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Heartland ESL teacher offered Fulbright grant

June 2, 2016

Lauren Colby of Morton, Illinois is on a mission to make education accessible globally.

As a student at the University of Illinois (class of 2014), she majored in Global Studies and focused on regions and language. She's spent time in Ecuador studying the impact of education on development, addressed English language challenges for Chinese speakers in China and spent a year in Thailand as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Most recently, she applied her education and experience to Heartland's ESL (English as a Second Language) program as an instructor.

A Desire to Give Back

Colby visits an orphanage in ThailandAll of her experiences have been educational and inspiring, but Thailand seems to hold a special place in her heart. "When you're in a country that long, it starts to feel like home. I always thought, if given the opportunity, I could come back and make an impact," Colby said.

In terms of English language education, Colby noticed teachers in Thailand did not learn the language from native speakers, nor had they traveled abroad. "There's so much complexity to learning English," she said. "I've always thought it would be great to go back as a teacher and share my knowledge."

To accomplish this, and on a bit of a whim, Colby applied for Fulbright, a competitive, merit-based grant program that gives individuals the opportunity to participate in an international educational exchange. The application process often takes several weeks or months and includes a project proposal, a compelling personal statement and letters of recommendation.

With the help of a committee at U of I, Colby started her application in August 2015 and received her offer letter in March 2016.

"I was in complete disbelief," she said. "I wasn't sure if it was real or not. I asked people, 'Can you read this? Are we reading the same thing?'"

Opportunity of a Lifetime

It was in fact the real deal. Come September, Colby will make her way back to Thailand. She doesn't know all the details yet, such as living arrangements and what specific area she is assigned, but she'll spend 12 months as a teaching assistant for K through 12 students.

"It's going to be a little different than teaching adults and will certainly be an adjustment," she commented. "My experience at Heartland will help in Thailand. It gave me a huge confidence boost. I feel I have a well-rounded experience and have the ability to teach a wide range of people."

Future Plans

After her time in Thailand, Colby may look into grad school. She hopes her experience of teaching both adults and kids will help her choose an age on which to focus. Ultimately, she wants to see how having accessible education can bring people out of a certain financial classification. She also hopes to do volunteer projects that impact education.

Follow Colby in Thailand

If you're interested in keeping up with Colby's work in Thailand, follow her on Instagram. She'll also post to her blog come September.

Written by: Becky Gropp