Our Stories

Fulbright Returns Student to Her Birthplace

The next year of Maia Hoover's life will be the completion of a circle, one of returning to a home country that she never knew.

Hoover '07 was born in Korea, but she was adopted as a baby by a loving Japanese-American mom and Caucasian dad who lived in Corvallis, Ore. She grew up immersed in American culture and learned a bit about the Japanese through her mother. Korea is almost completely foreign to her.

So when she received a Fulbright grant this spring to spend a year in South Korea as an English teacher, she was thrilled -- not just because of the honor of such a prestigious award, but also because of the chance to learn more about her country of birth.

"I decided a few years ago that I wanted to go to Korea because I didn't know that much about my heritage. So when I heard about this program, I knew it was for me," she says. "I want to be like a sponge and learn everything while I'm there. I'm going to be a teacher there, but I have personal goals as well as professional ones."

The Fulbright Program for U.S. Students allows Americans to study, research, intern or serve in more than 150 countries. Hoover is one of two Willamette students who will go to Korea on a Fulbright this summer, and one of seven from the University to receive a Fulbright in the past five years.

Hoover, who is majoring in economics with a minor in Spanish, is eager to experience another culture, something her parents always have encouraged. "My parents taught me to take an interest in things other than myself, in other countries and cultures," she says.

While on campus, she has volunteered at a local elementary school, served on three student boards, competed for two years on the crew team and acted as president of the Women in Economics Club. That's in addition to working two jobs. "I'm a busy bee, but it doesn't feel like work to me because I only do things that I'm passionate about."

Hoover calls her achievements a "team effort" and continually emphasizes the influence others have had on her success -- particularly her economics professors, her family and the Student Academic Grants and Awards office, which helps students identify and apply for grants like the Fulbright.

After all, it was her economics professors who changed her mind about a future career. She came to Willamette thinking of being an actuary until her professors showed her different ways to use economics to help others. She would like to work for awhile in the fashion industry -- she always has been drawn to it as a form of artistic expression -- but she also hopes to study business in graduate school after her Fulbright, and eventually work for a non-profit organization. "I want to do something where I can help people," she says.