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After All, You Will Never Walk Alone as a Yonseian
After All, You Will Never Walk Alone as a Yonseian

HASS CTM Graduate and GSIS Student Elena from Russia

Name: Elena Kazakova
College: Underwood International College (UIC)
Major: Humanities, Arts
 & Social Sciences Division - Creative Technology Management (HASS - CTM) (entering class of '18.5)
Graduate School: Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS)
Specialization: International Trade, Finance & Management (entering class of '22)

"My name is Elena. I am currently pursuing my master's degree in International Finance, Trade, and Management at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS). I was born and brought up in Russia in a small town in the eastern part of Siberia in a fully Asian family of the Buryat ethnicity.

I was never quite interested overall in Asian culture and did not think of pursuing higher education in any Asian country. Being born and brought up in the eastern part of Russia, you primarily get to hear success stories from the west. I clearly remember my teenage dreams of attending school in the United States. Despite these dreams, I can fairly admit I never put any real effort into getting any closer to this goal, and this lack of motivation led me to join a university in my own country with a major in oriental studies. This was when I started to learn more about the history and culture of Asian countries and got to attend some cultural festivals that opened up the world of Korean pop culture to me. It seemed interesting that many non-Koreans were simply captivated by the notions of K-pop, K-dramas, idol culture, etc., trying to mimic the dances and songs, dress up in a certain way and actively find other ways to absorb this foreign culture. This made me curious, and I decided it was worth learning what was so fascinating about Korea through TV shows and YouTube channels, such as Korean Englishman.

As I continued my education in my home country, I started realizing my major was not exactly fitting to what I imagined myself doing in the future in a professional sense. Being already quite interested in Korean culture, I had a random idea of searching for universities here in Korea, and that is how I found out about Yonsei and UIC (Underwood International College). It all made perfect sense; an all-English college located in a non-English-speaking country seemed exciting to me, and my choice of a major immediately fell upon technology-and innovation-oriented CTM (Creative Technology Management), which was a harsh but pleasant contrast to my previous history-based major. As a 17-year-old fresh high school graduate in 2016, I had neither enough courage nor time to think of what I intended to pursue on a bigger scale and instead simply thought of what I was good at: social sciences and foreign languages, which landed me at my initial major. As an almost 20-year-old at the time of my admission to UIC, I had it all sorted out in my head, and I knew that even though I was not excelling in certain areas related to CTM, I had a strong zeal for acquiring the necessary knowledge even through hardships of staying up till early mornings in a study room.

Nevertheless, my parents were not as excited about the prospects of me dropping out of a domestic state university and joining a liberal arts college abroad. After deciding to continue my education and prepare for the application process simultaneously, I had to go through an immense number of obstacles to get admitted and prove to my family that I was capable of relocating alone and pursuing education abroad. I think the more obstacles I was overcoming, the more convinced I was becoming of my decision. It was absolutely different in comparison to my quite naive dreams of joining an American university, where I was imagining it but never quite acting on it. Here, in contrast, I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve in hopes of turning my newfound dreams into reality.

In general, discussion-based classes and group projects were my biggest fear coming to UIC. The first time I had to present in a world literature class was also my first ever formal presentation in English in an academic setting. I was beyond anxious and could barely control the tremble in my voice, turning different shades of pink and red every passing minute. I think it remains one of the most embarrassing yet fondest memories of my undergraduate life as I realized how understanding and encouraging both professors and students at UIC truly are. Now that I recall it, there was absolutely nothing terrifying about the situation, but even in my senior year, I would randomly get nervous about giving a speech in front of the class, even though the CTM major trains its students heavily in this area. I believe there is never a certain method or precise moment when you overcome this fear, or at least it did not happen for me, hopefully, yet. I have learned that this fear is something a lot of students at UIC, whose native language is not English, have to fight through on a daily basis, and this is also a part of a learning, albeit mentally and physically draining process.

Although not for a long time, I was a part of the Design Factory Korea (DFK)'s Omelet Design Club and even got to become an officer of the club for one semester. As someone who was not proficient in design in any sense, I just took the application as a chance to test my limits and fight my growing social anxiety by engaging in meetings and group projects with the club members. It was, frankly, a liberating and exciting experience as I got to meet some of the most creative and open-minded people there. Even though I got to participate only in one offline semester of activities before the pandemic made us convert to online meetings, that was all it took for me to feel more comfortable in active social interactions and gain more confidence in my communication and design skills.

I have to admit I am one of those students who honestly enjoyed staying at the International Campus, so I gladly took the chance to continue staying there even after the Residential College (RC) program. Even now, as a graduate student with the majority of classes located at Sinchon, I have still opted to stay in Songdo dorms as I find it very peaceful, convenient, and familiar. I also absolutely love pretending to be productive and busy when all I do is simply take a shuttle bus from one campus to another. It makes me feel like I have accomplished a lot even though I put in the least effort in commuting. Some of my most fun memories are associated with the International Campus, from running into the dorm all sweaty and out of breath just one minute before the curfew to spending countless days and nights in seminar and study rooms during midterms and finals. All it takes to have a truly memorable and enjoyable day at this campus, which is somehow known as "too quiet," is a nice group of friends I am thankful to have.

Without a hint of shyness, I admit I still do not have any specific plans for my future. What the pandemic and the current situation in my country have taught me personally is that planning is too fragile of a concept and everything could change in a matter of seconds. As of now, I am more than satisfied with the current turn of events, which has led me to continue attending Yonsei as a graduate student this time. Online classes took away two and a half years of my campus life, and the current graduate school life feels like I am reclaiming what I could not experience as a sophomore, junior, and senior undergraduate at Yonsei.

In any foreign country with the language you are not fluent in, certain areas of life might pose difficulties. This is only up to whether you work on beating these difficulties or not. I cannot stress this enough; you must learn Korean as much as possible. It all may seem fun, like games, but in the end, only those who manage to get a decent level of the language can survive. This might seem futile or even unnecessary if you study at English-speaking departments, but it pays off not only in terms of searching for more flexible jobs here but also makes any everyday mundane task, such as going to a post office or a bank, much easier. Nevertheless, always remember that there are people willing to help you throughout your journey in Korea. After all, you will never walk alone as a Yonseian."

Interview by student reporter Jo Beomsu

* Yonsei University's Underwood International College (UIC) is a highly selective, English-language, four-year liberal arts institution, which combines the intimate, elite learning environment of an American-style liberal arts college with the faculty and resources of Korea's top private research university. UIC students choose from an extensive list of classes conducted entirely in English and taught by a distinguished group of international and Korean scholars. With a student body drawn from around the world, UIC focuses on ensuring that its outstanding students have the intellectual foundation to become exceptional leaders capable of changing the world for the better.

* Founded in 1987 as the first professional graduate school in Korea, Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) has been a leading institution to promote Korea's globalization by educating, training, and mentoring both Korean and international students. With 16 full-time faculty members coupled with 30 distinguished and adjunct professors, Yonsei GSIS has cultivated students to become leaders with the moral depth and intellectual intensity necessary to meet the challenges of a time of critical transition in the international community. International students from 64 countries provide a unique multicultural learning environment where diversity is an enduring feature of the school’s globalized student culture. Located in the heart of Seoul, Yonsei GSIS is the best institution not only for the competent programs for improving knowledge and intuition, but also for ambient location for enjoying cultural diversities and intercultural activities.

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