Studying Abroad as a STEM Student in the Land of the Morning Calm

Hello! My name is Nicole Santini. I recently studied abroad in South Korea as a STEM student with USAC. I am passionate about traveling and learning how different countries teach science, but because of my courses, I thought it would be impossible. I know that as a STEM student, it can be hard to study abroad because of our course curriculum and our financial needs. I am here to tell you that it is possible!

To start off, I will tell you a bit about myself. I am 19-years-old and from Puerto Rico. Currently, I am an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida majoring in pre-professional biology and minoring in chemistry. My goal is to become an emergency medical pharmacist and do research on medications for voice diseases.

With the goals I have set, I thought that studying abroad was never a possibility for me since I wouldn’t have the time or money to do so. Thanks to my advisors at my home university, USAC, and all the work I put into my study abroad dream, I made my dream a reality.

Nicole overlooks Seoul from a mountain top.

Consider Your Courses

First, how did I do it? Well, I started looking for programs that could cater to the courses I needed and for a destination that I would be comfortable going to. I planned out my class schedule in advance to know what classes I needed to take and when I needed to take them.

Next, I looked for what university had those courses and how much the cost would be. Once I had all the details, I emailed my advisor at my home university to make sure all the information I had was correct.

After that, the application process started and so did the hunt for scholarships. I will tell you, this was not easy. At the time, I was looking for a university abroad that had classes such as general chemistry and genetics, but with time and research, I found the perfect fit. For me, it was the USAC Yonsei University program during the summer term. This university had both classes that I needed to take, and the destination was at the top of my list.

USAC made the application process easy, they were always helpful, and kept me up to date with deadlines. USAC also organized everything and created folders with what you needed to do and when to get it done. They provide many guides and resources so students wouldn’t get lost while applying and being abroad.

Apply For Scholarships

Now, the difficult part was how I was going to financially afford all of this. Once you have been accepted to USAC’s program, they have several scholarships you can apply for. I applied to them, and several others such as the Gilman Scholarship and study abroad scholarships that my home university had. I also worked full-time to save up extra money. In the end, I ended up not paying for anything because my scholarships covered all my expenses. The only thing I had to pay out of pocket was for personal expenses.

The scholarships I received were the Gilman scholarship, financial aid, and financial need-based scholarships from my home university. The application process was scary since I didn’t know I would get any of these scholarships, but I had started preparing for my essays months before they were due.

Nicole poses in a traditional hanbok in Seoul.

Make Meaningful Connections

After figuring out my finances and finishing the application process, it was finally time to go abroad. This was my first time going abroad and I was absolutely scared since I was leaving my family for the first time and was traveling alone.

Thankfully, I saw on the USAC roster that there was another person who also went to my home university and decided to send them an email. We ended up becoming good friends and did everything together while being abroad. I know meeting people abroad can be a scary thing, but I ended up meeting many new friends who I still talk to every day.

Find A Balance

While abroad, USAC provided us with many resources about the country and made sure we had an advisor in South Korea just in case we needed anything. When you are in a different country, these resources are very helpful, especially since there is a language barrier.

Through my study abroad program, I had no issues since USAC prepared us well. You may be concerned about how you will handle your course work while also wanting to go out and have fun, and while it can be stressful, it’s just a matter of planning out your days and trips. I was able to take my classes and explore all of South Korea by making sure I studied efficiently. I had the best time of my life abroad while having the opportunity to study what I love and learning a new culture.

Architecture in Seoul, Korea.

Start Planning Early

In the end, with hard work and USAC’s help, my study abroad dream was made into a reality. I know many students, including myself, always ask for advice on how to make this possible. The best advice I can give you is to plan ahead. I started planning for my study abroad a year in advance and I made sure I communicated with my home university about what I wanted to do to ensure I was on track.

I also started saving up money a year in advance as well just in case I didn’t get any scholarships. Luckily, everything worked out for me and I had the best summer of my life. If you have any questions about studying abroad or this specific program, feel free to reach out to me at or on Instagram @nicolesantini!

Study abroad in Seoul offers STEM courses in engineering, biology, mathematics, and more. Click here to learn more.