Vang '16 one of seven from CSB/SJU to earn Fulbright ETA Award

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles that will appear this summer on the seven CSB and SJU graduates who earned Fulbright English Teaching Awards for the 2016-17 school year.

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August 1, 2016

By Morgan McCormack '17

Melissa VangMelissa Vang has always had a passion for teaching. She recently developed a passion for traveling after a Semester at Sea in spring 2016 and a study abroad experience in China in fall 2015.

Now, the 2016 graduate of the College of Saint Benedict is embarking on a new journey while living out both her passions. Vang received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award to teach English in Thailand.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program places recent college graduates as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) 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.

Vang grew up hearing stories about Thailand from her mother, a refugee from the country. After learning about the award, those stories were one of the reasons Vang chose Thailand for her Fulbright experience.

"I heard so much about (Thailand) and I want to see it for myself," Vang said. 

Vang's first mentoring opportunity was as a student office assistant at an after school program in St. Paul, where she also helped students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Vang has also volunteered in a "Summer Power" program at the Eastside YMCA, John A. Johnson Elementary School and Maxfield Elementary, all in St. Paul.

"It's something I've never really thought about but just always end up doing," Vang said about her past teaching experiences.

This won't be Vang's first time teaching English to other students. During her semester abroad in China, Vang was given the opportunity to teach English to Chinese fourth- and fifth-graders in Sichuan province.

Vang will be working with middle and high school students in Ban Phai, Thailand, and she's hoping for a new experience. Vang hopes to get involved with the community in a new way.

"I was thinking about hosting an art club. I think that art is for everyone and for any age... I hope that art will help bring out students' creativity in life, and that it will really help them pursue whatever they want to do in their future," she said.

Vang also wants to use her time in Thailand to get involved with the community and contribute to the country by possibly reaching out to a service program in the community. She'd also like to keep a blog about her time teaching and living in Thailand.

In preparation for her experience, Vang has begun to learn Thai. She has also been looking back at her time at CSB and Saint John's University and how her study abroad experience has prepared her for this next chapter of her life.

"I learned how to immerse into another culture, learning from people's backgrounds and just understanding the basic language from the countries that I've been to. Because of these study abroad opportunities, I kind of know what to expect but I don't really know what that host country is going to be like," Vang said.

While at CSB/SJU, Vang was also a part of the Intercultural LEAD program on campus, where she was on the cohort council her sophomore year. The Intercultural LEAD program helps first generation college student's transition to college and help them prepare for life after college. This program also helped Vang apply to Fulbright.

Although Vang is nervous about being the only person in her community who speaks English, she's looking forward to teaching and everything else that Thailand will bring to her.

"I'm excited about documenting photos. I want to go around my small town and take photos of the community where I'm at because I don't think it's going to be places where you will expect. I can't wait to try the food, too, and I'm looking forward to learn more about Thailand's textiles," Vang said.

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.