URI grad student awarded Fulbright grant to teach English in South Korea

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2015 – University of Rhode Island graduate student Michael Roderick is nearing the end of his stint as a student teacher at Feinstein Elementary School in Providence, one of his requirements for earning a master’s degree in elementary education. Compared to the suburban schools he attended in his native Tiverton, the experience has been eye-opening. But because he is engaging with many students who speak little English, it’s been good practice for his next teaching challenge.


Roderick has been awarded a U.S. Fulbright Student Award to spend the coming school year as an English teacher in South Korea. And since he doesn’t speak a word of Korean – nor has he been away from home for such a long time – he’s a little nervous.


“I applied for the Fulbright because I really wanted to travel and do something to challenge myself and find a way to distinguish myself from other teachers,” said Roderick, who earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and history from URI in 2013.


During his time in South Korea, he will live with a local family and work a 40-hour week in a public school preparing lessons, working with a Korean teacher of English, and teaching elementary school students.


The U.S. Fulbright Student Program is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by providing high-achieving students with the opportunity to study or teach abroad. The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, which funded Roderick’s trip, places grantees in schools overseas to supplement local English language instruction and to provide a native speaker in the classrooms.


His trip to South Korea will not be Roderick’s first trip abroad. As a child he lived in Japan while his father, a U.S. Marine, was stationed in Okinawa. His father’s military service inspired him to apply for an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania in 2013, which he completed thanks to a Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship.


“That was an amazing learning experience,” he said. “I worked in the regional security office at a time when a new ambassador was appointed, so that was pretty exciting. And I did a lot of public outreach, visiting schools to talk to students who wanted to learn about America and the services offered by the embassy.”


It was through the network of Gilman Scholars that Roderick learned about the Fulbright teaching program. “It’s a perfect fit for me,” he said. “It’s a combination of my two greatest interests, international relations and teaching.”


The Fulbright application process was intense, Roderick said. He wrote more than a dozen drafts of the two required essays and went through several rounds of interviews. When he finally heard from the Korean Fulbright committee, he wasn’t sure it was real.


Now that the achievement is settling in, however, he’s preparing to learn the Korean language, first by getting some tips from Minsuk Shim, one of Roderick’s URI education professors, and then through an online course. And he is already thinking about his next steps after his Fulbright year is over.


”I really want to teach at a Department of Defense school or at an American embassy school,” he said. “I’m sure the Fulbright experience will prepare me well for that.”


Pictured above: URI Fulbright award winner Michael Roderick of Tiverton works with students at a school in Vilnius, Lithuania, when he interned at the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania. (Photo courtesy of Michael Roderick).