Life After Fulbright Survey

A while back, the ETA program coordinator sent out an email asking alumni about their experiences re-adjusting to life back in the US. And yesterday, I participated in a webinar with current ETAs on the same topic.

I really didn’t think much about readjustment before I left Korea, only that I should expect to go through some sort of reverse culture shock.

I suppose I was short-sighted.

But since readjustment is a bigger topic of interest for the current cohort of ETAs, I thought I’d spend a little more time on it in this blog.

Here are my answers to the Program Coordinator’s Life After Fulbright survey:

Cultural Readjustment Experiences

Please describe your post-Fulbright cultural readjustment process.

What were some highs and lows during your transition from the Fulbright ETA program to your current profession and/or season in life? What were your experiences with reverse culture shock?

At first I noticed all the obvious, physical cultural differences. I’d get tired and overwhelmed easily by small things like grocery trips because I’d be taking in everything, including all the English conversations going on around me.

Highs were seeing friends and family again, and being able to pick up right back where I’d left off with people. The beginning was also fun; whenever you met someone for the first time since Korea, there was so much to talk about.

Lows were realizing that things had changed. I came straight to Korea after college, and this wasn’t college anymore. I moved back in with my parents and didn’t have the same connections I’d had in my college town. Many friends had moved away, and living with my parents again was a huge adjustment.

Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do (job or school-wise) I think extended my transition period. I had a lot of downtime and space to think, which made me antsy. I’m still figuring out what I want to do, but I’m getting better at being okay with uncertainty.

What strategies and/or resources did you utilize during your cultural readjustment process? Were they effective?

Please feel free to share any resources, articles, strategies, etc. that you have found to be helpful in your cultural readjustment process and overall post-Fulbright transition.

Talking with other ETA alums was great. It helped me realize I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling. It wasn’t just me who was stuck living at home or didn’t have a job yet. Talking with a friend who taught in Japan but had come back a year before me was also really useful. She told me she was still in transition, and that gave me permission to still be transitioning too. There’s a lot of pressure – from family, peers, yourself, your FB feed – to move on quickly to the next thing. It was a relief to remember that I needed to give myself time to adjust too.

I read a lot, mostly geared toward books on figuring out your career path. (Just so you know, the books below now have affiliate links, meaning I make a small commission if you purchase through the link.) Some of these books were:

Blogging about my experience also helped. Writing about your experience, even if you don’t share it, or talking it through with someone is a helpful exercise. I process through writing, but if you’re a verbal processor, find someone who will listen.

Post-Fulbright Academic/Professional Experiences

How have your ETA experiences influenced your professional and/or personal goals?

My ETA experience has certainly influenced my goals, although my goals are still TBA. If I end up in academia, I’d love to incorporate Korea into my research somehow, and I hope to continue studying Korean.

Do you utilize ETA-related experiences and skills in your current academic program and/or profession? If so, in what ways?

It’s funny – what I use the most right now is my blogging experience. I blogged (fairly) consistently for two years, experimenting with web design, keywords, SEO, and unknowingly teaching myself to write for an online audience. Now I’m freelance writing, mostly for blogs. I never would have anticipated that learning “I like blogging” would lead to a job.

If applicable, how did you go about searching for jobs during or after your Fulbright ETA grant?

At first, I searched halfheartedly online for any jobs I was qualified for in my area. I actually never applied to many at all. Working in corporate America just felt very unappealing. But somehow I came across some articles or blogs on freelance writing and decided to go in that direction. Now I have one regular client, regularly scan freelance job boards, and search for businesses I’d like to write for.

Have you utilized the Fulbright Korea alumni network after completing your grant? If so, in what ways?

Yes? I talked with ETA alums who I’d become friends with during my grant years, and stay in touch with the one alum in my area.

How did you describe your Fulbright ETA experiences on graduate school, job, and/or other applications?

Since I’m writing for a living, I emphasize my writing experience with Fulbright, including editing and contributing to Infusion. I’ve presented my ETA experience as teaching, writing, or international experience depending on the job.

