Why did you decide to study in the USA?
It all began when my parents sent me to New Zealand to study English as it is a big advantage in the Korean culture to be able to speak a second language. My interest in Western culture ballooned the 9 years I lived there. Most of my time was spent watching Hollywood movies and that was when I started avidly dreaming about freedom, success, and living an American life. Everything about the USA seemed fascinating for a young Korean teenager growing up in the countryside of New Zealand. The second I learned America had a more lenient educational system than the strict educational culture in Korea, I knew I had to go.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
Irvine Valley College (IVC) is located in a beautiful city called Irvine in Orange County, California. Irvine is well known for being one of the safest cities in the nation. This is the main reason why I considered choosing Irvine Valley College at first, but after further research about the school, I found out that the school was also full of diversity which would allow me to experience multiple cultures in one college. Furthermore, I was extremely attracted by the fact that Irvine Valley College has the number one transfer rate in California. This was crucial for me as transferring to a four-year university was my goal.
What do you like best about studying here?
There are many excitements of studying at Irvine Valley College such as its location and reputation, but the best one so far is its amazing ability of guiding me towards my biggest goal. I was not so great with my academics in Korea. My strong passion for dancing made it hard to keep up with school. However, IVC gave me a second chance to accomplish my dream of attending a four-year university in America. At first, it sounded almost impossible for me to attend a competitive university, especially in another country since I knew almost nothing at all about studying in the United States and studying was difficult for me. Thankfully, with the help of the international department and the counseling system at IVC, I had nothing to worry about. If I had any difficulty, I was able to reach the school which they gladly helped me with anything, and this was one of the best things about studying at IVC. I never felt like I was alone, and I was able to make my dream come true thanks to IVC.
What do you miss most about home?
Family. I miss everything about my family. The food, their warmth, and their overall support. However, living far away from home really trained me to become an adult. I am now able to do the things that I could not do by myself, and living by myself got rid of my laziness that I could not overcome for a long time. Now, not only do I have to cook for myself, do my laundry and clean my room, but keep track of my financials, take care of my car, and continue furthering my education. I still really miss the great amount of physical help my parents used to provide me, but I look at this as a great opportunity to strengthen and develop myself as I have to make my own decisions for myself.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
My biggest surprise about the U.S. life and education was the friendliness of people. Wherever I go, strangers would greet me and even have small talks about life and interests. Even in school, professors were easy to approach, which enabled me to feel comfortable about asking questions in class and go to their offices to go over the materials I was not sure about. In Korea, we have an age-stratified culture where we must act differently and use a different type of language to the elders in order to show respect. Even though the respectfulness still exists in America, people seemed so close to each other regardless of their age, or their status.
... your biggest disappointment?
Life in the United States is great in every way. However, my biggest disappointment was that the transportation system did not fulfil my expectations. For the first two years of college life in the U.S. I did not own a car as it is not common in Korea for college students to own a car. It was a long walk to the bus stop which was really exhausting especially in summer, and Uber was quite expensive to use everyday. After making some friends, they were able to give me rides to school, the market, and even to extracurricular activities outside of Irvine, which I really appreciated. Even though the transportation was a big disappointment, it did not bother me too much as people were always willing to help.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
Because I grew up in New Zealand where I picked up my English, I did not struggle too much with language differences in the United States. However, it was hard for me to understand the American slang and accent because I was used to the New Zealand’s British-style accent. In order to overcome this problem, I used various kinds of entertainment to learn the American style of English, such as movies, music, social media, and socializing rather than the classic, boring style of studying English such as memorizing 100 vocabulary words a day. This is also how I learned English in New Zealand when I could not speak English at all. Mastering another language was a lot of work and speaking Korean was much more comfortable for me, but I always pushed myself beyond my limit to overcome the language differences.
Managing money was quite difficult since international students cannot work for money in the United States. The biggest problem was that when I hung out with my American friends, I was always short on money since they were spending the money they made, and I was living on the limited money that my parents sent me every month. How I managed to deal with this problem was simple. Cook for myself at home, and try not to eat out often. I was able to save a lot of money just from cooking simple, healthy dishes at home, which also jump started my fitness journey. I cooked during the school days, and then on the weekends, I went out to eat with my friends or used the money I saved to buy essentials without having to worry about money.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
I did not have much difficulties adjusting to the new educational system because in fact, I personally preferred the American educational system more than the Korean system. In South Korea, it is common to see memory-based learning techniques in schools. Whereas, the educational system in America is more critical-thinking based. There is no right or wrong to which system is better, but for me, I was able to learn more from learning materials step by step rather than just memorizing them solely for exams.
What are your activities?
I joined the Korean Students Association (KSA) at Irvine Valley College. KSA is a club consisting of mostly Korean students and also a couple of American students. We work together to help international students at IVC. We also organized various booth activities at school to introduce the Korean culture to students. In addition, we have meetings to share our knowledge about the transfer system and help each other with the transfer process. Joining this club was a huge help for me not only because I could help the new international students but also I was able to receive useful information and tips on my academic life. Overall, club activities at IVC are a great way to make new friends and receive help.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Being able to speak English fluently was a great advantage for me with making friends in the USA. However, I was still quite nervous about making friends in such a broad environment. As time passed, I realized that people in the USA were very friendly and I did not have to be nervous or hesitant trying to fit in. This is because the USA is very diverse. It is important here to treat each other equally and accept diverse cultures. Therefore, rather than having to replace my original culture, I was able to proudly keep my own culture and learn the cultures of others simultaneously. No matter how well one speaks English, it is very easy to make friends here as people will always try to help and communicate.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
My career goal is to become involved in global business. Simply put, I want to become a bridge that connects Korean companies to the global market. I believe that the U.S. education is perfect for my career goal as I get to learn different cultures all around the world by utilizing the diversity in the USA. Also, studying in the United States allows me to become proficient in English which is crucial to doing global business and empowers me with great communication skills with people from all around the world. Creating business bridges from Korea to the global market will not only help develop the Korean economy but also expand the global knowledge of Korean culture.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering studying English in the USA?
A senior that I met in my college once told me to live like a bulldozer. He told me to face my fears and never run away. America is a big land full of diverse opportunities. Studying in the USA will definitely help students achieve their dreams, but it is not guaranteed. There will be countless obstacles and challenges in the life of studying in such a broad world. Many international students feel homesick and want to give up. However, if one puts enough effort and work to overcome those hardships, those difficulties will train one to become a better and a stronger person in the future. Therefore, my advice to other students would be the same as what my senior told me. Live like a bulldozer, and make the most of it in this beautiful country.