Transitioning from one school semester to another, many international students frequently find themselves lost. As much as college provides great opportunities and immense freedom, there are times of regret and confusion when faced with difficult decisions. Ewha Voice interviewed sophomore, junior, and senior international students at Ewha to give advice to their respective underclassmen regarding their concerns about their college life abroad.
To all the freshmen: Balance, organize, and enjoy
Sofia Magno, a sophomore majoring in Life Sciences from the Philippines, had always been interested in going abroad for university. Her journey as an international student at Ewha has been full of support and warmth so far.
Magno shared that one of the best decisions she made as a freshman was volunteering as an E-pal at the E-lounge, a service where international students help fellow peers practice their target language. Although she is quite introverted, the E-lounge helped her come out of her shell. She was able to make new friends, learn about their culture, and even run summer and winter classes on her own, which she had never imagined herself doing.
As someone who studied a STEM-centered curriculum in high school, Magno explained that the holistic curriculum at Ewha allowed her to discover new interests and learn about herself. In particular, reading broadened her perspectives on various subjects including history and culture as she vicariously read about different worlds. What she read helped her realize that she wanted to grow up to be not only a professional in her field, but also an empathetic person.
For the upcoming summer break, Magno emphasized the importance of focusing on personal values. During her first summer break, she spent her time as if it were a regular semester, but that only left her feeling burned out for the second semester. Over the winter break, she decided to focus on three values: health, family and friends, and learning. To recover from sleepless nights during the semester, she made sure to get enough sleep. She spent her time visiting beaches in her home country with friends and family to heal. At the same time, she read Korean books recommended by her professors and practiced speaking the language to adjust to life in South Korea. A balanced lifestyle turned out to be the best way to spend the break and enter the sophomore year in good condition.
Magno highly recommended at least having a direction in mind for how the second semester should go. Organizing the requirements, goals, and specific plans ahead of time helped with unexpected situations that arise in the middle of the semester.
“Most importantly, do not lose sight of the sense of wonder in your life,” Magno said. “College is difficult, and it will be more difficult as you advance each year. As long as you find enjoyment or see how what you are currently doing can possibly contribute positively to the world or even just your peers, you will find a drive to keep going."
To all the sophomores: Do not be afraid to seek help
Nicha Homrossukhon, a junior majoring in International Studies, came from Thailand to study in midst of the pandemic.
Due to the pandemic, Homrossukhon spent a lot of time staying in her room, constantly repeating daily routines. Starting sophomore year, she had more opportunities to meet new friends at in-person club sessions. The experience was refreshing and less intimidating than she had imagined compared to awkward online classes.
For those sophomores who have yet to experience campus life, Homrossukhon suggests taking a step back and relaxing instead of panicking when they experience any kind of challenges. There are many people who are willing to help out if sought out for help including upperclassmen, department staff, and the Office of International Affairs (OIA). For instance, when Homrossukhon was still confused over mandatory classes and the course registration system, upperclassmen who had faced similar problems in the past were there to help.
Homrossukhon recommends spending the summer break searching for part-time jobs at restaurants or cafes as an opportunity to earn money. For those who are majoring in International Studies, students can apply for a work permit without TOPIK scores and with unlimited work time during the semester break due to its all-English lecture curriculum. She also suggests using free time to travel to places in South Korea and explore the country.
Although sophomores may feel like they are more adjusted to life in school and South Korea, Homrossukhon advised continuing to study Korean since understanding the language has a significant impact on college life.
“Mental health is also an important aspect that sophomores and people in general should be more aware of and look after,” she said. “Do not hesitate to seek out support from friends or professional medical staff.”
To all the juniors: Pace yourself and take your time
With only one semester left of school, Sakshi Kanase, a senior in the Division of International Studies from India, looked back and shared her experience as a junior at Ewha.
Kanase explained that being more active in student-led clubs was one of the best decisions she made in her junior year. Since freshman year, she has been part of a debate club, EDiS. Stepping out from being a passive member, she decided to work as a council member and shape the direction of the club. She was glad to take on an active role in her junior year because it became more difficult to participate in clubs during senior year with the increased workload.
After taking several classes with a heavy workload during junior year, Kanase revealed that she experienced a serious burnout. What made matters worse was that she had to adapt to living alone after staying home temporarily during the pandemic. She emphasized the need for international students to look after themselves, especially since they are far away from families.
Similar to many juniors who are beginning to figure out their life after college, Kanase revealed that she is still in the process of deciding on her future career. To juniors, she advised exploring different areas before settling down on a fixed career path.
“Take your time and do not rush into anything,” Kanase said. “I know a lot of people decide to double major or go to graduate school right after they graduate, thinking it is a natural path of progression. However, there is always the option of taking a gap year and taking time to figure out what you want to do with your life.”
According to Kanase, summer break in junior year is the only time when students do not necessarily need to develop an academic portfolio. She encouraged students to take part in as many activities as possible. Ewha offers a variety of activities, including the Harvard College in Asia Program (HCAP), which left her with great memories and experiences. Internships in fields of interest and traveling abroad are also good options for spending the summer.
“The most important thing is to pace yourself,” she said. “Think about the things you have done, plan on doing, and have intentionality behind your actions. Every action counts for the future you build. This can really help you make the most out of the little time you have left at college.”