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Following her passions of teaching and traveling, 23-year-old Mackville resident Sarah Carey had the experience of a lifetime when she was able to spend a year in South Korea with the Fulbright Program, teaching English to seventh-graders.
“I like to travel, and I like to teach myself; kill two birds with one stone,” Carey said.
During her time at Georgetown College, from which she graduated in 2012 with a major in English, a minor in religion and her teaching certification, Carey was encouraged to apply for the Fulbright Program.
“I kind of went back and forth with it and I decided to apply to the South Korea program, which is the oldest program. And I got it,” she said, expressing excitement.
Carey was accepted to be an English teaching assistant in South Korea. The program had a 28 percent acceptance rate in 2012, making Carey an unusual case.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she said.
She lived with a host family on Jeju Island, which is about 50 miles off the coast of mainland South Korea.
“It’s described as the Hawaii of Korea,” she said. “I technically lived in the Hawaii of Korea for a year, and it was great.”
“There’s just something about waking up in a foreign country every morning. It’s just such a unique experience,” she said.
However, Carey knew it couldn’t have been easy for her parents, Sandy and Kathy, and her brother, Joshua.
“I knew it was probably hard for them to ship me off for a year,” she said.
While living overseas is often connected with the concept of “culture shock,” Carey said she didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, it was almost a bigger adjustment returning to the culture in the United States in July.
”I’m still wanting to bow to people. I have to catch myself,” she said, laughing. “In Korea ... you just bow to be polite. It’s little things like that, that you’ve gotten used to, that you have to stop doing here in the States.”
Other things she noticed were the holidays, such as how Christmas seemed to be acknowledged almost in passing, but the Korean New Year, which occurred in February, was a big deal.
“It was very formal,” she said, explaining that they exchanged gifts and honored deceased family members. “It was a time to pay respect to family members who have passed away. In Korea, there’s a lot of honoring of your ancestors like that.”
Karaoke also was something people seemed to enjoy in South Korea, Carey said, unlike the United States where people often are too embarrassed to get up and sing. There, she explained, they had “singing rooms” where people would visit for about an hour and everyone would sing.
”You don’t have to worry,” she said, “everyone sings.”
Another thing she adapted to was using chopsticks in place of a fork. After about three months, she became something of an expert.
“I had to learn, had to be deliberate,” she said, adding that using the chopsticks sort of stayed with her.
“Even now, I still use them when I eat.”
She was able to travel some to neighboring Japan and even managed to return home for two weeks. This was not her first experience at traveling, as she has been outside the United States before and been to all 50 states.
This fall, Carey will teach seventh-grade English at Browning Springs Middle School in Madisonville.
“This is my first year teaching in the States, so, it’s a whole different ball game,” she said, laughing.
For those who contemplate traveling to or even living in a foreign country, Carey encourages considering key things such as adaptability to new scenarios and weighing the options that are available.
When someone applies, “the worse thing that can happen is they tell you ‘no.’ But, the best thing that can happen is they tell you ‘yes,’ and you end up going and you have one of the best times of your life,” she said. “You can’t get it if you don’t try.”
While many people would focus on the differences in the two cultures, Carey learned more about similarities.
“My time in Korea taught me that we all have more in common than we think,” she said.
South Korea has been heavily influenced by Western culture. At the same time, she said, it has heavy Eastern influences as well, making it an “East meets West crossroad.”
“South Korea was so modern, so developed. It was such a great experience,” Carey said. “Everyone was so kind, so welcoming. If anyone is ever in Asia, I suggest visiting South Korea.”