For those who do not know me between 2012-2014 I was a graduate student at American University ‘s(AU) School of International Service (*which has 2,000+ students) in Washington, DC. However, unlike a typical AU student I spent one year in DC and my second year abroad studying at AU’s sister school Korea University.
During my first semester at AU I rented out a one-room in a private three-story duplex home owned by a very kind Chinese family in the DC area. My residence was only 10 minutes away by car/ local bus and 20-30 minutes walking distance from AU. Unlike the majority of other DC based colleges AU is located on the border of DC and Bethesda, Maryland, but just 25 minutes away from the DC central and National Mall area.
Grad life at AU was neither very exciting nor dull. I spent the majority of my first semester getting to better know my degree program professors, meeting with my degree and career advisors, and trying to make new friends in and out of school. Between the year, I also toured all of the national/historic areas around DC and welcomed family who came to visit me on holiday weekends.
After my first semester though I realized that I wanted to pursue a new degree and decided to take summer courses in hopes to change my degree program for the next semester. Spending part of my summer in DC was amazing. The city certainly has a much more laid back feeling, with its warmer evenings and more outdoor open table venues. A few times during the summer I got to enjoy touring the city and partaking in some art classes at the Livingsocial HQ office.
Living in DC provided me with many opportunities to meet and greet various professionals in a number of fields, but most especially in IR(international relations). Taking note of the importance in attending conferences/ talk sessions I spent the second-half of my summer participating in a month-long international conference across the country open to college students interested in global topics.
By end of the summer I returned to DC to begin for my second semester. After officially switching into my new preferred degree program in International Communication I registered for my new program classes. At the time I knew my fall semester would be my last semester in DC, which I discuss in an old blog post called Reasons for Moving to Korea (한국에 왜 살았는데~). As mentioned in my blog I enrolled into the AU graduate school program because I wanted to attend one of the best IR school’s in the country and partake in the school’s dual-degree international program in Asia.
After working out my new program classes and receiving all paperwork to apply for the dual-degree program through AU my semester seemed as though it would proceed smoothly. However, after the first month into the school year my landlord’s home was put up for sale and sold, leading me to look for a new residence. Deciding to use the opportunity to live with fellow AU students I created a profile with the AU grad housing website and began my search. Within no time I was contacted by a few IR grad students like myself either looking for a new roommate for their shared apartment or looking for a companion to search for new housing together.
Two weeks into my housing search I decided to sign a lease contract and moved into a 3-bedroom apartment at Yuma Gardens in the Van Ness DC area. Living with fellow grad students from AU at first felt really nice. However, I soon learned that my newfound roommates loved hosting random house parties throughout the semester. Deciding to spend more time outside of the apartment I spent my remaining months doing various activities. First off, I received a paid internship at the downtown based nonprofit named IREX. In-between my classes and on my free weekdays I would go the office and work alongside staff on a number of international projects. In addition to my internship I decided to take up track (*used to be an active track racer) again and joined the AU evening running club. Lastly, on weekends I frequently hosted out-of-state friends/ family who wanted to go on DC sightseeing tours with me.
By the end of the fall semester I spent the majority of my days in class, at my internship, or the AU library. I wanted to focus on passing all of my classes, completing all of my individual assignments at IREX, and preparing all of my required materials for the dual-degree program the following year. In preparation for the program I finalized my choice to attend Korea University and complete my second year of grad school as a graduate student abroad.
One of the benefits and reasons for deciding to attend Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies (KUGSIS) (*which has roughly 200 students) was due to stronger feedback from fellow classmates, who had studied abroad before in Seoul and liked it. In addition, learning that all degree programs at KUGSIS were taught in English provided a sigh of relief in language barriers for study.
After finishing my second semester in DC I started to make preparations to return home to NY and pack for my move to Seoul. In the process though I needed to inform my AU roommates with whom I had signed a leasing agreement with. Upon delivering the news of my plans to move out, I received harsh backlash and was forced into paying a fee for breaking my lease early. While I did not mind paying the fee I disliked the negative treatment I had received from my roommates who had continuously hosted parties at our apartment, never cleaned their spaces, did not care about our pest infestation, and allowed a random male friend to live rent free in our living-room.
