Update from Abroad: Maddie Demas, Gilman Scholar to South Korea
March 15, 2017
Madeline Demas shares her Gilman Experiences in South Korea!
We recently caught up with Madeline Demas (BS Digital Storytelling '18) who had been studying abroad in South Korea on a Gilman Scholarship for the Summer/Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 terms. Read below to learn about her experiences!
My interest in Asia began back in high school. At the time, it was the pop culture, the music and movies from the region, that caught my eye. I had a particular interest in the music of South Korea, widely known these days as “K-Pop,” and it fueled a desire in me to learn Korean, which I began to do my first year at Drexel. As I was taking coursework in the language, it was only natural to experience and become acquainted with aspects of the culture as well. The more I got a well-rounded image of South Korea, the more my desire to travel to the country grew. Considering how Drexel has quite a few established partnerships within Seoul, I decided to study abroad at Seoul National University in Spring of 2015. My experience there was wonderful and life changing, so much so that I set out on a second excursion to Seoul in 2016, funded partially by the Gilman Scholarship.
I think that the reason why I liked studying abroad in Seoul so much that I wanted to do it twice, is that there was no regular day. Instead, every day was a new chance to do something different and explore the culture. South Korea is a very interesting country. The cities are a dynamic mixture of old and new, with skyscrapers often found right next door to palaces dating back thousands of years. Each day, I had the opportunity to travel back in time right after class, making for a beyond ordinary schooling experience. Similarly, the modern day customs of the individuals living in Korea are so shockingly different from my own, which I find very interesting.
I have learned during my time abroad that I am very interested in the problems concerning intercultural communication. This is one reason why I am so committed to learning about Korean culture and how different it is compared to my own personal traditions and it has been a very rewarding part of my experiences thus far. Through these experiences, I have been able to define my passions academically, personally, and professionally. But as rewarding as it has been, it has been equally challenging. Defining these aspects of my life in a land that is still new and foreign to me makes, at times, for a confusing and frustrating experience. Because the landscape was so different from what I was used to, culture shock was not a stranger to me and there were definitely times where I was homesick and questioned why I wanted to be there. However, immersion into my surroundings really helped hammer home my passions. These experiences in Seoul became so important to me because I was able to fully explore my interests firsthand.
Another immensely rewarding part of my time abroad has been the ability to gain more fluency in the Korean language. While the Korean program at Drexel is really beneficial, you can’t truly gain confidence in a language unless you live in a country where it is the native language. The first time I studied abroad in Seoul, I did take one course, but I didn’t feel like it satisfied my goals for what I wanted to learn about the language. I knew that if I wanted to seriously nail down my confidence in Korean, I would have to return and partake in an intensive language program. This is the major reason I decided to go back to Seoul, applying for Gilman in order to do so. I partook in a twenty hour a week program that had me speaking in only Korean during class time (we even got penalties if we didn’t!). This constant exposure to the language has improved my Korean skills ten-fold.
As I hinted at before, the Gilman Scholarship was pretty much the only reason I was able to go back to South Korea. Studying abroad, especially twice, is not cheap and this is often a deterrent for most college students considering going abroad, but that is even more of a reason to apply for something like Gilman. My biggest advice to someone considering applying for a fellowship is to just do it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain out of the experience of just applying. Practically speaking, when you do decide to commit to applying, make sure you start early to give yourself time to draft multiple times!
I actually applied to other fellowships outside of Gilman, ones that I unfortunately did not receive. However, looking back at the entire process I don’t regret anything and realize I still gained something even if it wasn’t funding. Going through a fellowships application is a taxing and time consuming task that breaks down who you are as a person. I ended up really learning about what I wanted to get out of my college years, which made the experience so worth it because I was able to get real with myself and define my long-term goals. Therefore, I would also tell those who are applying to fellowships to be very honest with themselves. That is the only way that you are going to be able to put forth a stellar application that is true to yourself.
About the Gilman Scholarship
The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program provides U.S. citizen undergraduate students financial support to pursue academic studies or credit-bearing, career-oriented internships abroad. To learn more, check out our Gilman Scholarship page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.