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Business abroad

Student learns self-reliance while studying in Seoul, Korea


Katie Ramsay remembers joining a conga line halfway across the world at the Sports Festival in Seoul, South Korea. 

The night is just one of the many that the Livonia senior will never forget when she returns from her study abroad trip in South Korea in June.

The festival lasted two days, ending with a celebration in the streets. Restaurants provided free food, drinks and music to students who cheered at their doorstep.

Ramsay is studying at the largest and most prestigious university in the country, Korea University in Seoul. There, she participates in the International Town at Sejong, which requires her to take a Korean culture and a Korean language class. She also studies Management Information Systems and other business courses.

Making study abroad easier

Director of Business Student Services Karen Arthur estimates about 70 business students study abroad each year.

Summer is often the most common season because most students fear a semester abroad may delay their studies, or don't realize the scholarship opportunities available, Arthur said.

Study Abroad Adviser Sarah Barnard said many students may not be aware of the study abroad cost opportunities and directs them to the study abroad website to learn more.

"The study abroad experience can cost the same as a semester at CMU," Barnard said. "There's also additional scholarships available and your financial aid can continue to be used for study abroad programs."

With research and planning, not being able to afford the trip becomes less likely, Barnard said. Arthur suggests business students study abroad during late sophomore year or second semester of junior year.

Arthur said she noticed students tend to get discouraged with the amount of research that goes into studying abroad.

"(With) all of that decision making, some students feel like it takes too much time," she said. "If you're going to plan something for three or four months of your life, what's wrong with investing time or research? Sometimes the things that take the most out of you are what you get the most out of."

“The first moments of being absolutely alone 7,000 miles from everything you know are utterly terrifying, but learning to embrace that unfamiliarity is a huge step,” Ramsay said. “I've never been good with directions or navigation and Google Maps doesn't work in Asia. I've quickly had to learn how to utilize physical maps and all forms public transportation.”

Ramsay had to learn to speak basic Korean from class and around campus to be able to navigate the country. She learned how to read the Korean written script, Hangul, through her language course.

Today, she can greet someone, introduce herself and order food. It’s common for Koreans to know a few English words, which helps her when she struggles with the language. 

“One of the first phrases I learned was how to order a beer,” Ramsay said. “I also do a lot of pantomiming.”

She realized how easily spotted international students were when she was often approached by those interested in hearing her story.

“There's also a unique opportunity to bond with students I would have never expected to meet," Ramsay said. "The ability to have relationships with a myriad of people with backgrounds unlike mine certainly shapes a new perspective on how I see myself.”

Ramsay finds the benefits of traveling alone to be “innumerable." Traveling alone applies skills like independent and critical thinking, self-sustainability, planning and research, personal navigation, communication and common sense.

“While it is important to have the ability to absorb information from lectures and textbooks, the most crucial life lessons are those we learn for ourselves,” Ramsay said. “It's exceptionally convenient because my major at CMU is Information Systems and I have been able to transfer a few courses toward my major with the help of my advisers at the College of Business."

She arrived in August for the fall semester and stayed until finals completed Dec. 19. The Korean academic calendar gives students two months off between semesters instead of a Christmas break. During this time, Ramsay decided to travel to Shanghai, China. She plans on returning to Korea for her second semester on Feb. 27.

She discovered through this first trip by herself that self-reliance is a large aspect of personal travel.