“It was an eye-opening experience being on the other side of the world,” he said.
His parents are glad that their son is back home, albeit for a short time.
“It‘s great to have him back, but we know the time’s going to fly,” said Scott Strotman, Adam’s father.
The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. government and is a flagship international educational exchange program that was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. The program has given some 300,000 students, teachers, scholars, artists and scientists the opportunity to work abroad over the course of the program.
Grant recipients are selected based on academic or professional achievement, as well as the potential for leadership in the recipients selected field.
Strotman, who graduated from Kennesaw State with a 3.97 GPA, was one of about 80 people from around the United States who had the opportunity to teach in South Korea and was one of about 1,600 people to travel abroad from the United States overall.
Strotman’s trip started in Seoul, where he and the other teachers went through a seven-week orientation, which included taking part in an intense Korean culture education session and learning how to develop lesson plans for their classes.
“Education is more formal (in South Korea),” Strotman said. “Because college is so important for their careers, the amount of time they spend in school is unbelievable. Some students, in extreme cases, spend as much as 16 hours a day in school.”
For the year, Strotman resided in Hwacheon, a small rural town nearly three hours away from Seoul and taught English as a foreign language to a group of middle school students.
“The program tries to take people to places that don’t normally get exposure to foreigners,” he said.
Strotman was grateful for the opportunity to teach, but noted that the knowledge level of his students varied, making him have to find a compromise in his teaching.
“My students weren’t leveled,” he said. “There were some students who were complete beginners and didn’t even know the alphabet and there were others who were almost perfectly fluent and spent their winter breaks in Australia or the Philippines to study.”
While teaching students the English language was an important aspect of his time abroad, Strotman said that teaching wasn’t the only highlight of the trip.
“Under the Fulbright Grant, we’re not just teachers,” Strotman said. “We are sort of like cultural ambassadors and we try to make the most of our time there. There was more emphasis on culture. Not just teaching, but creating a lasting bond and knowledge between countries.”
Strotman had many of stories about his experience in Hwacheon, but the one that stuck out the most was his trip into the Demilitarized Zone between the South Korean and North Korean border.
“It was like I was in one of those old war movies,” he said.
The trip consisted of Strotman, other teachers in the town and other nearby towns, and multiple high school students; during it, Strotman learned the history behind the war and said that his students helped in translating some of the information that he and the others did not understand. Still, he was surprised at how the land looked in the area.
“One of the students I was escorting told me at one point that we were in a mine zone,” Strotman said. “As we kept going, I realized it was ironically some of the most pristine land I have ever seen. It reminded me of a national park.”
During his tenure, Strotman lived with a host family, who he said were incredible to be around.
“They were amazing,” he said. “Their approach to everything was completely different and they had a very interesting career path and lifestyle. They were not only welcoming, but also helped me accommodate to the new area.”
His host parents, who are both sculptors, presented Strotman with a bust of his head as a parting gift; the school Strotman taught at for the year also presented him with a plaque for his time there. Strotman will be returning to South Korea for a second year on Aug. 18.
“I’m trying to study Korean and the best way to learn it is to be immersed in it,” he said. “After college, most people end up in that rut of being in a 9-to-5 grind. I didn’t want to start into that kind of position yet. And it’s a great opportunity to be able to work under the Fulbright Grant.”