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Marketing major studies abroad in South Korea

March 6, 2015

When Indiana State University junior Yahzmine Rodriguez decided to study abroad for a semester in South Korea, she knew nothing about the country. So when she returned to campus this spring, she -- as expected -- had learned a lot about her hosts, but she also learned a lot about herself.

"The best part of this whole experience was connecting with Koreans," she said. "My language exchange partner gave me a pair of socks and a thank you card on my birthday. I read the card and cried like a fool in front of her in a coffee shop.

"‘Why are you crying? They are just socks,' she told me.

"I told her I wasn't crying over the socks, but that I was very touched by her kindness. That was a pivotal point for me, and I knew it would be hard to leave South Korea."

Rodriguez's interest in studying abroad was partially fueled by a summer research experience with the university's Institute for Community Sustainability.

"Working at the Institute for Community Sustainability really got me thinking about how I live my life. Sustainability isn't just something we can apply to the environment but we can also apply it to ourselves, seeing as how we are a limited resource," she said. "While I was away, I focused on eating better and exercising. I went hiking a lot and spent time in Buddhist temples just meditating. I recycled all my old thoughts and insecurities to find myself. After a month, I had so much energy. I felt nothing could hold me down. Since I've been home, I've found that I've been happier and more patient with others."

The marketing major from Indianapolis is also a recipient of Indiana State's prestigious President's Scholarship and Networks Scholarship for business students.

During her time abroad last fall, she penned a blog, "Young in Yonsei: How does the minority travel abroad? With her Seoul!" On it, she cataloged her thoughts on her experiences, some of which involved conversations about race and how Koreans viewed her and her home country.

"Koreans asked me a lot of personal questions like how it felt to be a black female in America and if I felt discriminated against," she said. "I think they thought I was Ruby Bridges (the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South), because I had one Korean ask me if people had ever tried to throw rocks at me or prevent me from going to school."

News headlines in the U.S. were also a topic of discussion.

"I was also surprised that my Korean friends came to me wanting to talk about the Ferguson (Mo., case). They protested in the streets of Myeongdong to support. It really blew my mind. Koreans have a lot of social awareness, more so than some of the people I know," she said. "After this whole experience, I've realized that I know nothing about other cultures. I think each culture deserves to be experienced and respected. Through it all, I learned how to love and accept myself. That was the biggest takeaway."

Rodriguez says she didn't have an unpleasant moment while away, yet one of the best experiences was completely unexpected.

"I was constantly told that I looked like Beyoncé and Halle Berry. I'm not sure how you can top that," she said.

Appearances aside, Rodriguez developed a deep connection with the Korean people.

"I was completely surprised by how many friends I made. Koreans just seemed to gravitate naturally to me," she said. "It was really uncomfortable at first, but after a while, I accepted their kindness graciously. My Korean friends and I openly held hands and locked arms in public to solidify our friendship. It felt more like a love you would have for your siblings."

One or two Sycamores study abroad in South Korea each year.

"It seems like everyone goes to see the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, but who can say they've been to the DMZ and stood next to North Korean soldiers? South Korea is too beautiful not to visit," she said.

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Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/marketing/Marketing-people/Yahzmine-Rodriguez-for/i-rBxZBZ8/0/XL/12_12_12_yahzmine_rodriguez-3838-XL.jpg -- Yahzmine Rodriguez poses for a portrait at Indiana State University.

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-vnkjKTj/0/O/i-vnkjKTj.jpg -- Yahzmine Rodriguez poses for a portrait while wearing a traditional Korean Hanbok.

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-2Z4M3xz/0/O/i-2Z4M3xz.jpg -- Yahzmine Rodriguez poses with a soldier at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

http://www.smugmug.com/photos/i-LXsNvLp/0/O/i-LXsNvLp.jpg -- Soldiers at the Korean Demilitarized Zone are seen.

Writer and media contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Yahzmine Rodriguez of Indianapolis is also a recipient of Indiana State's prestigious President's Scholarship and Networks Scholarship for business students.

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