Briar Cliff students experience Korea
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
When Briar Cliff University student Grace McElroy was approached about participating in a multicultural experience, little did she know how fast it would happen.
“I had a voicemail message that said, ‘Hey Grace, this is Darrell. I have a really exciting opportunity for you. Want to call me back soon?’ At the end of it he had said, ‘You do have a passport right?’”
Within just over two weeks from an initial voicemail message from Darrell Lofton, director of the university’s multicultural and leadership programs at Briar Cliff, Grace McElroy of Sioux City had boarded a plane for Korea with fellow Briar Cliff student Nathan Kirsch.
For Kirsch, he had been working in Briar Cliff’s mailroom over the summer and would pass the multicultural director’s office every day.
“One day he pulled me in and asked if I wanted to go to South Korea,” the Laurens native explained. “I called up my parents, made the arrangements and off I went the next month.”
The students had learned that in the previous school where Lofton had worked, that school had a relationship with the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul and he wanted to bring the program to Briar Cliff.
“I thought that this would be a great opportunity for our students,” he said. The opportunity had presented itself and the university officials opted to move with it.
The students left for Korea on June 30 to participate in a global summer school held the month of July. They studied Korean language in the morning, which was a three-credit course, and Korean studies in the afternoon, another three-credit course that offered a different subject each week.
“The classes were offered Monday through Thursday and then on Friday we had a field trip day,” said McElroy, a sophomore. “The third weekend we were there, we had a Korean home-stay.” This allowed each of them to stay with a family Friday to Sunday and get a taste of home-life.
They each said the home experience made the trip much richer.
“There were some things that I experienced with the home-stay that I don’t think I would have if I had stayed at the college the whole time,” Kirsch said. “For example, my host mom actually had me cook with her. It was a very good experience.”
Through the home visits they not only learned about home life and Korean cuisine but also games and societal nuances.
Since they were on the campus of a Catholic university, they were able to attend Mass at the chapel on campus.
“They offered a lot of Mass times both in English and Korean. I tried to go each Sunday to the Korean one,” said McElroy, who noted that they offered a running PowerPoint in English. “They would read it in Korean and then read it again in English because the whole purpose of the school was English emersion.”
Both were surprised by the number of churches in the country and Kirsch noted that the Catholic ones were well-marked with the “red neon crosses on top.”
The students were sent to Korea in order to experience the program and provide feedback to Briar Cliff officials about the program.
They came back with rave reviews.
“It was the best month of my life,” said Kirsch, a senior who is the son of Jeff and Marcia Kirsch.
Besides being in a foreign country, McElroy said having the chance to live in such a big city and using mass transportation provided new experiences in itself.
“For me, learning mass transit in a different language and a different culture was weird but I liked it,” she said.
A memorable experience for Kirsch came when he and another student went hiking in the mountains near the college. They got lost briefly but after he pulled out his name tag with the university info on it, others helped them make their way back to the university.
Through this trip, he said it “helped open my understanding of the Korean culture and language. I’ve taken it upon myself to try to learn the language a bit more since I’ve got back – looking up words every other day and quizzing myself to keep the language going.”
Kirsch, a double-major in theater and business, said the experience gave him a whole new way of looking at things. He has hopes to do some Korean studies in theater.
The summer exchange program helped McElroy solidify her course of studies – English and secondary education.
“Korea was a part of that decision,” she said. “I realized how much of a need there is to share languages and share understandings.”
Attending classes there with other students from such places as Mexico, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and China enriched the cultural experience all the more - learning a variety of customs and traditions.
“It has made me want to see the world and sparked my need to travel,” said McElroy, the daughter of Pat and Teresa McElroy. “But I also think I bring more of a global mindset to my friends here that have been landlocked.”
For Lofton, his goal for the program would be to bring more students to Briar Cliff as well as give Briar Cliff students opportunities abroad.
“I want all of our students to experience as many different cultures as possible whether its cultures within our community or cultures abroad,” he said. “It makes us better people.”
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