Ajay Bangale

Ajay Bangale
2007 ETA Program

When I made the decision to relinquish my Blackberry rights and embark on a year filled with kimchi, bibimbap and a wide assortment of exotic Korean treats, I obviously had more than food in mind. Rather, the ability to test my limits and expose myself beyond my usual comfort zone was a powerful driver in making my decision. Furthermore, the opportunity to pursue studies and teach in an area of the world I had only read about seemed quite attractive. I had no idea that the way I think, react, listen, and teach would be completely transformed during my one-year fellowship abroad. The first seven weeks in South Korea were by far the most challenging; they involved learning the Korean language from scratch. After an intensive language training program, I had elevated my language skills to the level of a Korean kindergarten students. I could successfully tell a taxi driver where to take me as well as navigate a Korean food menu without having to resort to a translator. I relished in my small, adaptive successes that I would never have even blinked about back in New York. The opportunity to live with a host family also helped speed up my adaptation to a new culture and gave me the proper foundation to understand Korean family customs and traditions. Five generations of family members occupied three relatively modest rooms. From my five-year-old host brother all the way up to the eighty-six-year-old host great-grandmother, I was able to witness the various ‘stages’ of Korean life. The proper ways to bow, the proper ways of serving water to one’s elders, the daily pear and apple eating rituals after every dinner; these were all new traditions that I openly came to embrace and adapt myself to during my year. I also constantly interacted with professors and fellow students who had limited English skills. There were many frustrating times when an idea or concept that I wanted to get through could not properly register on the other end. Yet patience, and mutual understanding, helped me get through these more linguistically painful times. By constantly jotting down questions I had in my notebook, I was able to remember and reinforce some of the open points. All the small adaptive steps that I took during my Fulbright year in South Korea have been crucial to both my professional and personal development. I could have stayed in my corporate cubicle for another year without seizing the chance to do a Fulbright abroad. Yet, I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to live in South Korea; I would undoubtedly make the same decision again today. During these twelve months, I was constantly challenged not only in reassessing previous beliefs and perceptions, but was also able to learn and mold myself with each new experience.

Excerpt from 20 Years of Teaching & Learning. Seoul: Korea-American Educational Commission, 2012, pp. 70-71