Anna Koch

Anna Koch is an international studies and cognitive science major at CWRU who spent spring semester 2019 studying at Yonsei University in South Korea. Anna shares how her experience studying abroad will impact her career, helped her get outside her comfort zone and changed how she thinks about the world. 

How did you choose your study abroad institution?

As part of my personal academic goal, I wanted to include Korean in the languages I studied during undergrad. Since CWRU doesn't yet offer Korean courses, I knew well that I would make studying abroad in Korea a priority during my undergraduate career. I researched possible options simultaneously while applying to college, and Yonsei stood out again and again as the school most U.S. school recommended most highly.

What obstacles did you think you would encounter when planning to study abroad? If you did encounter them, how did you overcome those obstacles?

I'm putting myself through college. For that reason alone, I might've felt like I wasn't the "type" of CWRU student who could really study abroad. I wouldn't say it was easy, but I garnered enough outside scholarships to cover my tuition my junior year, and therefore had the freedom to spend a portion of it abroad if I so chose.

What do you wish you would have known before going abroad?

Travelling alone to an unknown place isn't always such a scary thing.

What was your favorite part of your study abroad experience?

My Korean classes, by far. They were small and intimate and made up 10 hours of the week, so they resulted in many of the most cherished relationships I formed during those four months. The teachers we had are two of the kindest people I've ever met; I still feel so lucky to know them.

Describe an experience abroad where you had to go outside of your comfort zone. How did it go?

I think I began to instinctively embrace my more outgoing side from the start, but there was still a language barrier in interactions with local people. If you pay attention, eventually you discover a sort of medium through which to approach intercultural communication that doesn't necessarily mean having proficiency in a common language. You learn what gestures and tones are considered polite and are able to come off as someone who is well-mannered or at least giving it an earnest shot - which is really useful, as people are more willing to help you and associate themselves with you.

What are some of the differences or similarities you noticed in the learning style or classroom experience while studying abroad? How did you navigate those and adjust?

The classroom atmosphere for my courses was a lot more relaxed than what I've experienced, broadly speaking, at CWRU. It facilitated more open discussions. At times, it would be apparent that not all international students came abroad with the same academic intentions and so their work ethic is not always on the same level, but overall, just coming into the experience with an open mind and some conscious goals for what you want to take away from each class does a lot to keep you on track.

Tell us about a time when it was clear you were no longer in America. What made you have this realization and how did you handle it?

I was walking down a crowded street in a busy district at night when I heard a recording of gunshots playing overhead, meant to attract pedestrians to the shooting range there. Guns are illegal in South Korea, and Seoul is a consciously safe place to walk around in. It wasn't at all physically jarring in the moment, but it made me reflect on the cultural differences I had by that point adapted to.

How has this experience changed the way you think about the world?

I feel much more secure in my academic and career trajectories, especially since they deal with intercultural communication and I now have this long-term experience to back up my abilities in that field. It's also very interesting and reassuring to place yourself in a completely foreign place and find you are still able to make the same quality of connections with people - it makes me feel like there is always going to be something more fulfilling out there to explore.

What are your career aspirations? How do you think your study abroad experience will help you in your career?

I want to enter cultural diplomacy through the field of film distribution, which requires a lot of industry, culture, and language prowess. I took classes essential to my film minor, linguistics focus, and cultural interests while studying at Yonsei, which will undoubtedly prove useful in the immediate future. This experience also granted me a firm sense of direction, and gave me the momentum I need to really work to bring myself to that place.

What advice would you give to other CWRU students considering whether to study abroad?

It's definitely possible for you if it was for me. If you have somewhere in mind, I'd encourage you to explore that possibility, and if you don't, entertain the idea for a moment and see where it takes you.