Tag Archives: ETA program

To evacuate or not to evacuate?

Not even proofreading this. I know not all considerations are covered in here but I’m tired and this is just a quick vent.

It’s 1:30 AM on an early, fresh Friday. I can’t sleep. The state of affairs concerning my grant have completely changed within the last week.

Today we were notified that Fulbright is allowing a voluntary evacuation from Korea. Fulbright will be fully paying for our flights and, in a surprising move, will continue to give us our salary until June 30th regardless of whether we choose to stay or leave. If we return home, there’s the possibility, but not a guarantee, that we can return to teach in Korea if the current COVID-19 situation dies down. That is, if our schools don’t replace us in that time. All of us, on the record, will have a completed Fulbright Alumni status. They also informed us that a mandatory evacuation might be necessary in the near future. Voluntary ETAs would be evacuated in waves, the first wave being about 6 days from now.

I’ve been on the phone with different ETAs all day. We’re scared and stressed. At the beginning of the day, there was shock and confusion. How could we make such an important decision? We worked hard to get here and now our newfound livelihood could be ripped away from us so quickly. On the flip side, there were 500+ new cases JUST today within Korea. Many of us aren’t so worried about getting sick, but we’re worried about the effects that come with it. What if, God forbid, we acted as carriers to our students or other civilians with health problems, unbeknownst to us? Our host families are getting increasingly worried. Items in stores are disappearing or getting price gouged. Streets are emptying. Our schools are closed. A growing number of Asian countries are not allowing incoming flights from South Korea. What if the U.S. is next?

As a cohort, we’re sharing anecdotes. Passing on any valuable tidbit of information we can get our hands on. Who’s leaving? Who’s staying? Who’s on the fence? We’re reiterating the facts from the email we were sent- repeating them, memorizing them. We’re just trying to get comfortable forming the words on our lips- “evacuation”, “mandatory”, “voluntary”, “pandemic”. Asking things like “Well, are we truly safe anywhere in the world right now?”. We’re frantically looking for reassurance from someone- anyone- for our decision, whether it is to stay or leave. Guilt and doubt comes with either one we choose. We’re tip-toeing around our co-teachers and host families- parties who don’t even have the choice to leave. We are in a spot of privilege, but also a spot of pressure from everyone outside our cohort. It seems like many of us have turned inward, trying to fend away the reality that was foist upon us from the outside and protect our collective. We are the only ones that understand the pain of leaving this grant and this country that has grown so dear to us. Ultimately, we are the ones that are going to have to break the news to our younger host siblings and comfort them when they cry. We are the ones faced with the reality of never being able to say goodbye to our students or share last words with them. There will be some people in our cohort we might never see again.

I want to stay. I’m going to try to stay. But if a Daegu situation happens here in Cheongju, I will have to evacuate. If there’s a mandatory evacuation, I will have no choice. Tonight I took a walk outside after dinner and passed the landmarks leading up to the bus terminal near our apartment. I thought about the restaurants I liked and the ones where I planned on going, but might never be able to get to. I thought about how I was walking on the same roads my host brothers and I have walked and laughed on. I looked at the Mini Stop where I would often go with them to treat them to candy or ice cream. I thought of weaving through the backroads with Hyungyu, who would tell me about his day and point out what the different business on our street were. When I arrived at the bus terminal, I thought about how many times the Intercity bus had safely taken me home from all different cities in Korea. This is my home. What were my unknowing lasts here? Thinking about renewing was difficult enough for me. Coming to terms with the fact that I might not even get to stay for the second semester is totally jarring and overwhelming.

I keep experiencing such a wide range of emotions ranging from “this isn’t really happening” to “the situation is getting dire”. Even if I stay, when will I be able to teach? What if I’m just stuck in my room for a month? Then what purpose of my grant would I really be fulfilling? Knowing that I could be with friends and family at home and still get paid the same amount is tempting. But I don’t feel right abandoning the life I worked hard to forge here.

Two nights ago, my host brother asked me if I was really leaving in July. I told him I didn’t know yet. He then told me that he wants me to stay another year, and that he doesn’t want me to leave him.

What is the South Korea Fulbright ETA?

Taken from the 2019-2020 South Korea ETA Handbook:


“In 1992, the Fulbright Korea English Teaching Assistant Program began with the arrival of eight U.S. citizens in South Korea to teach English. Fulbright Korea’s ETA program has grown tremendously since then; today, it is benchmarked as the “Gold Standard” among all ETA programs worldwide by the U.S. State Department. The program is the largest among all Fulbright Commissions, boasting nearly 1,400 program participants since its founding. It is highly regarded for its innovative training, unmatched program benefits, and access to the Fulbright Korea alumni network, which consists of more than 6,500 American and Korean scholars, researchers, and specialists. Currently, the Korean-American Educational Commission (KAEC), Korean Ministry of Education, and U.S. Institute of International Education jointly organize, select, and develop the guidelines for the program.

The Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) program grants American college graduates teaching positions in elementary and secondary schools across South Korea. ETAs typically teach classes from late August to mid-July, as well as supplementary classes which may or may not be held during winter vacation. ETAs are cultural ambassadors, and are therefore encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities available to learn more about South Korean culture, in addition to sharing their own culture.

To help ETAs adjust to life in South Korea and prepare for the challenges of working and teaching in a Korean school, as well as living in a new cultural environment, the KAEC holds an intensive
Orientation training program each summer for new ETAs. At the end of this Orientation period, ETAs move to their respective placements and teaching assignments. All first-year ETAs will be
placed in homestays. Homestay experiences are a vital part of the grant year as they provide an immersive and engaging environment in which to better learn about Korean culture, customs, and language, while ETAs acclimate to life in South Korea. Grantees should not accept this grant unless they are ready to live in a Korean homestay.

To continue supporting ETAs during the grant year, Fulbright holds two conferences in the fall and spring. Past conferences were held in Gyeongju (located on the mainland) and in Seogwipo (located on Jeju Island). The conferences are forums to share teaching ideas, work through teaching challenges, and hear from guest speakers. The conferences are also opportunities for ETAs to build their social networks, discuss life in Korea and next steps as young professionals.”

Orientation site revealed!

A few days ago we got our 2019-2020 Korea ETA handbook! It’s like 60 pages long and it’s filled with all the answers I could’ve asked for!

When I saw it in my email, the first thing I did was scroll all the way down to where the orientation information was. It looks like I’ll be staying at Yonsei’s Incheon campus for my first six weeks! I’ve actually been to Incheon before and visited the boardwalks on the water there. Not to mention Incheon is where I’ll be flying into, so I’ll have a pretty short bus ride from the airport to our orientation site! If I remember correctly, Incheon is about an hour away from Seoul via subway so hopefully I’ll be able to sneak into Seoul one weekend!

I also found two other South Korea ETA Fulbrighters in my cohort that are going to be on the same flight as me! Hopefully I’ll get to know them a bit during the 14+ hour flight. Each day, leaving becomes more and more tangible.

If anyone’s interested, I’m attaching the 2019-2020 South Korea ETA handbook here. It has tons of information about teaching attire, homestay life, and way more.

(P.S.- The part where it says the South Korea ETA program was revered as the “gold standard” of all Fulbright ETA programs really made me smile)