Featured Fellow: Kenny Loui
Applying For And Winning A Fellowship:
Kenny Loui on the Fulbright ETA Fellowship
FELLOWSHIP I WON AND WHEN: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, Republic of Korea, 2007 – 2008.
MY AREAS OF ACADEMIC/PROFESSIONAL INTEREST: I have a B.A. in Criminal Justice and Political Science (2005) and an M.A. in Political Science (2008), both from San Francisco State University. My specific research interests are in community policing, ethics education and early childhood crime prevention, Korea-Japan political relations, education policy in Korea and Japan, popular culture and public diplomacy.
In the 2006-07 academic year, I studied at Mejiro University in Tokyo via S.F. State’s bilateral exchange program. There, in addition to learning about Japan, I learned about Korea—from politics to pop culture. I took courses focusing on Japanese-Korean relations and politics, exploring Tokyo’s “Korea Town” in the Shin-Ōkubo district, and talking with friends. As it happens, the majority of the students living in my dormitory were from Korea. In brief, during my year abroad, I fell in love with Japan and with Korea.
THE SUBSTANCE OF MY FELLOWSHIP PROPOSAL: In my ‘Statement of Proposed Study,’ I opened with how I first became interested in Korea through my studies of Korean politics while I was studying and working in Japan. I continued with a brief overview of my prior teaching experiences as a volunteer at an elementary school in my neighborhood, and as a graduate teaching assistant at S.F. State. I then linked the two topics, explaining why I wanted to pursue the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Korea. In brief, my interest in undertaking the English Teaching Assistantship was two-fold: (1) to learn more about Korean culture and society (in particular, the Korean education system), and (2) to continue my exploration of teaching as a career option and, in so doing, to improve my pedagogical skills. Moreover, I’ve always found myself engaged in volunteer work and community service and felt that my work in Korea—both in and outside of the classroom—would allow me to continue to fulfill my desire to make a direct and positive impact on the lives of others.
LOW POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS: After returning home from Japan, I visited the Office of International Programs to extend my greetings to the office staff. I also told Mr. Michael Yarabinec, my study abroad adviser and OIP’s Associate Director, about my interest in going to Korea someday. Mr. Yarabinec suggested I consider the ETA Program in Korea; he felt that that given my academic and professional objectives, it would be a “good fit” for me. There was only one minor snag: the application deadline was less than a week away! That meant that I had only a few days to write my essays (there were two), obtain the three required letters of recommendation, and complete and submit the application package to OIP. My recommenders were kind enough to put together their letters on extremely short notice, and I was able to get everything else done on time. Then came the campus interview . . . .
HIGH POINT IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS: The interview was actually for me the high point of the application process. I had done so many interviews in the past, that nervousness and anxiety never really came into play. The interview took place on campus with three interviewers (two of whom were professors), was semi-formal, and focused on my prior academic and professional experiences, my knowledge of Korea, and my reasons for applying for the Fulbright to teach in Korea. In all, I really enjoyed the interview; during it I realized the plethora of facts and trivia about Korea I already had in my head, without having yet set foot in the country (for example, I found myself discussing the “Korean wave” in Asia and explaining what kimchi is!).
MISADVENTURE(S) DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: This is actually one of my favorite stories to tell about my Fulbright grant year … I was arrested by the Korean police. Okay, I wasn’t actually arrested—just detained and questioned for a little over an hour—but it’s still an interesting story.
During my second semester teaching in Korea, I was working on getting my Korean driver’s license. On the day of the written exam, I took a shuttle with the other students and instructors from my driving school to the testing center. After taking the written exam, which was administered at a testing center run by the police department, I was politely asked by the police officer administering the test to follow him into his office at the testing center. We then met up with another officer who accompanied us out of the building. The officers then asked me get into their car and we drove away from the center. To be honest, I initially didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary. I simply thought that what the officers were doing was a standard procedure of sorts, either taking me back to the driving school or another office to do more paperwork or testing. After a short drive, I found myself escorted to the local police station for a not-so-brief Q&A session with a few other police officers.
Needless to say, that day my “FBI training” and limited Korean language skills were put to the test. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was being detained as a crime suspect. The catalyst for this was the fact that all Fulbright grantees to Korea are issued an A3 visa, which does not require us to obtain Alien Registration Cards (ARCs). In brief, I did not have an ARC—which all foreign residents in Korea, with the exception of A3 visa holders and diplomats—are required to have. But this, as it turns out, was not the reason I was being detained.
