My Student Experience: Brandon Hawkins ’21 gained a global perspective through a study abroad experience in South Korea
When Brendon Hawkins ’21 started his freshman year at NC State, he went to study abroad website and launched an application.
He had wanted to study abroad since he was 13 years old and he hoped that university would be his chance. But despite opening the app, he didn’t know where to start, and as a first-generation student away from home for the first time, he began to feel as though studying abroad was n It wasn’t something he could do.
The unfinished application remained on the website, open, but not completed. Not until Hawkin’s senior year. Hawkins needed an extra semester to complete his bachelor’s degree in technology, engineering, and design education, and as summer 2021 approached, study abroad programs were just beginning to return.
One of the options available was South Korea, a country and culture that had always fascinated Hawkins. He completed his application. Soon her dream started to feel more real.
“I found out I had been accepted, and then I was like, ‘OK, this is where it gets crazy,'” Hawkins said.
Along with the standard preparation for studying abroad — packing, planning, getting a passport — Hawkins would also have to meet South Korea’s strict quarantine requirements.
When he and the other students on the trip arrived in Seoul, they took COVID tests and then were taken to a hotel, where they spent the next two weeks in quarantine. The students were unable to leave and had meals delivered to them three times a day. There was TV and Wi-Fi – Hawkins said he spent a lot of time looking out the window, people watching.
“It was an interesting way to live,” Hawkins said. “My whole experience in South Korea didn’t even last a month and a half. So, for two weeks, it was quarantine. And I still said yes.”
While in quarantine, Hawkins also realized he needed additional financial support for his trip, so he reached out to Ajaya Jonas, director of global programs at NC State College of Education. She helped him get the extra funding he needed.
“You never know who you can go to and what can happen,” Hawkins said.
He was grateful for the support that allowed him to continue his study abroad experience. He didn’t want to miss his chance.
“There are so many people who regret never having been abroad, and they tell people, if you have the chance to go, go,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t want to live with this regret, especially because I’ve had this goal since I was young. At 22, I had already spent ten years not achieving my goal. And so when I found out there was a program in South Korea, I was like, ‘Yeah, I have to do this.’
In South Korea, Hawkins was introduced to a global community. The study abroad program was based at Hanyang University in Seoul, where he stayed in off-campus accommodation with other international students.
“One of my favorite parts was when everyone was doing what they were doing during the day and then towards night everyone would get together in the kitchen and living space and talk about what they had did that day,” Hawkins said. “Some people traveled to different parts of South Korea or some people saw something crazy on the subway. And so we were playing music and eating and just talking about things from our different countries.
He remembers having to explain a gallon of milk to German and Belgian students.
“They were confused because I kept saying a gallon, a gallon,” Hawkins said. “And then I had to realize, OK, not everyone uses a gallon.”
Hawkins also enjoyed exploring Korea and how her classes in international relations, documentary filmmaking, and dance allowed her to do so.
One of her favorite experiences was taking a choreography course with the Korean studio 1 MILLION.
“The teacher teaches you the choreography, and then you can do it,” Hawkins said. “I was one of two foreigners in the class. And then the real choreographers point at us and say go ahead and then the camera crew comes out and they have all these lights. And I’m like, ‘This is getting pretty crazy.’ “
In the documentary class, which counted as a digital media credit for Hawkins’ technology, engineering, and design major, he was able to fly with one of his professors to Jeju Island. There he worked on a documentary about a massacre that occurred on the island in the late 1940s, and the documentary was accepted into a number of international film festivals.
“Making a documentary, with a real teacher who is also a producer and director, in Korea is unbeatable,” Hawkins said.
When Hawkins returned to North Carolina after his study abroad experience, he was eager to share his experience with others. So when Jonas contacted him about working in the Global Programs office at the College of Education during his final semester, he jumped at the chance.
“Not everyone understands the power of global engagement and global involvement, especially on the education side,” Hawkins said. “It’s very important, and I can say that our college really supports that.”
Hawkins appreciated the opportunity to learn from Jonas and help inspire other College of Education students to engage in global experiences.
“Working with her and gaining this experience to give back to my college has been very rewarding for me,” Hawkins said.
Since graduating in December, Hawkins has relied on her experiences studying abroad and working with the college’s Global Programs office to plan her next move. He applied for jobs and keeps his options open.
“I realized that as long as I have confidence in myself, I can accomplish a lot, so that’s where I draw a lot of power from when it comes to my experience,” Hawkins said.
And his advice for other students considering studying abroad?
“You have to do it,” Hawkins said. “You don’t want to have that regret. There will be things you will learn about yourself and the country that you didn’t even anticipate. If you don’t go, you’re not allowing yourself to get that experience.