Korey Morgan eagerly awaits graduation on the morning of Commencement, an achievement that is a milestone for not only him, but also his family. He is currently teaching English in South Korea through a Fulbright award.
The first Fulbright scholar
Korey Morgan ’13 is on his way to becoming a world traveler. By the time he walked across the stage at the 2013 Commencement, he had already visited Spain twice and taken trips to France, Italy and Japan. Soon, he would be in South Korea teaching English through a Fulbright award.
His dad sat watching graduation with pride, but while the pair may share a family resemblance, when it comes to travel, they have less in common. His dad has never set foot on a plane and, according to Morgan, Washington, Pa., might be the farthest his father has traveled from their hometown.
Morgan grew up in a small town in Maine and is the first of his immediate family to earn a degree. “Most people there don’t go to college. It’s not really part of the culture,” he said. “You usually graduate from high school, get a job locally and stay in the area.”
His mother earned her high school diploma only a few years before Morgan earned his own, and his dad finished high school by taking night classes while working during the day.
“My parents are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but the resources and the expectations weren’t there for them,” he said. However, Morgan’s parents—especially his mother—always stressed the importance of education. “She was the driving force behind my education,” he said. “I have a lot to thank her for.”
Morgan’s mother believed so strongly in the power of education that she left a higher-paying job to work at Gould Academy, a nearby college prep school, so that Morgan could attend the prestigious school free of charge.
In his first year at the school, he enrolled in a program that allowed him to spend two weeks in Germany with a host family—an experience he said changed his life. “I didn’t know what direction I was going in. I didn’t have huge dreams. When you’re a freshman in high school, how many dreams do you really have?” he said. “When I went to Germany, I thought, ‘I want to do this again. I want to go to college and study abroad.’”
After returning to Maine, Morgan decided to study Spanish, later earning a scholarship to spend his senior year of high school studying in Spain. But while Morgan’s academic life was looking promising, his personal life took a downturn when his mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma—a cancer which, while treatable, is typically considered incurable.
Sadly, Morgan’s mom passed away right before his senior year of high school. He considered taking time off and trying to go to Spain the following year instead, but his mom had specifically instructed him to go to Spain no matter what happened to her. “That was a deciding factor. That’s what my mom wanted for me, so that’s what I did,” he explained.
Morgan spent nine months in Spain before returning home and applying to colleges. When he learned about W&J from an adviser at his high school, he was attracted to the College’s international studies program and study abroad opportunities. However, besides the emotional toll of his mother’s passing, hospital bills had also hit their family hard and their budget had little room for college tuition. With the help of financial aid and a willingness to finance his own education—partly by working multiple jobs throughout the school year and during the summers—Morgan was able to attend the school he wanted.
Upon arriving at W&J, Morgan quickly fell in love with the campus and the community, eventually joining a fraternity, taking on leadership roles in student government and participating in the Asian Cultural Association.
“I think the small-school mentality is really important for first-generation college-goers; that’s part of the reason I wanted a small school. I wanted to know my professors. I wanted to be held accountable,” he said.
He chose double majors in Spanish and international studies as well as a minor in East Asian studies. In the first semester of his sophomore year, he studied abroad in Spain and explored other areas of Europe in his free time. Then, as a senior, he took an Intersession trip to Japan.
In addition to his trips abroad, Morgan enjoyed interacting with the international students at W&J. “For being so small, W&J is really an international campus. To get my fix of Spanish, I’d hang out with the Spanish students and talk about Spanish food and culture,” he explained.
Still, Morgan’s thirst for travel was nowhere near quenched. With encouragement from his Spanish professor, Dr. H.J. Manzari, he applied for a Fulbright grant to continue his travels. “I thought it was going to be a stretch, but I was incredibly surprised, enthusiastic and pleased when I got the acceptance letter,” said Morgan, who is teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, through July 2014.
Today, there is little doubt that Morgan’s family is also pleased with what he has made of himself. His little brother, influenced by Morgan’s success, is now also going to college.
For Morgan, his dad and his four siblings, graduation was a big day. “Maybe it’s lofty to say, but I think my accomplishments are also my family’s accomplishments. They have been my emotional support through college,” he said. “This is a milestone for me, and I think it’s also a milestone for my family.”
GEORGIA SCHUMACHER ’10