Interview with English Teacher in Korea

Maria J - Korea 4Maria has a BA in History from Florida Atlantic University, an MA in Asian Studies from Florida International University, and she is currently preparing for a move to Spain for a teaching internship, where she’ll also be working on her Spanish and preparing to apply to PhD programs in Iberian Studies. Her academic interests are in history, especially Middle Eastern and Spanish history, and in literature. Personal interests include: eating; reading; Netflix; museums, and swimming. She can be contacted by email

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Tell us a little bit about EPIK.

E(nglish) P(rogram) I(n) K(orea) is a government affiliated program that hires recent grads, and professionals, to teach in South Korea (except for Geonggi Province – see GEPIK for that). EPIK really just does the recruiting for the various provincial offices, so you would be working for your given province, not EPIK. For example, I work for SMOE (Seoul Metropolitian Office of Education).

Why did you decide to go to Korea to teach English?

I decided to go to Korea to get some teaching experience as well as to do something productive while I figured out the next step in my academic career.

What do you do on the average day?

On an average day I go to work and teach, I have the same school lunch that all my students have (most of the time it’s good), and then I leave work at 4:40. After work I may run some errands, or just go home, or meet up with some friends. On weekends I’m a little more social and try to go out for dinner or lunch with some friends, or maybe go to the park.

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What’s it like living in Seoul?

Living in Seoul is really like living in any other major city, but everything is just in Korean. I live in the Gangnam neighborhood – yes, that Gangnam – and it’s constantly busy. It’s almost like I live in Times Square. The subway is great and there is wifi almost everywhere. Living in Seoul is really comfortable and convenient for the most part and the vast majority of people I’ve met are very nice. Of course, experiences differ from neighborhood to neighborhood – for example many shops and restaurants in Gangnam have at least one person with passing to good English skills, this may not be true for other neighborhoods.

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Black Life in China

Today I am excited to share with you an interview with Fulbright Scholar Antonio Reyes, founder of Black Life China, a resource dedicated to giving light to black experiences in China.

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Mr. Antonio (Tony) Reyes is a Fulbright and Ronald E. McNair scholar with over a decade of experience in the international education sphere. Mr. Reyes is proficient in Mandarin Chinese and has over 4 years of experience living, studying and working throughout China. He holds a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from University of Washington with a focus on Chinese business, culture and historical relationship with black foreign communities.  He is also the founder of Black Life China, a website and podcast dedicated to exploring the black experiences abroad. Listen to his interviews with black Americans living in China clicking this link to the podcast: www.blacklifechina.com/the-podcast. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and auditing programs in the areas of diversity, international education and minority student engagement.

How is Black Life China related to you as a Fulbright Scholar, and what are your hopes for this unique project?

As a Fulbright Scholar, I wanted to do something more than just conduct research about black experiences in China that no one would read. I already did that in graduate school. I wanted to create something that I could put into the hands of the general public and not just academics. Having a background in marketing and social media, I knew that I could create online resources that would be accessible to the public. To make the information more entertaining and digestible, I created memes, podcasts and a eBook. In doing so, I was able to create a platform that allowed black Americans all over China to easily share their stories directly with other black Americans or any interested in what it is like to be a minority in China.

Through your experience in running Black Life China, what have you learned from the people you’ve met and the stories you’ve collected?

I have learned that your attitude makes your experience. There is a famous Shakespearian quote, “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I have found this to be true when it comes to being black in China. Black Americans who enjoyed their experiences in China and had opportunities to do many things were more optimistic and positive than those who did not. Those who were unsuccessful in China, would let the few bad experiences affect their attitude which negatively affected their daily reality.

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Interview with India Study Abroad Participant: Chris

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Chris is a Master of Social Work student and will receive his degree in spring 2015. He also received his Bachelor of Social Work with honors at USF in December 2013. He is a current member of the NASW and was an active member of the Social Work Society during his undergraduate studies. A few students in the Social Work Society and him raised nearly two thousand dollars in two months to rebuild a home for a family who lost their home in the Haiti 2010 earthquake. He traveled with professor Rahill and one other student to personally deliver the funds to the family. They were also able to meet with other colleges and talk with various community organizers in Haiti. He is currently interning at the Jail Diversion Program (JDP) at the Pinellas County Public Defender’s office. After graduation, he plans on getting his LCSW and hopefully will be able to continue to work with JDP in his future career. Chris can be contacted at cdkoester@mail.usf.edu.

First of all, tell us about the Northeast Himalayas in India study abroad trip. What did the program do, and what did you study?

This trip was part of a 6-credit clinical social work course that allowed students to immerse in an indigenous culture and context. We spent the majority of time at a research institute called RIWATCH which stands for Research Institute of World’s Ancient Traditions Cultures and Heritage (designated as the Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development by the United Nations). It was located in the Northeastern most part of India called Arunachal Pradesh – a part of India that shares borders with Tibet, Myanmar and Bhutan. RIWATCH’s mission in Northeast India is to preserve the local endangered indigenous tribes’ culture, rituals, and heritage. We had enriching interactions with local school children; social workers; local politicians and activists; researchers; tea plantation workers; members of local women’s empowerment groups; government officials responsible for programs related to maternal and child health, education, HIV, and domestic violence; local administrators and military personnel, and; interacted with the local physicians in the district hospital. For example, one eye-opening exercise that Dr. Carrion led was to form pairs with one member from the indigenous group and one study abroad student and we exchanged notes about our cultures, life, challenges, health issues, social issues etc. and then both the members shared their notes with everyone. We visited the homes of local families belonging to the Idu Mishmi tribe, had traditional food at their homes, visited monasteries, participated in local festivals and rituals and learnt about their lifestyle, and also observed focus groups that Drs. Joshi and Carrion conducted with local women as part of their research study on maternal and child health practices and end of life issues in the local tribal communities. We were also able to visit a few temples, shrines, and religious ceremonies to experience a few of the many religious and spiritual places and people in India. It was interesting to observe the ways in which influences from the neighboring countries affect the practices of people in this region. Some practice Thai and others practice Tibetan stream of Buddhism; many are nature worshippers and some others follow Hinduism or Christianity.

