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Lifelong learning means stretching yourself daily

Tiffany Chu spends her time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in South Korea helping students view learning as "an ongoing process rather than just a means to an end". Read more about our selfless #WCW :

1. What's your story? What makes you unique?

I spend most of my time looking at the world through a camera lens, and it’s there that I’ve come to recognize the power of storytelling. I’ll start with mine. I’m a 23 year old educator and amateur photographer who writes a to-do list every morning, collects 3D stickers and headbands like they’re going out of style (they’re not and they never will), and inevitably gravitates towards a club sandwich if it’s on the menu. Though I’ve always wanted to teach in another country after finishing college, I was never sure if or how those plans would unfold. But, here I am, learning how to step outside of everything that is familiar and comfortable 7,000+ miles away as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in South Korea. I consider myself fortunate in that my life has intersected with some extraordinary people whose own stories have both resonated with me and reminded me never to stop pursuing my dreams. Photography is my way of distilling the beauty in life, my way of interpreting the things I see. I’m not sure where I’ll be in 5, 10, or 20 years, but I know I’ll have my camera in hand, sharing my story and documenting others’.

2. What motivates you?

The 700 Korean students I teach on a weekly basis. They arrive at school every morning at 8 AM and stay in school until 10 PM – this is extremely common in schools across the country because of the high-stakes testing and competitive college entrance process. My students’ lives revolve around studying. When I asked students to provide examples of hobbies, some even responded with “studying” because they genuinely spend the majority of their “free” time doing practice problems and memorizing from the textbook. This is something that I can’t change, and I know that. However, what I strive to do is create a classroom that provides a fun, safe space of respite from the seemingly unending pressures and expectations they receive from parents, teachers, and Korean society. Despite the constant drilling of material and culture of conformity within schools, I have discovered that so many of my students are seeking to find their own way despite pre-existing molds of what they should do or be like. That motivates me to create classroom content that is both contextually relevant and interesting. I want students to use English, not to merely learn about American culture, but to learn how to express themselves and their culture in a foreign language.

3. Who is a hero of yours?

Without a doubt, my mom. It’s not until I became an adult that I really understood all of the sacrifices she made for our family. She’s like one of those giant 1,000 piece puzzles that no one ever finishes, but every time she tells me a story from her past, I try to piece a little more together. She is a first-generation Chinese-American who came to this country with the money she had been saving up for two ye

ars and a plan involving graduate school. During the first few years in the U.S., she took on a few odd jobs. At one point she was boxing pencils at a factory in New Jersey and at another she was housekeeping for a wealthy family in Malibu. She’s worked in real estate and insurance. Oh, and she ate kale and chia seeds before they were cool. My mom is now an incredible ESL teacher who has always placed students as her number one priority. Growing up, she was my biggest supporter and source of inspiration -- I definitely got my fashion sense from her. Honestly, my mom has never really cared what path I chose as long as I was pushing myself to be the best I could be. I’m thankful to her for encouraging me to love my heritage and making me take Chinese language classes every Saturday for 10 years (it’s really come in handy!). I hope to be more like her every day and to look as good when I’m 65.

4. What's your future plan? Your goals?

After returning to the U.S., I plan to continue teaching English literature at the high school

level and creating a student-centered classroom where my kids can be free to make mistakes, pursue their curiosities, and attempt to make sense of the imperfect world we live in. As a bookworm from an early age, I love how books can not only help us understand ourselves but also instill empathy and compassion. However, my long-term goal is actually outside of the educational sphere: to become a wedding photographer. My love for photography and weddings makes this career an obvious choice, one that I’ve dreamed of since middle school when I picked up my first camera.

5. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Find a good sunscreen, and wear it every day. You only get the skin you have -- take care of it!

6. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?

Lifelong learning. I try to encourage my students to view learning as an ongoing process rather than a means to an end. Lifelong learning means stretching yourself daily, wondering, finding, shaping, re-shaping, and evolving. I believe in reading books, lots of them, and never discontinuing the pursuit of growth, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

7. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?

When I first received my Fulbright placement, I was excited to find out I would be teaching in Cheongju, a moderately-sized city in the middle of South Korea. Little did I know, my living situation would be the complete opposite of the city apartment I had imagined. My homestay placement turned out to be a small village 30 minutes outside of Cheongju, where the village leader makes morning broadcasts at 6 AM through a loudspeaker, and everyone gets together over samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) and rabbit stew. I’m not a fan of either of those food options, but the times spent with the spirited ahjummas and ahjussis in our village have been an unexpected blessing of my grant year. They’ve helped me hone my Korean language skills and taught me traditional Korean card games that we would play late into the night. It doesn’t get any more real than that.

8. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about.

Thank you to Meredith and The Dean’s List for this lovely feature!

And, if you’re curious to see what I’ve been getting up to during my Fulbright grant year in South Korea, feel free to check out my blog:

If you would like to contact Tiffany about mentorship opportunities email her HERE .

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