Two months after the 2013 new year, I left DC and returned home for a short while, and then departed for Seoul. During my first month into my grad school year at Korea University I attended MT(*a new student recreational orientation), settled into my third semester courses, and began my thesis dissertation research. I loved my new environment and new campus. Just like AU in DC the KU campus grounds are located in northern Seoul nestled in the hillside of Seongbuk-gu district. Possessing some buildings that may seem somewhat medieval the KU campus is stunningly beautiful. I loved living right by campus and walking around the above and underground parts before and after some of my classes.
My third semester at KU overall went smoothly. I was fortunate to make a few new friends, both classmates and Korean natives who I met through language exchange encounters. Additionally, one language partner and I ended up becoming really close friends.
After my third semester ended I moved into a semi-bigger apartment in the Kodae area as mentioned in my blog Housing in Korea: My Residences (한국의 거주지 내 자리) just before the summer. That year I spent my first summer in Korea taking Korean language classes at Sogang University to increase my language skills for my graduation language skill requirement. My classes were very engaging and fun. In addition, my fellow classmates were very diverse. Every day we would sit at new tables and get to chat with a fellow classmate to get better acquainted with everyone in class. Since the class size was small after class sessions me and a few classmates would have lunch and study together.
Outside of language classes I spent my afternoons working on my thesis dissertation research and weekends meeting my language-exchange partner with whom I eventually started dating as mentioned in my blog Dating Abroad (국제 데이팅) Insights and Personal Experience – Part 1. As me and my language-exchange partner’s relationship grew I started wondering if it was right or wrong due to a number of reasons.
My life in Korea really became whole during my fourth semester in grad school/ second semester at KU. Upon returning from a brief trip back home after my Sogang classes had finished and just before fall, I remember expressing my feelings in regards to my relationship with my now ex. In addition, I spent my final semester focused on my courses and language studies. After successfully completing 1 out of 2 thesis dissertations for my dual-degree program I began to prepare to apply to workplaces in Seoul. My reason for looking in Seoul at the time was due to my decision to extend my year and finish my final fifth semester completing research for my AU dissertation in Korea.
That fall I felt whole residing in Korea. I had a nice apartment. I had a part-time ESL job. I had a boyfriend. I had a bunch of very close friends. Happy with my with everything going on I was intent on increasing my language fluency and enrolled in new courses (at Sogang again/ and YBM institute). My life was complete it seemed with the exception of a full-time job. However, my 2014 year was drastically different from my previous year. Outside of classes and dating I spent the majority of my time conducting research, reading books, and off-course writing my 2nd thesis paper. But little did I know that things would change so fast.
During my fifth semester, while conducting independent thesis research I lost many school friends. Not necessarily because we fell out of touch. On the contrary I realized that they were fake friends. When you live abroad you can meet genuine people or you can meet fake people who only hang out with you for a particular reason or benefit for themselves (*i.e. splitting a dinner bill or needing a drinking buddy) . The same is true for dating abroad. I sadly discovered this after embarking on a post-grad trip with some fellow KU classmates to Cambodia/ Thailand and being treated as the black sheep in the group. While my trip was a once in a lifetime experience I regret that I traveled with them. Unfortunately, my relationship with my ex at that time was no different. But, I was blindsided then.
While I was enjoying my freedom from grad school and off backpacking in Southeast Asia my relationship with my ex at the time was not good. Throughout spring 2014 we became distant. With my failed attempts in finding suitable work and not making too much with my part-time ESL job I told him that I wasn’t sure how long I would stay in Korea. However, I could tell that he was hoping I would make the choice to stay. In the end though I went home. After finishing graduate school I decided to return home for a short while, to spend time with my family and partake in my sister’s wedding that year.
My grad school years both at AU and KU turned out to be more exciting than dull as I worked through completing my dual-degree program. I loved my global exposure, participating in two separate degree programs, and earning two individual degrees. I loved my time and experience living, working, and studying in DC and Seoul. Lastly, I also loved being a student all over again. During my two years as a grad student I weighed my interests, took chances on new experiences, and overcame hurdles I never knew I would encounter. But, most importantly from my time as a student both at AU & KU I learned more about myself and the career focuses I would pursue.
Since my graduation from my alma mater schools I have been working on a number of my career focuses. One of which is educational pursuit and growth for the next generation. With so much to gain from international study opportunities I have been focused on pursuing a full-time career supporting global education opportunities for youth around the world. As a fellow millennial and international student I sincerely believe that international educational opportunities are one of the best forms of learning and growing. Our world is a classroom and we all should be given the opportunity to take part in it.