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Chase Fitzgerald wanted to do something meaningful before he started medical school and he knew that a Fulbright grant would be one of the best ways to do that — because his brother also had done it.
“I applied for a Fulbright scholarship because I was looking to extend my cultural horizons, influence my greater community and have meaningful, immediate impact as a graduate taking a year off before medical school,” said Fitzgerald, who earned a degree in biological sciences with a minor in global health from the School of Life Sciences, in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, last year. He is an English teaching assistant in Cheongju, South Korea.
Fitzgerald’s older brother, Brett, graduated from ASU in 2013 and went to South Korea on a Fulbright award, and ended up staying two years.
“Being able to teach has been a sustained passion of mine and the English teaching assistant program seemed like a great opportunity and privilege to apply for,” said Fitzgerald, who is from Scottsdale.
“My brother and I are the only two siblings to have ever been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Korea, so that was a great goal to reach for as well.”
Fitzgerald answered some questions about his Fulbright experience:
Question: What is a typical day like for you?
Answer: As all first year ETAs in Korea have been placed in a homestay family, I wake up and have breakfast with my Korean family before walking about 10 minutes to school — an all-boys high school. My daily schedule fluctuates throughout the week but my work days run from 8 till 5 and I teach about 400 students and 15 teachers each week. My class is an English conversation class, which I define the curriculum for, making the connections to their regularly scheduled English class, sharing my cultural perspective and providing a comfortable atmosphere in which students feel free to practice their speaking skills — otherwise seldom-practiced.
If I am not teaching or planning lessons, you can find me mingling with the other second-grade (junior-equivalent) teachers, planning/reviewing/correcting a new article for our student-driven English newsletter, or sneaking in the occasional podcast episode.
Q: What do you do on the weekends?
A: Most weekends you can find me traveling around Korea, often to Seoul, seeing and experiencing Korean culture with several of my Fulbright colleagues. We try to attend festivals, visit cultural sites of historical significance, frequent the street markets, and, of course, indulge a bit in Seoul's nightlife.
Q: What’s been the best part of your experience?
A: The relationships I have been able to build and maintain within my school and with my Korean host family have, by far, been the most rewarding part of my experience here in Korea. Every day has a new challenge and teaches me something new. I think my students would be hard-pressed to keep up with all the learning, social, professional, and otherwise, I have personally been met with.
Q: Have there been any challenges?
A: Absolutely, every day is a challenge. The cultural differences alone set me back for a few months, not to mention I see and feel many of the same things any new teacher might feel back in the United States.
Q: Has anything funny happened during your adventure?
A: My students are complete goofs. Perhaps a bit less mature than what I remember or like to think I was like at their age, they love making me play American pop-dance songs to have dancing parties during their passing periods.
Q: What will you bring back from your experience that will help you in your career — or your life?
A: Embracing the challenge of living abroad for a year is an opportunity in which I relish, as it provides the experience to extend my knowledge beyond that of any school classroom that I have played the part of teacher or student in and presents the chance to develop the soft, interpersonal skills that a doctor must rely on to be most effective for their patient’s needs. The daily challenges I face in Korea have already meant a constant buzz of competing thoughts, from self-awareness to self-efficacy. These mental gymnastics have quickly presented themselves as my biggest discomfort and growth factor during my grant year.
To become the communicator and doctor I believe my patients deserve, it is imperative that I embrace such difficulties head-on. I’m acutely aware of what it means to be me: a young, male, white American teacher; someone who is undeniably foreign being tasked with teaching students who are unable to freely express their needs or concerns with me outside of any previous English abilities. This, to me, mirrors the position which a doctor constantly faces, developing implicit trust every time they reach to put on their white coat and explain a tough diagnoses or complex procedure to a patient, who is experiencing a whirlwind of emotions that are colored by years of experience to which I am not privy.
Q: What’s next for you, after you return?
A: This coming July, I will start at The University of Arizona Phoenix Medical College. Residency. Fellowship. Physician work (hopefully getting to incorporate some medical teaching). I hope to remain a lifelong learner and avid advocate of knowledge. I want to share my love of science and the human experience with others and hope to become a doctor that advances scientific understanding and acts as a productive researcher. I firmly believe that the medical field can do more to open opportunities for learners of all ages to engage with medicine in an intimate and immediate manner, helping to inspire a more diverse pool of science researchers and medical professionals. I plan on helping to design and implement such programs as a physician so that I can share my knowledge in a meaningful way.