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STUDENTS - Debi Ou-Yang

Ou-Yang Completes Korean Fulbright and Returns to Lehigh for Grad School


Deb Ou-Yang
Deb Ou-Yang and her students

When Debi Ou-Yang first considered applying for a Fulbright scholarship, she looked at it as a great way to build on her study abroad experience, and after spending a year teaching English to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Pohang, South Korea, she found out that life as a teacher is very different from life as a student.

Debi participated in Fulbright’s English Teaching Assistantship program, where young American college graduates travel to another country to teach English in a non-capital city. After a six-week orientation program in Chuncheon, the capital of Korea’s northern Gangwon province, Debi was placed in an elementary school in Pohang, an industrial city on Korea’s east coast. There she lived with a Korean host family, taught during the day, and took Korean and taekwondo classes in her free time. She even eventually received her black belt in taekwondo, Korea’s national martial arts form.

While the cultural immersion of life in Korea was sometimes difficult to adjust to, Debi soon formed close bonds with her students and co-teachers. She learned to love her students’ (usually) sweet and considerate attitudes, as well as the help and supportiveness of her colleagues. She also learned that teaching required a great deal from her as an individual. Unlike her study abroad days as a student in Japan, where she could absorb the international experience at her own pace, in Korea she was forced to be an active part of the learning process, with all the attendant responsibilities that came with it. The emphasis of her international experience was not on herself, but on the people she lived and worked with, especially her students. Though she was the American abroad, as a teacher she found her first duty was accommodating the children whose education was her task.

The most important lesson Debi says she learned as a teacher is that everyone has a story, and we need to know that story in order to teach or support those around us. She remembers one child, in particular, who lived with an aging grandmother, and had not learned the sometimes strict cultural norms of Korean etiquette. Only after she found out about the boy’s background did his social awkwardness begin to make sense, and that understanding made her better able to understand and reach that student in his own particular way.

Since returning to Lehigh as a graduate student in the Secondary Education program (Class of 2012), Debi has carried with her the lessons learned in Korea. The combination of mentoring and freedom that the Fulbright program provided her made her year abroad an individual learning experience, yet with enough of the necessary direction to fulfill the program’s goal: to form ties between America and the rest of the world through learning. As an aspiring teacher, she’s learned the value of listening to the stories around her.

You can also read the story of Debi's path to Fulbright.


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