Piecing the story together from what little Korean I could understand, the police thought I was a suspect wanted for embezzlement. Before I go on, let me just mention a few details about the suspect:
ARC #: None
Previous known whereabouts: Suncheon (a city located in the southwestern region of South Korea)
Now a few details about me:
ARC #: None
Previous known whereabouts: Chuncheon (a city located in the northeastern region of South Korea)—and the location of the Fulbright ETA orientation and training session!
As you can see, the similarities between suspect and me were uncanny! I could have immediately asked the police officers if I could call my co-teacher at the high school and/or the Fulbright Office in Seoul to confirm my identity, or I could “play things out a bit” for the experience in and of itself. I chose the latter option. Having majored in criminal justice and studied about police investigative tactics, I was genuinely curious about “how things are done in Korea.”
After several minutes of banter between me and the investigating officer, conducted entirely in Korean (or broken Korean, in my case), arguing about whether I was from Suncheon or Chuncheon, the police eventually called not only my co-teacher, but the Fulbright Office and the driving school where I was taking lessons. In the end, my identity was confirmed—but not necessarily because of the phone calls to those who knew me.
An hour or so after my detainment, one of the officers seated at the computer console asked me to approach. She then showed me her computer screen, which displayed the suspect’s “rap sheet,” plus his photo. Another officer standing next to her—one of the two officers who had taken me to the police station in the first place—then exclaimed: “Not you! Not you! Sorry, sorry!” Despite all our similarities, the suspect and I (luckily!) looked nothing alike. There was quite a bit of apologizing and bowing by the police officers involved before I was once again escorted to a police car and taken back to the testing center. The thought that was going through my head the entire trip back to the center was: “What would have happened if the suspect had looked like me?”
For their part, the police officers were very polite, even offering me coffee before the mini “interrogation,” and not at all overly hostile, and I left the station that day without the slightest bit of resentment or injury—emotional, physical, or otherwise. While waiting at the testing center to be picked up by my co-teacher, I talked for a bit with the two officers who drove me to and from the police station and discovered that one of the officers was the father of one of my third-year students!
Ultimately, I got my Korean driver’s license, my “celebrity status” at the school jumped up a notch, and now all Fulbright grantees in Korea are required by the Fulbright Office to get Alien Registration Cards (at least, that’s what I’ve heard).
BEST MOMENT DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: In the months prior to graduation, I had a few options from which to choose: in addition to the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, I was awarded a National Security Education Program (NSEP) Boren Fellowship for Japanese and Korean language study, as well as a full-time job offer from the FBI. Needless to say, deciding among the three was difficult, and after much thought and deliberation, I chose both to take a break from studying and to turn down what was, for all intents and purposes, my “dream job,” in order to accept the Fulbright grant. As an ETA at a Korean high school, I hoped to fulfill my desire of making a direct and positive impact on the lives of others sooner rather than later. But after a semester spent dealing with sleeping and rowdy students, I began to have doubts as to whether I was making any difference at all.
With regard to student misbehavior, the overall situation began to improve slightly during the spring semester due to a variety of factors including, but not limited to, altering the way I conducted my lessons (learning from mistakes made during my first semester) and bonding more with my students. On that note, I would like to briefly mention the students of Class 1-3, whom I taught during my second and final semester at Young-il High School. Class 1-3 could be considered my lowest level class in terms of English proficiency, as well as the highest in terms of disorderly conduct—at least initially.
I’m still not quite sure how to explain it, but during the course of the semester, Class 1-3’s behavior improved for the better—improved, in fact, to the point of becoming the best-behaved group of students of all the classes I taught during my grant year. As I mentioned before, their English level was not as high as the other classes. But what Class 1-3 students lacked in English proficiency, they made up for in diligence; and because of that, I did everything I could to ensure that their motivation levels remained high—chatting with them in and outside of the classroom, encouraging them to “keep up the good work,” and urging them to continue to “do your best.” In short, seeing the students of Class 1-3 succeed—and knowing that I was able to play even a small role in that—was the best part of my Fulbright grant year.
ADVICE TO APPLICANTS: If you are considering applying for a Fulbright Fellowship, you need to ask yourself the following questions even before filling out the application:
- Which country do I want to work/study in?
- Which type of fellowship do I want to apply for?
