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[Student Interview] For Aspiring Yonseians, Dive into Korean Studies—But No Need for Perfection
[Student Interview] For Aspiring Yonseians, Dive into Korean Studies—But No Need for Perfection

Underwood International College International Studies (IS) Student Dominic Phillips from United States of America

Name: Dominic Phillips

Nationality: United States of America
College: Underwood International College (UIC)
 International Studies (IS) (entering class of ’21)

Between my second and third years of high school, I participated in a U.S. State Department scholarship program called NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth), where I stayed with a host family and attended language classes in Korea for the summer. Despite knowing barely any Korean, my host family and others were so kind and helpful. I liked the convenience and liveliness of Korea and knew I wanted to return one day.

I've known for a while that, whatever career path I chose, I wanted to travel a lot. During my college applications, my primary career goal was to become a foreign service officer, a role that would require relocating to a new country every two to three years. I believed that there would be no better way to prepare for a career in diplomacy and prove that I was capable than to attend university abroad. Having previously lived for a few months in Korea, I had some confidence I’d be able to adjust quickly compared to anywhere else.

Yonsei University is not only one of the most prestigious universities in Korea and Asia, but it also provides extensive support and programs for international students. By the time I came to Korea for university, I had been studying Korean for two years. However, even now, I don’t have the confidence to take a college-level class in Korean. I knew that at UIC, I would be able to take my classes in English while still getting the chance to practice and improve my Korean outside of class.

Based on my original interest in diplomacy, I knew I wanted to study international relations, and I eventually picked IS as my first major because of the wide variety of classes offered and subjects taught. Additionally, IS has a very active and helpful student council that made me feel like the major is a community I wanted to be a part of. The good thing about IS is that it brings together a lot of different disciplines. Very few college students know exactly what they want to do in life, but through the diverse options offered by the IS major, students can come closer to finding an answer. I think this is exactly what happened to me.

Even though my freshman year consisted entirely of online classes (due to COVID-19), I still managed to make the most of my dorm life in Songdo. Several times a week, I would have dinner with friends at the “Chicken Stairs,” which meant we got the chance to interact with freshmen from all kinds of departments and majors. I must have met and exchanged Instagram info with hundreds of people over two semesters. I think that is a major advantage of having the residential college system because even now in a big university, I often run into people I know, and it makes me feel like I’m part of a community.

Many of the problems I faced when I first arrived in Korea were bureaucratic or related to COVID. For example, I was 18 when I started university, so I wasn't considered an adult under Korean law. This meant that for the better part of two semesters, I could not have my own phone number and was unable to do many things such as online banking, shopping, and booking appointments. There were many frustrating moments because of this, but the friends I made in Songdo made a huge difference by helping me address whatever came up. Without them, I don’t know if I could have adjusted as successfully to life in Korea.

Additionally, there have been some professors at UIC who have gone the extra mile to not just teach but make their classes fun and help my classmates and me grow as people and scholars. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Professors Daryl Bockett, Shin Seungyeop, John Delury, and Chad Denton. Because of their classes, I have been able to identify the fields within IS that are the most interesting to me, and I’ve been encouraged to pursue further studies because of them.

One of the most impactful clubs I have been a part of is Tongil Hanmadang. The club was founded in 2003 by students originally from North Korea and runs events where members can learn more about North Korean culture, unification, human rights, and geopolitical issues. I had initially hesitated to join because the thought of participating in a club conducted entirely in Korean was intimidating, but after attending a special lecture run by the club, I decided to join anyway. Through this club, I improved my Korean, learned accounting skills as the club’s treasurer, and also gained insights into topics that are now my main interests.

My immediate plan after graduating is to go to graduate school. I am not sure specifically where I will go; I may even stay in Korea. However, I know I want to gain more expertise in political science and international relations with a focus on East Asia. Before entering college, I was certain that I wanted to become a diplomat, and not much else appealed to me. Now that I have attended many classes and talked with professors, I see many more career paths available to me. Some options that interest me right now include working for a media company or a think tank, analyzing current events in Korea and the surrounding area.

A lot of colleges pride themselves on diversity, but Yonsei truly is. At Yonsei, I’ve met people from more countries than I could have imagined. Because of that, you get to come across opinions and perspectives that would be hard to find anywhere else, and that is especially helpful for becoming a true global citizen. Additionally, as a Yonsei student, you have a lot of options for extracurricular activities where you can meet people interested in the same things as you. Even without an internship, you can learn practical skills through many of these clubs and societies.

For students aspiring to study at Yonsei, make sure to study Korean as much as you can. Don’t worry about being perfect, but the more you know, the more people you’ll be able to connect with, and the more opportunities you will have. Also, being an international student can be really lonely at times, so make the most of clubs and organizations like FSU (Foreign Student Union), UGC (University Global Coalition), and YES (Yonsei English Society) that are meant to bring people from a variety of backgrounds together and help everyone adjust to life in Korea. Finally, explore as much of Korea as you can, even (and maybe especially) if you’re by yourself. As foreigners, most of us only have a limited time in Korea, so I highly encourage you to make the most of it by visiting random neighborhoods in Seoul or other cities in the capital area when you get the chance. The more you do that, the more confident you’ll become in not just your Korean skills but also your ability to do things by yourself as a young adult.

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.

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