When and where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
I studied at Kookmin University in South Korea in the spring of 2012 as a visual communication major.
What made you want to study abroad?
I went abroad for the first time at the end of my sophomore year at UW Oshkosh through the Guy Healy USA Summer Camp program. I went to Japan with this program and it was my first time outside of the country, so originally I was very nervous, but I ended up enjoying every minute. I experienced so much there and learned so much about a new and different culture. After the program ended, I was asked to come back the following summer – I agreed wholeheartedly! Going to Japan really opened my eyes to the world and I knew that I wanted to study abroad.
How did you search for programs? What made you select your program?
I searched on my school’s Web site, but I also always heard about the programs from my college friends. We all have the same passion for travel, and after one of us goes abroad we always love sharing stories. I have always wanted to go to Korea. I’m really interested in the culture and wanted to experience it first-hand. As a graphic design student, Kookmin University also made sense because it’s a well-known school for design.
What was the biggest surprise about your study abroad experience?
I was situated in the heart of Seoul and the biggest surprise was how big the city really was. Even being there for six months didn't give me enough time to see the whole city. Coming from a small town background and being thrown into this busy, chaotic metropolis was an adventure in itself. Getting lost on a daily basis is one of the things that made my trip so fun. I used to just take the train and hop off at random stops to explore.
What did you notice about the cultural divide?
I learned a lot while I was in Korea. I believe that to truly understand some things you must experience them first-hand. Reading a book can only tell you so much. That is why I just loved walking around Korea looking at their design. It's inspiring to say the least. I also learned so much from my professors there as well. They taught me how to look at design from a different perspective, to think ever more outside the box than I did before. Korean design is very strong aesthetically and also a bit chaotic – but the two elements work together wonderfully. I think it's also inspired by their writing system, which is very geometric and clean. It can be put almost anywhere on a design piece and still be readable.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
I believe that to make a study abroad successful you have to surround yourself with friends. In Korea, I made many friends who made I still keep in contact with. I also went with my girlfriend who supported me and kept me calm during the hard times. She also made the trip more fun by urging me to go to lots of unfamiliar places.
How did you finance your trip abroad and did you find any creative solutions to stay on budget?
I took out a loan to help pay for a lot of the expenses but I also knew that I was going to have to budget a lot to make my money last the whole time. Surprisingly, staying in the dorms on campus was really cheap – cheaper than back at home. That saved me a lot of money and gave me the opportunity to make friends. I thought that cooking at the dorms and buying my own food to make would save me some money, but quickly found that eating out in Korea is one of the cheapest and most fun things to do. There are always places to eat and you never eat alone. Friends always gather around food and enjoy each other's company.
How did you deal with the cultural divide?
Kookmin University has a global buddy program that pairs you up with a Korean student and my global buddy was the best! He not only helped me adjust to the culture but explained things to me in a way I could understand. He also taught me the Korean alphabet and useful phrases. Korean people are very warm and welcoming. They love to enjoy each other's company and are very outgoing.
What did you miss most about home?
I missed family most of all, but besides that I missed having my own room. It was my first time studying abroad but it was also my first time living in the dorms, so that was a big deal for me. I've always had my own room and my own space, so it was a big change. The dorms in Korea were also smaller than back at UW Oshkosh, so I had to get used to sharing space – but it was just another way of making friends.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I think I really did catch the travel bug so now I want to keep traveling. I believe that traveling has opened up so many opportunities for me and all the friends I've made are amazing. Because of this, I want to visit my friends in their home countries and visit other new countries that interest me. On my travels I’ve made friends from Ireland, Germany, Japan, Indonesia and many other countries, each of which is now on my list to visit.
As for my career, I have just recently graduated so I am looking for a job as a graphic designer. Once I get settled down for a while, I would love to save up money to do more traveling. Also, seeing as graphic design is a universal means of communication, I would love to mix travel and work together if possible.
Chee has given a comprehensive, thoughtful set of answers above. We love his positive attitude towards experiencing Korean culture, and how he views challenges as opportunities to make friends and learn. Graphic design is a highly portable career. If you are outgoing and entrepreneurial, it is possible to make a living as a freelancer, working primarily online from just about anywhere that has Internet access. Chee might consider going on a working vacation after graduation. This would allow him to take casual or “low-skilled” work to support himself while networking and making contacts in his field. Chee’s curiosity and social personality would make him a natural networker and we’re sure he’d be able to land contracts abroad. He might also consider pursuing his master’s degree abroad.
- For those considering a master’s abroad, the tips discussed in Career-boosting Strategies While Studying Abroad will be useful.
- An Inventory of Cross-cultural Skills and The All-Important International Elevator Pitch are great articles to help get you thinking about the career value of the international skills you’ve built, and how best to discuss them with potential employers.