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Friday, August 24, 2012

Thank You Benjamin A. Gilman

Coming upon the anniversary of my departure to South Korea, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect upon my journey both to South Korea and otherwise. I’d like to start by expressing my profound gratitude to the Benjamin A. Gillman scholarship for allowing me to embark on my journey to South Korea, and without whom I would certainly never have the chance to study abroad.
When I first came to South Korea, I distinctly remember feeling nervous and scared, along with a strong undercurrent of  excitement that my journey had begun. The feeling of being in a completely different environment, apart from what I was used to is something that is completely indescribable. It allowed me to shed my inhibitions, create new boundaries and open myself to a completely new experience. Of course, there are the usual difficulties in traveling to a foreign culture (i.e. language barriers, fear of the unexpected, inability to assimilate, etc.) Beneath the surface of all that though, is something completely more powerful, for the longer you place yourself into a foreign environment, the more you begin to question, what is foreign? The world of your past becomes a distant dream, and you being to ask yourself- was I ever truly a member of my own culture? For now I felt a part of a world that only a few months ago was a complete mystery.  There is a certain level of vulnerability to traveling; you leave all of the things that represent comfort in your former life; basic needs like familiar food, shelter, family are traded in for the strange and unusual. What results is a sort of rebirth, a transformation, and along with that, a new understanding that what you thought you knew is but only a smidge of what actually exists: the astounding notion that there is life beyond your front porch.
On a more practical level, my experiences abroad have opened up a world of opportunity at home, as I have taken a position at my home university’s Center for International Services and Programs. Whereas last year I was preparing for a long trip abroad, eagerly waiting to meet my Korean buddy who would meet me at the airport, and move into my new dormitory, now I am doing the exact reverse and helping International Students come to the United States for the first time, and become settled as visitors at Cleveland State on a student visa. The irony of this sometimes surprises me, but then I remember that all the work that I have put forth thus far has been preparing me for exactly this purpose, and it is in fact, not irony, but just life’s way of preparing you for what you don’t even know you need to prepare for. From my practice with listening to a myriad of accents in my volunteer work with Conversation Connection (in which I helped ESL students practice their English in an informal setting) to my work at the International services center, where I learned the difficulties foreign refugees have coming to the United States, to even my experiences with my boyfriend’s first generation Vietnamese family where I learned to cope with language barriers by offering a warm smile and help with dinner preparations, each one of my experiences helped lead me to my present position in life, and for that I am extremely grateful.
My work at the Center for International Services and Programs is something that I find extremely challenging and rewarding. My recent preparations for the International Student Orientation allowed me a chance to prepare for students’ arrivals, and anticipate their needs in coming to a foreign culture. I would never been able to accomplish this task were it not for my experience studying abroad. Fortunately, I also have the privilege of working in the same office as my study abroad advisor, which allows me to meet new students who are also considering studying abroad in South Korea, and help give them an idea of what life in Korea is like. I also had an opportunity to give a presentation on my experiences and impressions of Korea for a small group of short term study abroad students traveling to Seoul to see the many large corporations and businesses there. Every day I learn something new, and I am grateful for all the knowledge I gained studying abroad.
My future plans include starting a graduate program at Cleveland State in Global Interactions, with an emphasis on Middle Eastern politics. I hope to study abroad in the near future, where I would like to study Arabic in preparation to perhaps someday work abroad or for the United States government.
Once again, thank you to the Gilman scholarship to their generous contribution to my studies abroad, and also to all those who supported by endeavor through kind words, encouragement and care packages to Korea. Also, thank you to all my friends in South Korea who helped me adjust, and made living in a foreign country that much easier.