How Study Abroad Shaped My Life

How Study Abroad Shaped My Life

Jan 17
Manuel Colón, NRES Student Recruitment Coordinator

Travel to a foreign country was not a novel concept when I had arrived to college.  I had previously traveled with my family to Mexico and Puerto Rico several times before even stepping foot on to Illinois’ campus. However, the study abroad programs that I engaged in during college here really shaped my world view and current lifestyle. I took one trip during the summer after my freshman year and I have been in a perpetual state of wanderlust since then.

I had been very interested in East Asian culture and history from a very young age, so I was ecstatic when I learned in my second semester of undergrad that the College of ACES was sponsoring a six-week summer program to South Korea. The program was not going to interfere with neither my semester coursework nor my summer work plans, so I jumped at the opportunity with fervor. I spent six weeks at Konkuk University in Seoul, the Korean capital, studying Korean Language, Korean Culture and History, and International Business.

We took weekly corporate visits to the headquarters of major Korean companies like Samsung, Hyuandai, and LG Electronics to learn about their beginnings and how they grew to be the multinational corporation they are today. Additionally, we took cultural trips to other towns like Andong and Busan to learn about Tae Kwon Do, The DMZ, pottery, etc.  The classes, the trips, and the amazing group of people who were in the program (whom I still keep in contact with) completely changed my self-perception in the context of a global community.

The program laid the foundation for my passion to learn more about the world, its cultures, people, and languages. It set in motion a drive in me that led me to visit my Konuk roommate (another ACES student) in Costa Rica the following semester, participate in a week-long internship with the USDA Forest Service – International Programs to Michoacán, Mexico to visit monarch butterfly overwintering habitat, take a Field Experience course with my department to Puerto Rico, a personal trip to visit my fraternity brother in Paris, and ultimately my decision to join the Peace Corps.

The International Summer Program at Konkuk pushed me to grow personally and academically in ways that I could not have imagined. Not only did it bring to life things I had previously researched and learned about, but it completely opened my eyes to experiences that I would have never been able to engage in otherwise.  Even now, seven years later, it’s one of the biggest highlights I mention when meeting with prospective students. Your college experience does not need to be confined to the four walls of a lecture hall and study abroad is a few clear way to make that happen.