Brexit and the value of experiential learning

It’s easy to take London for granted. On either bank of the Thames, only minutes from my flat, there are wide paths for pedestrians, bikers, and runners alike; these paths, free from vehicles and road crossings, also offer some of the best views in the city. There’s the London Eye and the Southbank Centre along one bank, and directly across the Thames you’ll find the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben (though currently under scaffolding, the tower still dominates the London skyline), Westminster Abbey, and of course, the Houses of Parliament.

While it is easy to take these sights for granted after several months abroad, it is considerably more difficult to escape the significant events taking place right in my backyard. If you’ve been following British politics in recent months, you will have heard plenty about Brexit, Theresa May, and the European Union. In fact, I can’t even walk home from class without being offered a copy of The Evening Standard – London’s free evening newspaper – at no fewer than four intersections along my route (and since my arrival in January, I have yet to see a single copy of the Evening Standard that fails to feature an article about Brexit on its front page). In recent weeks, especially leading up to the (eventually postponed) March 29 “hard Brexit” deadline, it wasn’t uncommon for the paper to devote over half its space to Brexit.

The Evening Standard featuring yet another front-page Brexit headline

I should clarify that I am not a super political person. I always want to know what’s going on – whether that is back home in the United States or here in London – but I typically do not seek out political debates with friends or family. Here in London, though, it is not just the politically-focused individuals involved in the Brexit debate – it is everyone. And as a resident Londoner (albeit a short-term resident), I find myself learning about Brexit and the British government more and more on a daily basis. Take last Saturday, for example; an anti-Brexit march, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, paraded along Trafalgar Square, through Westminster, finally congregating in Parliament Square. There were young children on the shoulders of their parents, holding cleverly-worded signs referencing Theresa May and the European Union (some of which were decidedly less flattering than others!). Though I was only a spectator, my walk home through Trafalgar Square gave me an idea of how polarizing this issue has been for Londoners and for UK citizens.

The Brexit opposition march on March 23rd, one of the largest in the UK history!

This has been one of the truly unique and valuable aspects of study abroad – not Brexit itself, per se, but the opportunity to learn about a major political event in the same way as a resident Londoner. We still take notes on the British government in class, but these lectures are supplemented with a Brexit panel debate hosted at a local university and a tour of Parliament itself. Rather than reading about the latest Brexit vote online, we can wait in Parliament Square and listen to a live feed of John Bercow announcing the vote tallies in the House of Commons (Bercow yelling “order!” on the House floor is almost comedic, at times).

London is a special place, and because it is the capital of the United Kingdom, it will always be an important city in global politics. But especially during the Brexit debate, London seems to be in the global spotlight on a regular basis – and there is no better time nor place to learn about foreign politics than in London this spring! Keep an eye out for what happens on April 12 – will the UK actually leave the European Union? Will Brexit get delayed, or cancelled altogether? I’m as clueless as everyone else, but I am certainly enjoying the adventure.

Cheers from London,


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Finding Myself in Korea: How Did I Get Here?

Almost four years ago, I boarded a 14-hour flight to Korea. I never thought that my first flight would be to a foreign country. I was a first generation college student from a low socioeconomic background. I never thought that studying abroad would be attainable for someone in my position. Until one of my peers discussed their study abroad experience to our scholars program. They mentioned that they had received the Gilman Scholarship. After hearing that there was a funding opportunity designed for students like me, I knew that I was going to study abroad. From there I began researching programs in South Korea as I have always been intrigued with Korea and some of its policies toward mental health.

Under the Gilman Scholarship, I had the opportunity to go to Seoul, South Korea to attend the International Summer Campus at Korea University (KU). At first I found it difficult to adjust because while at KU, I participated in the KU Buddy Program in which I was paired with a native student. The KU student helped me adjust and learn to navigate through Korea. Being a part of this program allowed me to learn more about the language, cultural norms, and history through a different lens. My time abroad enhanced my curiosity about Korea, and helped me find a way to bridge my interest in psychology and Korean studies. Upon my return home, I was able to take classes related to Korean history and wrote a research paper on the effects of their very rigorous educational system and its effects on student mental health.

Honestly, as a freshman I never would have thought I would have found intersectionality between my interests in Korean culture and my passion for raising awareness of mental health concerns for students. I currently work at a national center that promotes the advancement of student mental health while pursuing my masters in applied psychology. I have been able to present at various conferences and make connections with stakeholders both in national and international scale. The co-director of the center, has even introduced me to her colleague in Seoul who is currently conducting research that aligns with my interests.  

