AsiaLearn Student’s Exploration Of Korean Roots “Took Me Outside My Comfort Zone”
Sarah Cundiff, University of Alabama at Birmingham Undergraduate, Met Cousins, Learned Cultural Nuances During Summer Study Abroad at Korea University in South Korea
By Kelli Modica AsiaLearn
Q: Where did you study abroad and what made you choose that destination?
A: I studied abroad in South Korea at Korea University through AsiaLearn. I chose to study in Korea because my mother is from the country, and I wanted to learn more about my heritage, the culture, and language. It was my first time in Korea.
Q: Tell me about the KU Summer Program and what your favorite part of the program was.
A: The KU Summer Program, or as they call it at KU, International Summer Campus (ISC), offers students from around the world the chance to study at one of the best and most prestigious universities in the country. Students are allowed to take up to nine credit hours, which can all transfer back to their home universities, as well as participate in field trips to various parts of Korea on the weekends. KU also offers students participating in ISC the opportunity to be paired up with a KU student, a “buddy”. The buddy greets the student upon their arrival to Korea at the airport and is a great person to mentor the students on their time spent in Korea.
One of my favorite parts of the program was Buddy Night. KU rented out a local restaurant, where all the students of the ISC and all their buddies were allowed to meet each other and share conversation. Buddy Night offered several activities for the students to participate in , including a
dance-off. One of the prizes was a free iPod!
Another one of my favorite parts of the program was the field trip to the Boryang Mud Festival. This annual mud festival takes place on the beach in Boryang, South Korea. Here, people from all around the country get together in beach wear to play in the mud all day. Activities include such things as: huge inflatable slide covered in mud that you and friends can race down, mud painting, mud cage, mud moon bounce, and anything you can imagine to have fun playing in mud!
Q: What activities did you do in Korea, outside of the KU program?
A: Since it was my first time in Korea, I was able to meet one of my cousins for the first time ever. Although he is around my mother’s age, he has two daughters that are close to my age. They took me the mall, showed me the Korean fashions and magazines, and just taught me a little about the Korean culture. They also showed me how to prepare traditional Korean meals.
Also, most of my friends from the program and I participated in Korean nightlife in Seoul. Most places (even the malls!) stay open 24/7. Most of the trips and places I wanted to see in Korea were places the KU program took us excursions during the weekend.
Q: As a Korean-American do you think you had a different experience than non-Korean heritage students? If so, how?
A: As a Korean-American I do think I had a different experience than non-Korean heritage students. Firstly, and most importantly, I was very excited and eager for my trip to Korea. I anxiously awaited each piece of new information to quickly absorb. I think the friends I made at KU also had a lot to do with the ease of my transition. Because most of my friends were full Koreans who had been to Korea before and spoke the language, they were able to help guide and assist me in my travels through the country. They often translated for me when it was difficult to understand and taught me what behaviors were acceptable in Korea.
Q: What are your plans after graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in May 2010?
A: After my graduation from UAB in May 2010, I plan on working an internship during the summer before I depart back to Korea. I loved everything about Korea so much that I decided to teach English overseas for one or two years. After my arrival back in the states, I plan on attending graduate school to get an MBA.
Q: What pushed you to decide to teach English in Korea and what are you most looking forward to?
A: Well, my older brother and I have a very close relationship. He is actually currently teaching English in Korea. I got the idea from him and decided to just go on it. One of my goals in life is to learn the Korean language fluently. By living in Korea and teaching, I can take advantage of the resources in front of me to reach my goal while helping the Korean community and sharing my passion with them. The thing I am looking most forward to is the reunions I will have with family and friends and learning the language more.
Q: What is your advice for other students thinking about studying abroad in Asia?
A: Go for it and go for it now! I think the earlier students study abroad in their college careers, the better. Opportunities seem to build on each other and going to one country to study abroad may inspire the student to study abroad elsewhere the next semester. There’s so much to see and learn in the world, and studying abroad and immersing yourself in the culture of the country is a great way to do so. It is a great opportunity for young people to go outside their realm of comfort and experience unconceivable things, allowing them to learn about themselves and grow as individuals.
Q: How do you think your study abroad and teaching abroad experience will benefit you in future careers and/or job searches?
A: I think my study abroad experience thus far has taught me so much about adapting to my surroundings. The culture of a country, or here it can applied to a workplace, cannot be compared as better to another culture; it is simply different. As I mentioned earlier, the study abroad experience took me outside of my comfort zone, and made me reach out and socialize with people from all around the world. From these people, I was able to learn about differences amongst cultures and to understand why people may act in certain ways that others may not find acceptable. From my teaching abroad experience, I think I will learn how to work through a language barrier and develop skills for adapting to any work force. I hope to gain aptitude in teaching and confidence to pursue any career goals I may have in life.
Q: Anything else you want to tell us?
A: Since I left KU, I have seen many of my friends from the program! I am living in Birmingham, AL, and one of my closest friends from Korea (Jessica Ji) goes to school in Nashville, TN. I have gone to visit her a lot since the end of KU’s summer program. One weekend, another one of our friends from the summer program flew down from Vancouver to spend time with us. We all traveled to Bloomington, IN, (to Indiana University) to see yet another one of our friends from the program. It was like a mini reunion!
My experience at KU is a huge mile marker in my life. The frienships and connections I have made with people around the world are considered a priceless entity that will last a lifetime.