BOV Student Representative studies abroad in Seoul, South Korea
January 31, 2020

Samantha Lee, a second-year pre-medical biology student in the Honors College, recently had the unique experience of studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea during the summer of 2019. From late June to early August, Samantha studied at Hanyang University, after which she stayed on a few weeks longer to visit local family and friends in Seoul. When asked to share about her time abroad, Samantha excitedly reflects on the experience with much fondness.

“One of my bucket list items for college was studying abroad,” she begins. “I applied for Hanyang University’s International Summer School through International Studies Abroad (ISA) because ISA offered an all-inclusive price with excursions to Donghae and Busan as well as support throughout the process…My cousin also graduated from Hanyang University!”

Already conversationally proficient in Korean, Samantha jumped right into her studies at Hanyang by taking Korean Language I, to improve her reading and writing skills; Innovative ID Studio, in which she “extracted parts of ostensibly Korean culture and applied it to a neutral object, creating a janggu (traditional Korean drum) bluetooth speaker with dancheon pattern and hanji paper (elements of traditional Korean architecture);” and International Relations.

Student leaning against a railing(Samantha Lee)

Moreover, she continues, studying abroad opened her eyes in a number of ways. “The biggest lesson I learned was that studying abroad is not vacationing or traveling. One reason I was excited to study abroad is my passion for travel. However, after my first full day of class, I realized I was in school and had to study and complete my homework.” Additionally, she admits, “I did not consider…how long I would be in class each day. I knew each course was three hours…but I did not process I would be in class from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Thursday! … After my classes ended at 7 p.m., I had scheduled meetings with relatives and friends, so I did not start my homework until 10 p.m. or later some nights, and still had to wake up early for class the next day.”

Another surprising aspect for her was the impact that already knowing English and Korean would have on her studies in comparison to other students. “At Hanyang University, I was surprised by how several students were taking classes in their second or third language.  Since the classes were taught in English, I did not have to worry about understanding the professor or the course, but rather focus simply on learning the material…While I initially felt I was jumping into the deep end, I realized others were diving into the open ocean, which is an important life perspective to apply throughout my studies at VCU.”

Altar in South Korea

Despite the stress of adjusting to classes and the 13-hour time difference, Samantha pushed through the challenges, learned how to allocate her time and energy, and made the most out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Reflecting on her stay, she explains, “There were multiple times during my stay in Seoul where I felt overwhelmed and that I did not know what I got myself into. In those moments, the obstacles seemed like mountains, but when I reflect on my experience, they were not even mole hills.  Further, I feel so fortunate and blessed to have had this summer experience! ... I did have to make sacrifices of not hanging out with others on school nights, but I still made memories and enjoyed my weekends.”

Outside of class, Samantha enjoyed spending cherished time visiting her family, including tutoring her younger cousin in math and English, and participating in exciting adventures and excursions with her friends and classmates. Travelling around for ISA outings, she had the chance to try out the KTX fast train, taste local foods such as potato pancakes, and visit the Pacific Ocean, the Donghae lotus flower garden, and the Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan. A favorite memory of hers even includes getting lost with her friends while venturing around to various train stops collecting special stamps on their travel maps and local post cards. Thankfully, with a bit of help from a surprised convenience store employee, Samantha and her friends made the five mile walk over and around the hills and mountainous terrain back to their starting place!

Food in South Korea

All in all, Samantha is grateful for her time abroad, saying “Studying abroad offered me the unique opportunity to meet such a diverse student body, forming international friendships.” Since then, she has continued her impressive academic and extracurricular endeavors, including serving as the undergraduate student representative on the VCU Board of Visitors (BOV).

“The BOV,” she explains, “is the governing board for the University, tasked with the responsibility of planning long-term for VCU in terms of colleges and schools, offered programs, courses of study, and facilities. One action of the BOV was the approval of a $1.3 billion operating budget for the university, which led to the lack of increase to base tuition or to education and general mandatory fees for undergraduate students for the 2019-2020 academic year.”

In her role with the BOV, Samantha “[represents] the undergraduate student population, [delivers] a report to the Academic and Health Affairs Committee, and [attends] the full BOV meeting,” as well as meeting with students, faculty, and staff outside of the meetings. She earnestly recognizes and appreciates the BOV’s efforts, thoughtfulness, and intention as well.

The Honors College is deeply proud of Samantha for everything she has done thus far and cannot wait to see what she does next!

**Interested in sharing your opinions or appearing in Samantha's video report for the BOV? Fill out her video intake form by Friday, February 7 to let her know!**