PENDLETON — On July 5, which also happened to be his 23rd birthday, James Davisson boarded a plane and flew halfway across the world to embark on a year-long adventure.

The Pendleton Heights alum was chosen as a Fulbright Scholar grantee and will be a cultural ambassador to the country of South Korea, where he will teach English to South Korean students and work with North Korean refugees.

As a Fulbright Scholar, James joins an elite group of about 1,600 U.S. college students who received a grant from the program in 2019.

“A professor at my university approached me at the end of my junior year,” said James, who recently graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic University. “He heard about some of the things I was involved in, so he recommended me to the Fulbright committee.”

James is the first male and the third student from his university to receive a Fulbright grant, and most likely the only Pendleton Heights grad ever to be honored as a Fulbright Scholar.

“I’ve never heard of anyone from my school — or anyone in Madison County — who has been one. And neither had my teacher,” said James, referring to his senior AP Lit teacher, Loretta Gray, whom he credits as having a major impact on his life.

“There are so many people who have inspired me,” said James, adding that his major inspirations include his dad and step-mom, Bill and Karen Davisson of Pendleton; his mom, Nancy Davisson of Noblesville; his sister, Laura; and his late grandfather, Richard Davisson.

Several teachers from Pendleton Heights as well as his former youth pastors from Madison Park Church of God, Eric and Marsha Reeder, also top the list.

“James has always been filled with life, energy and drive,” said Eric Reeder. “I have always been impressed with his desire to bring a level of excellence to anything that he is a part of. He cares about his faith, his family and his friends. He is a people person, fun and ready to take the next opportunity that life brings his way.”

James said he’s most excited about working with North Korean refugees. When he was a senior in high school, he heard a woman from North Korea speak at Anderson University about escaping to freedom in South Korea.

“Working with North Korean refugees — that’s something God’s been leading me towards for a long time,” he said. “Many of them have just left their homes and everything they’ve ever known. So to have the opportunity to be a part of giving them a little bit of hope as they prepare to step into a new season of their lives will be so cool.”

One of the most difficult parts of the program is that first-year Fulbright Scholars cannot leave their selected country.

“The first year, you live with a host family and you’re not allowed to come back to the United States at all — for holidays or anything,” James explained. “So that will kind of be hard on our family, but it’s going to be OK.”

James will be blogging about his year as a Fulbright Scholar at www.withhopeinternational.com.

Going on mission trips in high school and college prepared James for living abroad, he said.

“I taught English in China and Cambodia. Right after I graduated from Pendleton Heights, I spent a month in China,” he said. “And then during my time at PBA, I went on a different trip every year, and I went to Cambodia my junior year.”

James’ advice to other young people who are desiring to make a difference in the world is simply this: “When I give of myself, that’s when I feel the most alive. Whatever your passion is, strive to go towards that. I came from Anderson, Indiana, and now I’m going to live in South Korea. The world is open to you. Dream big.”