Studying abroad not impossible, opens doors, says recent Gilman Scholar
by Meiling Arounnarath
Javahnda Kea at the Imperial Palace in Seoul, Korea
This past fall, Javahnda Kea, a student at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business who had never traveled anywhere outside of the South nor been on a plane, signed up to study abroad in a country where she’d have to take a 14-hour flight to get there.
The Robinson College senior had the opportunity to study abroad at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, during fall 2011. She said it all clicked for her after a conversation with a fellow student at a study abroad seminar during her sophomore year. The young man had studied abroad in Japan solely on scholarships. That conversation made her believe it was possible for her, too.
“It was something I didn’t want to pass up before I graduate,” said Kea, who currently has a concentration in marketing and is pursuing a certificate in international business. She expects to graduate in spring 2013.
Kea’s actions prove that she is no stranger to grabbing opportunities when she sees them.
“I decided to become a business major at Robinson, because of its prestige and numerous opportunities available for its students,” she said. “I chose to go to GSU because I wanted to go to school in the city and I fell in love with the campus and student diversity.”
Making it happen
Kea plans to spread the word that studying abroad is more financially feasible than people may think. She offers her own experience as proof: Kea was able to get enough scholarships to pay for her entire study abroad trip, one of which was the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship for fall 2011.
She managed to have her entire study abroad trip covered by grants and scholarships. The costs were what she - and what she knows others are - worried about when it comes to studying abroad.
“I want to tell people they really can get scholarships, and to help them do their best,” Kea says.
On top of the Gilman Scholarship, she received the GSU IEF (International Education Fee) Scholarship, $3,500 from the HOPE Scholarship and $1,800 from the Federal Pell Grant. From GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, Kea received a $2,000 diversity scholarship for being the only African American in its program going to Asia that semester and a $500 bonus for being a Gilman Scholar.
After doing research on the various destinations, Kea chose to study in South Korea because it was an unconventional choice. She said she always had an interest in Asian cultures, and she had even studied the Korean and Japanese languages before.
As a Gilman Scholar, Kea must perform a service project that promotes international education and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program at her school or in her local community.
For her service projects, she sought to become an active volunteer with GSU’s Study Abroad Programs Office - which she is currently doing - and to share her experience with her friends, family and local community. And she would like to be a speaker for the Freshman Learning Community (FLC) classes to promote studying abroad sooner rather than later during a student’s college career.
Studying abroad: More than just going to class
Kea was already volunteering a lot at GSU and involved in a lot of activities on campus before she went on her trip to South Korea. She said volunteering and giving back to the community were the main things she wanted to follow through with while in South Korea.
“I wanted to show what Georgia State students can bring while abroad. That’s one of the things I love about GSU - we don’t just go to class, we like to give back too,” she said. “And I felt, when I went to Seoul, I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to be the best example of a Georgia State student while I was there.”
In Korea, Kea volunteered with one main organization, known as “Volunteer for PLUR!” on Facebook. PLUR stands for Peace, Love, Unity, Respect. She said she was drawn to this particular nonprofit because it offered a wide variety of volunteer work, from working in soup kitchens to teaching English to young children from low-income families.
She served food to the homeless, taught English to 5- to 8-year olds, and helped at animal shelters. She said that for children over there to learn English, their parents must send them to private school, but some parents can’t afford to do that, even though it’s a very important skill to have.
She said she is excited to be able to be a spokesperson for studying abroad.
“I feel like people always tell you, ‘do good in school,’ but they never tell you to volunteer or reach out while you’re there,” she said.
Kea says the most important thing she got out of her study abroad experience was personal development.
“I felt I got the academic and professional fulfillment from the university I went to,” she said. “But outside the university, I got to see a lot of the social issues Korea has - they have poverty and homelessness and orphaned children, too.”
She transformed from a student who never traveled outside the South to a bold young woman who is now seeking a certificate in international business at the Robinson College and hopes to eventually become a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State.
“You can’t let fear stop you. This trip helped me realize, even when there’s something I don’t think I can do, I should try anyways,” Kea said.
One of her biggest fears was going out of her comfort zone, she said, and being in South Korea taught her to take more risks and to stop second-guessing herself. “Since I came back, I feel like I can do anything.”
After she graduates from Robinson, her goal is to teach English in Korea for a year. When she returns from there, she plans to apply for that foreign service officer position.
“I never thought I would jump on a plane - something that I’ve never done - and fly 14 hours to a country I’d never been to, a country where there’s no one who looks like me,” Kea added. “After I got back, I now know that I want to do international business - I found my calling card.”
Meiling Arounnarath is a student in Robinson’s Flexible MBA program. She is pursuing a concentration in human resource management.