Ending the Year: Final Dinner at Dragon Hill Lodge

July 13th, 2016

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.

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The 2015-16 ETA Cohort

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.

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Robert Little presents his community garden FKAF project

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.

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Kingsley and Monica’s “Beyonce on Fire”

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:

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.


ETAs Run for Resettlement

July 13th, 2016

Year after year, Fulbright Korea grantees choose to commit their time and energy to interact with, and hopefully improve the lives of, North Korean defectors, whether that be through tutoring English, attending conferences, or volunteering for other local organizations. This past June 12th, a group of 17 ETAs came to Seoul to do just that—only this time, with their running shoes.

Grantees pose with NKHR volunteers and staff

Grantees pose with NKHR volunteers and staff

This was the Kim Dae Jung Peace Marathon, an event sponsored by the Kim Dae Jung Peace Center. The race itself was divided up into 5k, 10k, and half marathon segments, and it began in Yeoeui-do Hangang Park and ran along the length of the Han river. Kim Dae-jung, whom the marathon was eponymously named after, was president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003 and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for “his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea…and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” Along with inaugurating the accommodating “Sunshine Policy,” Kim arranged a summit meeting in 2000, the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration. One result of these diplomatic meetings was that family members in the North and South who had been separated during the Korean War were allowed to meet in Pyongyang and Seoul. This year’s Peace Marathon was held the weekend of the 16th year anniversary of this historic declaration.

Route of the race

Route of the race

For the ETAs who ran in the race, toeing the starting line marked the culmination of several months of fundraising for Running 4 Resettlement (R4R), an initiative that was started 2 years ago by former grantee Eric Horvath (ETA 2011-13), and currently headed by  Cait Cronin (ETA 2013-15). Cronin, who also volunteers with NKD tutoring, felt a particular calling to R4R out of her desire to do more for this marginalized group beyond teaching in the classroom. “After volunteering with North Korean Defectors, visiting North Korea personally, tutoring scientists from the DPRK, and learning more about the difficulty of resettling during my internship at NKHR, it was impossible to not be driven to action. While rewarding to see students flourish here in South Korea,” she says, “it is also difficult to think about their cohorts facing unimaginable horrors like human trafficking while still waiting for their own chance. R4R is about coming together to recognize both these connections and inequalities and directly provide basic, essential help to fellow humans in concrete ways.”

The direct, concrete assistance Cronin refers to comes in the form of a “Rescue Fund.” Via R4R, the entirety of the funds raised prior to the race were donated to the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Rights (NKHR), specifically to their Rescue Fund. Aside from raising awareness of the often-harrowing plights of North Korean refugees through social media campaigns and fundraising events, the Fund assists in the physical extraction of said refugees from China and surrounding countries. Considering the fact that many refugees, especially women, fall prey to labor and sex trafficking after they flee North Korea, the work that NKHR and similar organizations do is crucial.finish

According to NKHR, it costs about $2,500 to bring one refugee to safety in South Korea—all in all, R4R raised roughly $10,758, of which Cait Cronin personally raised a whopping $2,000. The total amount was raised by 224 unique donors, and it will be enough for the Rescue Fund to bring around 5 people to South Korea.

Events like R4R depend on the generosity and commitment of volunteers like Cronin, as well as like the NCHR staff and ETAs who fundraised and attended the race. When asked about what future ETAs and researchers can do regarding the North Korean refugee situation, she responded: “I would absolutely recommend becoming involved in the Fulbright NKD volunteer program if possible in your placement. It does require genuine dedication and commitment– teaching extra hours is never easy, especially one-on-one or to low-level learners. But the challenge is well worth the incredible opportunity to form real, meaningful connections and break down invisible barriers between people and cultures. For ETAs unable to participate in the NKD program, R4R is of course a great way to get involved; we always need help with recruitment and fundraising. Finally, I would suggest reaching out to the many great organizations already working with resettlers here in South Korea, including NKHR, LiNK, and the Daegu Hana Center.”


Final Dinner: After Party Event

June 24th, 2016
Have fun mixing and mingling as our final hurrah together! The After-Party will start at 10:30 PM on July 2nd at the Playground in Hongdae. The address is 서울특별시 마포구 와우산로 21길14. For more information, please check out the Facebook Event. We hope to see your beautiful and handsome faces there!
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