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The Unexpected Perks of Studying Abroad: South Korea

Alyssa Taylor ‘24 shares her experience and the unexpected benefits of studying abroad in South Korea during the 2022-23 academic year.

As a government and politics major with a concentration in international relations—Alyssa Taylor’s experience in Korea studying at Seoul National University played a key role in exploring her goals of working within international diplomacy, taking an active role in service work, and promoting social justice globally. 

“My mentor introduced me to a foreign service officer working at the  U.S. Embassy in Seoul at the time, and he took me under his wing—he was also an alumni of UMD,” said Taylor. 

Through this connection, Taylor was invited to participate in a multinational roundtable event with both Korean and American students, where they bonded over the shared experience of needing to find jobs after college. The transition from student to working professional is navigated by individuals worldwide and studying abroad might just provide you with a global support network—something many study abroad alums draw from after returning home, professional or otherwise. 

Yet, what Taylor didn’t anticipate proved most impactful: serving as an English teacher for a North Korean defector (refugee). Not only did this work supplement her interests in gender issues and feminism in South Korea, but provided an opportunity to get hands-on with service work she otherwise wouldn’t have experienced in the U.S. 

“She really humanized North Korean people for me, just having someone sit in front of you and talking to them, hearing about their life story and their dreams for the future—it made me, now that I’m back at UMD, want to be more of an advocate for North Korean people,” said Taylor.

When going abroad, it is essential to outline your personal goals. However, leaving room for surprise in how they manifest, whether they may be service, professional, cultural, or social opportunities, allows your experience to take a shape of its own. What you can’t plan for may become the essence of your way forward when you return to campus.  

What unexpected benefits did you gain from studying abroad? We want to hear from you!

To read more about Alyssa’s time in Korea, check out her experience with the Gilman scholarship

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