The Collegian
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Fulbright Scholars research, teach while adjusting to Asia

University of Richmond alumni and Fulbright scholarship recipients Becky Stewart, '10, and Nathan Bullock, '10, have spent the last year adapting to life in Asia.

Stewart, who is using her Fulbright grant to teach English to grade-school students, is living with a host family in South Korea.

Bullock is neither living in a home-stay nor teaching English, but is living and doing research in the heart of Singapore.

Fulbright grants, which are funded by the U.S. Department of State, are intended to promote intercultural exchange and understanding between grant recipients and the citizens of the world, Stewart wrote in an e-mail.

There are two types of Fulbright grants available in each country: research grants and English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grants.

Bullock, who received a Fulbright research grant, is studying urban development in Singapore. A history and international studies major, he said he chose to apply for a Fulbright grant in order to have a second chance at going abroad, he said.

Bullock compared his research in Singapore to doing a senior seminar at Richmond, in that it involved a lot of reading and application. In fact, Bullock's Fulbright research topic came from his senior seminar topic on global cities, he said.

Bullock meets with his supervisor, Brenda Yeoh, a professor at the National University of Singapore at the Asian Research Institute, once a month, he said.

Yeoh suggested fields of study and research for Bullock to pursue and helped to keep him focused and on task, he said.

Singapore surprised Bullock in many ways, he said.

"It's a contradictory place; a great global modern city," he said.

Bullock said Singapore was unique because the government was not free, but the economy was.

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"The government tries very hard to control peoples' choices," he said.

The view of multiculturalism in Singapore was surprising, Bullock said. Although there were not many Americans in Singapore, there were a large number of Chinese, Indians, Malaysians and Europeans, he said.

It was shocking, Bullock said, when he saw a realty sign while looking for an apartment that read, "No Indians."

"Some signs would say, 'All races welcome,'" he said. "It was totally socially acceptable."

Bullock's ultimate goal, in keeping with the purpose of Fulbright scholarships, was to have a strong cultural exchange while abroad, he said.

"Meeting locals, seeing through their eyes and asking questions about discrimination, politics and the perception of America has been great," he said.

Stewart, who received an ETA Fulbright grant, was assigned to live in Daegu, South Korea last summer.

Since her freshman year, Stewart had been considering teaching English abroad after graduation, she said. After studying abroad in France her junior year, Stewart said wanted to try something new.

Inspired by her grandfather's extensive travels throughout Asia, Stewart, who did not qualify for an ETA in France because she had lived there for more than six months, pursued getting an ETA in Asia.

One of Stewart's favorite aspects of living in South Korea was living with her host family, she said.

"A lot of my daily life revolves around theirs," she said.

Stewart was often invited to celebrate birthday parties, weekend trips and Korean holiday celebrations with them, she said.

Stewart attributed most of her traveling to following film, dance and other traditional festivals throughout South Korea.

Some of these festivals included the Bussan International Film Festival, the traditional mask dance festival and the "fall leaves" festival.

Recently, Stewart participated in a "temple stay" with some friends, she said.

During the trip, Stewart spent the night at a Buddhist temple where she participated in a traditional tea ceremony and practiced meditation, she said.

Living and teaching in South Korea has allowed Stewart to examine her own American values within a greater context, she said.

"Developing close relationships with Koreans has also granted me a certain empathy with the Korean cultural viewpoint, even when it is so different from my own," she said.

Although Stewart said she had no trouble adjusting to life in her homestead, she said she had experienced some cultural frustration at the school where she taught.

In Korea, Stewart said, everyday social interactions were dictated by Confucian values. Levels of respect were heavily influenced by a person's year of birth and the hierarchy within any given institution, Stewart said.

Stewart once threw a pizza party for her "best-behaved" 6th-grade class and was shocked when a co-teacher reserved an entire box of pizza for the principal and vice principal, she said.

"Looking back, I realize it would have been rude to indulge the children in a treat without extending the gift to my superiors as well," she said.

The language barrier has also been a challenge, and as a result created a loss of independence for Stewart, she said. Currently she is keeping up with her Korean by taking an intensive language class funded with a Critical Language Enhancement Award from Fulbright, she said.

Although Fulbright Korea ETAs are able to extend their stay for up to three years, Stewart has chosen to return to the United States, she said.

"I don't think another year would help me towards my long-term professional goals," Stewart said.

Stewart said she initially left for South Korea hoping to learn about a different culture, learn a new language and meet interesting people.

"An adventure is what I came for," she said, "and I certainly haven't been disappointed yet."

Contact staff writer Liz Monahan at liz.monahan@richmond.edu

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