Author Archives: Chinwe, Alumni Ambassador

About Chinwe, Alumni Ambassador

Hi! I'm Chinwe and I am a graduate student and dietetic intern who studied abroad in South Korea in 2016. Studying abroad impacted me in ways I could not have anticipated and I'm excited to share that with you!

Applying Your Study Abroad Experience to Your Underrepresented Field

Most students who study abroad tend to come from the liberal arts, fine arts, international relations, or business fields. I studied Nutritional Sciences, which falls under STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), a field that has traditionally been underrepresented in study abroad. In fact, the goal of the Gilman Scholarship Program is to broaden the student population that studies abroad by supporting financially in need students who have been historically underrepresented in education abroad, including students in STEM fields.

As a STEM major, it can be more challenging to figure out how studying abroad can directly apply to your career field, especially if your program is not specifically tailored for your major. This was my challenge when I studied abroad in South Korea in the summer of 2016 as part of an exchange program. The only classes that I could get credit for were electives and none of the internships offered by the university applied to my degree. As much I wanted to travel to South Korea for personal reasons, I also wanted to ensure that my study abroad experience could benefit me professionally.

One day I received an email from my host university announcing that they were offering optional cultural immersion classes in either traditional Korean cuisine, music, or sport, but that space was very limited. I signed up within seconds. I ended up taking a 3 week class at the Korean Cuisine Culture Center learning about the history and preparation of traditional Korean cuisine. The instructor would give a presentation about the background of the dish and ingredients for the day, and then we would prepare the dish and eat together as a class. I even got a fancy certificate of completion!

I am currently in graduate school studying to become a registered dietitian. As a dietitian, I have to be knowledgeable about cuisines from many cultures in order to properly care for patients and clients from diverse backgrounds. Unfortunately, this is not emphasized in many dietetics programs and there has been a push in the profession to increase the cultural competency of practitioners. You can only imagine my surprise this past May when I saw that the professional dietitian association in my area was hosting a Korean cooking class for its members. I contacted the host of the event and informed them that I had not only studied abroad in South Korea but also completed a cooking class there. I was invited to create a presentation for the event sharing what I had learned about traditional and modern Korean cuisine, eating and dining practices, foreign influences in their food culture, and prevalent chronic diseases. At the end I answered questions from the dietitians in attendance, many of whom had little prior exposure to Korean cuisine. I was grateful to be able to share my experience with other professionals while helping to promote cultural awareness and understanding in my field.  

Presenting to the dietitians.

If you are also a student looking to study abroad but are not sure how to relate it to your major, I would encourage you to seek experiences outside of your classes to supplement your experience. Talk to your host university to see if they offer any clubs or excursions that apply to your field, or go out into the community on your own and take a class, attend an event, or volunteer with a local organization. Even if your time abroad passes and you are still feeling unaccomplished, you can rest assured because just having international experience is valued by many employers. In fact, the Gilman Program offers workshops for all Gilman alumni regarding how to professionally market the skills you gain by studying abroad, so watch out for those announcements in your email or on Gilman’s social media!

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How Riding Korean Trains Got Me into Graduate School

Of all things that Seoul, South Korea has to offer, from palaces to street markets to hologram shows and cow cafes, I spent a lot of my time on the trains. Coming from the great state of Texas where we have no subways (or great public transportation) and having not ridden on a train since I was 7 years old, the subways in South Korea fascinated me. To be able to avoid the traffic and hustle and bustle of the surface world for a quick underground commute all around the city was a great resource to have at my disposal. Every day after classes, I would head down the large hill from the dorms and head to Anam station and board the orange line to Myeongdong and Hongdae and Dongdaemun and Insadong. By the end of my 6 weeks in Seoul, having refilled my T-money card 10 times, I realized I had barely scratched the surface of South Korea.

Traveling abroad was a nice time off from the reality that I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, at least professionally. I entered college with the intent of studying dietetics but became discouraged after a disenchanting experience shadowing a dietitian. When I returned to America, my mind remained starved for new experiences but my body was stuck in my familiar surroundings. When an internship opportunity came along in a dietitian’s private practice, while pre-Korea me would have passed up the opportunity, post-Korea me, seeking new experiences, decided to apply.  I was exposed to a completely new perspective of dietetics than what I’d had before, and I continued to seek out opportunities diverse opportunities in the field.

By my senior year of college, my once empty resume was now full. When I decided to apply to a dietetic internship, the experiences that I had gained after returning from South Korea were instrumental in my acceptance. I am now one semester into my combined masters and dietetic internship program and enjoying every minute of it. Had my sense of my curiosity and discovery not been reinvigorated during my study abroad, I do not believe I would be here today.

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