RCHS, Ferris graduate receives Fulbright Scholarship opporunity
REED CITY — In less than a month, Ashley Quinn will pack her bags and fly halfway around the world to teach English as a second language to students at a South Korean school.
Quinn, a 2010 Reed City High School graduate, is embarking on a journey of more than 6,000 miles as the opportunity came because she was awarded a scholarship through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
"I'm going over there to teach English as a secondary language, teaching these kids conversational English," she said. "I will be bringing educational capacities there with me as much as they are accepted so they learn English.
"With the Fulbright, you're not just a teacher. You're also an ambassador between the U.S. and Korea. I will be able to learn about their culture just as much as they will learn about our culture."
According to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Scholarship Program sponsors U.S. and foreign participants for exchanges in all areas of endeavor, including the sciences, business, academe, public service, government and the arts and continues to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries.
A recent graduate of Ferris State University's College of Arts and Sciences focusing on secondary math and secondary English for education, Quinn said her passion to teach began in high school.
"I had really amazing teachers at Reed City to push me into education because I really loved what they did for me," she said.
Her upcoming journey to South Korea began in 2016, listening as FSU English Professor Christine Vonder Haar, a lifetime member of the Fulbright Association and past recipient of Fulbright Scholarhips to Poland and Hungary, encouraged students to apply for the highly competitive scholarships.
"I figured, why not try, it's an amazing opportunity," Quinn said.
Vonder Haar said Quinn consulted with her on the application process.
"We talked about her interests, because she was very interested in traveling abroad and has a passion for teaching of English," Vonder Haar said. "(Quinn) started out as a full mathematics major with an English minor, but decided to double major. Now she really wants to teach English."
Quinn began working on her application in August.
"It's a pretty lengthy process," she said. "It includes a 15-page application and I had to write two essays and have three references. It was due in October."
"It's a pretty rigorous process," Vonder Haar added. "It's very, very competitive. The student program is the largest of the Fulbright grant programs. Thousands of students go every year and thousands more apply."
The application process also narrowed down Quinn's choices.
"There are scholarships for every other country you can think of," she said. "You can only apply once per year and for one country. I looked at countries that didn't require you to know the country's native language before you went. After I did some research, I decided Korea was where I really wanted to go."
Vonder Haar, who has reviewed applications for Central Europe in the past, shared some tips with Quinn about applying.
"She seemed interested from the get go," the professor said. "There are some pretty accomplished students who apply for this.
"The one thing I tell our students at Ferris is Fulbright reaches out to colleges and universities for diversity. Diversity comes in all different kinds of ways."
Quinn completed her application and sent it away, knowing it would mean months of waiting.
"You apply in October and don't find out until January if you've made it to the next round," she said. "In January, I received an email that said I made it to the next round. They told us we would find out between March and May if we got the scholarship."
In March, Quinn said was informed she was selected as alternate, meaning she would have to wait and see if someone backed out or if more funding became available.
"I was a little bummed," she said. "I was going to be graduating soon, but I started interviewing for a teaching position in the state. I even flew out to Houston to interview, but it wasn't for me."
A week after returning from Texas, Quinn received word she received the scholarship.
"From there, it's been crazy," she admitted. "I leave July 7. It's a 13th month commitment and runs until the end of July 2018. There is so much work to do. I have to get a passport, a visa and had to do a full medical exam."
Vonder Haar said the first thing she tells students about the opportunity is it will change them.
"It changes your outlook — your outlook on your own country and culture," she said. "It's going to open you up to incredible kinds of opportunities and cultures in ways that you can only experience by travel.
"I also said that it's important what you bring to the experience as a teacher. In Ashley's case, it's about what you gain from it; just the richness of another culture and living in it for an entire year. You're just never going to be the same. What a great impact it can be and open up that world to your future students. The stories will never end."
Vonder Haar said she is proud of Quinn.
"She's a well-deserving student and graduate," the professor said. "She was selected as our Outstanding English Education Major at the closing ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences. I'm extraordinarily excited for her."