• Emily Moreira (UCLA 2023) at a waterfall on Jeju Island.

  • Moreira (front row, center) with friends and UCEAP-Yonsei staff after UCEAP's Moonlight Han River Cruise.

  • The entire Yonsei MUA Busking Club after the Han River event.

Study abroad program fuels friendships & career plans

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By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

This article was written as part of UCLA's commemoration of International Education Week 2022.

Student: Emily Moreira (UCLA 2023)
Major(s)/Minor: Major – International Development Studies
Minor – French and Linguistics
Program: Yonsei University, Spring 2022

“Before I started UCLA as a freshman, I went on a trip with my family to Japan and Korea in summer 2019. We spent most of our time in Japan and only two days in Seoul,” says UCLA senior Emily Moreira, who grew up in San Ramon, California.

“I absolutely fell in love with Seoul at that time and really wanted to come back one day to see more of South Korea.”

Less than three years later, Moreira returned to attend an English-language study program at Yonsei University in Seoul in spring 2022.

Having studied South Korea’s economic growth in her international development studies (IDS) courses at UCLA, she said, “I wanted to learn about the South Korean development model from a Korean perspective.”

Another pull factor was the program’s affordability. “University is subsidized within South Korea, so I was able to really save up for my trip efficiently and budget well while living there, since everything was much more accessible and affordable than here in the U.S.”

The semester program, which encompassed both winter and spring 2022 quarters at UCLA, began online but switched to in-person classes after midterms. Diligent advanced planning enabled Moreira to apply two of the four courses she took at Yonsei — 'Global China' and 'World Politics and Modern Korean History' — toward the academic requirements for her IDS major.

“Learning about East Asian history and politics while in Korea taught me new perspectives and the different historical memories that people have of events. The way that the Korean and Vietnam Wars were described and taught at UCLA was different from the way that history was taught in my classes at Yonsei,” she reflected.

One of her most valuable experiences was joining the music busking club at Yonsei. “It was on an audition-only basis and required a bit of Korean language, since all the student members were Korean and the club didn’t explicitly cater to international students. They really transformed my study abroad experience, and the friendships I made will last a lifetime!”

Covid-19 restrictions prevented the club from doing regular busking, but they split into smaller bands for a three-hour performance.

“I was brought in as a vocalist and was able to sing several pop and ballad songs to the passersby along the Han River. I was so pleased to see so many locals stopping to listen to our performances. It was one of the most memorable times of my life.”

Another standout experience was going to Jeju Island with a group of friends right before their classes resumed in person.

Although proficiency in Korean was not a prerequisite for her program, Moreira had taken several Korean courses at UCLA before her depature and had a good grap of the language when she arrived in Seoul. Still, she found the language barrier a big challenge, so she made a concerted effort to speak as much Korean as she could.

“As scary as it can be, throwing yourself into the midst of speaking is the best way to learn and pick up fluency!” she commented.

“In my day-to-day life, I had no problem communicating without speaking English, but I encountered some trouble when it came to harder subjects. It was frustrating at times because my Korean comprehension is pretty good, but I struggled to string words together fast enough to respond in spontaneous conversations.

“I really appreciate that my local friends taught me so much slang; using it made me a much more fluent speaker and I was able to sound much more confident.”

Reflecting on her experience in Korea overall, Moreira said, “Studying abroad made me a more mature and holistic person. When you’re in another country without a stable support system and your family is a 16-hour plane ride away, it’s really important to be able to rely on yourself.

Moreira, second from right, and some of her busking friends wore hanboks to Gyeongbokgung Palace. “I also learned that countries, languages and borders all come crashing down in the face of friendship. With my clubmates — or even my friendships with other international students at Yonsei — having a true heart and being open to learning about each other’s cultures, languages and way of life could overcome any obstacle.”

The program has given the UCLA senior new ambitions. She wants to learn more about Asian history, with plans to take a South and Southeast Asian history course later this year. In addition, Moreira now hopes to pursue a graduate degree with a focus on East Asian international relations.

“I hope to one day go back to South Korea and gain a new experience as a working adult rather than as a study abroad student,” she said. “I realize that I would really need to practice and improve my Korean before working there.”

Her advice for Bruins considering a study abroad program is threefold: “Make a pre-trip plan, familiarize yourself with the culture and language and step out of your comfort zone.

“Begin learning about the culture and language asap!” she recommended. “You should really learn the basics in order to maximize your experience. Start by learning how to read, some greeting phrases and key words needed for travel.

“Make sure to speak to as many people as you can, visit as many historical sites as possible and enjoy the food and drinks to your heart’s content! It’s really important to go out and socialize, don’t isolate yourself!”

*All pictures provided by Ms. Moreira.