Fulbright Student Grants are available to over 140 countries. Pick a country and a culture that you are genuinely interested in learning more about. If not, you may have a hard time writing your personal statement and may sound disingenuous during the interview. Plus, you may not have as fulfilling a time in a place you really didn’t want to be, or doing research/work you really didn’t want to do in the first place. That being said, you may feel frustrated at times in the country to which you truly wanted to go. Don’t worry: that’s just a part of culture shock, which everyone goes through in one way or the other.
There are several types of grants in the Student Program, but the three general categories of grants are (1) Study/Research Grants, (2) English Teaching Assistantships, and (3) Travel-Only Grants. Which grant program you choose to apply for depends largely on what you hope to gain from your experience abroad, and what experience will help you pursue your future academic or career objectives. In my case, one of my academic interests was in international education (specifically in Asia) and I was interested in pursuing teaching as a career; hence, I applied for the ETA grant.
As I have mentioned, I had only a few days to complete the application, so it is possible to do a “rush job”--but you need to be on top of things. If you’re a good writer and already have clear objectives from the get-go, you may not need much time to put together a strong personal statement. If not, you may need to set aside time in your schedule to have a professor proofread your essay.
Remember that you’re not the only one asking your professors (or workplace supervisors) for recommendation letters. In addition to writing recommendations, they’re also busy with preparing for their classes, grading assignments, research, and so forth! Thus, as a courtesy, you should give the people you ask to write your recommendations a decent amount of time—as well as all the necessary information about you and what you’re applying for—in which to complete their letters. I usually give my recommenders at least three weeks’ notice (sometimes more).
In brief, pick a country and grant type that’s a good fit for you and your academic/professional interests and allow yourself ample time to complete the application.
On a side note, if you do end up in Korea someday as a long-term resident—as a Fulbright ETA or otherwise—never leave home without your Alien Registration Card!
WHY I’D DO IT AGAIN: My year as an ETA in Korea was an enriching experience, to say the least. I had the chance to serve as a mentor for several students, helping them discover their dreams and develop their plans to pursue these dreams. I helped students prepare for essay and speech contests and in so doing, (I hope!) improved their confidence with English.
I worked hard to emphasize community service and volunteerism in my lesson plans, and during my final month of teaching, I had students give presentations on “global issues” topics (ranging from school violence to global warming) of their choice. My objective was to get students to think about the important issues and problems facing communitie, at the local and international level.
One student’s presentation, in particular, I will never forget—not because of the effort she put into researching her topic or practicing her speech, but because of the way she concluded it. At the end of her presentation, Jo Sun-hee, a student from Class 1-6, told her classmates: “It is our responsibility to save our world.” A few other students’ presentations, in which they used their particular global issue to discuss their dreams and aspirations for the future, had messages as insightful and as moving as Sun-hee’s, which touched my heart:
An Young-joo (Class 2-7) wants to become a doctor, and shared with the class her desire to help others regardless of their socioeconomic status: “It makes my heart hurt to see some doctors cure only patients who have money.”
Bae Ji-eun (Class 2-5) wants to be a pharmacist so she can “help many sick people.” She doesn’t want to only “give medicine to people” but also “share [their] sorrows and joys.”
Jo Ye-eun (Class 2-2) said that she would like to work with UNICEF someday so that she can “help poor children and give them visions.” She ended her presentation by saying: “I think helping others is the most important thing in our lives.”
I concluded my teaching year with a final goodbye to the faculty and students in the school auditorium (plus, a very elaborate surprise party from Class 1-3, complete with cake, balloons, confetti, and a ‘farewell/thank you’ speech by the students). That day put to rest any doubts in my mind that I had made the right decision in choosing to become an ETA. I left Young-il High School realizing that I actually had made a difference in these students’ lives—and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
WHAT I’M DOING NOW: I’m currently spending quality time with friends and family. As for what I’ll do next, maybe I’ll get back into government work, perhaps I’ll continue with teaching, or maybe I’ll try something completely new. I’m a little hesitant to say since in the past I’ve planned to do one thing, only to find myself doing something entirely unexpected. What do know is that life is full of surprises, and if a door of opportunity opens, why not take a chance, step in and see what it has to offer? You may be pleasantly surprised, not only with the outcome but with the journey itself.
Kenny Loui holds a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Political Science and a master’s degree in Political Science, each from San Francisco State University. He has participated in the FBI Honors Internship Program in Washington, D.C., been awarded an NSEP-Boren Fellowship for language study of Japanese and Korean, and received a Fulbright ETA grant to teach English as a foreign language in Korea.