#SaveFulbright on HuffPost | Jeju Conference Time!

The movement to #SaveFulbright from the proposed $30 million budget cut is spreading across the world!

We’ve been sharing the story of Fulbright everywhere and the media is starting to take notice. In the past few days, there have been pieces published in Slate, the New Republic, Inside Higher Ed, and the Washington Post. Today, the Huffington Post published my piece on the cuts.

You can read it here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rice/savefulbright-america-can_b_5072546.html

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading off to Jeju island for Fulbright Korea’s spring conference. Beyond being a chance to reconnect with my fellow ETAs and a break from my new students, it’s also a time to find real inspiration. ETAs are involved in cultural diplomacy of all kinds, from producing a Black History Month event in Daegu to tutoring North Korean defectors across the country–it’s amazing what many have begun during their relatively short time here. I’m also excited to co-present on job skills and live post-Fulbright with two other ETAs. There’s a lot to translate and draw out from this experience, even (or especially) if you one doesn’t plan to go into a teaching career.

Conference is a reminder of the remarkably talented and driven community we have in the Fulbright Korea family. That, and heading to an island is always nice!

The Blessing of Korea’s Busses

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Ready for Seoul!

I have spent the majority of my life with the worst traffic in America.

Growing up in the Washington, DC area, I remember turning on NBC4 news each morning and hearing about the slow commute on the beltway and in the city itself. Today, I do everything I can to avoid driving in the city, especially during rush hour. Unfortunately, Washington does not make that easy with the notoriously unreliable-but-good-looking-to-tourists Metro system that charges insane rates for extremely poor and slow service.

Naturally, after wanting a change from DC, I moved to a place with even worse traffic: Los Angeles. I still don’t understand how the 10-something lane highways always manage to be packed no matter time of day or night. Public transit in Los Angeles is in its infantile stages, with an ineffective subway system, an expensive and somewhat intimidating commuter rail (Yes, Mr. Police Officer, here’s my ticket, now please don’t shoot me!), and an unclear bus system.

The world once envied the United States for its cross-country rail, effective inter-state highways, and reputable air transit industry. Today, it’s all pretty much the worst. While I love Amtrak, Congress’ fear to subsidize it fully leads to ridiculously high prices compared to the rest of the world. The cheap busses between NYC and DC are one of the better options; however, numerous sketchy operators with questionable safety records sully their appeal. The highway system is still impressive, but the planners didn’t design for the number of cars they must now carry. Air transit quality is dropping rapidly–I was a frequent flier throughout college and have come to expect misery when flying.

That brings me to South Korea. As my time here whittles away, I find myself often reflecting on what it is going to be like to go back to America and how the reverse-culture shock will affect me. Sure, I’ll miss the no-tipping policy, incredible cuisine, and my effervescent students. But, one thing that will leave a void, and I’m almost remiss to say this, is the Korean intercity and express bus system.

Am I really going to wax poetic about a bus? Yup.

Public transportation in Korea is great. City busses can be a bit jarring, but they are frequent and fast.  The Seoul subway system is a modern marvel in terms of getting around safely, quickly, and on the cheap. However, the best parts of Korea’s public transit system are the intercity and express busses.

In Korea, there is no stigma towards taking a bus; everybody rides them. There aren’t horror stories like there are about Greyhound in the USA. Busses here are cheap, frequent, and easy to use. My town is about 1-½ hours from Seoul and there are busses on the hour everyday. Not only that, but the busses are inexpensive, about $7.50 one-way to Seoul. You get all of the service too, as the busses leave on the dot, seats are assigned so there’s no scramble, and there’s plenty of luggage room.

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English makes it easy

Even for foreigners, using the bus is easy. You show up at the local bus terminal, go to the window, ask for a bus to X location at Y time, and pay. The end. No figuring out specific bus companies, as long as you can mumble the name of your destination and date, you’re in the clear. Not only that, but the tickets themselves have English to tell you the platform, time, and seat number. If Korea became a more popular tourist destination in Asia, travelers would consider it one of the easiest countries to get around.

Comparing Korea and the USA in terms of an intercity bus system is a little bit unfair–Korea is a much smaller country. The longest bus in Korea would probably be about 7 hours, while in the U.S. busses could take days to travel cross-country. Still, there’s a lot we can learn from Korea to make busses a more attractive option to Americans, which could ultimately have a positive effect on the environment and overall congestion on our roads. In Korea, there are designated bus lanes, so that even during the busiest traffic busses stay on schedule. The rest stops are palaces to motorists. Most cities have both express and inter-city bus terminals, the former serving all of the major routes non-stop, the latter hitting all of the smaller towns.

Pundits often suggest, as I have, that America should step up in creating a world-class rail system; perhaps encouraging public transportation through busses would be a good place to start. For now, I’m going to continue to enjoy exploring Korea with inexpensive fares and in relative comfort!

Winter Fulbright Korea Infusion Published!

