Alumni Spotlight: Where Are They Now?

July 8th, 2016

The FKAR team had the privilege of interviewing 7 former ETAs working in a variety of fields, including law, academia, writing, marketing, psychology, education policy, and business. Dr. Aaron Pooley, Ben West, Christina Brittain Hatinoglu, Kenzie Grubitz Simpson, and Fulbright sweethearts, Evan Ho and Dr. Jennifer Tang generously offered to share their insights on the Fulbright experience and its impact on the work they do today.

Dr. Aaron Pooley, ETA 2009

 

What is your current occupation?
I currently serve as an assisting professor in the department of English language and literature at Soonchunhyang University (SCHU) in Asan, Korea. After completing my masters degree in applied linguistics from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), I started at SCHU and began preparing my PhD program in linguistics. Both USQ and SCHU have been supportive towards my study and research goals. I currently lecture on English phonetics and phonology, children’s literature and communicative competence.aaron

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Keep a varied network of friends and acquaintances. It’s easy to form relationships within the ETA program and spend time with other ETAs—especially if they are placed in the same city as you. It’s also easy to get locked into free-time activities in or nearby your placement city. But the ETA grant year is too short to be limited by either. Find out if you have alumni from your home university living in Korea, volunteer outside your placement city, join a language exchange. The options are out there to be discovered.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
Becoming an ETA set a chain of events in motion that—without Fulbright—might never have happened. As an ETA in Korea, my life and my studies are situated in the Asia-Pacific region and influence the research I explore and the career path that lies ahead of me. Korea, as a researcher, is an exciting place to be. In terms of language policies, intercultural communication—the forces of globalization are at work and with those forces enter greater mobility for visitors coming to Korea for the first time and some of the world’s newest mobile devices, applications, and interactive media.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Leaving orientation and entering a teaching environment coupled with a homestay… those early days brought with them much unknown. I think finding my role at the school and in the homestay—this was the biggest challenge as an ETA.

What is your favorite Korean food?

I change my mind regularly on which Korean food I enjoy most—but my current favorite is a spicy fish porridge, served either with homemade dumplings or ramen. Every Sunday I hit the golf range for a couple hours then head over to a restaurant famous for this dish in Seonga, on the outskirts of Cheonan. Fish porridge…it’s spicy, strange and wonderful.

What is your current state of mind?

It’s spring in Korea—one of the country’s most beautiful seasons. Though there’s plenty of work to be done, it’s important to enjoy the sunshine and the rain—see the green and low lying clouds over the mountains. All is good.

 

Ben West, ETA 2012

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What is your current occupation?
Currently, I am a quantitative research analyst at the American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations. I work on several large-scale evaluations of policies and programs related to educator evaluation and performance. This September, I will return to Harvard University, where I’ll pursue a Ph.D. in Education Program and Policy Evaluation. 

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
I would encourage current ETA’s to really begin to take stock of their skills, interests, and values to begin planning the career that they would like to have before applying to various graduate programs. A roadmap for your future can help you to avoid unwise investments of your time and resources, and lead to a greater sense of meaning in your work.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
I applied to the program to learn more about factors that contributed to the Korean education system’s success. I gained insight into the emphasis placed on education at a societal level, but also learned about some of the nuances that many foreigners are not aware of, including major educational inequities (e.g. differential access to high-quality tutoring) and the adverse effects of the all-work, no-play mentality on children (e.g. Korean 11- to 15-year-olds report the greater amounts of stress than their peers in other developed countries, and suicide is a leading cause of death among teens). Learning about these nuances has helped me to think more carefully about Korea’s education system and what the U.S. can learn from it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
I joined the Fulbright program after completing a two-year commitment with Teach for America in New York City. Initially, I found it rather difficult to transition from living independently to living with nearly 100 ETA’s and then a host family, but in time, I began to appreciate the incredible relationships that the experience allowed me to build.

 What is your favorite Korean food? What are your thoughts on kimchi?
My favorite Korean food is 삼겹살, though 김치 comes in a close second.

Who are your heroes in real life?
U.S. President Barack Obama, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, and of course, Mrs. Jai Ok Shim, who I admire for her dedication, commitment, and vision for the Fulbright program in Korea. A number of friends who completed Fulbright grants in other countries have heard about our program’s excellence, and have even referred to it as the “gold standard.” I think that we all have Mrs. Shim to thank for that!

 

Christina Brittain Hatinoglu, ETA 2006

What is your current occupation?
I am a capital markets associate in the London office of Latham & Watkins LLP.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
Stay in touch with your host family after you leave the program.  I lost touch with mine for several years and was only able to reconnect with my wonderful homestay sister after enlisting the help of former students online.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
After living in Korea, I knew that I wanted to live and work in Asia. I eventually ended up in Europe, but being an ETA probably contributed to my being open to moving to new international settings. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
I found it very hard to come up with new and interesting lesson plans every week. I relied heavily on the shared ETA lesson bank.