If you are on the fence about whether or not to study abroad, I encourage you to go for it! The experience will be like no other and will have a lasting impact on you. You will be able to broaden your perspective and journey outside of your comfort zone. More specifically, if you are looking into Gilman as an option to help fund your trip know that it’s more than someone sending you a check. Gilman allows you to share your story and experiences abroad with your peers, alumni, and other scholars. It also presents you with an opportunity to have an impact on your community through your follow-on service project or becoming an Alumni Ambassador like myself.

Some final words of advice: Do not believe that studying abroad is not a possibility for you; it is possible! So go create memories that will last a lifetime!

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The Impact of Interning Abroad: Taking Chances and “Doing what makes your heart sing.”

From as far back as I can remember, I had always dreamed of one day becoming a veterinarian. I began my undergraduate career as a veterinary science major, confident that I was exactly where I was meant to be and that after four years, I would be applying to all of my dream veterinary schools, as long as I stayed on track and followed the advice of my mentors. With this ambitious goal in mind serving as a catalyst for all of the decisions I had made in the past and planned to make in the future, I had never imagined that the most valuable piece of advice that I have received to this day would come from my chemistry professor.

Adopted from South Korea into a Caucasian family at a young age, I was raised in a relatively homogeneous environment, where the majority of my mindset was focused on what lay ahead, rather than what was left behind. My first year of college had, by all means, exposed me to the social, racial, academic, and economic diversities that exist beyond the stable community I had grown accustomed to, and I found myself intrigued by not only my own adoption, but the politics, culture, and economy of South Korea that has contributed to the country’s experiences with inter-country adoption, child welfare, and human rights policies as a whole. Stepping out of my comfort zone and becoming an active member in the Asian-American campus community by the beginning of my second semester, I no longer felt as though my initial goals were as certain as they once were, and by the conclusion of my third semester I had followed my chemistry professor’s advice to “Do what makes your heart sing,” and pursued my interests in political science and international education.

Under the Gilman Scholarship, I had the opportunity to return to South Korea for the first time. Although the purpose of my intern abroad program was to serve as an English language teacher to elementary and middle-school students in the Jeollanam-do province, it also allowed me to become the student as well, where I learned more about the language, culture, and my own passions through my colleagues and students. Being from smaller, more rural cities, the idea of someone Korean in appearance but fluent primarily in English language and American culture was foreign to the majority of my native co-teachers and students. Although we occasionally found difficulties communicating through our respective languages, it was culture that brought us together. Where I couldn’t express myself in words, history, art, music, and cuisine filled the gaps. My time abroad heightened both my curiosity towards and connection to South Korea, and my ability to teach my students and coworkers conversational English and American culture through innovative means like cooking, sports, and arts expanded my interest in education and upon my return home, I began to explore options through which I would be able to promote cross-cultural awareness and access to education in my own community.

Upon beginning my undergraduate career, I never would have imagined that I would be where I am today: pursuing my masters in public administration (with a focus in education policy) and traveling the country and working with students from all countries, ages, and stages of life to promote higher education. So, for those of you that are considering the Gilman Scholarship, as well as those that are wondering whether studying abroad is ‘right’ for you, I encourage you to take a step back and really think about it and reflect on it. Studying abroad, no matter where or for how long, is an experience that will remain with you for the rest of your life. Additionally, the Gilman Scholarship is more than just a scholarship; it is a means of sharing your experiences abroad and making a difference in an environment/community that is meaningful to you through your follow-on service project, as well as a community of scholars and recipients: past, present, and future.

As cliche as it sounds, approach traveling and being abroad with an open mind, because it may have a greater impact on your experiences, perceptions, and aspirations than you can even imagine.

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Home is Behind, the World Ahead

Departure & Initial Adjustments

Welcome to my account of adventures in Melbourne, Australia!

Before arriving in Melbourne, I was both nervous and excited about living in a new country. I was nervous because I didn’t know a lot about Australian culture, and I would be away from comfort, friends, and family for the longest I have ever been. I was excited by the potential for new adventures, learning experiences, and new connections. Despite my excitement, I knew there would be times I would miss home. Due to this, I made sure to bring some familiarity with me to Melbourne, such as photos of my family and friends and some of my favorite snacks.

After months of preparation — researching Australian culture, registering for classes, finding an apartment — I finally arrived in Melbourne!

I immediately noticed the differences between Melbourne and the Bay Area. When I left the Bay Area it was cold and raining, while in Melbourne it was very hot as it was the summertime. Besides the difference in season, the roads were also different. I was very confused when I noticed that Melbournians were driving on the opposite side of the road than I am used to in the U.S.

