Fulbright Year: 2011-2012
Proposal Type: English Teaching Assistantship
UGA Undergraduate Majors: Psychology and Cross-Cultural Health and Aging
Graduation Date: May 2010
Hometown: Stone Mountain, Georgia
Andrea Bessey’s first few weeks as a Fulbright Scholar were memorable mostly because of the difficulties she faced teaching English in a provincial town in the northeast region of Thailand.
“In my first months as the only foreigner living and teaching children of rice farmers at a government secondary school 12 hours from Bangkok, I felt overwhelmed, confused, and isolated,” says Andrea, who graduated from UGA in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in honors interdisciplinary studies focused on cross-cultural health and aging.
“I was trying to learn their language, to adjust to life alone in a different culture, and to teach English to crowded classes of students who understood very little of my verbal instruction.”
Feeling vulnerable and isolated, Andrea had a hard time making personal connections and was unable to satisfy the curiosity of her students about life in the United States. But once she began to pick up on the language her students and residents of the area grew up speaking, Andrea’s Fulbright experience blossomed, both in and out of the classroom.
“I understood I needed to learn Thai to allow relationships to develop,” Andrea says. “My experience changed dramatically once I could understand, speak, read, and write Thai. Communication cleared up confusion, relieved frustration, and allowed relationships to thrive.”
Andrea—who in 2009 took part in an independent study program in Thailand and in 2007 traveled to Vietnam for a public-health study abroad course—became versed enough in the language to make the transition from being a visitor to being part of the fabric of the town where she lived.
“I became part of the community, living comfortably in a place I had not known existed months before,” Andrea, who plans to pursue graduate studies in nursing and public health, says. “Many students and teachers would joke that, although born in a foreign country, I am Thai. I am grateful to have experienced being in an intimate relationship with a foreign culture, granted access into communities, homes, and hearts … It was a year of connecting and learning what it means to be completely loving and generous.”
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