Volume 7, Issue 1

Volume 7, Issue 1

While the Fulbright Korea ETA Orientation back in July was certainly hectic and stressful, one of the opportunities that the Orientation team offered new ETAs was the chance to work on the Fulbright Korea Infusion. Infusion, the Korean-American Educational Commission’s (Fulbright Commission in Korea) official publication, is a collaborative magazine of literature, analysis, and art from current and past Fulbright grantees. It’s something unique to Korea’s Fulbright program, as a staff of dedicated ETAs works to cull through and produce a quality publication highlighting the experiences of grantees. It’s also been one of my primary extracurricular activities this year, as I have been privileged to serve as a staff editor for the magazine.

While the magazine is definitely not representative of everyone in Fulbright, it does paint a picture in words and images of what life is like for some grantees during their time here. From inspired poems to beautiful photographs, Infusion documents just a little bit about life through the lens of a grantee here. As a staff editor, I was extremely pleased that one of the pieces that I helped edit (“The Korea Question”) made the Management’s final cut and into the magazine.

While others and I blog frequently about our time on Fulbright, I definitely recommend checking out the Infusion for a curated selection of experiences and reflections, as they are well worth your time. Not to mention, there’s an awesome city guide for those of you that might visit or already be in Korea.

The Infusion publishes in print two times each year. You can check out the latest issue of the Infusion here: http://infusion.fulbright.or.kr. Also, be sure to like the Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/FulbrightKoreaInfusion. Infusion posts exclusive web-content, photos from current ETAs, and selections from across the Internet throughout the week on the page.

Enjoy reading!

P.S. Have you signed the #SaveFulbright petition yet? Remember, $30 million in funding for the Fulbright Program is on the line. Please, sign now: www.SaveFulbright.org and tell your friends using the #SaveFulbright hashtag. Congressional deliberations start April 4th!

 

#SaveFulbright: America, don’t cut Fulbright!

UPDATE: There is now a movement and petition to #SaveFulbright. Visit SaveFulbright.org now to do your part! Thank you!

For some of the Korean students I teach, I am the first American they have ever met in person, let alone interacted with on a regular basis. From  convincing my students that some Americans indeed do like spicy food to larger discussions about diversity and equality, I’ve been able to engage in ways that offer a critical and complex view of the world around us. I’ve learned a lot about Korea and Korean culture and have been able to share my knowledge with friends, family, and acquaintances back in the USA thanks to Fulbright.

The Fulbright Program is one of the best opportunities that America has to improve its relationship with the rest of the world. Instead of being bogged down in high-level diplomatic talks and lofty statements by politicians, Fulbrighters work to make a direct person-to-person impact. While there are other educational exchange programs that exist, Fulbright’s rich history and success has left an important mark with people around the world.

That’s why I want to talk to you about the recent budget proposal by the Obama administration to cut the Fulbright Program by $30 million.

The Fulbright Program’s current budget is $235 million per year. The proposed cuts represent 13% of the budget for the program. Worse, the administration has provided no plan for how the cuts would be implemented and which countries that they would impact.

We can’t afford to cut the Fulbright Program. No other program has such an established worldwide reputation; it is the gold standard in international educational exchange. It’s not just for Americans; the Fulbright program offers thousands of people from foreign countries the chance to teach and research in the United States each year.

Please, write Congress now and tell them that the impact of Fulbrighters around the world. Tell Congress that a $30 million cut is not acceptable.

Over 300,000 people have been able to learn about other cultures and exchange knowledge around the world because of the Fulbright Program. By allowing these massive cuts, we’re starting a down a slippery slope that leads towards more cuts in the future and ultimately threatens the existence of Fulbright as we know it.

Senator J. William Fulbright said that “educational exchange is not merely one of those nice but marginal activities in which we engage in international affairs, but rather, from the standpoint of future world peace and order, probably the most important and potentially rewarding of our foreign-policy activities.”

Together, we can send a strong message to Congress that the American people support the ideals of Senator Fulbright. In just 5 minutes, you can tell our elected officials that international educational exchange is vital to America’s foreign policy.

I’ve got about four months left in my grant year and I’m savoring every moment. Let’s make sure that the same number of people get this opportunity next year. Please, show your support for the Fulbright Program by tweeting or posting on Facebook using the hashtag #SaveFulbright.

Most sincerely,

Jonathan Rice
Fulbright ETA, South Korea 2013-14

If you want to learn the details about the proposed cuts, check out more information courtesy of the Austrian Fulbright Commission: http://www.fulbright.at/save-fulbright-lobby-2015.html

A Day in the Life of a Fulbright Korea ETA

CAM00099I often write about my experiences in Korea, especially the more remarkable or personally noteworthy moments. However, I don’t often share the realities of life as an ETA—my daily routines, work, and recreation. It’s important to realize that although there are English Teaching Assistantships around the world under the Fulbright moniker, each is administered independently by one of 50 bi-national commissions or, in countries with a smaller program presence, by the Public Affairs section of the respective U.S. Embassy. In Korea, the Korean-American Educational Commission coordinates all aspects of the Fulbright Program in concert with the individual provincial offices of education. Across the world, we may all be Fulbright ETAs, but in practice that makes for very different experiences.

For Fulbright Korea, the ETA program is split into two groups: Elementary English Teaching Assistant, which means that you work in an elementary school, and Secondary English Teaching Assistant, which means that you work in either a high or middle school–I teach in a middle school.

While Fulbright refers to us as English Teaching “Assistants,” most of us in Korea, including myself, are in charge of our own classrooms. In most cases, we have Korean co-teachers, but they are mostly there to observe and step in if something gets out of hand—this, of course, depends on the school.

What follows is a timeline of my average day at school, though it often changes!

7:00 am – My alarm goes off. If that doesn’t get me out of bed, my host mom’s struggle to get my brother up usually does.

7:10 am – My host mother, brother, sister, and I eat breakfast. On some days, it’s as extensive as rice, kimchi, and dok-mandu-guk, a kind of rice cake and dumpling soup, while others it’s as simple as a few steamed rice cakes served with sesame oil to dip them in.

7:40 am – My host mother drives my host sister to her high school, which is on the other side of town. My host brother usually tries to sneak in a few extra minutes of sleep.

8:00-8:15 am – I go through my lessons one more time after getting dressed, making sure that all of my PowerPoints, worksheets, and other documents are on my flash drive and ready to go.

8:15 am – My host brother and I leave for school. High-rise apartment buildings surround Gakri Middle School and I live in one them. It’s just a short 5-minute walk to school—I’m lucky in this regard, as I probably have one of the shortest commutes of any ETA in Korea.

8:20ish – I join the sea of students and teachers heading towards the school gates. Once inside, I change into my slippers (we don’t wear shoes inside school) and head up to my office in the fourth floor gyomushil (teacher’s room). I share this teacher’s room with five other teachers, one of which is my Fulbright co-teacher.

8:30 am – Students at Gakri Middle School have 30 minutes of homeroom. During this time, I make my final preparations for the day, usually checking messages and printing out worksheets, as well as setting up the projector in my classroom.

9:00 am-12:30 pm – Now come the first four periods of the day, each running 45 minutes long with a ten-minute break in between. I generally teach 4 to 6 classes a day, so how busy my morning is varies. My classes range from between 15 to 35 students, while I act as the primary instructor. My pedagogy varies from using PowerPoint, worksheets, activities, and, of course, playing lots of games to keep my students speaking English. If I’m not teaching, I’m either setting up my classroom for my next group of students or in the gyomushil. If I have all my lessons planned, I might work on a blog post, talk with my co-teachers, do some reading or studying, or catch up with fellow ETAs online. I usually drink an absurd amount of green tea or Korean instant coffee during this time, too.

12:30-1:45 pm – Lunch! Compared to the 30-minutes I had during middle and high school, the 1-hour and 15 minutes of freedom that students have hear seems insane. Then again, this is the only free time that the students have. All members of the school community eat in one large cafeteria, although the teachers get a separate food line from the students. The meal generally consists of rice, kimchi, some kind of meat, pickled vegetable, stew, and sometimes dessert. Taste depends on the day, but generally, it’s pretty good and much more varied than American school lunches. Teachers all eat together, although it’s a time more for eating than conversation.

After eating, students usually go play outside. Occasionally I’ll play basketball with some of my students, practice volleyball with the teachers (do not underestimate the abilities of 60-year old Korean men!), and walk around campus interacting with students.

1:45-3:25 pm – Two more class periods!

3:25-3:45 pm – Cleaning time! At Korean schools, the students act as the janitors. During this 20-minute period, students clean the classrooms, bathrooms, and teacher’s rooms. It was strange at first, but now I’m surprisingly used to it. Moreover, it gives some ownership of the school to the students.

3:45-4:30 pm – Final regular class period of the day!

5:00 pm – If there’s no after-school class, I head back to my home stay. On Thursdays, I stop by the market in the apartment complex and chat with students or buy them some snacks, ranging from tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) to bungeoppang (fish-shaped bread filled with red bean paste).

7:30 pm – Dinner with my host family, although usually my host sister is still at school studying. My host father lives in Seoul during the week because of his job.

8:30 pm-12:30 am – Downtime. Studying Korean, planning lessons reading, skyping with friends and family back home, editing and reviewing pieces for the Fulbright Korea Infusion (the official publication of the Korean-American Educational Commission), blogging, researching graduate programs, and, when the kids aren’t studying, hanging out with my host family!

12:30 am – Finally time to get some sleep. Meanwhile, my host siblings are generally studying until 1 or 2 am!

Obviously, even with my details, this is just one possible schedule. Korean schools are notorious for last-minute schedule changes, so ETAs have to be flexible.

On weekends, I often travel to Seoul, which is only 1 ½ hours by bus, go hiking in the foothills nearby, meet up with other Fulbright fellows across Korea, and occasionally volunteer with an orphanage in nearby Cheongju.

While there are good days and bad days, ultimately daily life at a Fulbright ETA in Korea is a rewarding and challenging experience. We stay busy!

Do you have questions about being an ETA in Korea? Post in the comments!

Photo by one of my students during Winter Camp!

Photo by one of my students during Winter Camp!

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