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Feb 18, 2019 2019-02 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration

Jacoby finds purpose teaching English in Malaysia

Channeling her grandfather’s journey to the United States from Nazi Germany, Rachel Jacoby said her opportunity as a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia is her chance to give back to the world.

Jacoby, a 2018 graduate of Gies College of Business (ACCY/BADM), is spending this year in the Malaysian fishing village of Kuala Perlis teaching English to students ages 13 through 18. Jacoby - a Vernon Hills, Illinois, native - said she and her roommate are the only Americans she’s seen in the village, which has a population of 20,000 and is a six-hour drive from the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Jacoby’s grandfather, Gerry, was born in Nazi Germany but escaped with his family to Shanghai. He was a refugee there from age 4 through 16, before moving to Skokie, Illinois. He eventually worked in construction and owned a laundromat.

Rachel Jacoby 1

Jacoby’s parents, Jay and Kim, work in business continuity at Discover and as a consultant at Alight Solutions, respectively, and her younger sister is a student at the University of Arizona, studying to become a teacher. Jacoby said her opportunities in life wouldn’t have been available without her grandfather coming to the US in the first place.

“I was very lucky to be born where I was and have the privileges and opportunities that most other people don’t have,” Jacoby said. “It’s my duty to give back and bring others up and level the playing field in a way.”

At the school where she teaches – SMK Kuala Perlis – Jacoby is an English Teaching Assistant. Her primary duties are building lesson plans and teaching the students to speak English with a native speaker. She left the US on January 1, arrived in Malaysia on January 3, and began teaching January 28. Following her experience in Malaysia, Jacoby will join Deloitte’s technology consultancy in Chicago – just a short two-hour drive from where it all started at Gies Business.

"If you're looking to do foreign service abroad, teaching is one of the most sustainable things you can do because it leaves a lasting impact," Jacoby said. "When I was a senior at Gies Business, I realized I wanted to be able to use education and knowledge and the opportunities I've had to make an impact in the world. This experience has been fulfilling because it has provided really great opportunities for cultural exchanges and ways to engage in deep conversations. The people here in Kuala Perlis are so welcoming and kind."

Jacoby said her time as a Gies Business student was transformative. The programs encouraged her to discover her purpose and empowered her to put that purpose into practice. Those experiences were key in leading her to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. She participated in numerous international opportunities through Gies Business, and Jacoby was an active member of the Dean’s Student Advisory Board, which worked with administrators in the College to improve the student experience by providing their insights on a range of topics, including course curriculum and the new Business Living-Learning Community. Jacoby also served as president of ActGreen, as a teaching assistant for the Business Honors Program, and as a research assistant. She was a recipient of a Fred S. Bailey Scholarship from the University YMCA, which is given to students in recognition of demonstrated positive impact and commitment through service, community involvement, leadership, and action. She was also selected as one of the 2018 Best & Brightest by Poets & Quants for Undergrads.

“I was fortunate to have a lot of great internships and a lot of amazing opportunities in the business world during my time at Illinois,” Jacoby said. “With all these opportunities, I had a sense of what my life would be once I started work, and I felt like I wanted to do something out of college that really mattered and provided opportunities for direct people-to-people interactions and impact.”

To read about Rachel Jacoby’s time in Malaysia, visit her blog site at