What is your favorite Korean food? What are your thoughts on kimchi?
My favorite Korean food varies day to day, but 낙지볶음 (spicy octopus) is always good.  I grew up eating kimchi and feel like it makes almost any meal better. 

Who are your heroes in real life?
One of my college professors is an incredible First Amendment lawyer with a distinguished career. More importantly he is a very generous parent, friend, and mentor.

 

Kenzie Grubitz Simpson, ETA 2004

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What is your current occupation?
I work for the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, mainly as a grant writer and language revitalization consultant. I’m also a mother.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
I’ll pass along the best advice I received while I was an ETA: love your students. They will show you everything you need to know.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
It helped me see how beautiful life is when you’re open to other cultures. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
Classroom management was really hard! Luckily, my co-teachers were very supportive. 

What is your favorite Korean food? What are your thoughts on kimchi?
My favorites are 죽 and 김밥, any kind. I love kimchi. I’ve got my husband hooked on 김치붂음밥, and if I could go back and eat more of my host mom’s 김치찌개, I’d be in heaven.

 

Lauren Hong, ETA 2007

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What is your current occupation?
President/Owner of Out & About Communications (outandaboutcommunications.com), a full-service marketing firm in San Diego, CA.

What is your biggest piece of advice for a current ETA?
My advice for a current ETA is to really embrace the experience. It can feel like a jump in the deep end when you find yourself living in another country. However, there is a lot of strength in feeling uncomfortable, challenging yourself, and pushing beyond limits. Embrace it.

How did your experience as an ETA impact your life’s work?
It’s difficult for me to imagine what my life would be like without my ETA experience. The experience launched me into my career, introduced me to close friends, and gave me a more global outlook.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as an ETA?
The most difficult challenge for me was leaving one extreme environment and transitioning into another totally different environment. When I first arrived in Korea, it was very unfamiliar. I felt like a kid again. I had to relearn language, cultural practices, and social norms. Not to mention, I had my patience challenged daily. These uncomfortable moments helped me to grow personally and professionally.

What is your favorite Korean food? What are your thoughts on kimchi?
Kimchi-chigae is my favorite. I love kimchi. I especially love kimchi on the BBQ grill. Yum!

What is your current state of mind?
Growing my marketing company, providing amazing work and personalized service to our clients, and spending time with my husband, Haney.

 

Evan Ho and Dr. Jennifer Tang, ETA Sweethearts 2005

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What are your current occupations?
Evan: Wealth Management Advisor, TIAA, Ann Arbor, MI 

Jennifer: Licensed psychologist at Cypress Counseling Center, Ann Arbor, MI

What are your biggest pieces of advice for current ETAs?
Evan: Enjoy every minute, it goes by so quickly. Do as many things as you can, build friendships with as many people as you can, and put yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Jennifer: Evan summed it up well. Make friends with the locals and get to know their lived experiences. Korean students often seem enamored with the American culture and English language, so it can be easy to talk with them about that. However, it is even more enriching to also learn from them about their experiences. Also make time to travel and explore both urban and rural parts of the country. Oh, and stock up on all the cute stationery too 😉

How did your experiences as an ETA impact your life’s work?
E: As a Financial Adviser, teaching/presenting financial concepts and learning how to understand and connect with people of different backgrounds were things that were developed while being a ETA in Gwangju. 

J: As a psychologist, when working with my clients, I try to understand how their different experiences and upbringings have shaped their identity, their values, and how they see and interpret the world. My experience as an ETA has helped me to learn more about other worldviews and lived experiences that can shape someone’s personality and mindset.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as ETAs?
E: Being away from home for a year and away from your normal routine and friends was challenging. It was a balance of making the most of the time in Korea and knowing that you’d have ties back at home and transitioning back. 

J: It was an interesting experience for me being Chinese living in Korea, so phenotypically I looked like a native, but it was hard for the natives to cognitively grasp when I would tell them in Korean that I was American, my parents are Chinese. One good thing that came from that though is that I learned more Korean!

What are your favorite Korean foods? What are your thoughts on kimchi?
E: Yukgaejang. I love kimchi! We even recently tried making some ourselves. 

J: I love all things kalbi. Actually some of the things I miss most from Korea, though, were the different seasonal fruit, especially their super sweet strawberries.  

 What do you consider your greatest achievement?
J: Getting my PhD and becoming licensed as a psychologist has been quite the journey! It was definitely a marathon, but it is so great to finally get to practice what I’ve been training for the past several years! It’s hard to pick just one “greatest” accomplishment though. Having our baby has been an amazing and humbling experience too. Also traveling to over 30 countries together with Evan has been priceless.

What is your current state of mind?
E: Because of my experience abroad with Fulbright Korea, I have a love for different cultures and traveling. I’m hoping as a new father, I’m able to teach this appreciation to our daughter, Genevieve.