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UH Undergrad Dives into Korean Language, Spends Summer in Busan

By Elizabeth Cregan
August 6, 2018 

Victoria Rivera and roommate
Victoria Rivera and her roommate explore Busan, South Korea.

This summer, sophomore Victoria Rivera ventured far beyond the UH campus, choosing to spend her time off more than7,000 miles from home in the most challenging study abroad experience of her life. After being awarded a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), which is given to American students to intensively study one of 14in-demandcritical languages deemed essential to furthering U.S. national security and economic prosperity, Rivera spent the summer in Busan, South Korea, immersed in complex cultural and linguistic study. Her scholarship included tuition, airfare, and a stipend from June through August. 

Encouraged by the fact that the CLS program did not require previous formal study, Rivera met with Ben Rayder, director of National Fellowships and Major Awards, and discovered a link between her career goals and the objective of learning Korean. As a computer science major, Rivera felt that learning Korean could be easily applied to a career in her field. 

“I really want to integrate Korean into my future career, whether it be in cyber security for the Department of Defense or my own startup,” said Rivera. “Government employed computational linguists investigate the syntax of languages and discover what characters or phrases repeat often, and then create programs to decode messages from other countries. It is essential for me to have a deep practical understanding of Korean in order to do that job well.” 

Rivera’s intensive experience included language classes twenty hours a week, a daily cultural class, and frequent trips to local study cafes. Rivera also lived with a local roommate with whom she practiced her Korean. But when she wasn’t studying, Rivera made plenty of time for fun. 

“The food was amazing,” said Rivera, “and I wanted to try everything—kimchi, chicken feet, even live octopus.”She made frequent use of the subway to find new restaurants, explore the city, and to go to the beach. CLS studentsare also encouragedto go on guided cultural excursions and participate in a cultural activity twice a week; for Rivera, that activity wastaekwondo.

For those interested in having an immersive language and cultural experience, Rivera advises that students not be daunted by the application: “I think that finding a program that fits your interests and goals is the most important part. No opportunity is impossible.” 

Rivera also highlights the importance of personalizing application essays:“I decided to talk about my background and my experiences being an ambassador of my own culture. That helped show that I was capable of being in a different country, which was one of the requirements for this program,” she said.  

During the application process, Rivera made sure to usethe resources around her: “Without those meetings with staff of the Honors College and the UH Writing Center, I really doubt that I would have been able to portray myself as the right person for this scholarship.”