Kathy Steiner-Lang, director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, traveled to Korea last summer to attend the International Education Administrators Seminar. Eight international educators from around the United States attended the seminar. Steiner-Lang and the other educators attended readings, lectures and tours related to the Korean educational system, and they learned about its history, culture, politics and economic system during the two-week program. She also visited organizations in various parts of Korea, including Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan and Andong.
1. Why did you decide to apply for a Fulbright? What was your motivation? What were you hoping to gain from the experience?
For several years, I had been considering applying for a Fulbright grant, but the timing didn’t work out in previous years. This time, when I didn’t have any commitments in the way, I decided to make the application, so that I could understand our students better, particularly our Korean students, who make up one of our largest international populations. Also, I wanted to meet other international educators from the US and abroad and learn what they were doing on their campuses. Lastly, I had not spent much time outside of the US for several years, and felt that this program would help me think through what our students are experiencing when they first arrive on campus, when they are new to the US.
2. How did the application process go for you? How did you prepare? What resources did you utilize?
The application was not too difficult for me, but I realized that it would take some time to prepare it. I started early in the summer, requesting recommendation letters and outlining my thoughts. Then, in the early Fall, I completed drafts of all the application materials. To put together the best application, I talked to others who had received Fulbright grants, searched the web for relevant data, and had others review my draft application. Henry Biggs was very helpful in providing me with advice about the application, and he recommended going to the Writing Center with my drafts, which is a good resource.
3. Where did you go and what was the focus of your Fulbright experience?
I went to Korea with a group of eight international educators – faculty and staff who work with international programs, education abroad, and international student and scholar advising.
4. Had you visited that country before Fulbright? How much knowledge/experience did you have with the host country before you traveled there for the Fulbright?
This is the first time that I’ve been in Korea, but I have had a great deal of contact with our Korean students, researchers and faculty members, which meant that I knew some things about the culture. Prior to my arrival in Korea, we received several emails with background reading to prepare us for the program. Although it took a great deal of time to read all the materials, it was well worth it. I felt prepared for our visits to universities, educational organizations, schools and cultural sites. However, no matter how much I had read and heard about before going to Korea, I could not totally prepare for the experience of being immersed in the Korean culture.
5. What are two things that stood out to you the most during your in-country Fulbright experience?
How important and highly valued education is to the Koreans, both in terms of the individual’s desire to obtain higher degrees, and the country’s efforts to invest in the educational system.
It is very important to have harmony in relationships and not to embarrass others with your behavior.
6. How has your Fulbright experience affected your career and/or life?
I think much more about how I speak to Korean students, particularly in advising situations, considering the cultural issues involved. When we plan programs that involve undergraduate students, I think a lot about how to use the social structure among the Korean students to promote successful outcomes. My leisure reading now includes many more topics related to Korea and Korean culture much more than in the past, because I understand better the context of the country and culture in Asia and in the world. The experience has also given me new energy for my job.
7. What is one thing that surprised you about the entire Fulbright experience?
Before going on this program, I hadn’t really thought about how important it was to form a strong group identity and to be able to work well with others in a group. Rather, I had my own goals, and had thought about my experience in that way. The reality was that everyone learned a lot from others in the Fulbright group, and the group members had a big influence on the overall experience. We travelled together every day in a van with the same people in our group – eight of us in all. There were several tasks that needed to be accomplished every day, so we split up the tasks. We had to learn to get along, even when we were tired or wanted time for ourselves. I found out that I can be much more adaptable than I had expected.
8. What advice would you give to other Washington University faculty or staff interested in applying for a Fulbright?
The Fulbright program is a valuable learning experience abroad. Think about what you want to accomplish while on the Fulbright program, so that your program can be more productive. While in the host country, expect to have an “open mind,” not just in accepting the host culture, but allowing time to be away from your daily job at home in the US. This allows you to gain more from the experience in the other country.
More than 400 U.S. faculty and professionals are traveling abroad during the year through the Fulbright Specialists Program. The Fulbright Specialists Program was created in 2000 to complement the traditional Fulbright Scholar Program. It provides short-term academic opportunities to prominent U.S. faculty and professionals to support curricular and faculty development and institutional planning at postsecondary academic institutions around the world.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It’s designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries.
Fulbright grant recipients are chosen based on their academic or professional achievement.