Reflections & Advice

What were the highs and lows of your ETA grant year(s)? What were some of the major lessons and growing moments you experienced as a Fulbright ETA?

The whole general experience was a high for me. Living in Korea, meeting my extended family, having a job I loved, and exploring a new country were all wonderful. Some of my lows were feeling conflicted, privileged, and under-qualified as a teacher. Being a perpetual foreigner and outsider was also wearing me down by the end of my grant period.

What resources and/or pieces of advice would have been helpful for you to receive before finishing your grant?

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing next. It’s okay to take your time, even if your parents and your FB feed is telling you that it’s not.

And honestly, I think that it won’t help you much to hear this now. I probably heard something similar. But it took friends and mentors reminding me that I was in transition for me to be okay with it, and give myself time to adjust. I’d feel uncertain, uncomfortable or down, and become frustrated with myself for feeling that way.

So my advice would be to try this: write yourself a note. Tell yourself it’s okay to be adjusting or ask yourself how your transition is going. And then put that note somewhere you’ll find it later. Or put that note in a calendar reminder set for 1, 2 or 5 months after you return. Or make a pact with a friend to check in with each other.

Do you have any advice that you would like to share for current and future ETAs regarding the end of the grant year and post-Fulbright transition?

[See above, and] Be present wherever you are. That includes your remaining time in Korea and when you return to the US. I moved back in with my parents to my little hometown, and all I thought of was leaving as soon as possible. I wasted a lot of time thinking that way when I could have been engaging with the community here.


And that’s all!

If you’ve moved back from teaching abroad in Korea (or elsewhere) is this similar to your experience?

If you’re in the process of preparing to move back, do you have any additional questions or concerns? Feel free to let me know in the comments!


Advice Overload (And How to Get Over It)

In my latest freelance adventures, I’ve come across the phenomena of advice overload.

Warning: This post focuses on freelance writing and only mentions Korea toward the very end in an attempt to stay relevant. Feel free to click away if this seems boring or like some kind of cop-out that betrays my brand.

BW Collage 2

Doesn’t this look like advice-gone-wrong? (Collage, 2014)

In the freelance writing world, there’s an overwhelming body of resources available. Everyone wants to share their tips on running a freelance writing business.

Because everyone in this business is a writer, maybe there’s an unusually large overflow of writing on this topic.

I mean, if you’ve started freelance writing and experienced some success, presto! You’re qualified to write about writing!


Where the Problem Lies

Obviously, what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. As I’ve become further saturated with freelance writing advice, I’ve started to find more and more advice that contradicts other sources.

Don’t use job boards — Do use job boards.

You MUST choose a niche — It’s okay to not have a niche.

Cold pitching is dead — Cold pitching works!


Well, now what?

Laid out before me in striking clarity, I could see the dark spiral I was destined to take if I continued on this path of never-ending, contradictory advice.

Each turn of this spiral would be laden with flashy, tempting, helpful resources to help aspiring or young or downtrodden freelance writers.

Eventually, I’d become trapped, purchasing more and more resources while making hardly any money from freelancing at all.


But is there a solution? Didn’t I promise one in the title?


Yes, yes there is. And I’ll even spoil it for you right now.

Pick what works for you, and do it.

An Anecdote

I’ll give an example.

I recently went to a job fair. (Although I wish I could say it was part of my strategy to network and find new clients, alas, I was looking for a job that could pay the bills.)

I’ve gone to several job fairs in the past, but this time I attended a job fair workshop beforehand. Why? Because workshop attendees get priority entrance.

But all the advice they gave (and my lack of preparation according to their advice) started to stress me out. On the day of the job fair, I sat in my car for a good five minutes, wondering if I was really prepared and if I should just go home. (I kid you not.)

What was happening?!

I’ve been to job fairs before!

I can turn on the (professional) charm!

I interview well!

I’ve successfully landed jobs from job fairs before!

But here I was, sitting in my car with second doubts (and third, and fourth). I eventually steeled myself and went in.

