“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.
“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.
“Dear Ms. Perri,
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!
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!
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.