UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana and Champaign)
Name: Choi, Ji-Eun Department: Chemical Engineering
Sitting in the window seat of an old bus to UIUC, I stared out the window at the endless cornfields. I was overwhelmed by the vastness that I’ve never had before in Korea. During the three-hour journey from Chicago, I was in a flutter with anxiety and curiosity to a totally unknown place. In these small, but quiet and peaceful suburban cities of Illinois, Urbana and Champaign I spent last fall 2005 semester as an international exchange student. It was great opportunity for me to learn other cultures and to take a look myself.
I took four courses last semester: two major courses, one astronomy course and a research course. There are no big differences between my home school POSTECH and UIUC in the contents and the level of course works. However, the atmosphere is quite different. Professor is not only teaching the facts but also asking students to think beyond them. Students are not hesitating to express themselves and their opinions even though those could be wrong. Sometimes we could not finish what was scheduled to cover that day discussing unnecessary subjects. I thought that such teaching was time consuming, but in this way I could realize the importance of forming and expressing my own ideas. Among the four courses, “Independent research for senior” course was the most helpful. I spent around 16 hours per week doing my own experiments in one of groups in chemical and biomolecular engineering department.
As UIUC is a huge university, there are lots of departments divided in detail. Some related departments belong to a larger group called school and one school shares buildings and facilities. Chemical engineering is in the school of chemical sciences not in the school of engineering, so that I could meet many people in other fields like biology and chemistry and discuss my research in the other point of view. Doing research all by myself was more difficult than I expected, but I could meet many friends and learn the research as well as education system of this school.
There are lots of international students in UIUC, so the international office provides various educational and recreational programs. I enrolled to join international program, Illini buddy and participated lots of events. They matched me to one American student who also had been abroad as an international exchange student, to help me adapt myself to a new environment. Sometimes I had dinner in ethnic restaurants managed by students with other international students.
On Halloween day, I did pumpkin carving with my Japanese friend and visited a theme park called Six Flags in Chicago. Like Korea, Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday in USA so, we had one week fall break. One of my American friends working in the same lab invited me to her house during this break. Her home was small typical suburban town called Rockford, one-hour drive away from Chicago. I stayed there whole week helping prepare Thanksgiving supper with almost all of her relatives living near Rockford. I’m actually used to a big family, however her entire family was beyond my imagination; on Thanksgiving day, we could not sit in her living room and I gave up remembering her four aunts, uncles, and cousins. They were really nice to me, even her mother tried to watch some Korean movies before my visit to make some common topics for talking.
Last semester was a kind of tough challenge, and at times I felt homesick. However, I am thankful to have successfully come through because it has given me a depth and maturity that I would have never known had I not struggled through it. This experience gave me constructive changes and had encouraged me to live more enthusiastically. I hope this small step will be a giant leap sometime.