Lucky seven: Seniors, graduates earn Fulbright ETA awards

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April 29, 2016

By Mike Killeen

Front row, left to right: Mai Tong Yang and Melissa Vang.
Back row, left to right: Robin Swingley, Diana Elhard, Gretchen Hughes and Paul Park.
Not pictured: Jillian Andresen.

Photo: Sierra Lammi '19


Four seniors and three recent graduates of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University have received grants from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, sponsored by the Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

All seven received Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) awards. In the last three years, 20 students or graduates from CSB and SJU have earned Fulbright ETA awards.

CSB senior Diana Elhard received an ETA award to Turkey. SJU senior Paul Park and CSB senior Melissa Vang received ETA awards to Thailand, and CSB senior Mai Tong Yang received an ETA award to South Korea.

CSB graduates Gretchen Hughes and Jillian Andresen, and SJU graduate Robin Swingley have received ETA awards to Taiwan, Malaysia and Germany, respectively.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as English Teaching Assistants in schools and universities overseas. The ETAs improve international students' English abilities and knowledge of the U.S., while enhancing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country. ETAs may also pursue individual study/research plans in addition to their teaching responsibilities.

Andresen, who graduated from CSB in 2015 with degrees in Hispanic studies and psychology, said she applied for the Fulbright to "pursue two of my passions: travel and education. I always loved school, especially English and Spanish class, and throughout my college career I also consistently sought out opportunities to teach." She is currently living and teaching English in Chile, after studying abroad in the South American country in 2013. She chose Malaysia because she wanted to challenge herself. It will mark her first visit to Southeastern Asia, as well as to a primarily Muslim country. "I have great interest in learning about their traditions and customs as well as about Islam in that part of the world."   

Elhard, a political science major from St. Cloud, Minnesota, is returning to Turkey to serve. She had the opportunity to work at an English immersion camp in northern Istanbul between her first and second years at CSB. "My first experience there fundamentally challenged my worldview," she said. "The culture, language and history are so rich there, yet so little of it makes it into the history courses we have in the United States. My purpose for applying for the Fulbright is to experience a new region in Turkey, learn the language and hopefully observe the culture in a new way - from working with students." She also hopes to work with refugees, and is interested in refugee resettlement.

Hughes, who graduated from CSB in 2014 with a degree in management, hadn't intended to apply for a Fulbright. "However, when I began researching Fulbright all I saw was an opportunity," Hughes said. She believes that her 11-month Fulbright experience in Taiwan will give her a "leg-up in the extremely competitive field of international education." Upon returning from Taiwan, she will be attending the University of Minnesota for her master's degree in comparative international development and education. "I hope my Fulbright experience challenges me to push the limits when thinking how to best support international students, international exchange and international learning." 

Park, an Asian studies major from Irving, Texas, is focused on giving back to the community. "Teaching and helping children grow mentally is one of my favorite things to do," he said. In fact, he's taking an education class to help prepare him for his ETA assignment in Thailand. Coming from a Korean-American household, Park has made frequent visits to South Korea, and has studied abroad in China. "Thailand just seemed like a perfect fit. I met a lot of people from Thailand when I studied abroad and witnessed their cultural dances and foods, which made it just that much easier for me to want to go there." Park is a member of the Intercultural Leadership, Education and Development (Intercultural LEAD) Fellowship Program at CSB and SJU.

Swingley, who graduated from SJU in December 2015 with a degree in political science, can say he began his preparations for the Fulbright award when he began studying German as a junior high student. That experience was enhanced when he participated in a year-long study abroad program in Austria. "I fell in love with the language, and the European way of life," he said. "I had the opportunity to improve my German and learn more about German history and culture." Swingley said he was drawn to the award "because of the opportunity to teach abroad, while still having the freedom to explore, get involved in the community and experience a different culture."

Vang, a communication major from St. Paul, Minnesota, says the opportunity to be an ETA is "not only an honor, but it will give me the chance to make a difference in students' education and well-being." Teaching has been a big part of her life. She has volunteered in a "Summer Power" program at the East Side YMCA, at John A. Johnson Elementary School and at Maxfield Elementary, all in St. Paul. And, she studied abroad in China and the Semester at Sea program. As a Hmong-American woman born in the U.S., her mother would talk about living in a Thai refugee camp in the late 1980s. "I feel that teaching in Thailand would allow me to find a piece of myself and grasp a part of my mother's past." Vang is a member of the Intercultural Leadership, Education and Development (Intercultural LEAD) Fellowship Program at CSB and SJU. She is also a Gates Millennium Scholar.

Yang, a political science major from St. Paul, has known about the Fulbright program since high school because her English teacher was a Fulbright scholar. "I wanted to apply because I knew I could utilize the skills that I have cultivated here at CSB and SJU to teach English to young students." Yang lived in South Korea for a year as an exchange student, and cultivated her language skills during her stay. She is not yet fluent in Korean, but looks forward to becoming fluent while there. She also hopes to learn about the Korean education system. "We are all teachers and we are all learners — learning never ends. I hope that I can continue to learn Korean and utilize my language skills in future U.S.-Korea research." Yang is a member of the Intercultural Leadership, Education and Development (Intercultural LEAD) Fellowship Program at CSB and SJU.

The Fulbright Program, established in 1946, is the flagship international educational program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between people of the U.S. and people of other countries.

Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in over 160 countries.

CSB and SJU students interested in applying for a Fulbright Award for the 2017-18 academic year should contact Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive fellowships at CSB and SJU, or Jeff Anderson, associate professor of peace studies.