NORMAL — Hillary Veitch admits that, at first glance, she seems like an unlikely candidate to head to South Korea to teach English.
She is graduating Friday from Illinois State University with a bachelor's degree in Spanish education and doesn't speak a word of Korean.
But the Fulbright scholarship winner from Mahomet minored in teaching English to speakers of other languages. She also helped a professor, Hyun-Sook Kang, a native of South Korea, conduct research involving teaching patterns among Korean students.
And the parents of a childhood friend emigrated from South Korea.
When she goes through the commencement ceremonies, Veitch will be wearing a mortarboard decorated with a South Korean flag and Reggie Redbird on a jet.
Kang, an associate professor of English, said she asked Veitch to be her research assistant after having her as a student.
“I was impressed with the quality of her work,” Kang said, pointing to her initiative and natural curiosity.
She later encouraged Veitch to apply for a Fulbright scholarship, a program which includes having recent college graduates teach English overseas.
Before leaving for South Korea, Veitch will go through a six-week orientation program that includes instruction in the country's language, history and culture. Then Veitch will find out where she will be assigned.
Veitch said she will be placed with a host family and receive a monthly stipend. The program's stipends average about $1,700 a month.
She will spend about a year in South Korea and will be able to extend her stay up to an additional two years, Veitch said.
“Teaching is my passion,” Veitch said. “I feel like I'm learning as much as my students.”
She did her student teaching at Morton High School. She also has tutored students in the English as a second language program at Heartland Community College.
Her parents, Tom and Susan Veitch, have supported her decision to teach in South Korea and even plan to visit her while she's there, Veitch said.
“They're nervous, but I know they are excited,” she said.
Veitch is most looking forward to fully immersing herself in the Korean culture.
“It's got me so fired up inside,” she said.
Veitch said she is eager “to share what the American lifestyle is like” and “be a positive ambassador for the United States.”
Talking over coffee in uptown Normal, Kang smiled and told Veitch she expects to hear from her every day.
“I look forward to hearing what it's like for her — her own perspective,” said Kang.
Depending on where Veitch is assigned, she may be able to visit Kang's parents, who still live in South Korea.
“My parents don't speak a word of English,” Kang said.
“Good, that's what I want to hear. I want to be culturally immersed,” Veitch replied.
Veitch said Kang and other professors have been good mentors for her.
“My four years at ISU have been awesome. I've definitely lived what a college kid could live,” she said.
In addition to cultural trips to Costa Rica and Honduras with ISU's Spanish Club, Veitch also spent nearly five months in Granada, Spain, in the study abroad program.
As for her future after teaching in South Korea, Veitch said she is “keeping my options open.”
Kang said, “I picture Hillary working and living as a global citizen in a multicultural setting in a capacity of teaching and research.”