Two semesters down and how’s life going
With the Fall 2018 batch of students completing their course work just recently, and new students for Fall 2019 are coming in, the Spring 2019 students are the ones we can call “seniors” now. I sat down for a little chat with five Spring students from Korea, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Let us see how they are doing after surviving two semesters at KDI School.
Just a few cities away
Kim Seon-Young, more popularly known as Nikki, is our jolly friend from Busan. Although she’s just from another Korean city, transferring to Sejong City was quite a challenge for her at the beginning of the semester, because it is her first time to live away from home and be on her own.
“I thought my English (proficiency) was insufficient,” Nikki said. It was her first time to study and engage in conversation completely in the English language, but having this interview with her, I can say that I think she is doing well.
Nikki originally challenged herself not to go home any time during the Spring semester, but failed a little bit when she went home a little more than a week earlier than she originally planned. When she misses home, she can call her family, but the calls became less frequent as she became more and more at home here at KDI School.
She managed to continue her hobbies of working out and swimming, but not as often as she did back home – that’s because of school work. She has, however, found time to watch movies and videos, whenever she decides to stay in her room and chill.
At the school, you will often find Nikki in the library. She is really taking her studies seriously, as choosing her courses based on her interests and aptitude. She is very much interested in international political economy, and enjoys classes with professors who have a certain charisma in teaching. It is an interesting experience for her, to study with other Koreans and international students and learn from each other despite their age and cultural differences.
After completing her degree in KDI School, Nikki plans to be a researcher – perhaps with KDI. She also wants to go back to her University and teach, sharing her knowledge with others. She has a long way to go, but Nikki is not afraid. As she says, “If not brave, that’s not Nikki.”
One plane ride away
Sonesouk Saysomboun, whom we often call “Souk Oppa,” is the Jeji Chagi champ in our Korean class. Even though he had been married for only a year, it had been his long term dream to study abroad, and his wife went all-out in support of his plan. That’s why, when he got accepted after two tries, nothing could stop him from pursuing the opportunity to study here at KDI School.
It is his first time in Korea, and he came in late January, so he was able to experience the cold weather and snow. Souk Oppa was nonetheless able to adjust easily. The real challenge for him is thinking of what to cook for each meal, as he seldom cooked for himself back home. As days go by, he can now proudly say that, “I love what I am cooking for myself.”
He spends his free time playing football and badminton, and working out in the fitness center. He also finds time to tour around the city, and visit other tourist spots in Korea. For his remaining months here in Korea, he wants to be able to explore more places, while still finding time to write his research project.
He is doing his best to keep up with his classes, while knowing that he is at Asia’s No. 1 think tank school. He wants to learn the proper approaches and procedures for making policies, and hopes that what he learns from KDI School will benefit his service back home.
A whole new world
Aminath, or Ainth-ssi, was another classmate in my Korean class. She is one of only two Maldivian ladies from our batch, but that does not stop them from having fun. You can often see these ladies’ social media accounts filled with nice photos, and you’ll wonder where they are roaming around.
As her family is all out in supporting her for this journey, missing them was not a big issue. “They are just one phone call away,” she says. However, unlike Souk Oppa, she had difficulty coping with the cold weather when she arrived in Korea; she even got sick for a few days.
Now that the weather is a lot more like home, Ainth has been adjusting very well. She has been everywhere, and she made it her mission to travel to as many places as she can in Korea, and do things she has not done yet – like riding a cable car, and a roller coaster.
Although she finds Korea to be a totally different place from the Maldives, she is making herself feel at home. With the help of the Muslim community, she is still able to celebrate holidays and live a life as similar as possible to home. Even though it feels like she is in a whole new different world, she also does not want to go back home yet.
She is also having fun with her classes. “It feels like we are working on real projects, not just for a class,” she says, describing group projects in her courses. She is learning a lot, especially from her more experienced classmates. And, although she sometimes feels surprised at why she is having this kind of opportunity, she aims to make the most of it.
Different but the same
Contrary to the other students that I interviewed, Nathaniel Nett, from Liberia, finds Sejong City to be a lot like home. He is loving the view from his window every morning, where he can see trees and hear the birds singing. “That is Africa,” he says.
“It is normal to feel nostalgia, but being here, for the most part I just try to bridge the gap,” he says. Nathaniel makes sure he contacts his family back home, even though they are so happy for him to be here. “They even want me to do a Ph. D.,” he adds.
In Korea, Nett can still do the things he loves to do, but in a different setting. He gets to play football, but on a better pitch. He gets time to run and exercise, as well. He even found a new hobby: hiking. He spends good, quality time studying and traveling to different cities.
His stay here has given him a better understanding of what he does back home. The diverse set of students has taught him a lot of different perspectives about things, and other countries. He has also learned about other countries in Africa more extensively, because of firsthand stories from fellow Africans.
For his last semester here at KDI School, Nathaniel wants to visit different institutions in Korea, and learn more about finance and strategy – espeically as to how Korea became a strong country in modern times. He adds that once he gets back home, he will have a refreshed energy in working and serving the public.
Bringing the party to Korea
Last, but not least, here to share how her past six months in Korea have been is Cecilia Romero – otherwise known as Ceci – from Mexico. Being the one who is the farthest from home amongst all I interviewed, Ceci has a lot more things to tick off on her bucket list.
Living and studying in a different country is not new to her, so adapting to the school environment was not too difficult. However, everything else beyond the streets of KDI School is totally different from home. “The dynamics of the city are different from Mexico,” she says. One thing similar that she noticed, though, was the strong family ties and respect for elders, which she admires.
During her stay here, the Latin American community – especially those also coming from Mexico – has been her family. She spends time with them, listening to music and watching movies and shows, which makes her feel a lot closer to home. Fun is always easy to have in their culture.
Nevertheless, Ceci has also been traveling a lot, in and out of Korea, and discovered photography as a new hobby. She finds the landscapes and everything else different fascinating, and she just loves taking photos of them to make memories.
With her remaining months here, she wishes to practice her Korean language skills more, and to complete her bucket list, which is to try skiing during the winter, and eat live octopus.
“Korea is an incredible experience. It is hard, but that what makes the experience worth it,” Ceci says.