Dedicated volunteer wins Fulbright to teach English in South Korea

Haneen Amro stands for a photo.

Mix high octane volunteerism and a love of things Asian and you get Haneen Amro, winner of a Fulbright award to support the teaching of English in South Korea.

Amro graduated this May with a bachelor’s in speech-language pathology from the UW-Milwaukee College of Health Sciences. She had been hoping to take some time off before going on to graduate school, and the Fulbright is making it possible.

Amro became interested in Korea through the Conversation Partner program in the English as a Second Language area at UWM. She’d always been interested in Asia, but meeting Korean students as conversation partners got her to focus on that country.

Two students sit and talk.
Talking with students from Korea in the Conversation Partners program at UWM got Haneen Amro interested in visiting the country. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

“I met a couple of Korean international students, and from there my interest just grew,” she recalled. “I started looking into the culture, learning the language, and meeting more Korean people.”

Her interest was so intense that she visited Korea in March 2016, visiting places she heard about from Korean friends she’d met at UWM.

She learned about the scholarship from a friend who went to Malaysia on a Fulbright.  When she learned that the program could take her to Korea, she decided to apply.

“I didn’t know how prestigious the grant was, which was a blessing in disguise,” she laughs, “because I didn’t stress about it during the application process.”

A Milwaukee native, Amro was well-traveled before she went to Korea. She spent her first two years of high school studying in Jordan, which presented special challenges. Her first year was in an English-speaking school where she found the curriculum more rigorous than she was accustomed to. Her second year was in an Arabic-speaking school, and she spent long hours mastering the language to keep up with her studies.

“Those two years were tough, but I learned a lot,” she said.

Her interest in communication stems in part from that experience.

“Communication is such an important part of living,” she says. “When I was younger, I was introverted, and I saw that having the ability to voice your own thoughts is really important.”

Back in America, her work as a volunteer also shaped her interest in communication.

“I volunteered at a hospital and at the Urban Ecology Center in Washington Park, and I met kids who had fallen behind in language, or haven’t had the economic resources to advance their communication skills.”

She was also deeply impressed by children she’d met last summer in Palestine who had lost their ability to speak, either through injury or trauma.

Though she says her volunteerism has slowed a bit while in college, it’s difficult to see how.

“These days I volunteer with Ma’ruf Milwaukee, working with Syrian and Burmese who come to Milwaukee,” she said. “I’m mostly helping children do their homework, and English.”

And of course, her volunteer work as a conversation partner is what led her to her Fulbright-sponsored sojourn.

Amro’s volunteerism will continue unabated in Korea. Besides teaching English to high schoolers and adults, she plans to work with North Korean refugees. But that’s not all.

“I’m also going to look into English tutoring students with disabilities, or students whose parents can’t afford what they call ‘afterschool academies.’”

She has already reached out to a member of her Fulbright cohort to further her academic interests.

“We are going to look into what opportunities Korea provides children with disabilities,” Amro said.

That her path to Korea should pass through UWM seems even more improbable when you consider that Amro is a transfer student: Despite having two scholarships to Marquette, she came to UWM in 2014, a decision she doesn’t regret.

“I was hesitant at first, but I love the diversity here, and people were so welcoming,” she said. “I love that I have been able to meet so many people from different parts of the world.

“I got to branch out and broaden my horizon and my mind and learn more about other people and other countries and other languages.”

Her academic experience has been similarly gratifying.

“My professors have been amazing,” she said. “One, Mary Ann Fitzgerald, is the reason I came to look into education for children with special needs.”

Fitzgerald, an associate lecturer in exceptional education who wrote a letter of recommendation for Amro, calls her student amazing.

“I was thrilled to learn she’d be teaching in Korea,” said Fitzgerald, who had Amro in her education class “The Exceptional Individual.”

“Although I did encourage her to go to a country I’d be more likely to visit,” Fitzgerald added with a laugh.

Amro is scheduled to stay in Korea for a year, but she’s already thinking about applying for a second year.

Though things have fallen neatly into place, Amro is somewhat amazed that her UWM journey is now taking her to Korea.

“If I had asked my high school self, ‘Do you think you’d end up working abroad?’ I would not have believed it.”

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