"After South Korea, I have lived in three different countries in less than a decade. The opportunity I had in South Korea was truly my gateway to the world!"
There is no doubt that South Korea is one of the favorite study-abroad destinations for Filipinos. One of those blessed students to study for a year through the Korean Government Scholarship Program-National Institute for International Education (KGSP-NIIED) is Reysa Alenzuela, P.D. She did her post-doctoral fellowship at Kyungpook National University. Fast-forward to today, she is the first Asian to work at the Oriental Institute, an umbrella of the Academy of Sciences, a distinguished research institution in the Czech Republic.
Reysa left her job as the director of Thomas Jefferson Information Center in Manila and decided to upgrade her skills through a career shift. That was when she thought of studying in South Korea to work towards her goal of building an international career.
"And it truly happened! After South Korea, I have lived in three different countries in less than a decade. The opportunity I had in South Korea was truly my gateway to the world!" Reysa said.
She picked South Korea because she "wanted a place where everything is efficient, and with four seasons. I came from the Philippines with only wet and dry seasons. I was under the Korean Government Scholarship Program-National Institute for International Education (KGSP-NIIED), and back then, there was a program for Ph.D. Research which was only for one year. I already had my Ph.D. which I took for four years, but I wanted to be more specialized. So, I applied. I have other options in Canada and the UK, but I need to take it for another four or five years. That was a lot of time to spend and start all over again with my career," the doctor of Philosophy explained.
Aside from liking the efficiency in the South Korean system and way of life, she had the opportunity to be immersed in the real South Korean culture.
She mentioned, "There were also a lot of opportunities for international visitors, like us, to go around and see the beautiful places."
For Reysa, the tours and the gastronomic journeys there were all unforgettable!
"I loved everything about South Korea. I cannot be very specific because I just loved all the experiences I had in a year," she said.
Reysa recommends studying in South Korea.
"This is the best training ground. On the pragmatic side, I recommend it because South Korea is close to the Philippines. It is a very safe place, too. In a normal situation, there are a lot of flights to South Korea. On the academic aspect, it is so much into research, technology, and innovation. We can learn from them," she cited.
When it comes to the English language, Reysa coped with the communication challenges with the help of the university's international office program. The school provided a buddy who can speak English and Korean fluently from the group of international students. And of course, with a little self-help.
"Other than my program, all KGSP scholars are required to take a language course. Since I was not required, I tried to download some apps to learn a few Korean words. But it did not take me that far. So, I learned how to read Hangeul. There was also a formal course offered to us. Being able to read was enough for me to thrive in Korea. If I stayed longer, I would try to learn the language more in-depth, for sure," she narrated.
Reysa lived in Daegu and Busan.
"I loved both places because I saw the progressive side of the cities, yet [they] are not so congested," she said.
When asked if she experienced any form of racism, the scholar said: "Usually, just with the ajumma (older women) who would treat Filipinos (maybe Asians in general) as lower class. When they identified me as a Filipino, they would always associate me with a factory worker. There is nothing wrong with being a factory worker. It’s a decent job. But there is a demeaning connotation that some people attach to it. Nonetheless, I neither had any life-threatening experiences nor had suffered any form of inequality-related concerns. I was usually with scholars or professors in the university. Fortunately, they treated me as one of them as I was a professor in the Philippines, too."
What can you say about the Filipino communities there?
Unfortunately for Reysa, she was very busy with research, conference presentations, and teaching jobs. Apart from being a visiting lecturer, she also had a consultancy job in the Philippines. So, any spare time that she had, she opted to use it to explore South Korea.
"I had about 10 wonderful fun friends only. We truly made an effort to have dinner together," she said.
Reysa gave simple tips to become a scholar in South Korea. They are:
1) Be aware of the time the call for applications is out.
2) Be prepared with documents even before the call for submission is out. Many of the programs are perennial so you can get an idea from the website in the previous years
3) Subscribe to NIIED https://www.studyinkorea.go.kr/ or other related websites
4) Learn the Korean language. There are apps now, and take advantage of your passion for K-Drama if you are into it
5) Read the instructions carefully. Be sure to comply at the earliest a week before the deadline.
Now, this is the most important part. For someone who lived in the land of K-dramas with good-looking actors, the pull of meeting the stars was strong.
On this topic, Reysa enthused: "I still want to meet Lee Min Ho. In-between my research, I was toying with the idea of going to a place where he would have an appearance. But I was unlucky or I did not try harder. LOL! I am too old for this, but I can’t help it. Or maybe he is the closest to my age that I find handsome. It would be awkward if I am going to be part of the BTS Army. So for Min Ho, know that a lot of female Filipino professors and aunties admire you. It’s not just me. I would be elated to date you."
If your goal is to be globally competitive, why not try what Reysa did? Start in South Korea. It offers a home away from home, and a world-class education system.