Jill Olson, a graduating senior at Iowa State, has received a highly prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Award enabling her to serve as an English teaching assistant in a school in Taiwan for 11 months. The Fulbright Program, administered by the U.S. State Department, seeks to provide professional advancement and cross-cultural experiences.
Olson, a psychology and Spanish double major from Mahtomedi, Minnesota, plans to use the immersive experience in Taiwan to pursue her goal of working in secondary education to support international students. With her Spanish major and minor in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), she looks forward to adding Mandarin Chinese to her skillset. “Many of the international students on campuses today are from East Asia, so it made sense to focus on that region to have a more diverse background,” she explained.
The process of applying for the Fulbright was a long one for Olson. “I started working on my application in May 2021,” she recalled. “Without encouragement from the people in the World Languages and Cultures Department, I’m not sure that I would have even applied. I didn’t know if they would accept a student like me. I’m a fifth-year senior, and I changed my major three times.”
The Fulbright application includes a self-reflection essay describing one’s goals and life experiences that have prepared the applicant for the program. Olson credits the Academic Writing Center on campus with shepherding her through her writing process. With each draft, she was able to clarify the different decisions she made throughout her time at Iowa State and how they influenced her ultimate path.
Studying abroad in Cáceres, Spain was a turning point in Olson’s experience at Iowa State. “Going abroad, learning to get around and really thrive in another country—in another language—helped me understand what it takes to work in an international setting,” she said. “After I got home from Spain, my next thought was, ‘I need to do this again!’” Unfortunately, her plans to study abroad again in Italy in 2021 were thwarted by the onset of the COVID pandemic.
Today, Olson looks forward to finding out where she will be placed to be a teaching assistant in Taiwan. Options range from Taipei with a population of 2.6 million to some of the smaller islands in Taiwan’s archipelago. “What I want most of all is to be able to connect to the community where I’m living and teaching,” said Olson. When asked what she will do first upon arrival, Olson didn’t hesitate to answer. “I can’t wait to try bubble tea in the country where it was invented!”