Vir Das, 2018 Commencement speaker and 2002 Knox graduate, has a new Netflix special out today called "Losing...
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Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Malaysia
Major in Political Science and Minor in Business
What led to your decision to teach abroad?
When I studied abroad in China, I was in a program with all U.S. students. We were on a Chinese campus, but we weren't really interacting with them. So, I worked on the weekends practicing English with kids and eventually began working at a university with graduate students, helping them with conversations. We just talked. As the weeks progressed, their English grew immensely. At first they were uncomfortable, but their confidence increased every time we met. I didn't necessarily feel like a teacher, but I felt proud to have made that impact on them. I also learned to become vulnerable to cultural differences, with sticking out like a sore thumb as a black person in China. There were a lot of times I was extremely uncomfortable. It took a lot of learning things and understanding my identity, and what that meant to be in a different culture. I later learned about the Fulbright Malaysia program, which required five to 10 hours of extracurricular activities. They not only wanted you in the classroom, they wanted you to be a part of the community. I was sold. I had previously written a Fulbright application for Taiwan, but I scrapped it immediately to apply for Malaysia.
Were there any Knox professors or staff members who helped you pursue this endeavor?
Interim Director of the Center for Research and Advanced Study Mariangela Maguire was someone I could always counsel and talk to. She was extremely influential during my last year at Knox. I have so much respect for her. That's one thing I love about Knox, you meet people at the right time and you wonder how you didn't cross paths years ago. Everything happens for a reason. Mariangela helped me lay out the foundation of my Fulbright application essay. She worked with me tirelessly. I was in her conference room every day, working on my essay. I have dyslexia. The way I learn has never been a traditional way of learning. I need to find my own way. With her help, my Fulbright application was the best essay I ever wrote. It was working with Mariangela, having her be there by my side, showing me how to go about writing applications, that helped make it happen.
How do you think your time at Knox has prepared you to be a Fulbright Scholar?
I don't view this as a stepping stone opportunity for me. Teaching abroad is an opportunity based on the experiences I've had to project myself into something even further. It's taking it with an understanding that you don't know the magnitude of the impact that other people will have on me or I'll have on them. I want to go in there with the attitude of 'I want to learn from you.' I'm trying to be as vulnerable as I can be, and not just take away from what they have to offer, but offer everything I can. It's getting familiar with the location and people, and getting accustomed to a new way of life. I needed a purpose to be there, and I found it. Because of where I come from, I'll always work to be the type of person where I get a lot of opportunities to open more doors. I can never imagine what those doors lead to, but Knox and Fulbright have opened them. And if there isn't a door for me to go through next, I'll create that door myself.
Cortney Hill '17 has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Malaysia in 2018. He is one of four Knox students who were selected to teach and complete research abroad. He volunteered as a Teacher for College 4 Kids, Knox's summer enrichment program and participated in StartUp Term as a team member. Hill studied business and international relations at Peking University during his semester in Beijing, China, while investing himself in Chinese language and culture.