Study abroad experiences enrich student’s cultural understanding

 12 09 25 hayoungkim yak
September 25, 2012

Senior Hayoung Kim and her new friends from all over the world held hands at the Preparing Global Leaders Institute (PGLI) this summer in Macedonia and promised a future of peace.

It was a defining moment for Kim – one she says she will remember forever.

“We became one and promised each other that when we grow up and become leaders, we will make peace based on mutual understanding,” says the Political Science and International Studies major from Rockville, Md., who is back on campus this year after spending her junior year studying in China on Freeman Asia and Gilman scholarships.

Her trip this summer with PGLI put her in the perfect position to lead McDaniel’s team at the model European Union in November. In fact, Kim is serving as prime minister of Greece, the nation the college is representing, as the model EU considers the accession of Macedonia into the union.

With her sights set on becoming a leader in conflict resolution for the U.S., Kim is pursuing that goal through her studies at McDaniel and first-hand experiences with as many different cultures as she can find. Research on the internet and professors who think of her when opportunities surface have resulted in Kim’s studies and internships in D.C., China, Tibet, Macedonia and, after fall semester, Albania/Kosovo, where she will volunteer at an orphanage and work out details for a study abroad trip she’s organizing for next summer.

Yes, she’s organizing a study abroad trip. Kim just launched a company – Bridge Education Abroad Institute – to make study abroad opportunities available to more students. Plans are underway to orchestrate trips to China in June, Kosovo/Macedonia in July and Jordan in August.

Study abroad experiences enrich student’s cultural understanding

“I started this institute to bridge gaps between students from all over the world. I believe in young people, and I believe that they must step up for our future to create peace,” she says, explaining that friends from PGLI who are from top universities in their home countries and have extensive experience with study abroad are serving as directors for the trips.

“In order for us to establish peace, we must understand each other. Learning from textbooks and in the classroom can be very different when you actually experience that country and culture and talk with the people.”

Political Science and International Studies professor Christianna Leahy is no longer surprised when Kim announces her latest educational adventure.

“When Hayoung asked me if I would go to Kosovo and Albania this summer with her newly founded organization to promote peace and understanding, I didn't even hesitate to say, ‘well of course’ – other than pausing to think pragmatically for a moment about my logistical challenges,” says Leahy. “I didn't doubt for a minute that this idea she has for an organization will happen because I have seen Hayoung make amazing things happen with her sheer determination and the passion that drives her.”  

No matter what the experience – on campus or abroad – Kim squeezes every ounce of learning from it. Even memories from her childhood and teen years factor into her game plan. Born into a wealthy Korean family, Kim had a collection of tutors in everything from speed skating to English and violin. Unhappy with the South Korean educational system, Kim’s parents applied for a visa to move the family to the U.S.

Before the visa was approved, terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and essentially closed the nation’s doors to immigrants. Determined to provide Kim and her sister with the best educations possible, her father, a banker, sent his family to live in New Zealand. A hint of a British accent in Kim’s flawless English serves as a reminder of the two years – age 11 to 13 – she spent there before they all moved to Rockville, Md., together.  The family’s economic situation changed substantially when they moved to the U.S.

“Now I feel like I understand a variety of economic situations which helps me to understand many different people,” Kim says, adding that it is her parents’ sacrifice for her that fuels her determination and hard work.

Also defining what she hopes will be her life’s work are the lessons she learned during a trip to Tibet for the Ethnicity in Contemporary China class she took while studying in China.

“I learned that human rights should be culturally defined,” she says, explaining that the Tibetan homes she visited willingly displayed the Chinese flag and Mao Zedong’s portrait. “Many Westerners believe Tibetans do not have freedom. However, all the Tibetans that I came into contact with were very happy with their lives.”

One of the Tibetans she interviewed told her, “I have all the freedom here, as long as I do not care about politics, I am free as a bird.”

Kim wants to provide just these kinds of “aha” moments to her peers everywhere. Although her company is struggling with the issue of capital and budget, she and her directors and other friends are working hard to connect with opportunities to make her vision happen.

“We live in a big world, but it is one world,” she says. “I hope to make a small impact for this world that we live in.” 

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