How the Journey Began

November 2014

“So, what are your plans after graduation?”

My uncle looked at me over the Thanksgiving table as he began carving the turkey. I cringed as he asked the one question every college senior dreads. While several of my friends knew exactly what they would be doing after May 15, I was still unsure. I knew only two things. The first was that I applied for a Fulbright ETA.

The second was that I hadn’t told my parents yet.

“I am interested in a lot of things,” I said vaguely. “I am interested in writing. I am interested in teaching and tutoring, especially older students and adults. I am interested in working abroad. I know what experiences I’d like to have, but don’t know about right after graduation yet.”

My sister, a college junior, piped up, “The deadline probably passed already, but you should look into Fulbright! They have a program for teaching English overseas.”

This is it, I thought. “Well…actually…the application was due in October, and I already applied for it.”

My uncle stopped carving, and I felt five pairs of eyes looking at me.

“Where did you apply?” my mother asked.

In a rush, I started explaining the program–if I got it, I would be teaching high school students, living with a host family, and serving as a cultural ambassador for the United States. The program would last for a year, and…

“Where did you apply?!” my mother insisted.

“…South Korea.”

January 2015

“Dear Janine Perri,

I am pleased to inform you that the National Screening Committee of the Institute of International Education (IIE) has recommended you for a grant under the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the academic year 2015-16. Your application has been forwarded to the supervising agency abroad for final review.”

The finalist email arrived in mid-January, right after the start of my last semester at Villanova. The possibility of spending a year in Korea suddenly became much more real. Though my family was initially a little surprised when I finally told them (“You would be so far from home!”), they were also excited for me. After sending in my fall semester transcripts, I threw myself into my schoolwork and extra-curriculars, trying to forget about the Fulbright waiting game.

April 2015

“Dear Ms. Perri,

Congratulations!

I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected for a 2015-2016 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Korea, South. The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program of the United States.  You will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while you are overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Korea, South. You will join over 100,000 Fulbright U.S. Student Program alumni who have undertaken grants since the program began in 1948.”

The stress of job interviews, my senior thesis, and the final semester of college melted away as soon as I saw the long-awaited email in my inbox. Though I had originally been designated an Alternate, I learned less than three weeks later that I would, in fact, be spending the next year in South Korea. I was (and am) thrilled!

June 2015

“Ann-yeong-ha-se-yo.”

The Korean textbooks I ordered from Amazon came in, and I had been studying for a few hours every day. I must have at least 1000 flashcards by now, but I only know some vocabulary, basic phrases, and super-basic grammar so far.

As I sat at my desk and wrote the 1001st flashcard, I heard a soft baby voice behind me say, “You’re a good boy.”

I turned around at looked at my African grey, Magellan. I realized that Magellan is better at English than I am at Korean. THAT is humbling.

I will have six weeks of Fulbright Orientation, and that includes extensive language training. I am excited for language classes to begin so I can be corrected and actually know what I am doing!

July 2015

Medical clearance, check. Vaccinations, check. A-3 Visa, check. Online TESOL course, check. Suitcases–well, almost.

I have about a week left in America and the basement is a mess. Suits and skirts are draped over the couch, half a dozen vacuum-sealed bags are on the floor, and my gifts for my host family and co-teachers are waiting to be wrapped. I’ll take care of it eventually.

I have spent my time since graduation seeing friends and family before I leave. And, of course, eating all the American food I will miss while I am overseas!

And finally, I printed my plane ticket today. There it is–New York JFK to Incheon Airport.

The journey begins.

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