About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Biology/Communications Major and Studio Art Minor
Program: Yonsei International Summer School
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Term: Summer 2019
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Ever since I immigrated to America when I was a baby, I’ve never been outside of the states. I never knew what it was like to live in or even visit another country with a completely different language and culture and envied my friends who visited different places around the world for vacation. I always dreamed of being able to travel one day, but thanks to the opportunities provided by UNC’s study abroad program, I was actually able to study at Yonsei International Summer School (YISS) in South Korea! Not only was I able to live out my dream of traveling and gaining new experiences and perspectives, but I also completed some of my general education requirements along the way and greatly improved in my Korean. I was greatly interested in the YISS program because Yonsei University is one of the top private schools in Korea with some of the best facilities and is located in the center of Seoul near many vibrant urban neighborhoods that are popular among young university students. I knew that on top of having fun and gaining culturally rich experiences in Seoul, I would be getting the best education possible taught by top professors from around the world. The YISS program also offered a lot of fun extracurricular activities and field trips that students could sign up for, such as taekwondo, calligraphy lessons, and tours!
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that I’m a lot more independent and capable than I thought I would be. Being my first time traveling, I was forced to learn a lot of things on my own, such as navigating through an airport, figuring out Korea’s transportation system, adapting to Korean restaurant and cafe etiquette, and being mindful of my own health and safety in a foreign country. I was extremely nervous and shy when I first arrived in Korea, but I eventually got the hang of things with the help of many kind strangers and friends that I met along the way. Being in a foreign country forced me out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t realize until now how adventurous I had become. In Korea, I experienced many new things; I ate octopus tentacles that were still squirming on the plate, bleached my hair from black to blonde, got my first tattoo, and lived it up in Seoul with so many new people that I met on nights I would’ve usually stay in in America. I hope I will take this sense of adventure to America and continue trying out new things and living my best life!
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
Even though I had so many unforgettable moments, such as going to the beach in Busan, watching famous Korean artists perform, and meeting Arden Cho, my favorite memories would have to be from the nights I spent out with my friends in Hongdae. Nightlife in Korea is so vibrant and bustling with life and there are always people out until the sunrise every day of the week - you’ll never find anything like it in North Carolina. There are so many things to do, like eating street food, going to karaoke, bar hopping, dancing, shopping, and watching street performers, and Hongdae is always crowded with foreigners, tourists, and university students. I will definitely miss the shenanigans my friends and I were up to during the late hours of the night.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
The most helpful advice I have would be to do a lot of research on the study abroad program as well as the country! Being aware of important information to know before landing will make the study abroad experience much easier and enjoyable. I would do research on the currency, safety, transportation systems, laws, and etiquette and would even learn a few basic phrases in the language of the country. Also, familiarizing yourself with what is considered respectful and disrespectful will prevent you from any awkward interactions with the locals. For example, in the Korean language, there is an honorific and casual form of talking. I’d get scolded a lot if I talked to strangers, especially those who are older than me, in the casual form. Use technology to your advantage! The Google Translate app has a feature where you can take pictures of words and they will be translated into English for you. Any transportation apps, like subway or bus apps, will also help you get to where you need to go (Google Maps is not always accurate). Don’t be afraid to ask anyone for help either - most strangers are nice and won’t mind taking a second out of their day to help you. Lastly, plan out your days of the program. Make a list of everything that you want to do or places you want to go and try to do most of them, because you never know when you will have another chance to visit again. Don’t let your experience in a foreign country go to waste and try to experience a lot of new things that you can’t in America. Just make sure you schedule time to focus on your studies too.
Would you do it again?
I would 110% definitely do it all over again. I am extremely grateful for being blessed enough to study abroad in Korea; it is definitely the most life-changing, memorable experience and best decision I have ever made in my life. Not only did I learn and try so many new things, but I gained a more vivid and worldly perspective on life. My study abroad experience made me realize how much more there is to explore outside of the relatively simple life I’ve been living and gave me the desire to live my life more fully and be more adventurous. Hopefully I am fortunate enough to study abroad or at least visit a foreign country again.
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
Since my classes at Yonsei were smaller compared to the classes I’ve taken at UNC, I was able to establish a closer relationship with my professors as well as my classmates. Thanks to the smaller class size, my professors were able to pay more attention to each student and help out if anyone had any trouble with the concepts taught in class. Due to YISS being an international program, my classmates came from all around the world, bringing a lot of diverse viewpoints into our in-class discussions. Even though I was studying abroad in Korea, I was exposed to the perspectives of people from Brazil, Kazakhstan, France, and more while befriending my classmates. Since it was a 6-week program and we only had classes from Monday to Thursday, the content was condensed and the course was fast paced, but it was manageable thanks to my amazing professors. Not only did they come from unique backgrounds and were highly esteemed in their field, but they were also gifted at teaching and explained everything so clearly and thoroughly. It was exactly what you would expect from the professors at one of the top private schools in Korea.
How do you identify?
Student of color, LGBTQ+, Covenant Scholars, Rural County Resident
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
As a Covenant Scholar and Summer Study Abroad Fellowship recipient, I was extremely fortunate to not have to worry about the cost of my tuition, dormitory, and airplane ticket. I still had to be financially responsible and plan a budget for my food, transportation costs, and other experiences during my stay in Korea. Before traveling to your study abroad country, I would research the costs of clothes, food, transportation, and activities, and then set up a budget for the study abroad trip. Once you get the hang of things at your study abroad location, adjust your budget to be more accurate and realistic. Try to stick more or less to your budget during your stay and don’t let yourself be pressured into spending money on extravagant things that your heart is not fully invested in!
If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
Luckily, I had a great group of girls I could turn to whenever I experienced a dip in my mental health or had trouble with anything. The people you become close to during your time studying abroad are extremely important because they are one of the main sources of support that you have in a foreign country. Also, your family and friends in America are also one call or message away!