Editor’s note: The following profile is featured in the inaugural edition of the PYMNTS.com Global Citizen Index™, a Flywire collaboration. The Index focuses on cross-border tuition, and also features profiles of individual students from China and India, to illustrate the varying backgrounds of Global Citizens.
Experiencing a new culture and developing critical thinking in a quest for deeper learning.
Julius has been studying in the United States for five years. He first came to the country to pursue his education as a 14-year-old eighth-grader at a boarding school in Connecticut. He’s now a graduating high school senior and will embark on his college education at Indiana University in the fall.
Before deciding to come to the U.S. for school, Julius said that he was considering studying in China, but after he visited the country and looked at some schools, he didn’t think it would be a good t. “I didn’t really like China,” he recalls. “The vibe there – I just didn’t like it. So I decided to go to the states, because my parents also studied in the states.” Despite his parents’ educational experiences in the U.S., the choice to go himself was decidedly the South Korean teenager’s own decision.
His father had earned an MBA in the states, and his mother a graduate degree in linguistics. Despite being the only person in his “friend group” to pursue education abroad, Julius said he wasn’t all that nervous about leaving his home country and family.
Julius says that he did have a choice about whether to study abroad or to stay in Korea. Ultimately, he said, his decision came down to the education itself and the opportunity that he expected would come in an entirely new place – away from the grind he was accustomed to.
“Back in Korea, I was a really academic student who was really trying hard in schoolwork and everything. But one day I realized, if I keep doing this, it’s not going to be good. So I thought, I want to study abroad and be more independent and take more responsibility so I can actually work on my stuff and feel stuff too,” he said.
Upon arriving in the U.S., as it turned out, he said, “What I expected was a bit different from the actual experience.” Everything in the U.S. was new for Julius, from the academic experience to communicating in a foreign language to the environment and culture itself. “Language was a challenge,” he said. Perhaps only surprising to himself, Julius was homesick at first.“The first year was a bit hard for me with all the cultural differences, which were bigger than I expected,” he said. “It was a bit more challenging than I expected.” But the homesickness wasn’t acute or prolonged, he said. As his ability to understand and speak English improved, his comfort with his surroundings steadily increased.
“The first year was a bit hard for me with all the cultural differences, which were bigger than I expected,” he said. “It was a bit more challenging than I expected.” But the homesickness wasn’t acute or prolonged, he said. As his ability to understand and speak English improved, his comfort with his surroundings steadily increased.
The biggest culture shock Julius says he experienced during his first year in the U.S. also turned out to be something he wound up cherishing: freedom. “It was really free. In terms of sharing thoughts,” he said. He came to love roundtable classes where there was “no hesitation about sharing ideas,” he said. “It didn’t matter whether [an idea] was right or wrong. The atmosphere was really free.”
At first, he saw his parents once every three months. But since entering high school, he’s seen them more often, considering they uprooted to be closer to their son and only child, getting a place in New Jersey, not far from Julius’ high school just outside New York City. His father is now a vice president at an energy company headquartered in New Jersey. Julius’ parents continue to maintain a home in Seoul, where he spent his childhood.
Julius presumes his parents will stay in New Jersey while he attends school in Indiana, but he doesn’t know for sure. He also doesn’t know if they plan to return to South Korea after his studies are completed.
What he does know is that he wants to focus his collegiate studies on business. “Accounting especially,” he said. He cites Indiana’s strong business program for his interest in the school. He is not receiving a scholarship from the school and he says that he’s unlikely to continue to run track – he was on the varsity team his senior year in high school – once in college.
Where he winds up putting his future degree into practice – whether it be in Korea, the U.S. or elsewhere – is also currently unknown. “I’ll see what happens,” he said. “I would like to be in a place where I really like doing what I’m doing – it doesn’t matter where it is,” he said. “I could be working in the business field or another field – I just want to be in place where I can really like doing whatever I’m doing.”
Julius says that he doesn’t focus on his identity as a South Korean. “I really never think about being South Korean like that,” he said. “I don’t see people like, ‘oh, you’re American’ or ‘you’re Indian’ or ‘you’re Chinese’ or ‘you’re European,’” he explained. “I don’t see people like that – I just see you as yourself – you’re Tim or Sarah, you’re whoever you are. I don’t really put the ethnic stuff in front. So I don’t really know how to say how do I feel like being a South Korean being in America.”
This perspective is even reflected in the television Julius watches. He says he watches an equal mix of Korean and American programming. “I don’t have a favorite, favorite — I just watch stuff,” he said.
He cites his experience in the United States, in part, for shaping this perspective. “Most fundamentally, literally and physically, I see different people and I get to spend time with them – I share thoughts, we talk. The thing is, if we’re physically different or have different thoughts, we can build connections. And since we can build connections, I think the ethnic stuff can’t be a barrier. That’s gone. I think that’s gone in America. Not totally gone, it depends on what kind of perspective you have, definitely, but from my perspective, it’s gone.”
It’s this freedom, he said, that’s been influential in his education abroad and has helped him shape into a critical thinker. Of his primary sentiment about the U.S. itself, he said, “It’s really diverse. Not only in terms of ethnic groups, but in terms of thoughts, too.”
The (implied) importance of education
It was never unclear to Julius that education was important to his family but, he said, they didn’t necessarily speak explicitly about it. “When they talked about schools or when we went to the college application process and everything, I could feel their emphasis on academics and education,” he said, citing examples of the implicit importance of education imparted by his parents.“Parents, friends, surroundings can emphasize education itself,” he said. Where he’s from and who he’s known has helped inform everything, he said.
“Parents, friends, surroundings can emphasize education itself,” he said. Where he’s from and who he’s known has helped inform everything, he said.
Before heading to college in the fall, Julius, now 19 years old, intends to split his summer between the U.S. and Korea.
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About the Index
PYMNTS.com Global Citizen Index™, a Flywire collaboration, focuses on the economic impact of Global Citizens, individuals who typically are experienced international travelers, and have the wealth or discretionary income to support the pursuit of personal priorities, including cross-border education, health care and wellness for themselves and their family members, or other experiences outside of their home countries.