The information I’d received from the workshop wasn’t bad. It was good advice. I’m sure it’s helped lots of people. Hey, I even used some of it. But because I didn’t follow all their steps, I felt underprepared.

I’d begun to fall into a trap. I’d begun thinking that their way was the only successful way of doing things. And while their way had a high probability of success, it wasn’t the only way.

(Side note: If I’d just followed the advice from the workshop, I’m sure I would have felt perfectly prepared. But then I’d have no anecdote to share with you.)

I got so caught up in the advice I’d been given that following the advice became more important than actually accomplishing my goal. Attending the damn job fair.


The Freelance Lifestyle

I’ve run into the same problem with freelancing.

Except that it’s probably multiplied by a thousand. There is far more than just one workshop’s worth of advice available on freelance writing. There are pages and articles and blogs chock full of FREE freelance writing advice.

The Beginning

At first, this seems awesome. There’s so much free information out there – I can learn anything! I can do everything!

The Rise

Then hopefully you begin your freelance writing business and follow some advice. You find more resources as you need them. It’s going pretty well.

The Rut

But somewhere along the way, you become a little dissatisfied. You’ve kept going. You still read blog posts from the greats. But you’re not seeing the level of success you expected.

(Well, maybe I should stop projecting onto you; it’s clear by now that the “you” is actually “me.”)

I wasn’t making much progress. That’s never a fun thing to realize, but it starts to become frustrating when you’ve willing inundated yourself with articles with titles like “Finding $1K Clients!” and “How I Doubled My Salary in 3 Months!”

The Spinning Wheels

Then came the pressure the buy, ironically, more resources. Even though there was all that great stuff online, available for free. But don’t feel bad, if the writers you’re following are any good at what they do, you should feel pressured to buy. It helps them make a living.

So I broke down and purchased access to an e-course. This course had a few gold nuggets of information, but also a few letdowns. It didn’t get me out of the rut.

The Light

It hit me after seeing advice from another freelance writer that directly contradicted what I was being taught.

Freelance writers mostly agree that:

Job Boards = High Competition & Low Pay

But this writer had gotten her start on writer job boards, as well as the confidence boost she needed to keep going.

Job boards worked for her.


Money Talk

I had a similar experience when reading about freelance writing rates and what I should charge clients. One writer had a hard minimum rate that I decided to stick with too.

The work I had at the time was severely below that rate. Less than half actually. Even though I was learning a lot through my work, the advice telling me I was extremely underpaid permeated my mindset. I became both extremely underpaid and extremely unhappy.

But now I have experience writing blogs, articles, guides, product descriptions, and several online genres. I’ve written on the topics of health & fitness, pets, gardening, beauty, technology, economic trends, and probably more that aren’t coming to mind.

That low rate client that gave me steady but wildly-varying assignments worked for me.


I’m still discovering what works for me.

I’ve been freelance writing long enough to realize what makes sense and what doesn’t. Yes, I need to make more cold pitches, but it’s also okay to use the job boards.

The advice out there is good, but it’s also trying to convert me into a sale. Making me feel bad about supposed lack of progress helps them close the deal. So I need to maintain a healthy distance from too much “advice.”


What Works for You

What’s in your comfort zone works for you. But stay there, and you’ll never try anything new or see growth.

However, the opposite’s also true.

Get so far outside of your comfort zone without any conceivable link to where you started, and you might be too overwhelmed to grow.

Push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but don’t leave yourself stranded.


Korea Relevance

For current or aspiring ETAs, DO push yourself to do new and exciting things. But don’t do it at the expense of yourself.

There’s a temptation to push and push because the ETA grant is just for one year (or 2 or 3 if you renew), and while that may be do-able, it’s not healthy.

If you don’t have a good handle on teaching or classroom management or coteacher relations, don’t take on similar roles outside of school. If you’re lacking “me time,” forget the extracurriculars, take a sick night, or pass on your friends’ weekend travel plans this time.

The FOMO won’t kill you.