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From Minnesota to Malaysia

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Woodbury High School 2012 graduate Joey Wiley traveled to Malaysia during his sophomore year at Gustavus Adolphus College in hopes of refocusing himself on school.

"I was at a point in my life where I was ready to be done with college, I just needed a break," he said. "I needed to recenter myself."

Wiley succeeded in Malaysia, in fact returning with a 3.3 grade-point average after having left Minnesota with a 2.7 GPA.

"I was able to find myself in a different way," he said. "I was able to get re-energized and recharged. I was able to get my drive back."

Wiley will be returning to Malaysia in 2017, following his graduation from Gustavus this spring, thanks to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

Wiley is a winner of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant, which places recent college graduates and young professionals as English teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools or universities overseas.

"I'm excited to be able to get back to Malaysia," Wiley said. "There's such richness everywhere."

Wiley will travel to Malaysia January through November 2017.

Traveling abroad

When first attending Gustavus, Wiley said he really didn't have any plans to study abroad.

However, that changed when he learned that by studying in Malaysia he could save $4,000.

"I definitely didn't want to go abroad somewhere I was a familiar with though," he said.

During his three months in Malaysia, Wiley took a number of specialized classes that focused on the diversity of the country — diversity in religion, diversity in culture, diversity in language, diversity in tropical ecology and diversity in history.

"It was a crash course of the country," he said.

After Wiley heard about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, there wasn't any question about where he wanted to go because Malaysia impacted his life so dramatically.

"I was able to find parts of myself that I had never found before," he said. "It really matured me."

Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Wiley spent close to a year working on his application for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program that awards grants for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide.

The program awards about 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

The goal of the ETA program is for participants to improve foreign students' English language abilities and knowledge of the U.S. while increasing their own language skills and knowledge of the host country.

The application includes a statement of grant, personal statement and other questions.

Wiley said he went through 66 drafts of his application.

"I was committed to getting it," he said.

In addition to the application, Wiley also had to go through an interview process.

The ETA grant will pay for Wiley's flights, housing, vehicle and monthly stipend.

Wiley isn't sure to what area of Malaysia he will be traveling, but he assumes it will be a fairly rural area because that is where English teachers are most needed.

Wiley will either be in charge of his own classroom, or will serve as a teaching assistant.

Additionally, he will be in charge of running two after school activities.

Wiley said he hopes his experience in Malaysia will provide him with more of an international perspective while helping him discover what he wants to do for a career.

Wiley hopes to use his political science major with a career in government or politics.

"The thing I'm most excited for is the same thing I'm most nervous about," he said, "being challenged in a new way.

"I'm excited to go back to the country with the past knowledge that I have, but last time I was taking classes at a university and now I'm going to be in a completely different context — I'm most excited for the unknown."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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