Journalism major and Psychology minor Emily Grund ’10, currently a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, cites her education at UMass as key to her success as a Teacher of English Language Fluency on the island of Luzon. She says about her time at UMass, “So many professors there inspired me, and so many classes made me think outside the box, that I graduated with a much more open mind than when I started.” She adds, “Joining the Peace Corps with an open mind is essential, and so many lessons I learned at UMass I’ve been able to apply to my work overseas.”
Emily entered UMass after a year spent teaching English in Thailand and then interning at a community newspaper in New Zealand. A Massachusetts native, she chose UMass Amherst because of its well-regarded journalism program and its affordable in-state tuition. She joined Commonwealth Honors College in the second semester of her sophomore year. The smaller classes allowed her to delve deeply into the course material, as well as forge closer ties to her professors and classmates. The Commonwealth Honors College advisors were helpful, and she enjoyed the many opportunities to connect with fellow Honors students.
Among the best parts of her undergraduate experience were the relationships she built during her four years on campus. She fondly recalls dormitory neighbors who became best friends, professors that became mentors, and employers that became like an extended family. In the Philippines, the relationships she has formed are among the most rewarding aspects of her Peace Corps experience. “Whether it’s the students I teach, the teachers I work with, or my neighbors down the street, they have all treated me as if I were a part of their own family. The conversations I have with these people are by far the most interesting part of my job.”
Emily teaches at the Zaragoza National High School in Zaragoza, Nueva Eija, a landlocked province on the island of Luzon. She primarily co-teaches second year students with a Filipina counterpart. Despite it being a second language in the Philippines, English is also a national language of the country and students are expected to read at an intermediate level by graduation. A lack of books and resources has made this requirement challenging for the school, which has over 2,000 students and about sixty-five teachers. Emily stepped in to help with this issue by reaching out to several book donation organizations, such as Books for Peace, Books for Asia, and Bagong Kulturang Pinoy.
In addition to securing book donations, Emily also applied for a Peace Corps Partnership Grant to help improve the school's English Learning Center, which was fully funded in March 2012. The funds are being used to develop a peer-tutoring remedial reading program and improving resources to the center during the summer break. Among the many other experiences in the Philippines that have helped her grow as a professional and a person are seeing her students’ progress, the reactions of her co-teachers when she showed the donated books, and instructing teachers from very rural areas on using a computer and mouse for the first time.
To any students considering joining Commonwealth Honors College, Emily says, “It is a great opportunity for deeper learning and building tight networks, plus there are social benefits, too. Starting off at such a large university can be intimidating at first, but getting involved with Commonwealth Honors College can help get your foot in the door to many fun and exciting opportunities.”