Besides these differences, I felt very welcomed in Australia. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, especially when I was lost, and my perceptions of Australia from television was changed when I spent my second week at the University of Melbourne’s orientation. I was able to learn about summer barbecues (particularly “sausage sizzlers” as they’re called), Australian slang terms (arvo = afternoon, bickies = biscuits (or cookies), breaky = breakfast), and the popular vegemite.

Immersing myself in Australian culture reminded me of the list of goals I made when I found out I would be studying abroad in Australia. These goals included meeting a koala, visiting big cities such as Sydney, and learning about Australian history and its people. I was able to accomplish some of these goals in the first couple of weeks before classes started. Here are some pictures!

Some goals I haven’t accomplished yet are visiting Tasmania, as it’s a state very close to Melbourne that is known for its spectacular nature, seeing Melbourne’s Pink Lake, trying ‘magic’ coffee (a Melbourne speciality), attending a festival (quite popular in Melbourne), learning more about the Indigenous people and culture, and visiting all of the different suburbs in Melbourne as each has a unique culture.

I am eager to accomplish these goals, and am very grateful to have the opportunity to study at the University of Melbourne, meet new people, and experience Australian culture!

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Goals for a Life-Changing Semester Abroad

I have gotten a wide range of responses when I mention I am studying abroad to friends and classmates back home, among them the occasional flippant remark that goes something like this: “Oh, so you’re studying abroad. Is it truly life changing?” Sarcasm aside, why yes – it is. A study abroad program is what you make of it; I could wake up each day and go to class with the same students, eat at the same sandwich shop on Whitcomb Street and grab a drink at a local pub, and I’d technically be living like a Londoner. The problem is, I can get a similar experience back in the States – and I think that’s the reason behind these flippant remarks. It would be easy to fall into a narrow comfort zone and fail to learn what it’s really like to live in London and return convinced I had an authentic cultural experience. But would it truly be life changing?

I view my study abroad program as an opportunity to challenge myself, an opportunity to make mistakes, meet locals, get lost, and maybe even learn to cook (working on it, mom!). That’s why I value the experiences I have already had, that is why I am looking forward to the remainder of my time here, and that is why I am expecting my study abroad experience will indeed be ~life changing~.

Before I get any further, I suppose an introduction is in order – hello! My name is Seth, a junior computer engineering student at the University of Notre Dame. I am a native Minnesotan (you will often find me on cross-country skis come winter) and a proud member of St. Edward’s Hall back on campus. I have been studying in London, England since mid-January, at Notre Dame’s campus near Trafalgar Square. While I am here, I am taking a rather unique set of courses for an engineering student, including a history course (Roman Britain), a theology course (Christianity and Islam), and my favorite, a philosophy course on political and constitutional theory. I had to consider a lot of goals when choosing classes – I chose my two computer science courses to fulfill the goal of, you know, graduating college. But my other classes had a lot more flexibility, and I’d like to think that I have a unique goal for each class.

With that in mind, I’d like to present myself with two non-academic goals for the remainder of my time here:

  • Find three places in London where no one else in my program can say they’ve been. Every weekend, most of the students in my program hop on jets to Berlin, to Amsterdam, to Prague – our 150 or so students can be found in 20 or more cities across Europe on any given weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel – and I’m looking forward to a few international trips of my own – but it would be a wasted opportunity not to see as much of London as possible during these four short months. These three places can be anything, really, but I want them each to reflect something unique about London. So, if you know of a favorite restaurant on the outskirts of London or a hole-in-the-wall comedy club frequented by locals, let me know!
The London Eye
  • Learn about the British political system. Why? Short answer: Brexit. Longer answer: I knew embarrassingly little about British politics or government before arriving in London, and it’s been fascinating to witness such an unprecedented series of events happening in my new backyard. Amendments are proposed and shot down, British political leaders negotiate with European Union officials almost daily. There are protests in Trafalgar Square and rumors of elected leaders stepping down – no, wait, another Brexit referendum – no, wait, an entirely new election? Every day is a whirlwind of major headlines, and as I walk home from class, I’ll often grab a copy of The Evening Standard and try to understand what’s going on (it doesn’t seem like many Londoners know, either!) From an American’s perspective, though, this political uncertainty does have at least one benefit – a better exchange rate!

Parliament of the United Kingdom

I will continue to post through the end of the semester and once upon my return, but for the benefit of those who may feel obligated to read my posts (hello again, mom!), I will wrap up my thoughts for today. I had like to present a question for you to consider, though – what makes an experience truly life changing?

Cheers from London,

~ Seth

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