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[Student Interview] Beyond Studies - My Gains at Yonsei and Contributions to the Community
[Student Interview] Beyond Studies - My Gains at Yonsei and Contributions to the Community

Underwood International College(UIC) Political Science and International Relations Student Natasha from Indonesia

Name: Natasha Elyssa Gadjali
Nationality: Indonesia
College: Underwood International College (UIC)
Major: Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) (entering class of ’22)

My interest in Korea began in my childhood, deeply rooted in my family's ties with Korea. My grandfather, who engaged in business with Korean partners, often shared stories about Korea, sparking my initial curiosity. Additionally, I have Korean relatives, and our family would gather during New Year celebrations, where I truly experienced Korean traditions firsthand. While these experiences laid the foundation, my personal intrigue grew through exposure to Korean popular culture. 

Ultimately, it was my grandfather's stories that solidified my decision to pursue my studies here. His stories painted a vivid picture of Korea's rich culture and the warmth of its people, driving my desire to experience it all myself. These narratives from my childhood have not only influenced my choice to study in Korea but have also shaped my appreciation and understanding of Korean culture.

Yonsei University was an unequivocal choice for me among Korean universities, mainly because of its standing within the esteemed SKY trio. What set Yonsei apart in my eyes was its unparalleled reputation, coupled with its comprehensive English-taught programs. This combination is rare in Korea, making Yonsei a distinctive choice for those seeking a globally-oriented education. The university's track record of nurturing successful alums further reinforced my decision. In fact, it was the only university I applied to, as it uniquely aligned with my academic aspirations and desire for a world-class educational experience while living in South Korea.

It was tough when I first got to South Korea in early 2022, especially with COVID-19 still around and all its restrictions. Arriving alone in a foreign country without my family was daunting and initially felt very isolating, despite my previous visits to Korea. Starting at Yonsei during the pandemic meant my first semester was entirely online, which presented its own set of challenges. The experience was quite isolating. Often, I was staring at a screen filled with partial faces, foreheads, or just blank walls. This made it particularly tough as a freshman trying to make friends. It's one thing to learn from a screen, but another to feel like you are part of a community. Thankfully, language wasn't an issue, as the courses were conducted in English. However, the remote setting significantly impacted the social aspect of university life. In short, while the academic side of things went smoothly language-wise, the social aspect of university life was a real challenge in those early days.

Overcoming the initial challenges at Yonsei was a journey that taught me a lot, especially about stepping out of my comfort zone. Naturally shy and not one to easily approach others, I knew that if I didn't make the first move, I might never forge the friendships I hoped for. Recognizing this, I began to take small but significant steps toward building connections. I started reaching out in my classes and dorms, even if it was just a simple greeting or a question about an assignment.  These interactions, though initially daunting, gradually led to meaningful relationships. The efforts paid off as the semester progressed and I became more comfortable with my peers. The once daunting task of making friends became easier, and I found myself amidst a supportive community.

From that point onward, my campus life at Yonsei transformed into an incredibly enjoyable experience. As COVID restrictions eased and life on campus began to buzz with energy, the atmosphere became more vibrant. Seeing everyone around, attending classes in person, and being part of the campus community in a physical sense added a whole new dimension to my university life. Yes, my workload did increase, but finding the balance between academics and social activities became an exciting challenge in itself. I made the most of the opportunities to interact and learn from my peers. Whether it was late-night study sessions that turned into impromptu coffee meetups or just simple convenience store runs, every moment contributed to a rich tapestry of memories. 

I dabbled in a few clubs, which were enjoyable but I craved a deeper connection. It was in my sophomore year at Sinchon that I realized the need for a more meaningful engagement. I noticed a growing number of Indonesian students like myself, all trying to find their footing in this new environment. This shared experience sparked an idea in me – to create a community that would offer a slice of home and a sense of belonging.

With this goal in mind, and together with a group of like-minded peers, I co-founded the Yonsei-Indonesia Association, taking on the role of vice president. It felt as if everything aligned perfectly for us. Just as we were gearing up to launch the association, an Indonesian UIC alumnus visited. Meeting with him was a turning point; his insights and support helped propel our initiative forward. The association quickly gained momentum, growing larger than we had initially imagined and quickly evolving into something much broader and more impactful. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of this experience was seeing how the association played a role in challenging and reducing prejudices against Southeast Asians. By bringing together students from different backgrounds, we created opportunities for dialogue and understanding, which helped to dismantle stereotypes and promote a more inclusive campus environment. Being a part of this, watching it grow and positively impact others, has been an incredibly fulfilling journey. It's a testament to how a simple idea, born out of a personal need, can blossom into something impactful, shaping a part of my life in ways I had never anticipated.

Yonsei University is more than just a place to study; it's where tradition meets the modern world. Walking around the campus, you get this cool mix of old Korean architecture and new-age buildings. It's like walking through a live Korean history book while being part of a forward-thinking academic community. It’s not just the physical environment that's impressive, what’s great about Yonsei is how everyone fits in. No matter where you're from, you find your crowd here. Classes here go beyond traditional lectures, encouraging active participation and critical thinking, making learning a more interactive and enriching process. There's always something going on too, like student clubs doing their own thing, from cultural events to projects that actually make a difference. And the best part? The people you meet here aren't just for the college years. They're friends for life. You come to Yonsei for an education, but you leave with a whole lot more - new ideas, a bunch of experiences, and friends from all over the world.

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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