The Catholic University of America

Brendan Duffy

Senior Wins Fulbright to South Korea

In the fall of his junior year, Brendan Duffy studied abroad at the University of Oxford’s New College and what started as just a semester of study turned into a full year when he was selected for the university’s varsity basketball team.

Now a senior and the recipient of a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in South Korea, he is preparing for a new type of cultural immersion experience.

When he learned the news via email, Duffy was touring a law school, his alternate career path.

“My heart started beating really fast. I looked around the room, and I realized I was with a bunch of people I didn’t even know,” he says. “I called my parents and I was freaking out.”

The coveted scholarships require a detailed application and interview process that began for Duffy last summer. This year, out of 253 finalists for English teaching assistantships in South Korea, Duffy received one of 80 awards granted.

The Fulbright program was established in 1945 and participants for its variety of exchange programs are “chosen for their leadership potential,” and provided “with the opportunity to observe one another’s political, economic and cultural institutions; exchange ideas; and embark on joint ventures of importance to the general welfare of the world’s inhabitants,” according to the program’s website.

Duffy says he takes his role as a cultural ambassador in South Korea “very seriously.”

“The group of people that I interact with, that is what they’re going to consider ‘America.’ That’s what’s going to come across as their view of America in general,” he says.

As an economics major in the University Honors Program, Duffy is interested in the economic and geopolitical history of the Asian bloc countries, particularly the rise of South Korea as an economic power after the Korean War. And he has a personal connection to the country: his grandfather fought in Korea during the war.

However, the biggest draw is his interest in the South Korean education system, which he says was the main contributor to the country’s rise to power.

“I’m going to be able to look at it firsthand and see how can I do my part, in terms of helping these students,” he said.

The first seven weeks of the yearlong program consist of intensive Korean language courses, as well as training in teaching English as a second language.

Duffy says the language component makes him the most nervous; the teaching part is less of a worry. The oldest of eight siblings, Duffy says the experience of being a role model gives him a competitive edge.

“I feel like I’ve been teaching in a certain way my whole life, in terms of setting the example, and trying to find that balance, like a pendulum, of pushing [my siblings] to do well, but also letting them find their own interests. You still want them to succeed for themselves, not for anyone else,” he says.

At Oxford during his junior year, Duffy planned to study economics for one semester. While there, he was chosen for the university’s varsity basketball team.

An avid high school basketball player, he had decided against playing college ball, but now found he had a second chance. With the team, Duffy was able to travel through England competing with other British universities, such as Cambridge and the London School of Economics. The playoff season extended into the spring and Duffy decided to stay.

“I thought, ‘I can’t leave now, I’m part of this team.’ But it was also an opportunity to take more classes with other fantastic professors and it was a different learning style that I thought really applied to me. I had a really fruitful experience in all the courses that I took there. It was a surreal year,” he says.

After his year in South Korea, Duffy hopes to once again pursue law school, concentrating in business law, a path that would combine his interest in the legal profession with his study of economics at CUA.

“There are so many things that culture entails, from food to sports to language. It is becoming a globalized world and it’s happening more so than not in the Asian countries,” he says. “I think that aspect of cultural awareness is something you can’t put a price on in terms of understanding. I hope coming back [to the United States] that it will diversify me as a person.”

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Brendan Duffy

Hometown: Rapid City, S.D.

Major: Economics

Favorite class: Intermediate Microeconomic Theory. “It’s probably the hardest class I ever took at CUA, but also probably the most fruitful. There were a lot of moments when my mind was blown, like wow that actually comes together really well.”

Favorite professor: Ernest Zampelli, professor of economics. “I go to him sometimes and we’ll just talk Notre Dame football for an hour. He’s very relatable. That community aspect that CUA has, he’s an extremely good example of that, in terms of relationships between student and professor.”

Favorite place to study: The third-floor religious studies and philosophy reading room in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library.