoemaker and Hillary Veitch’s “Foreign Teacher’s Daily Life: A Musical Rendition,” and “Beyonce on Fire,” a dance choreographed and performed by Kingsley Leung and Monica Mehta. Finally, as per tradition, David Stewart (2013-16) delivered his emotional Final Address, summarizing the year and offering some perspective for those to come.
Looking back, it is easy to see how engaged this year’s Fulbrighters have been in their communities. Not only did they support flagship programs, such as North Korean English Defectors tutoring, Youth Diplomacy Leadership Conference, and FKAF community and research grants, but they also spearheaded entirely new initiatives. Throughout the dinner, ETAs had the chance to appreciate this year’s many distinguishing moments and milestones:
- Fulbridge was officially launched. The organization strives to create a way for ETAs serving in different countries to meet up, share lesson plans, and create a more interconnected Fulbright experience.
- The Third Annual KBI Spring Conference Fundraiser raised over ₩2,000,000 for their Scholarship Fund. The proceeds are allocated to pay for the costs of attending
- A third year of Running 4 Resettlement successfully concluded.
- The Third Annual Black Culture and History Festival was held at the Seoul Global Center in Myeongdong on June 4th.
- Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations (FKAR) hosted 10 new alumni webinars, covering a range of topics, such as “Medical School Experience,” “Practicing Law,” and “Working in DC.”
After the dinner, many ETAs and alumni gathered in Hongdae, where they descended upon an after-party event organized by FKAR. The festivities lasted well into the night, with ETAs and researchers relishing one of their last nights as Fulbright Korea grantees, as well as the countless memories and friendships they forged over the year. On behalf of Fulbright Korea Alumni Relations, we wish those leaving South Korea the best of luck in their future endeavors. As Director Shim put it during Final Dinner: “You can take the ETA out of Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of the ETA.” Though the hackneyed phrase may be a bit worn out, the fundamental meaning it expresses holds true: no matter what we choose to do in the future, the moments we shared in this country will continue to shape us long after.