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Yonsei in Retrospect
Yonsei in Retrospect

UNHCR Personnel Maria from Venezuela (Graduated from Dept. of Political Science & International Studies)

Name: Maria Garrido
College of Social Sciences
Political Science and International Studies (Entering Class of '17)
Current Occupation:
Senior Personnel Admin Assistant at the Department of Human Resources, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Budapest, Hungary

Maria Garrido as a Yonseian

"I immersed myself in the Korean popular culture quite early, at the age of eleven. I remember seeing an article in a Venezuelan magazine featuring Super Junior; their outfits and style caught my attention. From then on, I started to do more research on different artists, and I became a very vivid fan of K-pop and K-dramas during my early teenage years. As I grew older, I was still interested in Korean pop culture, but I also started to drift my attention more towards the language and history, gradually becoming more and more eager to learn the language one day.

Due to the complicated political situation in my country that led to different social and economic issues, during high school, I intensely focused on my studies and actively sought scholarship opportunities abroad. However, I never really considered the possibility of living in South Korea, as even the thought of visiting one day seemed far from reality. Therefore, I do believe somehow that it was destiny that I ended up living in South Korea.

One day I was in the countryside in Venezuela, and suddenly, and as crazy as it may sound, in the smallest restaurant, I happened to meet the South Korean ambassador and the South Korean consul in Venezuela. This was a very surreal experience, and they were the ones to inform me that South Korea was offering merit scholarships for undergraduate programs for international students. I thought this was indeed a sign and decided to give it a shot.

In a short period, I prepared all the necessary documents and embarked on the application process for the Korean Global Scholarship Program (KGSP). It took around six months of wait and three selection rounds, and thankfully, I ended up getting selected as one of the four Venezuelan grantees for the year 2016. Long story short, I always dreamed of living and studying abroad, but somehow, I think destiny helped me to land in Korea, and it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.

While reviewing different university options in South Korea, I found Yonsei's Department of Political Science and International Studies offered the curriculum that aligned the most with the type of subjects I was interested in and had wide options of classes in English. Before making my final choice, I also had the chance to read that Yonsei University offered one of the best environments for international students in comparison to other Korean universities. This was definitely an important factor for me. Lastly, I also considered the fact that Yonsei is one of the most prestigious universities in Korea and one of the best well-known Korean universities abroad.

I am a believer that once you are in a new country, you are the one that needs to try your best to adapt to your environment and not the other way around. Therefore, I don't think I had huge issues from my side concerning cultural differences. However, indeed, the adaptation process doesn't always come easy.

Even though I tried my best to improve my Korean before starting university and my language skills kept improving throughout the years, I still believe one of the greatest difficulties was the language. As in any other language, academic Korean is more complicated than everyday Korean. Thus, when taking classes in Korean, I found it very difficult - sometimes impossible - to compete with native Koreans and get good grades. However, something that helped me is that even if my Korean wasn't flawless, I always tried to approach my Korean classmates by speaking in Korean. I noticed this allowed them to feel a bit more comfortable around me and helped to improve our interactions.

I don't think I was ever able to fully manage as studying in a different language from your mother tongue will always be a challenge. In my case, when it came to classes in Korean, I would approach the professors at the end of the first class and let them know that even though my Korean was not perfect, I was going to try my best; most of the time, professors would be a little bit more understanding towards me after talking with them. Moreover, something that also helped me is that, in case I was very lost, I would try to find the class textbooks in English and study them along with the Korean version.

I believe most Yonsei students agree that one of the best phases was our time in Songdo. During my time on the International Campus, I had the chance to be really immersed in the South Korean university culture; I went to MTs, all of our department's events, experienced the AKARAKA and the Yon-Ko Games, and most importantly, had the chance to meet amazing people from different majors, countries, and backgrounds.

Moreover, studying at the Sinchon Campus was a dream. I had the chance to study in the most beautiful building of our university, Yeonhi Hall, which gave me a charming view every day while going to class. Having the vibrant Sinchon area right in front of the campus provided extra comfort and places to go. I remember I would love to walk around the campus, visit my friends in other buildings, go for coffee and snacks, or even go shopping at Sinchon during my free time between classes.