As part of the program, we also participated in a service learning exercise in collaboration with the officials and staff of the government district hospital and cleaned the premises of the newly constructed maternal and child health wing of the hospital. In addition, we participated in a tree plantation drive at the local government secondary school in which we were joined by local government leaders and school teachers. Our service learning projects were also covered by the local media – for details please see: http://www.arunachaltimes.in/wordpress/2014/05/25/usf-students-take-part-in-cleanliness-drive/

Finally, our journey culminated with a visit to the breathtaking Taj Mahal and shops in local markets and stores.

Why would you recommend that students try a non-traditional location such as India?

This trip was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life! This trip was in no way a vacation but rather an intense learning experience that challenged students on many different levels. I understand those students who would like to travel to countries in Europe and have that experience but if you truly want to be immersed in a culture that is much different from the Western or American culture; this is a trip you will want to take. This trip will force students out of their comfort zones and challenge their world view of life perspectives. It is not a trip for everyone but for those who are up to the challenge and open to new experiences. I highly recommend they apply for this trip. It is an invaluable experience that may change you and you will never forget.

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Interview with Boren, Gilman, and Critical Language Scholarship Recipient: Hiram

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Hiram Rios is a graduating senior studying Economics and International Studies with a minor in Chinese Language. While at USF, he has participated in four study abroad programs, including “China: Learning in the Culture Tier I,” “China: History and Culture” with the Honors College, “Germany: Beyond the Classroom,” and the State Department’s “Critical Language Scholarship” program in Suzhou, China. Additionally, he has received four national scholarships to fund his studies including an $80,000 international affairs fellowship that includes a five-year contract in his dream career in the Foreign Service. Furthermore, he has a received a Boren National Security Scholarship and a Gilman International Scholarship.

What are the top reasons you decided to study Chinese?

Music was my first passport to China. I have played violin for over a decade now, and when I was 14 years old I was offered a spot performing in the ‘Salute to the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ orchestra in China. Prior to that experience I knew little about China, but after performing at and touring the Great Wall, Forbidden Palace, and Olympic Plaza in Beijing as well as the Bund in Shanghai, a Pandora’s Box of curiosity had opened. Therefore, my top reasons for studying abroad in China while at USF were the opportunity to re-live those cherished memories, to get a more in depth look at the history and philosophy I had studied, and most importantly, to master the Chinese language in pursuit of employment with the U.S. Foreign Service.

If you were to compare yourself now to who you were before studying abroad, how are you different?

It is undeniable that study abroad transforms a person. In my eyes, I have grown into a different person after each and every study abroad opportunity as I learn and integrate positive aspects of each culture I visit into my life. When I first came back from performing in the Olympic Orchestra in 2008, I felt myself consumed in a hunger for knowledge and a curiosity for adventure that I had never experienced before. That trip opened the floodgates to ‘freedom’ in the sense that fear never holds me back from exploring new places (domestically or outside of the U.S.). Now I am prone to taking weekend trips around Florida, or even to D.C. or New York. After returning to China in 2013 for two USF programs and an independent study, I returned with a renewed discipline and appreciation for balance. I began meditating as a way to control stress and found myself working at 110%, which even then felt little compared to my course load in China. From my trip to Germany and subsequent return to China, I gained an increased interest in international politics, and now I find myself reading more from Xinhua News, Der Spiegel, the China Morning Post, and the Shanghaiist than I read on Facebook. Every student will have a different experience abroad, but I personally developed myself cognitively and feel that I am more independent, mature, informed, curious, and confident than ever before.

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Interview with Japan Study Abroad Alum: Barbara

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Barbara is a Cell and Molecular Biology major who is hoping to someday become a Dermatologist and work with children who are suffering from skin diseases. She was one of the inaugural members of the ‘Japan: Beyond the Classroom’ trip (now called USF Japan Study Program) with Professor Mako Nozu and earned scholarships from the Honors College for study abroad. This was not Barbara’s first time traveling abroad as she had already traveled with an ambassador group to Australia during her 9th grade year of high school. She has always loved traveling and has a goal to visit as many countries as she possibly can in her lifetime but before that one of her main goals is to visit every state in the U.S and has already visited 1/5 of them. As a GloBull Ambassador, she is eager to take questions from students interested in studying in Japan (durdenb@mail.usf.edu)

What are the top reasons you decided to study abroad?

One of the main reasons I decided to study abroad was the fact that I was told that a program like the one I went on didn’t happen very often. It was kind of a ‘Once in a college career’ type of thing was the way I saw it. When this trip came along I just had that feeling inside that no matter what I was going on this trip and that’s what I did. That feeling was another of the reason’s I decided to study abroad. You know how people are supposed to get that feeling of their heart beating out of their chests when they fall in love with someone? Well that’s the feeling I get when I travel and I know that a certain trip is the one I want to go on. It’s happened now multiple times, first when I learned about the trip to Australia, next when my mother and I decided to take a trip to Alaska for my graduation, and again when I learned about the Japan trip. My heart was really the one that made me decide to go on the trip and it was such a great experience that I’m glad it did.

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