By Joanna Mills (Jeonju, South Korea ’11)
As I write this, only eight weeks have passed since the final farewells took place at Inchon Airport and the 2011 CLS institute in Jeonju, South Korea, finished. I say “only” because time seems to have stretched even further than just two months. The friendships built over the course of roughly sixty days seem incredibly hard to forget.
But for Laura Figueroa and me, our friendship started two years prior to CLS, during our first meeting on the NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth) program, a U.S. Department of State scholarship program that sends high school students abroad to learn critical languages. Both Laura and I were selected to join the year-long program in South Korea, and from the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010, we became very close friends. I could write a book about our adventures together, from getting lost in Seoul, to giving tours of palaces and prisons, to scoring last minute tickets to a Big Bang concert only thirty minutes before the show started. It is insufficient to say that our lives were filled with lots of laughter and surprises.
The summer of 2011 brought about another opportunity to study abroad in South Korea, and both Laura and I were once again selected to represent the United States – this time at Chonbuk National University in Jeonju through the Critical Language Scholarship Program. Reuniting in South Korea for two months was a rewarding experience, and we began to joke about how it seemed we could not come to South Korea without each other.
Fast forward to the present, and once again Laura and I have been reunited — in South Korea. As United States representatives, we attended the “1st International Next-Generation Global-Leader Conference,” hosted by Kyonggi University in Suwon, South Korea, with the support of YES International. With 75 participants (40 representatives from South Korea and 35 representatives from various countries such as the United States, Indonesia, France, Russia, Germany, America, Mexico, China, and Taiwan), the conference was five days long and consisted of research presentations on environment, science, culture and art, literature, political science, and human rights. We spent time with our respective issue groups and made a final presentation that was presented to the entire conference body. During our stay, we were also able to reunite with Laura’s Korean tutor from CLS, Eun Kyong Son. It was so wonderful to reminisce about our summer and know that the friendships we made from CLS will last long into our futures. (During our reunion I was sporting the stylish CLS t-shirt!)
What makes all of this so interesting is the fact that Laura and I keep meeting each other in Korea. Because of our similar interests and passions for a global education, we both keep seeking out opportunities to travel abroad and attend various different scholarship programs and conferences – who knows, we might be meeting up next year too! None of this would have been possible if not for U.S. Department of State programs such as NSLI-Y and CLS. Thank you!