Miriam Soo Young Hwang-Carlos '17 Receives Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award
The comparative literature major and French minor will move to South Korea for a year to teach and connect with her heritage.
Miriam Soo Young Hwang-Carlos '17 is a third-generation Korean-American who is interested in exploring her Korean identity. Though she grew up only knowing a few basic phrases and words for food in Korean, she recently began studying the language formally at the University of Pennsylvania. And, as a member of the Pan-Asian Resource Center on campus, she works to create community at Haverford for Asian and Asian-American students. But Hwang-Carlos has never been to her family's homeland. Until now.
As the recipient of one of 80 Fulbright English Teaching Awards (ETA) for South Korea, she will spend next year as an English teaching assistant in a local high school—specific placements haven't yet been assigned—while living in a homestay. The Fulbright ETA program places exceptional American graduates in classrooms in more than 70 different countries to provide assistance to local English-language teachers and to act as cultural ambassadors for the U.S.
"I wanted to go to Korea to connect with my heritage and to learn Korean, and the Fulbright seemed like a great opportunity to do this," says Hwang-Carlos. "One of my ultimate goals is to learn enough Korean that I can have a real conversation with my grandparents in their native language."
The comparative literature major and French minor is especially looking forward to reconnecting with—or in some cases, meeting for the first time—her Korean relatives, and hopes to learn some traditional Korean art forms, such as quilting and painting, too.
But in many ways, her year abroad will also be preparation for her future. Hwang-Carlos is interested in language education and, more specifically, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) as a possible future career, so her Fulbright year will be a good initial introduction to leading a classroom.
"Teaching English to immigrant communities in the U.S. is one of the many things I’ve thought about [doing]," she says. "I am very concerned about the connections between language education—and particularly ESL—and imperialism, neo-colonialism, and U.S. hegemony. I am hoping that I can figure out a way to teach through a social-justice lens and to encourage my students to embrace their native languages even as they learn English."
Hwang-Carlos had long felt that it was important for her to go to Korea and explore her roots, and it is apt that she is finally getting the chance now, after completing her senior-thesis journey. That capstone project, on the meaning of homeland, space, and belonging in two Francophone texts, initially began as an exploration of voyages to lost or unknown homelands inspired by her own life experience.
"This grew out of thinking about my personal life and what it would mean for me to go to Korea," she says, "which is sort of a homeland or motherland for me, but is also completely unknown and foreign to me."