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. 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!

Reverse Culture Shock: Unemployed

In my last post I mentioned two identities that I’ve lost in coming back to the USA: being a foreigner and being an English teacher. This time, as you’ve gathered from the title, I’m talking about jobs.

I am no longer an English teacher.

Secret: Sometimes it feels like I never was a real English teacher.

I didn’t major in Education or even English. I took a crash TESOL course before jumping on a plane to fulfill my Fulbright teaching grant, but I’d never taught my own course before, only a class here and there as a teaching assistant. During our six-week long orientation with Fulbright Korea, we took teaching workshops and practiced teaching small classes of students at a summer camp. Still, I didn’t feel like a teacher, but it was soon time to get into a real classroom and teach. Teacher or not, I had to teach.

And I did. It was often messy and always challenging, and I went through many teaching insecurities. I read an article about the high rates of new teacher burnout and felt a little better. I became motivated again and took another online teaching class. I read literature on the subject, learned about flipped learning, and eagerly soaked up advice from co-teachers when it was offered. Then I moved to a new school and felt like I was going through the whole cycle again. Now I’m here, in the US, freed from the scourges of lesson planning and sleeping students.

I am no longer an English teacher, but I could choose to become one again.

Currently, though, I am now “unemployed” and “have no idea what I want to do with my life…still.” It feels like I’m back in college, pre-Fulbright grant acceptance, facing a rising anxiety fueled by my rapidly-approaching graduation and everyone’s questions about what I was going to do next.

How all of this ties into reverse culture shock is this: I’m scared that nothing’s changed.

I worry that it’s like the last two years never happened and I really am back in the same place. Once again people ask what I’m going to do next- this time people on both sides of the globe- and I repeat “I don’t know” or “I don’t have plans” so many times that you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little bit snippy with you, although I’m getting used of giving that robotic response. Sometimes I go back to the answer that satisfied my questioners back in college but didn’t satisfy me: “I’m going to get my PhD in sociology and become a professor.” Am I though?

Yet sometimes I’m struck by my luxury. Most adults in my life (adults older than 30 that have careers I mean) didn’t go though the same struggle, simply because they never had so many choices. They chose what was in front of them or whatever would pay the bills and became that. I’m lucky, spoiled even, in that I will never really have to worry about paying the  bills. Oh sure I’ll worry, but in a sense I’ve already “made it.” Yes, I am unemployed, but I’m never going to be stuck at minimum wage jobs. I’m never going to stay too long in a job that I hate because I have the savings and skills to take my talents elsewhere. I will be solidly middle class, with the potential to go even higher I think, if I focus, choose the right career, and use the right connections.

Yet here I am paralyzed by indecision, again.

It’s silly isn’t it? Maybe it’s a romanticized notion of “what I’m supposed to be,” that holds me back, makes me scrutinize every potential path through the lens of something made up called “destiny” that I’m so scared of trespassing, because then maybe I won’t be happy. But that’s silly, isn’t it?