I participated in a few student club activities, and I must say it was one of the best decisions I made during my time at university. I was part of the Yonsei Foreign Student Union, the Yonsei Annals (English press), and the Yonsei Traditional Archery Club. Joining student clubs profoundly helped me build skills, meet very talented people, enhance my Korean, and really take full advantage of the university experience. I always advise junior international students to try as many clubs and academic societies as they want, as it can open many opportunities for them in their personal and professional life. In fact, in my case, participating in clubs such as the Yonsei Foreign Student Union and the Yonsei Annals helped me when applying for jobs and even landing at my current workplace."

Maria Garrido as a UN Personnel

"I did not have a concrete plan on how to get there, but my dream was actually to work at the UNHCR. I was always interested in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations since I decided to pursue a career in relation to my political science and international studies major. Due to Venezuela's current crisis through the years, I had especially followed the UNHCR's work in supporting and aiding refugees, immigrants, and stateless people, hoping one day I could become part of the process of helping these groups.

Interestingly, I had planned to stay in South Korea and try to find employment there. However, due to life matters, I had to move to Hungary, where I had zero idea of what to do. Nevertheless, and to my surprise, Budapest has one of the headquarters for the UNHCR. Therefore, I focused, put effort into building my resume, and applied many times until I finally got hired.

As an international student, I did not have many chances and opportunities to do internships during my undergraduate years. Therefore, being part of activities such as the Foreign Students Union and the Yonsei Annals positively impacted my resume as an entry-level candidate with no work experience. Through these experiences at university, I was able to work in multicultural environments, enhance my language skills and cultivate work-related abilities, traits that international organizations value.

I currently work as a senior personnel admin assistant at the Department of Human Resources. In our section, we are responsible for all UNHCR staff members ranked in international positions; these are the highest graded staff members and are the ones who have to rotate through different duty stations every particular time. We are in charge of organizing the mobilization of personnel to new duty stations, ensuring all entitlements are paid and solving any possible administrative issues that staff members may encounter during their assignments. Lastly, we must act fast to reassign staff to emergency zones for their action in international emergencies.

In my job, I make plenty of use of business English while writing and speaking. Therefore, I must say that being a social science student and having had the chance to take high-quality classes in English allowed me to polish my language and writing proficiency skills. Also, Yonsei's international environment helped me to get used to and comfortable with working and sharing space with people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds; this prepared me for what now is my workplace, a multicultural and diverse environment.

Due to COVID-19, I work on a hybrid mode, where we are to attend the office only three times per week and work from home the rest. When I go to the office, I usually get to the office around 9:15 am. Since my duties are heavily administrative, I start my day with a coffee and check my emails while trying to identify and prioritize urgent cases. As I am currently responsible for around 180 staff members in Geneva and the Caribbean Islands, I try to organize my schedule and tasks every morning so I can attend to all urgent matters and meet the staff's expectations. By 12:30, I go for lunch with my co-workers, and we're back at work around 1:30 to 2 pm. During my usual afternoons, I have meetings and training and deal with different types of processes. I usually call it a day by a maximum of 6 pm, and luckily, overtime is not something encouraged at my workplace unless we are going through an emergency.

I plan to stay in my organization until October 2023, and after that, I would like to pursue a master's in communication. After my post-graduate studies, I would love to come back to the UNHCR or other UN organizations and aim for an international position in the PR and communications department that allows me to relocate around the world, I am not entirely sure about what is my ultimate goal in my career and life, but I would like to impact people through my work positively."

In Retrospect

"I think Yonsei University offers one of the best environments for international students in comparison to other universities. Also, our university provides plenty of opportunities for international students to participate in clubs and academic societies, along with career and recreational events. Moreover, even outside UIC, Yonsei offers a wide variety of classes in English compared to other universities with excellent professors. Lastly, we have one of the most beautiful campuses in town and the best university festival: "AKARAKA!"

Being an international student is not easy but try to experience as many things as possible. Join a club, attend college activities, work on your language skills, travel, and enjoy! Even when things seem harsh, there will always be a solution to your problems and people that will be there for you to help you."

Interview by student reporter Jo Beomsu

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