Marcela Micheloni spent more than 100 days without a cell phone, 6,000-plus miles away from home, living with strangers whose native tongue was not English.
The Sterling Heights junior spent her fall 2011 semester attending Korea University in Jochiwon, South Korea. She was the first ever Central Michigan University student to participate in the program.
“I wanted to experience something completely different,” Micheloni said. “Because I’m from Brazil and I’ve lived in Latin America, I thought, ‘If I want something completely different, why not Korea?’”
Life in Korea
Micheloni was one of 17 American students at the university. Though she was in a foreign country and at a new school, Micheloni said she and the other students were warmly welcomed.
“It was almost like we were famous there, because the students there really want to learn English and they really embrace western culture,” Micheloni said. “So they wanted to hang out with us and take us out to dinner.”
Every English-speaking exchange student in the program is placed with Korean roommates. Micheloni spent about four hours a week speaking English with the two Korean students she shared a room with.
“They were very fluent when I got there, but it’s really just about being exposed to native speakers. They were very nervous and shy at first,” she said.
She said one aspect that is different about Korean students is their level of involvement outside of academics.
“Everyone there is very involved. They’re all doing something outside of school and a lot of them don’t have jobs; they’re funded by their parents. So a lot of them mostly go to class and then their extracurricular,” Micheloni said. ”They have all kinds of clubs like we do.”
Like some American students, Micheloni said Korean students are very much into getting a career because of parental pressure to succeed. But she said they’re just like any other American college student in one aspect — they like to have a good time.
“Once they get to college, they like to party — a lot,” Micheloni said. “They drink Soju and Makkoli; Korean rice wine and Korean rice vodka.”
Micheloni said she is thankful for the opportunity she had to study abroad in Korea at such an affordable price.
“If you’re looking for a contrast of ancient culture and high-tech, go to Seoul. It’s clean; it’s big. Nothing like I expected, but it was just fantastic,” she said.
A surprise CMU visit
Micheloni was visited unexpectedly by a Central Michigan Univerisity professor, Yae Sock Roh, a professor of marketing and hospitality services administration and native of Korea.
“He went to Korea to see how I was doing. He visited me while I was there. It was very nice,” Micheloni said. “It just shows how Central takes care of people that go abroad. They kept in contact with me by email and checked up on me.”
Roh, who acts as a liaison between CMU and Korea University, wanted to make sure Micheloni was getting the experience she wanted.
“She was the very first student to go there, so I was a little bit nervous,” Roh said. “So that’s why I visited; to make sure she’s safe and secure (and) that all the resources are there, and she is treated right.”
Roh credits Provost Gary Shapiro for helping facilitate opportunities like Micheloni’s semester abroad.
“Gary Shapiro, the provost, did a tremendous job promoting the international relations, because he realizes that there are a lot things we can learn from others; family values, work ethic, like how they work more efficiently,” Roh said.
He said he is a firm believer in the value of students studying abroad.
“We have to know how to live together, and to do that, we have to understand others,” Roh said. “No matter what company or what industry, you’ll have diverse clientele and you have to understand them.”
Roh said there are three reasons students should go to Korea.
“Korea is an up and coming country in Asia. We know Japan too much; China — we know them too much too. But Korea just creates the best of the best talented individuals; sports, academics, scientists and writers,” he said. “The way of life is completely different from the United States in terms of the way they respect senior citizens and the way they value education. It’s not a choice; it’s sink or swim.”
Roh also said Korea has “A very deep and unique historical and cultural components, which (are) completely different from China and Japan.”
Affordable study abroad programs
Dianne DeSalvo, CMU Study Abroad director, said the exchange Micheloni went on was a new program that started in 2011 and allows students to study abroad at a very affordable price.
She said studying abroad is essential in today’s global world.
“Now it’s becoming essential. The world is becoming so interconnected,” DeSalvo said.
She said the myth that it’s always going to be more expensive is not necessarily true.
“For students who want affordable programs, all they have to do is tell us. We have a lot of tuition exchanges, and room and board will probably be pretty much the same, so all we’re talking about is a plane ticket, which you can apply for a scholarship for,” she said.
DeSalvo said Micheloni is a perfect example of the program’s affordability. She said it was probably cheaper for her to be in Korea compared to a semester at CMU.
“You get $1,400 toward airfare. It’s tuition exchange, so you just pay 12 credits here, free room and board in exchange for being a conversation partner with your roommates and a stipend of $600 if you’re willing to work in an English language clinic,” DeSalvo said.
Registration is still open for students interested in studying abroad in summer or fall 2012. Appointments with a study abroad adviser can be made in Ronan Hall 330 or by calling the office at 774-4308.