What’s the first thing you do when you find out you’ve been accepted to one of the most prestigious and competitive grant programs in the world? If you’re Tyler Fleming, you go for a run.
For Fleming, the past week has been somewhat of a whirlwind. On May 13, he graduated as a Distinguished Honors Scholar, Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Science and Business, and a minor in Pre-medical Studies from Philadelphia University.
After five straight years of schooling and work, he wasn’t ready to take a break.
Instead, he traveled home to Rochester, New York to begin studying in earnest for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Meanwhile, he mulled over an exciting job offer as a chemical lab technician for a consumer goods quality certification and testing laboratory based in Horsham.
Then he got the email that sent him running. It was from the Institute of International Education, requesting that he call as soon as possible regarding his application to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
“I went running. That sort of running/thinking combination, you know, when you’re trying to distract yourself,” said Fleming.
A prestigious honor
After clearing his head, he made the call that confirmed that he was one of only a dozen students nationwide accepted into the English Teaching Assistant program in Vietnam.
“After I picked my jaw up off the floor… I kind of ran around, and in broken English with whatever words I could muster I managed to get out what had happened,” Fleming explained of telling his mother the news.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which includes the English Teaching Assistantship (ETA), offers the opportunity for English speakers to teach non-native English speakers in another country for 10 months to refine their teaching skills and to act as ambassadors for America. Applicants may only apply to one country.
Having traveled in Europe, and studied abroad in Australia, Fleming decided he wanted to travel beyond the English-speaking world.
“When I looked at the Fulbright, I said ‘I’m either going to Africa or Asia’ to really push myself outside of my Anglo-Saxon, Western comfort zone – to grow.”
When he applied in October of last year, he decided on Vietnam, “I’m just really excited to go to a completely different part of the world and have the privilege of looking in on their culture, and learning about how they live their lives and what connects us all.”
A time for self reflection and professional growth
A self-admitted Type A personality, the waiting and “not knowing” of the process is a bit unnerving for Fleming. As of now, all he knows is that in August, he will depart for a month-long training in Hanoi. He hopes that training will involve an intensive course in Vietnamese language. From there, it’s all unknown territory, including where in the country he will be placed to teach university-level English.
“I want to be a doctor. One of my reasons for doing the ETA is that I want to make sure I’m able to communicate. I think often in the medical world there is not enough emphasis put on patient communication,” Fleming said, noting that the focus is usually on learning in the sciences, and memorizing facts.
In addition to teaching 20 hours a week, Fleming will use his time in Vietnam to connect with an NGO, clinic or community outreach program to learn about traditional Eastern medicine, and contribute some of his own knowledge from science classes and his work as an EMT.
In the meantime, he plans on volunteering at the local hospital in Rochester.
“I’m looking forward to learning about myself and just learning about what it means to be human in general and all the challenges that come with that. I think it will make me a better physician and a better professional in the future.”
Fleming plans to document his Fulbright experience in Vietnam in a journal or blog.