About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Psychology; Peace, War, and Defense
Program: Korea University (고려대학교)
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Term: Fall 2020-Spring 2021
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Years ago, I was given the opportunity to work with an organization that provides aid to North Korean citizens, and through this work I became deeply passionate about North Korean human rights issues, including mental health of North Korean defectors residing in South Korea. Eventually, I formulated an additional, specific interest in the South Korean mental health system, including what services are available to defectors, and decided that I wanted to one day pursue a career as a Psychologist in South Korea, specifically working with North Korean defectors dealing with mental health troubles. As a non-native speaker of the language, and someone raised outside of Korean culture, I knew that to be able to best serve this cohort I would need to experience the language and culture firsthand through immersion in South Korea. After extensive research and planning, I decided upon Korea University, not only for its known academic excellence and rigor, but additionally because the school offered a significant number of English-langauge-taught courses within my major.
What did you learn about yourself?
I have never experienced such intense growth and self-discovery as I did during my time abroad. Placing yourself in an entirely foreign culture, especially in a place with a language you don't speak--it's uncomfortable. But don't fear this! I felt very nervous before departing to Korea, but once I hit the ground running with getting acclimated to a new culture, school, social dynamic, etc., I began noticing a significant increase in my confidence in navigating challenges and unique situations. By the end of my time in Korea, I learned that I am capable of handling a plethora of difficulties, such as navigating communication barriers or COVID-related issues, with more prowess than I had ever gotten the opportunity to demonstrate to myself. This realization motivated me to continue to push myself in other aspects of my life, and has paved the way to many new, incredibly fulfilling opportunities.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
Looking back on my time in South Korea, some of my favorite memories are those that include the many adventures I had with my friends from my dormitory. Placed in a dorm for foreign students, I made some of my closest friends in life there. My friends and I would go on all sorts of adventures, from small things like 2am trips to the convenience store to stock up on our favorite Korean snacks to fuel our long study sessions, to traveling to totally different cities and exploring the stunning nature of the country. I was able to establish deep, lasting friendships with peers from Germany, France, Spain, China, Russia, and so on, which I would not have been likely to do had it not for this experience. Even months after our departure from Korea, we all regularly reminisce together about how incredible our experience was and how much we wish we could go back!
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Inevitably, during your time abroad, you will face uncertainties and difficulties. My top advice to you would be to not fear asking for help. Reach out to former study abroad students, students in your study abroad group, the study abroad office, or those in charge of assisting foreign students at your host university--no matter who you choose, you will typically be met with a helpful, enthusiastic response and you'll save yourself a lot of worry and stress! Navigating life abroad is difficult enough, but attempting to do it without seeking support from friends, family, or mentors is, in my opinion, an unnecessary additional hurdle. Seek guidance from those who have been through the study abroad process before and learn from their mistakes and experiences; lean on those in your SA cohort and overcome the challenges studying abroad will face you together.