Name: Audra Toews
Study Abroad: South Korea and Barbados (Fall 2014 & Winter 2015)
Many people decide to do a year of study abroad, or to study abroad twice – adventurous people, like Audra Toews, choose to do a year study abroad split between two different countries! From September to December, Audra found herself in Gwangju, South Korea on a scholarship for her impeccable GPA.
With a seventeen hour time difference, and problems with being ill (right off the plane), Audra realized the adventure she was in for. She was lucky to meet amazing people in the few days at the beginning. Her roommates, from Korea and Malaysia, were amazing. “We got along really well and became great friends, spending whole nights in, just having fun and getting to know each other. Korea and Barbados both stole different parts of my heart,” she continued, “but I fell fast for Korea. My eagerness to make friends and experience authentic Korea was matched by the eagerness of Korean students to practice their English and make international friendships.”
Having a connection with people who were from the area, allowed Audra to experience some really amazing things. “One of my favourite memories,” she says, “was when I went to Bora’s family home, a friend of mine. I was able to help make kimchi for the whole year for them, and I truly got to spend time with some great people. I was blown away by the hospitality and the welcoming personality of the Korean people. A church family even ‘adopted’ me as their daughter there, and I had prayed to find a good church when I was there. Funny thing is that their church was literally called ‘Good Church!’”
The language could be difficult at times, but Audra says that her six classes were pretty easy to handle. The Chonnam National University is 70% Korean and 30% English (approximately). Most of her classes were in English, but one professor lectured in Korean while showing English slides. It was definitely a learning curve!
Happy to have multiple friends from the area, Audra also met a lot of international students as well, from Poland, France, Russia and England. “I did most of my travelling with the other international students, as we all weren’t from the area and wanted to travel a lot. Over Thanksgiving, we decided to go to Jeju Island for a few days. While we were on the island, a huge storm blew in and we couldn’t get back to the mainland! So our mini vacation went from being three days to five. It was a great trip and the island was amazing!”
Saying goodbye to her many new friends was really hard as Audra set off for her next adventure. For three weeks between her exchanges, Audra flew to see a friend and explored a little of Germany and Switzerland. “It was absolutely stunning in the winter, and it was nice for a buffer between the two.” Her next stop was her second semester abroad in sunny Barbados! Audra and her friend, Ashley, were the first students to attend University of the West Indies in Barbados.
Going straight from one study abroad to another was not an easy task – there was a lot of travelling involved, a new place, and lots of goodbyes. It definitely helped to have her friend and her mom there for her after the difficult goodbyes of Korea.
“I had been planning to study abroad for some time with my friend, Ashley,” she says. “It was so great to see a familiar face, and my mom came to visit for a week before school as well. It was nice to know that I could step back a little with someone I knew from home.”
The girls lived about ten minutes off campus, and were about twenty minutes away from the beach – the perfect location. Their roommates turned out to be from Canada and Belgium, and they got along pretty well. “The location of where we lived was amazing, and our landlady was so kind. She had an orchard, so we always had access to coconut, mango, and papaya – all those amazing tropical fruits!” Audra and her friends went hiking every week with the National Trust, getting to see amazing views and places on the island. “It had been difficult to meet the locals there, and even though these people were quite a bit older than us, I would consider them my local friends there. We had some really great times.”
After being such good friends with the locals in Korea, Barbados came as a bit of a shock. Being blonde and blue-eyed, Audra didn’t feel that she truly fit in. “It was weird to be a minority for the first time in my life! In Korea, everyone wanted to touch my hair and take pictures with me. In Barbados, I felt that I truly couldn’t connect with the locals.” So, she met many international students and became great friends with them.
But that didn’t stop her from learning a few things from the small island. “I love the slang used there, with their Caribbean accents,” she mentions. “Like when they would say ‘Everting bless’ instead of ‘It’s all good,’ or ‘You wanna lime?’ in place of ‘Wanna hang out?’ It was fun to learn and bring home!”
School in Barbados was a bit more relaxed, but Audra made sure to use her time wisely. For two weeks, she volunteered in a Grade 4 class, teaching and helping with English. “It was really fun, and the kids were great! The teaching is very disciplined there.” And of course, living on Caribbean time and being on an island, the beach was always close by. Who wouldn’t want to go to school in a place like that!?
From a year abroad in two different places, Audra feels that she learned a lot and came home a different person. “I learned a lot from being a minority in two different places. The experiences and the friends were unforgettable, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I went to both wanting to ‘taste and see,’ and with everything I did and got to try, I feel like I truly did just that. I was lucky to be immersed in knowledge, culture, and adventure in two incredible places.”