Last fall, Jean Kim stepped off an airplane in South Korea. It had been 10 years since she had last been there, but she felt immediately at home.
“Going back for the first time in my adult life was really interesting,” Kim said. “I thought it would be very foreign, but not having that language barrier — I immediately adjusted.”
Kim, who is half-Korean, grew up visiting the country occasionally. But the older she got, the less frequently she traveled there. After attending school at the U and working as an orientation leader, Kim heard about an opportunity to help students in South Korea. It felt like a perfect fit.
That’s why she went to Songdo a few months ago — to spend a week welcoming and teaching new students at the U’s Asia Campus. Last Saturday she flew there again.
“The Utah Asia Campus is special because it provides you with a view and being exposed to Korean culture,” Kim said. “You’re on a study abroad, but you’re also getting the U experience.”
The Asia Campus began with an invitation from the South Korean government, and after years of planning, classes officially began in Fall 2014 for a group of just 13 students. The campus grew steadily, and 125 students enrolled in 2015. The U in Salt Lake City is still the technical headquarters for the outpost, but the campus has its own professors, facilities and student groups.
Rajul Ramchandani, a junior in computer science, went with Kim as an orientation leader last fall. The leaders explain class schedules and available resources, and they try to help new students get to know each other and feel comfortable. Ramchandani said they initially tried to replicate the orientation style at the Asia Campus that they did in Utah.
“We were struggling. We had our first activity, and it didn’t go too well, honestly,” Ramchandani said. “We realized the culture is very different, so we had to cater our next presentation to the culture specifically.”
Ramchandani said Korea has a much stronger community mentality than America. Once they took time to speak with Korean students and understand their perspective, orientations went much more smoothly. Ramchandani and Kim both strongly advocate the Asia Campus to anyone interested.
“The student:faculty ratio is great, so you can really get to know the professors that actually come from the Salt Lake City campus,” Kim said. “The facilities are totally new, and you’re living in Songdo, which is an international business district, so being immersed in that kind of environment is definitely unique.”