Mahomet globetrotter bound for South Korea
Some people wait years, even decades, before landing their dream job.
Not Hillary Veitch.
The 22-year-old from Mahomet learned she'd won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to teach English as a foreign language in South Korea before the ink dried on her diploma from Illinois State University.
"I'm still kind of taking it all in," said Veitch, who received the news 3 weeks ago and then her diploma on May 10. "It's definitely humbling to have an opportunity to be an ambassador for my country and university and share the American lifestyle with them. I'm also really excited to immerse myself in their language, culture and history. I feel like I'll be learning as much as my students."
The 2010 Mahomet-Seymour High School alumna is one of two ISU students selected for the U.S. government-sponsored international exchange program this year.
It's highly competitive, campus program advisor Becky Mentzer said. This year, 1,250 people applied for an English Teaching Assistant scholarship in countries in East Asia and the Pacific, but only 318 were awarded.
"Hillary wasn't just throwing a dart at a map on the wall," Mentzer said. "She truly has an interest in the country's culture and history and language, and she welcomes the immersion experience and being an ambassador, which is what it's all about."
Veitch majored in Spanish education at ISU with the goal of teaching the language to high school students.
While she had traveled to Costa Rica with the Spanish Club her freshman year and to Honduras as a junior, it was a study abroad program in Granada, Spain the spring semester of her sophomore year that allowed her to truly immerse herself in the language and culture. That, along with getting to go to Portugal, Germany, Ireland and Morocco while abroad, got her thinking about other parts of the world and career options.
Back home, Veitch picked up a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and began tutoring adults in an English as a Second Language program at Heartland Community College.
She first considered applying to the Fulbright program while doing research projects with professors Kyle Miller and Hyun-Sook Kang, a native of South Korea. As Kang's research assistant, she assessed Korean international students' English speaking and writing abilities and compared their experiences with the Korean education system with those in the U.S.
"It was a great opportunity to learn about Asian culture," Veitch said.
With her professors' encouragement, she started the rigorous application process.
"I knew I kind of had the travel bug," she said. "I thought: Why not use my educational experience and love of traveling to teach English abroad before settling down?"
On July 4, Veitch and 60 other scholars will leave for Seoul, where they will get a crash course on the language, history and culture during a six-week orientation. Veitch will teach middle or secondary-level students.
She looks forward to traveling to China, Japan, Malaysia and other places in Asia and hosting her parents — Tom and Susan Veitch, of Mahomet — on a visit.
After her 13-month stint, Veitch will have the option of renewing her contract for another one or two years. At some point, she wants to pursue a master's degree, teach Spanish in the U.S., even English as a second language in another country.
But "if I love the experience, I'll definitely consider renewing. And, I have no doubt that I will."