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Local Connections, Global Perspective

Local Connections, Global Perspective

More than Just an Education

Derek Lewis, College of Engineering, ‘25

Derek Lewis, a biomedical engineer major, poses for a portrait in the Crocker Science Center on Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Derek spent a year learning aboard in South Korea.

As a freshman at the University of Utah seeking new experiences, international travel was a pie-in-the-sky dream. I knew it was something that some people did in their undergraduate studies, but for me it seemed enormously expensive and too difficult to squeeze into my course schedule before graduation. During my sophomore year, after seeing a post from the Learning Abroad Office in a University newsletter and scheduling a meeting with the advisors, I learned that studying in a foreign country was not as remote of a possibility as I had once thought.

With my advisor’s help, I applied for and received both the Boren Scholarship and the Freeman-Asia Scholarship, which allowed me to study at Yonsei University in South Korea for an entire year.

Navigating a new country and culture was exciting and challenging. As a college student, you’re already independent, but you must be even more so as an exchange student. During my time in Korea, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a biochemistry lab on campus and attend an engineering conference on Jeju Island. I joined a Student Jazz Music Club and participated in concerts and jam sessions with new friends. I constantly felt unsure and clumsy in my emerging Korean language abilities, and I struggled at times to feel I was connecting with people I met, but I learned that it’s ok not to understand everything, that it takes time to learn, and that the people you meet are often just happy that you’re there making an effort. I was relieved to find my friends in the music club, because even if I couldn’t understand what they were saying, we could connect through the universal language of music.

As my knowledge of Korean history and culture grew, I gained perspectives on my role in a much larger global community. When you study abroad, you don’t only make friends from the host country, but from all over the world. I began to see how Korea and other countries’ histories were intertwined with that of the U.S. I learned that we all affect one another, economically, politically, socially, etc.

I saw how vital it was to take time to understand my neighbors around the world, that I share my own experiences and culture, and that I listen to others’. It is the only way we can build the bridges necessary between nations to address larger global issues.

My perspective on my undergraduate studies changed during my exchange program. I realized, while attending my classes at Yonsei University, that I needed to take a more active approach to my learning.

It was thrilling and intimidating to realize that I needed to be the driving force in my preparation to learn the skills that would make me an asset in my field.

University classes and professors are there to guide students, but it is fundamentally a personal journey. I am excited to resume my studies in Salt Lake City, and I know I won’t forget the experiences and all that I learned from my time abroad; I am a better student and person because of it.