NAME: Courtney Wan
PROGRAM: South Korea, SJSU Exchange – Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)
My name is Courtney Wan. My pronouns are she/her. I am a Chemistry major with a Biochemistry concentration and Bioinformatics minor. I recently graduated from SJSU during the spring 2023 semester but have plans on continuing my education at SJSU as an open university student to fulfill class prerequisites to apply for the SJSU Clinical Laboratory Scientist Training Program in the spring 2024 semester.
To talk about volunteer, or job experiences, I volunteered as a math mentor at my high school to help and prepare incoming freshmen for the pace of high school level classes. I was also a teaching assistant at a Buddhist summer program (Theravada Buddhist Society Of America) where I helped with lesson plans and led group student activities. I was recently a student assistant for CHEM 131A at SJSU where I helped answer questions on laboratory procedures and prepped laboratory materials for the lab.
I chose to study abroad because the opportunity to learn about another country’s culture while pursuing an education sounded amazing. Studying abroad allows me to immerse myself in a new culture, language, and lifestyle. This type of exposure while abroad allows me to appreciate and understand cultural diversity. I also saw this study abroad opportunity to help with personal growth. As living in a foreign country comes with challenges that bring me out of my comfort zone, I hoped to build up independence and problem solving skills as I work through unfamiliar situations. I also like the variety of electives as well as class selections for my major offered by exchange programs. Even though I was close to graduating and took most of the classes I needed, I thought it would be nice to experience a different teaching style and classroom environment from a different country. Lastly, I have always wanted to learn a new language, so I saw this as the perfect way to learn and quickly pick up a new language.
Studying abroad in South Korea left a positive impact and was life changing. I would have never gotten to experience the things I experience in South Korea anywhere else. I have gained so much cultural knowledge being fully exposed to Korean trends. Making so many new friends and connections in Korea helped to advance my Korean language skills, as I was practicing the language constantly. My experience was full of impactful and wonderful memories that will be a huge part of who I am today. The way I think about myself, the people around me, and the world was significantly changed after studying abroad. I have opened myself to a much more global perspective. Another skill I have improved during my study abroad experience is public speaking. A lot of the classes I took in South Korea are discussion based and require a presentation/project before finals week. The frequent amount of public speaking activities helped me to talk more smoothly, connecting ideas and come up with topics to contribute to conversations.
A personal goal for myself was to put myself out there and try something new every week. Even though I’m a shy person, I tried meeting new people and doing new activities. Doing this helped me do things I’ve never done before while making great memories with the people I met. An academic goal I set was to pass all of my classes with an A. Strategies I used to achieve this goal was to preview materials before class as well as to review material after classes to help retain information. These retention strategies help me balance school life while having fun outside of school. A professional goal of mine is to work as a cosmetic chemist, so in South Korea I signed up for makeup formulation classes where I made my own foundation and lipstick shades. I learned about ingredients that go into these products as well as a bit color theory.
Before my study abroad trip, I would describe my personality as shy and introverted, so the biggest impact that my study abroad experience had on me was becoming more extroverted. I learned that getting out of my comfort zone and attempting to do things either by myself or with new people opens up many hidden opportunities. I learned that just making connections by having a conversation with a stranger or a fellow student in class, helped me to get invited to events/activities or gain a helping hand when it came to exploring a new country.
The courses I took abroad were Basic Korean, Understanding Asian Culture, Comparative Thoughts East and West, and Popular Culture and Media. Strategies I used to ensure my academic success was to choose courses that would be of interest to me as well as help me learn more about the country I am studying abroad in, in that sense I would be engaged and motivated to succeed in these courses.
To immerse myself in the local culture and at my host university, I joined school clubs and participated actively in the buddy system organized by the school for exchange students. I joined the art club as well as the KITE (Koreans and International Students TalkIng in English) club. These clubs actively promoted group activities where we meet new people and learn cultural activities at the same time. Being immersed in a new culture changed my perspective on the world as being in a classroom with students from all over the world like from Europe, Asia, and other parts of America has taught me how to cooperate with a diverse group of people and understand perspectives on an international level.
Studying abroad has prepared me for my future in aspects of communication and socialization skills. I am more open to conversing and connecting with people. At the end of these conversations, I share my experience as well as gain knowledge from them. In addition, after studying abroad my interest to try new things has increased. I look forward to taking on new opportunities or facing new challenges.
Before studying abroad, it is nice to do a bit of research beforehand or reach out to someone who has studied abroad before to help prepare you for a great study abroad experience. You can learn more about what to bring or not bring, culture etiquette wise what to do and not do, recommend places to go or activities to do, etc. Also learning a bit of the language would do wonders when trying to communicate with the locals and trying to get around.