Fulbright winner comes full circle
As a freshman in high school, Tiffany Chu played with the idea of pursuing a career in teaching.
In fact, she spent most of her last year at the University of Georgia working with the same high school teacher that sparked her passion for English education.
"All through high school, I was pretty sure teaching was what I wanted to do in the future," said Chu, who graduated this May from UGA's College of Education with a four-year combined B.A./M.A.T. degree in English and English education. "I even told my AP literature teacher that I wanted to teach English, so it was cool for her to see that I really meant it."
Originally from Lilburn, Chu decided to attend UGA because of the university's Honors Program. By taking intensive courses and some summer classes, she successfully completed her dual bachelor's and master's degree in only four years.
Despite her busy schedule, Chu still participated in a number of activities that reflect her love of education and photography. Two years ago, she co- founded UGA Lens – a service-based organization that provides photographic services to the local community. Comprised of student writers and photographers, the organization donates all profits to the art program at Barrow Elementary School in Athens.
"It's been really rewarding to amass even a small amount of money in our first year and to go contact the teacher," she said. "She was completely unaware that we were even doing something like this."
Chu was a member of the Arch Society, a unique student organization that serves the university. Along with 35 other members, she acted as the official host and goodwill ambassador of UGA and had the opportunity to meet a variety of groups, including outstanding students across campus, diplomats from South Korea and a class of second graders.
In 2012, Chu studied abroad for a full semester with UGA at Oxford and took a diverse set of classes ranging from history and modernist writers to Shakespeare and sociology of education. While traveling through Europe, she enjoyed photographing various monuments in London, Barcelona and Paris.
After she returned, Chu started working with the same teacher that inspired her so many years ago.
"After studying education for three years, the highlight was getting the opportunity to work in the classroom and solidify my desire to teach and mentor adolescents," she said. "I just want to inspire my students to see that there is something out there for them to pursue."
On her last day at Parkview High School, Chu's students wrote her a farewell card and she was struck by how much her teaching impacted them.
"I was sitting in my driveway reading them, and I started crying because the students would talk about how it meant so much to them that I would say 'thank you' everyday after a good class, or that I would say 'bye,'" said Chu. "Small things that might seem so insignificant meant a lot to them."
As a Fulbrighter, Chu will travel to South Korea this summer and teach conversational English to high school students. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed research projects or English Teaching Assistant Programs to facilitate cultural exchange in the classroom.
"When I started looking into South Korea's pressure cooker education system, I just found it really fascinating that their kids are performing at such a high level, but at the same, they're miserable," she said. "I'm interested in what message they're establishing to create a more positive environment for students."
Chu has developed her own teaching style during her time at UGA and wants her students to focus on the bigger picture. In the future, her classroom will feature a free-flowing atmosphere with just enough structure for students to grow and develop.
"I always try to stay cognizant that not everyone is going to study literature for the rest of their lives, but my class still needs to be meaningful for them," she said. "My goal is to use what I've learned in South Korea to inform how I teach in the United States and to guide my practice with a better cultural understanding of how I might be doing it better."