A fascination with East Asian history has led a new East Central University graduate to become the university's first recipient of a prestigious Fulbright grant.
Dianna Kriegh of Vanoss has been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program which offers fellowships for study, research and teaching in other countries. She applied to teach English for a year in South Korea.
The U.S. Student Program is one part of the large Fulbright Program, the international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and named for the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.
Approximately 7,500 Fulbright grants are awarded annually in a number of categories for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, artists, musicians and scientists.
Dianna Kriegh, who just graduated from East Central University, has been awarded a prestigious yearlong Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in South Korea. She is ECU's first recipient of a Fulbright grant and will leave for South Korea in June.
The goal of the English Teaching Assistantship is for foreign students to improve their English language abilities and knowledge of the United States while American students enhance their knowledge and language skills of their host country.
Kriegh wanted to go to Korea to learn to speak the Korean language. The South Korean government wants its children to learn to speak English fluently.
"There is a big demand in Korea for native English-speaking teachers," Kriegh said. "They want all their high school graduates to be able to speak fluent English. They want them to have the proper pronunciation and accent. Native Koreans can't teach the proper pronunciation and accent."
She will be one of 90 English teaching assistants going to South Korea. She will leave the first of June for six weeks of orientation at a university before being placed in a rural area. She will teach 12 months in a junior high or high school and return to the United States toward the end of July 2011.
Fulbright will pay her travel and some other expenses. Her Korean school will furnish her housing, probably with a family, and pay her a stipend of 1.6 million won each month, or $14.
"In Korea, teachers are very respected. There is no disrespect in their school system," Kriegh said. "It is a very strict system, a rote system, what we try not to do here."
She will be expected to teach 40 students 20 hours per week, plus spend 20 to 30 hours planning, grading papers and helping Korean teachers.
"Their schools go pretty much year-round," she said. "They have a longer school day, from eight to 10 hours each day. The students get out at 5 or 6 p.m. Since the school systems are so highly competitive, and future jobs depend on the school system they are in, many students go to special academies in the evenings. School is a 24-hour job."
Because the academies and universities are expensive, many South Koreans go to high school and college in other countries, Kriegh said.
The Fulbright teaching assistants are not required to know the Korean language.
"I'm a lot better reading and writing Korean. My conversational skills are pretty much nil. It's kind of scary," she said.
Kriegh completed her student teaching at Roff this spring and graduated from ECU with a bachelor's degree in history with teacher certification. She plans to earn a graduate degree in East Asian history, hopefully at the University of Pittsburgh.
"I've always loved history," she said. "I want to know as much as I possibly can. I got intrigued with East Asian history. It's as different, compared to U.S. history, as you can get."
One of her ECU roommates was from South Korea, and one thing led to another.
Kriegh needed a foreign language component to qualify for graduate school. One of her history professors, Dr. Greg Sutton, directed her to a Korean language course last summer at the University of California at Berkley.
"If I hadn't done that," she said, "I wouldn't be doing this."
That's where she found out about and considered applying for the South Korean government's TaLK program in which Americans teach English for six months to two years.
Back at ECU, she learned about the Fulbright Program from Dr. Trisha Yarbrough, the program's campus director, and decided to apply, going through an extensive application process with assistance from her professors, including her adviser, Dr. Linda Reese.
Her application had to be approved by a committee at ECU, then a national screening committee which recommended sending it to a Fulbright Commission in Korea for further review. Finally, she was approved by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.
Kriegh was notified by email in January that she was a finalist, but heard nothing more until she received a contract in the mail on April 22.
The hardest part was waiting to find out, she said. Since she was about to graduate from ECU, she worried mainly about what to do if she didn't receive the Fulbright grant. She didn't apply for the graduate school she wants because it's highly competitive, and if she had to turn it down to go to Korea, she could lose that opportunity.
Now, she sometimes thinks, "Oh, my gosh, I can't believe I did this. But I'm really looking forward to it."
There is a little fear of the unknown, she admitted. What concerns her most, though, is that she won't be allowed to leave South Korea until July 2011.
"That's a long time to be gone from home."
Kriegh had a 4.0 grade point average at ECU and was one of the finalists for the Nigh Award presented annually to the top graduating senior.
She is a member of Alpha Chi national honor society and presented a paper in March at the Alpha Chi Super-Regional Convention in Little Rock, Ark. She also is a member of Phi Alpha Theta history honor society and the ECU Honors Student Association. She has been secretary of Rotaract, the youth division of Rotary International, since 2008 and has participated in a number of its projects.
Kriegh also was an Academic Quiz Bowl chief judge for the Oklahoma Junior Academic Bowl Association and an Academic Quiz Bowl judge for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. She worked as a customer service representative for Interactive Response Technologies in Ada for three and a half years.
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