Studying abroad offers new experiences
This school year, two foreign exchange students traveled abroad to study and explore in the land of the United States. Senior Carlotta Emde from Bremen, Germany and junior Jaejun Jeon from Tokyo, Japan made the ambitious trek across the pond.
“I knew I wanted to do it [study abroad],” Emde said. “All of my older brothers did an exchange here [in the United States]. They told me about all of their experiences and at the time I was 10 years old, so I just knew.”
For Jeon, his parents’ opinion had a big weight in his decision, which created the perfect opportunity to study and adventure the world.
“I wanted to study America as a country,” Jeon said. “I heard it was a good country, and my father wanted to study [here], as well when he was young, but didn’t have money. [He] was poor, so when I got an opportunity to come, I did.”
Emde and Jeon became minorities overnight. During the first few weeks in the United States, both were stricken with apprehension. After all, they were “aliens.”
Fortunately, with the healing power of time, the two exchange students began to walk out of their own skin, leaving them to feel appreciative toward the opportunities presented before them.
“You definitely get more open-minded,” Emde said. “You hear a lot of good and bad stereotypes about certain cultures, but when you actually go and live in that country, you get a firsthand experience of seeing and living their culture.”
According to a 2012 graduate survey performed by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), 84 percent of alumni felt that studying abroad helped them build valuable skills such as communication, cultural training and adaptability. Dr. Brian Kessel, Study Abroad Coordinator at Columbia College, agreed with the findings of the IES survey.
“In today’s globalized world, employers have identified ‘cross-cultural competence’ as one of the most important job skills,” Kessel said. “Employees need to be able to interact and communicate effectively with customers and clients from different cultures. Students who study abroad develop these exact skills.”
The benefits of studying abroad were clear, like Emde and Jeon’s resolution.
“In Germany, when people know you did an exchange, you have better chances to get a job because you’re more experienced and mature,” Emde said. “It definitely helps you in life. It’s amazing right now, and I know it will help me even later on.”
Emde applied through the Rotary International exchange program, in which she listed the United States and Canada as her preferred locations. Emde got accepted and arrived in the United States on Aug. 1, 2014, a stuffed suitcase in one hand and a one-way ticket in the other. Jeon came to the United States through the Laurasian Institute, an exchange program funded by the Japanese government.
The weeks prior to the first day of school were spent transitioning into a new household, a new environment and a new lifestyle. Luckily, Emde knew of a connection two hours away– the closest relation she would get to, in terms of German lineage.
“It turns out that my mom’s friend lives in Kansas City,” Emde said. “I was thankful to know that someone was there to help in my language. It felt really good to know that.”
Starting in a public high school of over 1,800 students, Emde and Jeon were overwhelmed towards the environment of an all-American school.
“It was difficult to make friends,” Jeon said. “[RBHS] is a huge school with many people. In Japan, we had 1,000 people across 6 grades.”
Emde said the RBHS student population, school system and curriculum were appalling and drastically different.
“School is a huge difference. [Germany and the U.S.] have totally different school systems,” Emde said. “My school’s first grade to twelfth grade was around 700 students, but in the senior year here, there’s 500. It’s like my whole school.”
According to the 2013 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, around 819,644 international students studied abroad in the United States during the 2012-2013 academic year, roughly four percent of student enrollment in undergraduate and graduate levels combined.
Correspondingly, the study abroad program in United States had tripled the number of participants during the past twenty years from 71,000 students in 1991-92 to 283,000 students in the 2012-13 academic year.
Kessel helps develop these statistics by promoting Columbia College’s study abroad program. He hosts fairs, visits classrooms and makes presentations at campus events. Kessel also maintains a student traveler’s blog and a communal Facebook page.
“Columbia College offers a variety of programs to enable students with all different majors, schedules and budget constraints,” Kessel explained. “I advise students on what program would best meet their personal and academic goals and help them find a partner program or outside provider to use.”
Outside of absorbing worksheets and listening to lectures, Emde and Jeon made the best out of RBHS’ multitude of activities. They immersed themselves into sports and clubs, which allowed for individual growth. Emde and Jeon’s individual identities were strengthened.
“When you study abroad, you not only come to appreciate the diversity of other cultures,” Kessel said. “You begin to understand your own better, too.”
However, taking everyone’s advice of “getting involved” was harder than it seemed, as Emde and Jeon didn’t know of the summer practices that were taking place. With the help of friends and teachers, the exchange students began to blend in with the mellow community of RBHS.
“My experience at RBHS got so much better as the year progressed,” Emde said. “I met nice people and got involved in sports like lacrosse, clubs and other outside activities.”
Jeon is engaged as well. He is the manager for the RBHS baseball team and is also a member of the Future Doctors of America (FDA) club. The relationship between the exchange students and RBHS is symbiotic, as well.
“International students add tremendous diversity to campus. They offer fresh perspectives on issues and promote knowledge and understanding when sharing about their cultures. American students who may not have had the chance to travel abroad are able to benefit from this cultural exposure,” Kessel said. “In the American government class that I teach, a discussion of the Affordable Care Act was greatly enriched by the presence of some European students whose countries have had universal healthcare for decades.”
Studying abroad is a valued scholastic experience for high school and university students alike.
“You definitely change,” Emde said. “It’s hard to explain, but you just change how you think. Whoever has the chance to do this, always do it because it transforms you, for your whole life – in a good way.”
By Joy Park and Elad Gov-Ari
Art by Stephanie Kang