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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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How Jordan Reshaped My Running and Writing

As a runner from the midwest, Jordan’s terrain has inexplicably taken a toll on the ease of my runs. I have been running long distance for the past six years now, and for the past year and a half, I have been recovering from runner’s knee. Runners are possibly some of the most adventurous people you will ever meet; no matter what situation we are facing, we always find a way to run and we always yearn to run. Since high school, running has occupied most of my little free time. However, when I was badly injured last year, I had to find a new hobby. Running is my outlet and it is my way of clearing my head and coping with my emotions. Without this outlet, I grew very anxious and agitated, and that is when I took up journaling and found my passion and love for writing. My writing ranges from day to day reflections, polaroid memories, and poetry. Studying abroad in Jordan has reshaped and propelled the runner and writer that I am today.

Running

Amman is a city built on seven hills. I come from Illinois, a state where I have to go out of my way to find a hill to do hill workouts. The hilly terrain of Amman, Jordan, has made my easy runs extremely difficult. What I would normally consider an easy 5-mile run, I now have to account for it taking longer with all the hills that tire me out. On top of the hilly terrain, there are no sidewalks in Amman. I am often times finding myself running on the street with cars (a habit I picked up running in Chicago is to make sure I am running opposite the direction of the cars). Because of the terrain and lack of sidewalks, walking is not common in Amman, so you can only imagine how much I stick out while running. This often times leads to cars honking at me, slowing down next to me, and other general harassments. To say the least, being a runner in Jordan has been a physical and mental challenge for me.

On September 1st, 2018, I ran my second official half marathon in Petra, Jordan. The course of this race was breathtakingly beautiful –emphasis on the breathtaking– and it was truly an amazing experience. I ran through the desert, alongside camels, Bedouins, goats, sheep, etc., and ended up climbing 142 floors throughout the race (the Sears Tower in Chicago is 110 floors to give an idea of the mountains I had to climb).

I am now currently training for my first marathon that I will run in March. My training, as I stated, has been difficult on many levels, but nonetheless, I will persevere, as running my first marathon while abroad is one of my goals. Living in Jordan has challenged the role running plays in my life, but I will without a doubt return to the U.S a stronger and more confident runner.

Poetry

Writing has always been something I enjoy, but it was not until recently that I started identifying as a writer. Coming from marginalized backgrounds, my identity is inexplicably important to me, and it is even more important that I have my voice heard. I have had numerous heartwarming and jubilant experiences while studying abroad, but I have also had many dark moments that took a toll on my time here. That being said, I would not change anything from what it is. The bad moments have pushed my growth and have shaped who I am and who I am going to be and are equally as important as the good experiences that filled me with joy. Everything this past year has influenced my writing. I never realized how much I love writing poetry and I would have never imagined sharing my deepest words and most sacred feelings to anyone. If you asked me six months ago who I was, I would have never told you I’m a writer, an artist. I would have never shared with the world (about 60 people, a mixture of expats and locals in a small cafe located in Jordan, a very tiny country in the Middle East) my vulnerability and fear of public speaking. I never would have imagined that sharing my work at poetry slams in Amman would play a big role in my study abroad experience, but it is the things you do not expect that reap the biggest reward.

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Volunteering for a Leprosy Survivor Village in Chengdu

I had a life-changing opportunity volunteering at a leprosy survivor village in Chengdu, China. Leprosy is a chronic infection causing nerve damage and muscle weakness leading to disfigurement and deformities. Due to leprosy being airborne, patients are isolated in villages far away from large cities. However, these villages also have perfectly healthy children that have never seen life beyond their village because of the stigma around leprosy.

Maoxi School (located inside New Century Global Center, world’s largest building in terms of floor area) allowed 39 of these kids to come to Chengdu and study English, arts, sign language, etc. My USAC friends and I got to take a little part of our week after classes to teach and interact with these kids. But they definitely ended up teaching us more than we could have taught them. These kids were funny, enthusiastic, and quick learners.

One of my favorite memories was when a group of students asked if I could teach them to sing “that one song from Fast and Furious 7”. It took me a while to figure out they were referring to See You Again-Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth. By the end of their summer program, I attended their graduation and there was not a single dry eye on that stage and it was at that moment that I came to a full realization of how much this all really meant to them.

Going abroad, I knew that I wanted to utilize and make the most out of my time in China and get the full local experience. I never expected to get this immersed with China’s community and I am forever humbled and grateful for this experience!

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How Studying Abroad helped me in Graduate School

Study Abroad and graduate school are usually not in the same sentence. What does your previous experience abroad have to do with being in graduate school? Studying abroad has helped me navigate this overwhelming and daunting experience of the first weeks of graduate school. For students who are thinking about pursuing graduate studies, your experience abroad will help you along the way. Here’s how:

Living in a different city. I decided to attend graduate school in a state that I had never visited before.  Coming from the South and now living up North, I was quite anxious. I became more comfortable with the situation because I remembered the time when I lived in a different country three years ago and how I had to overcome the challenges of living in a new place. Even if you do not travel out of state for graduate school, you will need to work with new people and a department that might have a different culture that you may not be accustomed to. Looking at your experience abroad will help you overcome settling in a new environment.

Connections. I connected with my cohort because most of us had experience abroad, studied a language, or aspired to have a career outside of the States. This allowed us to instantly become friends during the first week of our graduate school. Talking about your international experience with a stranger can sometimes break the ice in conversations. It is an open invitation for people to know more about you and direct you to opportunities. Based on the conversations I had with one of the staffs at my university, I was invited to attend a talk with South Korean diplomats that was hosted at my university. Never put your experience on the backburner!

Language. Do not think that if you are not getting a Master’s or a Ph.D. in a foreign language you cannot take language classes in an academic setting. There are many scholarships/fellowships that are offered at universities and through the US government that can help with your language ability. Your experience abroad can make you an applicable candidate to further peruse language acquisition. My university offers scholarships such as the FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) and several other funding to help with improving with your language ability. There is the Critical Language Scholarship, Boren Fellowship, etc. Knowing about several types of funding has made me look forward to furthering my Korean language skills.

Obtaining more education can be stressful! A new location, new people, and possibly a different lifestyle. However, looking back at how you navigated living in a different country can help you apply previous knowledge and experiences towards your professional degree and make the journey fun!

 

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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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