Shivanie Rambaran is a mechanical engineering major from New York, New York.
Why did you choose this program?
As someone that wanted to get the most out of being abroad, CIEE had a lot to offer. I was initially quite intimidated about moving to the other side of the world, where I knew no one and didn't speak the native language, but, it was clear that with CIEE there was always had a support staff to help with whatever issues you encountered abroad. There was also a ton of programming to help adjust to the environment and cool activities that helped to integrate you with the community and culture.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
With the travel stipend I received, CIEE booked as well paid for my flights (round trip). It was a very smooth process. They provided very clear instructions regarding applying for the university directly, as well as registration for classes and housing and gave ample reminders to make sure you were hitting all of the (many) deadlines. There were even buses to pick us up from the airport which brought us to the hotel we would be staying on the first night (all included in the program fee). At the dorm, bedding was provided to us.
While in the country, the staff would even accompany us to places where the language barrier would be a great issue. For example, as part of the orientation schedule, we were brought to the bank and they guided us through opening an account and obtaining a debit card. The program definitely organized all of the important stuff.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. I mean this in a lot of ways. Firstly, with the language. It's such a valuable time to be able to really practice your language skills. When you're coming to a country where English is so common, it's so tempting to just avoid the embarrassment and hassle of trying to communicate in your broken version of the native language, but as a friend pointed out, they have so much more respect for you and you will learn so much if you continuously try to speak in their language, no matter how much you fail. And you will improve!
Also, do not be afraid to try all the new things that you only get a chance to do when you're abroad. There may be some parts of the culture or even foods, that are unfamiliar to you and out of your comfort zone, but a large part of the study abroad is coming to understand and appreciate new ways of life.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
There's so much to get involved in. CIEE Korea has a Seoul Mates program where you are put into groups with native Korean university students and every two weeks or so you go on some sort of adventure with them. Some of the things our small group did the picnic on the Han River, visit one of the palaces, explore a traditional village, and noraebang (karaoke). You can join clubs, there are quite a few international clubs, and you can partake in language exchange. Also, CIEE provides quite a number of volunteering opportunities. These are all regularly scheduled throughout the semester, so if you're not sure how to make the most of your time, CIEE has a lot already planned for you.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Something people consistently told me to worry about was facing discrimination (as a person of brown skin) in a homogenous society like Korea. Upon arriving, I was ready to get stared at, which did happen quite a bit at that airport. I suppose it was unsettling at first. But after being here a few months, you come to realize the looks are never from malice, really mostly curiosity. Sometimes you just send a smile their way and you’d be surprised how many people return a wider one. Some may ask you questions about where you come from and if you’re studying here, and if you answer in a little Korean, it often catches them off guard and it makes them extremely happy.
Also, in cities like Seoul or Busan, where foreigners are actually quite common now, you don’t quite feel that out of place. Universities like Yonsei nowadays have so many international students that the issue of sticking out diminishes a bit. It’s mostly the older generation that still is not used to the influx of outsiders. Keep in mind getting stared at may also have to do with other factors like the way you dress or your hairstyle. You’ll notice Koreans collectively have a certain style in terms of hair and dress, so when your fashion sense is out of the ordinary, or reflective of your own culture, it can easily attract attention.
Bear in mind for much of this I am recounting my personal experience, the extent of what others have faced may be different, especially out of Seoul, but for me, it’s definitely something I feel I needlessly worried about before arriving.
What was your favorite part of the program?
My favorite part was CIEE’s spring island excursion in Jeungdo. They brought us down South to a beautiful island known for salt harvesting. The resort was gorgeous and right by the beach. They had so many activities planned. We took a nap in a therapeutic salt cave, we got to take part in the process of harvesting salt, we cleaned the beaches together, walked through the mudflats, and at the end barbecued by the beach together. The perfect adventure. I will always cherish those moments spent with my new friends and the CIEE staff.