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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Every Corner of the World

Syracuse Fulbright Scholars make meaningful impacts around the globe

May 4, 2015, by Amy Manley

Fotini Gan ‘12 (left) with her roommate in a Taiwan Classroom
Fotini Gan ‘12 (left) with her roommate in a Taiwan Classroom

Growing up in New Jersey, Fotini Gan ‘12 knew that, someday, she would travel far beyond the borders of “The Garden State.” Today, standing before a small class in rural Taiwan, the international relations major admits that her dream has become a reality.

Gan is one of six graduates from Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences participating in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program’s 2014-15 cycle. Each Fulbright English Teaching Assistant spends a year in his or her host country, teaching English, sharing cultural experiences, and serving as a “friendship ambassador” of the University and the United States.

Fotini Gan ‘12

An English teacher in Taiwan, Gan splits her time between two elementary schools; each 35 minutes in opposite directions from where she lives in the rural town of Meinong which is just northeast of Taiwan’s second largest city, Kaohsiung.

“Because the rural townships are mostly populated by senior citizens, Internet connectivity is low, and few of my students own a computer. Plus, there is little for young people to do, outside of going to school and staying home,” says Gan, whose program ends in July. “One of my main goals for the year was to inspire curiosity in the students that would outlast my grant period—to get them excited about asking questions and wanting to learn about the world.

” Gan says that, even though her Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) workload is intense, she manages to find time to explore the countryside. She’s particularly fond of nearby mountain ranges, which she explores on her motor scooter.

“Next year, I will stay in Taiwan for a year to study Chinese and work on graduate school applications. My Fulbright experience helped me realize that I ultimately want to work in international development in the future,” she adds.

Rebecca Ierardo takes a class 'selfie'.
Rebecca Ierardo takes a class 'selfie'.

Rebecca Ierardo '14

For Rebecca Ierardo ‘14, cultural exchange feels a bit like an addiction.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, her family resettled to the Philadelphia, Pa. area when she was just 10 years old. While a little farther north at Syracuse University, she majored in anthropology and international relations, with emphasis on Asia and international political economy.

“Growing up floating between two different cultures, even those as seemingly similar as Australia and the U.S., instilled a desire to leave my comfort zone and understand new cultures without judgment—something I think many people still unconsciously struggle with,” explains Ierardo, who lives and works in the Malaysian city of Kuchung.

Ierardo says that, for many of her students, English is a third or fourth language; especially if they are part of the large indigenous population of Sarawak, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. This aspect, combined with their different cultures and learning philosophies (not to mention the area’s stifling heat and humidity), creates unique challenges. But she is inspired to help pave new avenues of learning for her pupils.

“I just hosted what Malaysians call an 'English Camp', where I took sixty 13-year-old students to the State Library, one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in Sarawak, complete with it's own park and lake,” says Ierardo, who wants to earn a master’s degree in NGO management or public administration. “The Library allowed me to 'transport' them to the worlds of six difference pieces of classic children's literature, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. It was a chance to not only teach English, but also inspire creativity and foster a love of reading.”

Alexis Lian in Paris
Alexis Lian in Paris

Alexis Lian '11

After graduating from Syracuse with degrees in policy studies and political science, Alexis Lian ’11 left for Baltimore, Md., to work for Teach For America. For three years, she taught English at an alternative high school for overaged, under-credited students, while earning an M.S.Ed. degree in secondary education from Johns Hopkins University.

These experiences, combined with Lian’s ESOL training and an SU Abroad semester in Strasbourg, France, have prepared her for Fulbright teaching in Bourg-en-Bresse, near the French city of Lyon.

“This year has opened my eyes to a side of education that I was previously unaware of,” says Lian, a member of the Phi Sigma Pi national honor fraternity. “I have been given a look into a completely different education system and set of education policies, and it has given me new perspective on how I hope to work in education back in the States.”

This fall, Lian will begin studying education policy in the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Christine Oh with her class in South Korea
Christine Oh with her class in South Korea

Christine Oh ‘12

It didn’t take long for Christine Oh ’12 to realize that the “rat race” wasn’t for her.

“After I graduated, I felt that my passions did not fit the job I had,” says Oh, who majored in psychology, Spanish, and public relations at Syracuse. “I realized my interests and skills were better suited for another field and decided that I wanted to work as a teacher, psychologist, or guidance counselor.”

A change of scenery was just what she needed. So having spent three summers studying abroad while a student at SU, Oh was naturally drawn to the Fulbright program. Today, Oh teaches at an all-boys high school in Cheongju, South Korea, where she helps students apply their English language skills to everyday situations. She also leads a popular course called “Debate and Discussion.”

“The Fulbright program gave me an opportunity to work in this field and gain more experience,” Oh continues. “I wanted to have a long-term experience abroad to really live and immerse myself in the daily life of another culture.”

Emily Pompelia in Germany
Emily Pompelia in Germany

Emily Pompelia ‘14

One could say that Emily Pompelia ’14 has been preparing for the Fulbright program for more than a decade, when she began studying German in high school.

Based at a vocational school in the German town of Butzbach, north of Frankfurt, Pompelia works mainly with adults interested in trades such as electric and solar technology and food engineering. The work is fun but challenging, she says.

“In every class I teach, I have at least one student who can keep up with everything I say, at least one student who doesn’t understand a word, and the rest fall somewhere in the middle,” says Pompelia, who majored in German, policy studies, and newspaper and online journalism. “However, when I have those students who normally cannot keep up, joining along in lessons, raising their hands, and speaking to me in English in the hallway between classes, that is when I feel most rewarded.”

For all the similarities between the United States and Germany, Pompelia says she often finds herself fielding questions about American politics and culture, such as “Do you own a gun?” and “What do Americans do who don’t have health insurance?”

“I underestimated the pressure and responsibility I’d feel even answering those questions. This experience has caused me to reflect on my own nationality and how America is viewed as a global power in the eyes of others,” she says.

Miles exploring the mountains of Vietnam.
Miles exploring the mountains of Vietnam.

Leann Miles ‘14

For Leann Miles ’14, who was born in South Vietnam, returning to her homeland as a Fulbright scholar has been nothing short of memorable. It also has involved some explaining.

“I find myself having to explain why I am not tall or don’t have ‘yellow’ hair like the other Americans,” says Miles, who moved to Tuscon, Ariz., when she was five. “In the beginning, I had to explain how I could be both Vietnamese and American.”

Miles instructs more than 300 students who are part of a teacher training college in the Vietnamese provenance of Lào Cai. Many of them aspire to become English teachers or tour guides, the latter of which is becoming a huge business in Vietnam.

The Fulbright experience is something of a departure for Miles, who earned a biochemistry degree at Syracuse. When she returns to the United States, she will pursue a Ph.D. in biomedicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I am trying to convince the school [in South Vietnam] to allow me to do a ‘Weird Wednesday,’ a fun science club where we bring up interesting and strange news in the science, health, and technology,” she says.

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The Fulbright program was created in 1946 with the mission of increasing cultural understanding between people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program is administered by the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Fulbright Scholars may study, conduct research projects, or teach English in over 140 host countries. Nearly one hundred people have represented Syracuse University in the highly prestigious and celebrated program since it’s inception.

Sue Wadley, Professor of Anthropology, is the Syracuse University faculty representative for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Students and alumni interested in applying for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program should contact Judy O’Rourke with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) at More information about the Fulbright application process can be found at the CFSA website: