Alexsys Brown spent the summer in Seoul, South Korea, where she studied at Yonsei University, one of South Korea's most prestigious universities. Alexsys took a class on Korean socioeconomic development as well as an intensive three hour per-day Korean language class. Alexsys went into her study abroad experience with two overarching goals. Her first goal was to comprehend the social, political, and economic factors that led to South Korea's rapid development and industrialization over the past couple decades; while her second was to gain a deeper understanding of Korean language and culture. During her nearly two months in South Korea, Alexsys accomplished both of these goals and so much more. She was able to make a close connection with one of her professors, who would frequently share his knowledge of Korea's economic system with her during office hours or even over lunch and dinner. When not studying for school, Alexsys spent much of her free time volunteering or participating in cultural activities. She had the opportunity to teach English at a local girls high school, an activity which was equally as rewarding for her as for the students. Through conversation with schoolgirls, she was able to learn a good deal about the culture and the aspirations of young Korean women. Alexsys also explored the local customs by visiting the homes of her Korean friends as well as receiving lessons in traditional Korean arts such as woodcarving, cooking, fan painting, and performing tea ceremonies. Since her return to the United States, Alexsys has incorporated many aspects of Korean culture into her own life already, following philosophies she learned while abroad and of course doing lots of Korean cooking! She looks forward to sharing the knowledge she gained while in Korea with her community back home, while also encouraging other students to pursue their dreams of traveling abroad.
CEE Title: Your Identity Abroad
The goal of our CEE was to prepare other students mentally and physically for international travel. Going into a new environment is always a thrilling experience, but at times, it can also be a bit scary. Being first-time travelers, my teammates and I all experienced moments where we felt confused and afraid because of not understanding the host country’s culture. Thus, our CEE reached out to potential study abroad students at Pitt by encouraging them to be aware of their identity in their home country and how this identity may be impacted in a new country and culture. For the first part of our CEE, students split up into roundtables by region, and at each region, someone from VIH who had studied abroad would direct discussion. Students had to map out important points of their identity (race, gender, age, family relations, hobbies, sexual orientation, personal interests, etc.), and then the roundtable leaders encouraged them to think about some aspects of their identity that may be affected given the host country’s culture. VIH roundtable leaders each shared how they adapted their identity to their host country and how they learned to determine what they were willing to change and what they were not. The roundtables were followed by a Ted Talks video titled “When to take a stand and when to let it go”, which told of an LGBT woman’s own struggle in dealing with challenges to her personal identity and her moral integrity. For the second half of our CEE, we did a self-defense class hosted by the Pitt Police. The goal of the self-defense portion was to teach students some basic moves that will allow them to get away from an uncomfortable situation if necessary. Women are more likely to go abroad than men, but their families are also more likely to worry about their safety in a foreign country. Sometimes, particularly in an area that you do not know well or a culture you do not understand, you find yourself in an uneasy situation. If this happens, it can be calming to know how to escape someone that is trying to harm you. We wanted students at our CEE to leave the event with a sense of self-assurance that they can handle whatever comes their way either at home or abroad. It is important that every young woman understands who she is and feels confident in who she is.