ONIF Alumni Spotlight
September 16, 2022
Name: Jaida Macklin
Graduation Date: May 2020
Fellowship Award: Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to South Korea
What are your current or future career plans? As of right now, post-Fulbright, I intend to enroll in a graduate program to earn my MFA in creative writing or literary translation. I would like to work in international youth publishing before establishing a content creation studio of my own dedicated to the intercultural stories of people around the world. I also want to continue promoting the Fulbright mission by encouraging American children to learn additional languages and would like to teach a Korean language course to underserved children in Los Angeles and Chicago.
What have you enjoyed most about the program? Currently, what I enjoy most is the chance to make new connections and strengthen bonds within my community here. Every day, my community grows and I’m grateful for the chance to exchange ideas with people across the globe. Whether it’s my friends, my students, neighbors, or passerby on the street, I’m learning naturally and growing immensely through these interactions. I also enjoy the chance to connect with people in their native language, one that is so seemingly different from my own, and travel around this beautiful country. These experiences have brought forth new perspectives and understanding. I spend a lot of my weekends traveling to other parts of the country with friends, and there’s so much in this country to learn about and connect with.
What has been the most challenging aspect of the program? Honestly, there’s been many. Moving across the world amidst the pandemic is not for the weak. I’ve faced challenges in both my professional and personal life regarding language barriers, housing situations, and state of being whilst tackling these aspects of working abroad. But most importantly, it’s all a part of the learning experience and I’m grateful. I look forward to taking these lessons with me in my future endeavors. Though I will say that the single-handedly most challenging thing about the program is not the language barrier or the teaching but having to do things alone. Even with my incredible support systems in-country and out of it, there are still problems and responsibilities that only I can deal with. Even when I walk through my town at night, a beautiful village hidden amongst rivers and mountains in the countryside of South Korea, I think it’d be nice to have a friend to walk beside me. People can give you advice, but friends that live in provinces hours away can’t make sure you eat or help you defeat the spider in the corner of the room. This season of complete independence is refreshing but can be lonely. However, in our world of technology, it’s true they’re nothing but a call away, and with Korea’s impressive public transportation, just a bus or train.
How has Covid-19 impacted your experience? During our orientation, we weren’t allowed to leave the campus we were residing on for six weeks, plus we had very strict rules about who we could see and for how long. It wasn’t entirely unreasonable as this was early January 2022, when cases were beginning to peak again. However, for some grantees, it did make the initial settling-in process more difficult as you intend to get to know people and develop a semblance of an in-country support system. Fortunately for me, I was lucky to have made great friends in the program right off the bat. Since then, South Korea has lifted nearly all COVID-19-related bans except wearing the mask indoors which I have no issue obliging to. Besides that, this is not a perfect program and I don’t always agree with all of the decisions made by the grant administration.
What advice do you have for future applicants? My advice for future applicants is to envision and move forward with a plan, but to also not give up if it doesn't work out exactly as you thought. Another plan is always around the corner. Also, honestly examine your goals to ensure they align with the program you’re entering. Research your grant thoroughly as you’d be surprised what you can find to add to your application. There’s also so many opportunities to study and work abroad, so explore your options, don’t settle, and don’t give up. 할 수 있습니다~
What would people be surprised to know about you? In high school, I was on my school’s varsity badminton team and Editor-in-Chief for our award-winning newspaper. In college, I was a student leader of various affinity orgs including President of Sisters in Solidarity and VP of Black Student Union. Post-college, pre-Fulbright, I hosted a virtual book club showcasing works of Black authors and writers of color. Now, I am currently a Staff Editor for Infusion, a literary magazine centered around the experiences of Fulbright grantees. And most importantly, I’m the extremely proud and doting auntie of four nieces and one nephew. I dearly miss my family along with our dog and three cats that are waiting for me back home in Chicago.
Additional comments: This has been difficult to write. I think for months, I've just been on the go and routinely busy with work, travel or something else. So to sit down and actually reflect and ponder about my experience is so refreshing and also challenging. There's so much I've already learned and so much to come, but I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity and thankful to everyone supporting me through it. I owe a lot of thanks to Cassidy and Monique at ONIF for encouraging me to reapply to Fulbright after only making it to Semi-Finalist the first year around and for all of the great feedback throughout those two years of applying. Thank you!
For more information about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program to South Korea visit: https://us.fulbrightonline.org/countries/east-asia-pacific/south-korea or contact ONIF.