Study abroad provides 'adventure of a lifetime'

March 1, 2013

Nikki Goncalves is pictured in traditional Korean dress.

By Tim Belter '13

College is a time to try new things and step out of your comfort zone. For some Bradley students that may mean joining a new club, for others, it means immersing yourself in an entirely different culture.

The latter is what senior public relations major Nikki Goncalves and senior television arts major Mary Schwark did, heading east to South Korea. Goncalves spent the 2012 fall semester studying at Konkuk University in Seoul and Schwark will be there spending five months in spring 2013. Their studies were organized through the International Studies Abroad (ISA) program, with which Bradley recently partnered.

For Goncalves, the experience proved unusual and familiar at the same time. Originally from Angola, Goncalves moved to the U.S. in 2002 and became a citizen in 2011.

"I had my big culture shock when I came to America," she said. "I felt like I was already mentally prepared for this."

Schwark has some international experience of her own. She spent two weeks in Italy during high school, and studied in London through a Bradley program in January 2012.

"I find nothing more rewarding than going to a new country and really diving into a new culture," Schwark said. "At first you don't know what to do, but then as you spend more time there you become acclimated and more in tune with your surroundings."

Both students have some background with the Korean culture. Goncalves has several Korean-American friends at home in Chicago who introduced her to the food and pop culture, while Schwark, an Asian studies minor, has been studying the language at the Korean Presbyterian Church in Peoria and took a class on Korean entertainment and film.

"Their creativity and culture is so engrained into their entertainment that I became somewhat captivated," Schwark said. "It's nothing like Hollywood, and I think that's what caught my interest."

Living and studying in a new country can be intimidating, but ISA gives tours and organizes events, and the university offers many of its courses in English. The program also includes students from the U.S. and various other countries. For Goncalves, however, the most meaningful relationships were the friendships she forged on her own with Korean students at the university.

"They were very friendly and very open. Everybody was willing to help me and teach me," she said. And soon, she'll be able to return the favor. After graduation in May, Goncalves will return to Seoul for a job. She will spend a month teaching English courses at Konkuk.

Although her journey in Korea is just beginning, Schwark also has plans to extend it. After graduation in August, she is anticipating finding a job or internship in the Korean capital.

"I am excited to start a life somewhere new," she said. "It's an adventure of a lifetime and it could lead to something amazing. You could realize new things about yourself that can change your way of thinking for life."