ISV Reporter, Rustam Niyazov sat with an international student from South Korea to learn about his journey to the United States, the challenges he faced, and his plans after graduation.
Name: Sung-nim Seo
County of origin: South Korea
Institution: Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (ACPHS), Albany, NY (http://www.acphs.edu/)
Major: Pharmacy D.
Year of study: Freshman
What were the major factors that made you decide to study in the U.S.?
I came to U.S. five years ago to study at high school in Springfield, Illinois. I lived there with my host family. It was a nice area, but very quiet. In our neighborhood you could see mostly elderly people sitting on benches or enjoying their life making barbeques. But it bored me. I come from a big dynamic city, Seoul, so it was very contrasting place for me. After high school, I applied to ACPHS and moved to Albany, NY mostly because its tuition was attractive. It’s very close to NYC, Boston and other metropolitan areas.
One of the factors that made me decide to study in the U.S. is that I would have more freedom to choose what I wanted to study. In Korea you have to study a lot, you almost have no free time, but in U.S., I believed I will pursue the course of study that I would choose for myself, not pre-assigned by the institution. I also thought the quality of instruction and prestige of the U.S. degree would help me back in my country.
Why the factors you chose were important to you?
I like studying on my own pace and the U.S. academic system has more flexible course assignment, you can take what you want, where you want it, and whenever you want it. That was important to me. For example, in Korea, you have to take eight tests in one day. High school students in Korea study for their entire school years for that “one day.” Getting to college is difficult, but most Korean students in Korean colleges think that if they are admitted to college, that’s it. They are done. In U.S., once you made it to college, it’s still just the beginning…
Who pays for your studies?
My parents help me pay for my studies. My major concern was obtaining a scholarship but because of my low score in English test, I didn’t get any financial aid. I am maintaining my GPA now and will apply for aid next year. I am planning to work during summers back in Korea to earn some money to pay my school’s tuition. We have almost four month of summer brake time, so I hope to make a little bit of money.
When did you start learning English?
I started learning English when I was seven years old. At Korean schools, we learn three languages: Korean, basic Chinese, and English. Korean parents also want their kids to learn English, so they send their kids to U.S. to study at American high schools. That way they have a better chance of being admitted to American colleges.
Why did you choose to study pharmacy?
First, I didn’t think about going to study at the college of pharmacy. But when I thought about it again, I had my younger brother suffering from diabetes, my grandma had health problems, my aunt was a nurse, so I had some experience living in a family who consumed medication and who were involved in health care. I choose pharmacy because of a desire to help people with health problems such as my brother.
Your first impressions after your arrival to U.S.?
English sounded completely different than what I learned from books. It started at the airport when I first arrived to U.S., the custom officer asked me questions, and I didn’t understand him at all, and kept saying “Yes” to all his questions. And guess what happened? I got arrested. Why? Because when he asked if I have “alcohol” or “drugs” with me, I kept saying “yes.” They searched my luggage and let me go because I had no alcohol or drugs with me. I just had a very limited knowledge of English. That’s all.
Another funny incident happened during my first days at American high school. I was standing on line, and a guy approached me and said “What’s up, dude?” I knew what “what’s up” means, but had no idea what “dude” means. I thought he was trying to fight with me that he was being bully. Later I learned that he was being friendly but that kind of new words really confused me along the way.
What challenges as an international student did you experience in U.S.?
I would say homesickness is number one. First two years it was bothering me, but now I am ok. Lack of familiar food is another. I love eating, and even when I was in Korea, I didn’t eat pizza, food with cheese, but now I’m getting used to eating American food. My favorite Korean food is Kim Chi. It’s made of cabbage, sauced with pepper, garlic, and some sea food. I don’t have roommate issues, because we don’t practically see each other. Most of the time, I am studying at the college, I live here.
As for the academic challenges, I took a course on Psychology last semester, it had a reading and writing component. It was a difficult course for me because our professor used theory and asked us to apply it to practical life situations. But I am more comfortable with math, biology, and chemistry.
What campus or other resources did you use to deal with the challenges you faced?
For my psychology course I used our writing center. They helped with grammar. But when I first arrived to U.S., my host family was trying to move to a new house, so for two or three month I couldn’t unpack my bag, only when they found another home, I could finally unpack my luggage. After two years of living with them, I found a new host family because they were stringent on everything, I had fifteen minutes of bath time, I had to care about them, I had chorus like cleaning the bathroom, and they had bathroom problems, their bathroom was wooden, unlike in South Korea (cement). So cleaning this kind of bathroom was like psychology to me. In this situation, I had to rely on my personal traits such as perseverance and patience.
Did you attend the orientation week provided by the International Student Office?
Yes, but I already knew most of the stuff they told incoming freshmen because as I said I was attending the U.S. high school for four years. I am sure it was helpful to those who just came to U.S. Orientation staff talked about the importance of taking part in student clubs, but even though I am a freshman, I don’t have time to participate in those clubs. I know if I need it, there are clubs that can help me to develop my writing and other skills. It’s just too much for me right now, but they say it’s going to be harder in your sophomore year, so we’ll see.
What are your plans after you finish your studies in the U.S.?
I plan to return home because I have to serve in the army for two years. If you don’t go back, they can cancel your citizenship and I don’t want that. I love my country and tie my future with it. So I will serve and then will be free to build my life as I see it.