With the intention of experiencing a course abroad, I chose to take International Business in Gwangju, South Korea with USAC. During the month-long program, I had the opportunity to participate and explore the local community and culture with other students. With many field trips and Chonnam University’s Buddy Program, I learned more about Korean values and customs while completing the required course and getting credit for my degree program. This trip was a meaningful and refreshing learning experience for me—both inside and outside of the classroom. It was also an opportunity for me to enhance my studies as well as explore the culture and geography of South Korea. I would like to look back from the beginning of this beautiful journey to see how far I went and what I learned. I reflect on my experience in the below video and words that follow.
The Beginning of My Journey
I first learned about study abroad abroad programs when a friend asked me to attend the Learning Abroad Spring Fair at my school with her. At the event, I talked to many different program providers and got information about a lot of different countries and programs. I made my decision to try to pursue this opportunity to go abroad with USAC because I realized USAC offered an International Business course, which I needed to complete my Bachelor of Business Administration program. Even better, the course was in South Korea – my dream destination.
However, when I first heard about learning abroad, I never thought I could afford to study abroad. Finances were a major factor limiting my ability to study abroad. However, I was informed about scholarships and other financial support, which made me realize that studying abroad was not an impossible dream. I was so passionate and excited when thinking about what I could do abroad. I became determined to do everything I could to make study abroad happen.
I made a detailed plan on how to achieve my goal of studying abroad. To make this trip possible, I decided to split the fees into two financial terms: saving account and scholarships. I was planning to use the money in my saving account to accommodate for the personal expenses while studying abroad and the scholarship was the main financial source to support me on this trip. I used the scholarship for program fees and airfare. Since the program fee and plane ticket were the most important parts of the expenses for this trip, the scholarship was a decisive factor for me to be able to participate in this program. Since then, I devoted my time and effort to work on the application and the essays for scholarships. It paid off as I was a recipient of the FEA scholarship – a scholarship dedicated to underrepresented students.
My Experiences in Gwangju
One of the most impressive experiences that I had during the four weeks in Gwangju was the differences in the cultures of the U.S., Korea, and Vietnam. As a person who was born in Vietnam and has been living in the U.S., I was very interested in discovering cultural differences.
There were three aspects I explored that I thought were the most significant; giving and receiving items with two hands, respecting others’ personal space, and the importance of formal language in every conversation.
The first thing I realized on orientation day is that Koreans always use both hands when giving or receiving items from others, especially from older people. This is a very important gesture in Korean culture, which shows respect to another person. For example, when I went to the convenient store to buy food, I always gave my money to the cashier using both hands and slightly bowed down to show my respect. I think this is a very beautiful gesture because it shows the appreciation and politeness towards each other in every interaction. With Vietnamese people, we are also taught that we should use both hands when giving or receiving items from older people. However, Korean culture values this gesture more than Vietnamese culture does. This is not a familiar gesture in American culture, so, I believe this was very significant to know when interacting with Koreans, either in business or normal life.
My Study Abroad Goals
Before joining this program, I determined my personal, academic, and professional goals. A dream I’ve had since I was a child is to learn from other cultures. I believe every culture has its own charms; thus, I wanted to go to a whole new country that I have never been to before. My academic goal was to expand my knowledge about the different aspects of global business.
Studying abroad in Gwangju gave me a chance to explore and see if the way Korea observes various aspects of business is different from what I have learned in the United States. Living and studying abroad enriched my understanding of different people and customs; it gave me an enhanced appreciation and understanding of other cultures. It gave me the ability and skills to work effectively with different people from diverse backgrounds. Study abroad also provided me with a new, global perspective in my field of study. Studying overseas in Korea helped me cultivate my experience in addition to my foundation in business and build a stronger source of knowledge for the future.
Meeting people from all over the world is another advantage that I gained to support my future goals since the friends I made abroad have become a significant part of my network. Finally, the most important experience I received from studying abroad is developing many important valuable skills, which will prove applicable in my professional life. For instance, gaining knowledge about foreign languages and gaining expertise that will help me develop important soft skills such as adaptability, communication, and cultural understanding.
After returning home, besides all the goals that I set for myself before the trip, I also wanted to improve myself and grow further. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and been willing to try new things. I have also become more independent and more confident about myself and what I can do. As Mrs. Shinhye Kang, the coordinator of Chonnam National University International Summer Session told us during the orientation day, “After just one month in this program, you will learn a lot of things and this program will help you become a better person and be more independent.”
My learning abroad program in Gwangju, South Korea has ended with much new knowledge, good memories, and beautiful friendships. Participating in this program is one of my greatest decision. I have learned a lot from this trip, not only knowledge for my major but also about culture, interaction, and life. With all the knowledge, experience, and skills that I got from South Korea; I believe that they all play a very critical, important role in my future career. So, I will continue to work hard and follow my dream. Also, I have participated as a volunteer at Learning Abroad events within my campus. I hope that I have helped other students prepare for their learning abroad programs, as well as inspiring them to do something different, to try new things. Sadly, this journey has come to the end. It was a short program, but it was so meaningful and precious. Thank you, everyone, for going with me throughout this beautiful journey of my youth.
Trang Nguyen is a University of Houston student and USAC Gwangju, alumna. She studied abroad in Gwangju during a summer session.