Nyamal Gatluak and Janiely Vazquez are TEAN Seoul alumni and ISA/TEAN Global Ambassadors whose friendship and experience abroad during Fall 2021 led them to exploring the various aspects of Korean culture side by side.
We reached out to learn more about why they chose to go abroad with TEAN South Korea and reflect on their many memories from the semester. Check out his unique story below and hear their advice for others wanting to follow a similar path!
What inspired each of you to go abroad, and why South Korea?
Nyamal Gatluak (NG): I watched a lot of international media growing up, and it’s always been a dream of mine to travel to those countries, learn the languages and experience different cultures from my own. It all seemed so out of reach, though, until I looked into studying abroad. I ultimately decided to go to Korea because I was familiar with Korean culture from films and documentaries, and my friends were also going, so I’d have some sort of support system while abroad. I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Janiely Vazquez (JV): What inspired me to go abroad was my interest in the Korean language and my desire to immerse myself in the culture. It has been my dream to study abroad since high school, so I am glad to have achieved that.
Where did you meet? Were you friends before you went abroad to South Korea? Were you roommates while abroad, too?
NG: We met each other through a mutual friend (who also studied in Seoul with us) during a class we shared three years ago. We’ve grown close ever since and thought it would be fun to study abroad together. We weren’t roommates while living abroad, but we grabbed dinner together most of the time and constantly texted each other. It was easy to make time for each other because we were constantly keeping in touch and were familiar with each other’s schedules.
JV: To be honest, it is all about communication. In Korea, you use KakaoTalk for everything, so it is like texting your friend and asking them if they want to hang out. Usually, we would make plans for dinner, so we would determine a time to meet by the lobby and then head out. If for whatever reason, we couldn’t meet up, we would postpone it to another day later in the week when we were both available.
What did you learn about yourself through these experiences, and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?
NG: I learned that I love to travel. Growing up in Iowa, there is little access to public transportation, so if we want to go anywhere affordably, we have to rely on our own vehicle, which takes a lot of time and energy. But in Korea, I was able to travel for cheap and experience a lot of things that I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to back home. It was fun trying all the different foods and exploring new places without having to drive or rely on someone else. Studying in Korea has made me realize that the possibilities are endless. I feel like in the U.S., there’s a lot of pressure on what school, career, and life goals you should complete within a specific timeframe, but being abroad and meeting all kinds of people in different stages of life helped me to understand that you create your own timeline.
JV: I learned that I am more capable than I thought. This was my first time living on my own, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like, especially in a foreign country. It wasn’t easy, but within weeks I was able to fall into a routine that worked well for me, and it made me realize how comfortable I am living independently. My time abroad helped me realize that the world is full of surprises and that it takes an open mind to take it in and understand it.
Q: What is one of your favorite stories/memories together from abroad?
NG: My favorite memory is when we got lost in the Jongno-gu area after picking up our Alien Registration Cards (ARC’s) and getting ShakeShack. Instead of making our way back to the dorms, we wandered around the city and saw things like the Sejong the Great statue, a huge book store that had a lot of stationery items and an outdoor area with lanterns and a lot of cool art. Even though it was tiring because we walked a lot, I really enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a memory that will stick with me for a long time.
JV: My earliest memory was when we went to get drinks from the Venti because I had been craving a chocolate shake and insisted on Nyamal trying it. After getting our drinks, we walked around Anam until we got to the central campus and sat down on the benches. We talked about everything and anything until it turned dark. It was genuinely one of my favorite memories.
Q: Was there anything you did while you were in South Korea just as besties?
NG: We often got food and drew together or would go to the different book stores and other random shops in the popular areas. Jani got me hooked on the chocolate shake at the Venti, so we went there often and would sit outside the benches near campus to draw. We’ve also traveled together on group trips to the different cities, which was always a great time.
JV: We traveled together a couple of times to other cities, such as Busan, Daegu, Gyeongju, and even Incheon. It was always so fun to explore other parts of Korea since everything was new to us.
Q: You’re both ISA/TEAN Global Ambassadors now – what is it like working together?
NG: I love being a Global Ambassador with Jani. Since we’re already close friends, work is fun, and I really enjoy planning and doing things together.
JV: Working with Nyamal is great since we’ve already been friends for three years now. It makes working together really enjoyable because we understand each other well, and we have no problem with finding time to meet up.
Q: You both go to Iowa State University – any advice for students at Iowa State wanting to go abroad?
NG: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are resources out there for you, like the study abroad office or study abroad coordinators who want to help you study abroad and give great advice! I would also recommend you to not be scared of the initial costs of studying abroad. If you put in the time to fill out scholarships and talk to the right people, you can definitely make it affordable to yourself!
JV: Just go for it! At first, it is stressful, and you might doubt yourself, but it is so worth it. You make great memories that will last a lifetime.