Amber Gist ‘23, computer science, has been interested in studying in South Korea for years. When she learned that UMBC offered a program in Seoul, she knew the university would be a great fit for her. But she wasn’t yet sure of how she could afford an international experience.
“I started learning about South Korea in 2016,” Gist says. Initially, she used apps and YouTube videos to learn Hangul, the Korean writing system. “Over the next few years, I focused on listening, reading, and repetition through Korean music, dramas, variety shows, and web articles, as well as learning about the culture,” she says.
Once she started at UMBC, she began taking courses in modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication, complementing her computer science classes. “I soon realized that all of my previous time self-studying was paying off, and I was reaping benefits in ways I never expected,” Gist says.
She had never traveled outside the United States, but she knew that the experience would help her grow, expand her perspective, and open doors. Studying in South Korea would support her minor in the Korean language while giving her the intercultural communication skills and adaptability to succeed in a future computer science career.
As she researched financial support for a semester abroad, she came across UMBC’s brand new Education Abroad Access Fund, established by the Class of 1970. Gist became the fund’s first scholarship recipient.
“Education abroad is known to have a positive impact on students’ future academic and career outcomes, but the costs of international travel can result in barriers to participation,” says David Di Maria, associate vice provost for international education. “The Class of 1970’s generous gift helps address these barriers. It ensures more Retrievers are able to enjoy the transformative benefits of making the world their classroom.”
Leading up to her trip, Gist was nervous, not just about being immersed in a new culture, but also about whether COVID-19 would cancel her plans. “It was a lot to process,” she says. After hardly sleeping the night before her flight to South Korea, she arrived in Seoul as scheduled and completed a mandatory seven-day quarantine before moving into on-campus housing and beginning to explore.
Gist is enrolled in intensive Korean language classes, where she has connected with students from around the world who are also studying abroad. She has spent four hours each day in class, which has taught her about much more than the language itself. “You get to know people over time when you’re practicing language and talking about personal things,” she says.
Gist also joined a buddy program that pairs international students studying in South Korea, like her, with Hanyang University students. She has found it easy to navigate the city of Seoul, where she is based, using public transportation, and in her free time enjoys visiting local landmarks and learning about the history and culture of South Korea.
“Traveling is like nothing I’ve experienced before,” she says. “Learning about another language and culture in an immersive way, by connecting with people, is an invaluable experience.”
Time to explore
Joda Redfearn can’t wait to have a similar experience first-hand. Like Gist, Redfearn ‘23, global studies and English, long knew he wanted to study abroad. As a student at the Community College of Baltimore County, he had an opportunity to experience Asakusa, Japan for a week. He has wanted to return since then, but with more time to explore on his own and immerse himself in Japanese culture.
After researching which Maryland universities offered international learning experiences, Redfearn decided to transfer to UMBC. The support offered to UMBC students who are interested in studying abroad was unmatched, he explains.
In addition to providing guidance on planning the experience—from academic credit to logistics—UMBC also works to keep expenses as close to the university’s cost of attendance as possible. Airfare can still be a financial barrier, which is where the Education Abroad Access Fund comes in.
Redfearn is the fund’s second scholarship recipient and he will spend the 2022-2023 academic year in Okinawa, Japan at the University of the Ryukyus. As he has long dreamed, he will focus on learning about Japanese history and culture.
After graduating from UMBC, Redfearn plans to teach English in Japan, possibly through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. He also hopes to travel to other countries in Asia. “I really want to see the world,” he explains. “Having a global perspective is something that I personally value.”
“I feel like even if it’s not directly linked with their career, everyone should have an opportunity to study abroad,” Redfearn says.
The Education Abroad Access Fund provides eligible students with financial support while they study internationally, helping more students experience international learning opportunities. The funding can help cover application fees, meals while abroad, airfare, and tuition. To learn more or to donate, visit the Education Abroad Access Fund website.