The message arrived in the middle of the night. While Zoe Bishop was sleeping.
“I woke up crying,” says Bishop, who is finishing her senior year at Northeastern.
In reality, during her waking hours, Bishop had applied for a Fulbright scholarship. Now, in her dream, she was experiencing the gift of rejection. She was envisioning that her application had been denied. As she lay in bed, blinking away the tears, Bishop recognized how badly she wanted to earn the scholarship. It was a door that she needed to fling open.
“That’s when it sunk in, that this is an amazing opportunity,” says Bishop, who will graduate from Northeastern in May with a degree in biochemistry.
Happily, that particular dream did not come true. Bishop has been named a Fulbright scholar and will spend a year in South Korea as an English teaching assistant.
“I’m ready for Korea,” Bishop says, smiling. “I’ve been here a little bit, and I’m getting kind of antsy to move around.”
Bishop will be among nine Fulbright scholars celebrated by President Joseph E. Aoun at the Academic Honors Convocation on Thursday. The annual ceremony recognizes students and faculty who have received prestigious awards for scholarship, research, or teaching over the past year.
Bishop was raised in the nomadic military life. Her father spent 24 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of master sergeant. Before attending Northeastern, Bishop had lived in Oklahoma, Japan, Germany, and Kansas. Her four years in Japan were especially influential, even though she was of preschool age. Bishop grew up preferring anime to American cartoons, removing her shoes when entering a home, and eating Japanese dishes, including the katsu curry that her mother learned to make.
“That was her first time living abroad as a military wife,” Bishop says of her mother. “We lived in Okinawa, which is a beautiful island, and she just fell in love with it. Today she’ll kind of subconsciously bow a little bit when she’s talking to someone that she thinks is Japanese.”
In 2016, Bishop returned to Okinawa for a research project.
“It was about how comfortable we are going into the host environment and adopting parts of their culture,” Bishop says of her paper. “It was inspired by my mom.”
Bishop was inspired to investigate Korean culture by her love for K-Pop music videos on YouTube. She studied abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul in 2017, where it was not uncommon for strangers to ask permission to touch her hair. (“I’m black, white, and Native American,” Bishop says.) Two years later, she still becomes emotional while recalling her invitation by a retired couple to celebrate Chuseok, which is the Korean day of Thanksgiving.
“That was my first Thanksgiving not being with my family, and this family welcomed me into their home to their intimate ceremony,” she says. “So I cried, like, thank you for being so open and sweet and generous—this is amazing.”
Bishop plans to attend medical school eventually, with the goal of becoming a professor of medicine. In Korea, she would like to volunteer in the host community not only as an English tutor, but also at a lab or hospital.
“I’m hoping to become a better teacher through it,” she says of her upcoming Fulbright experience in Korea. “I like to think of everything as a teaching and learning moment.”
Such teachable moments include that night of fitful sleep, not so long after she had been encouraged to apply for the Fulbright by Jonna Iacono, who directs the Scholars Program at Northeastern. After dreaming of failure, says Bishop, she became more committed than ever to changing that narrative.
“I still can’t believe it’s real,” she says.