Profile: Nico Leger '21

Nico Leger

Major/minor: East Asian Studies, English, and Creative Writing

Study abroad program: CIEE/Yonsei University (Academic Year 2019-2020)

Reason you chose this program: I chose South Korea as my study abroad destination after taking classes that covered Korean culture as part of my East Asian Studies major. I wanted to overcome the barrier between just learning about Korea through secondary sources and having my own firsthand experiences immersed in Korean culture. I'm also currently learning Korean and knew that this would provide me with more opportunities to expand my language skills and befriend native speakers. This program in particular provided a lot of direct assistance and support, which was helpful since it was my first time living in a different country, especially one where English is not the dominantly spoken language.

Favorite class: I enjoyed the Korean language program, which was two hours of lessons every day. It helped me become more comfortable with speaking. Even though I had taken Korean at Brandeis, I felt like my overall language foundation was messy, since English and Korean are so different. This gave me the opportunity to feel more comfortable with Korean.

Housing situation: I lived in a single dorm on campus with other exchange students during the semester, and then in an Airbnb near campus during the school break.

How your identity played into your time abroad: I didn't think too much about being white in a homogenous Asian country before studying abroad, but I do think it's something that others might overlook as I had. There is a lot of components dealing with race, a history of American colonialism and imperialism, and Western privileges that I had to confront while I was in Korea, and I continue to confront because these are things that are historically internalized in our separate societies and have been incredibly harmful to Korea. I was also concerned about being transgender while in Korea, but I ultimately realized that Koreans care a lot less about what a (white) foreigner is doing or how they're presenting, and Korea has their own gender norms that differ from the West, which definitely worked in my favor.

How you incorporated your Brandeis academic plan of study into your abroad experience: I took classes on Korean law and Korean literature, which counted toward my East Asian Studies major. I became more politically aware of different court cases in Korea, and read literature that had been translated into English that often dealt with prevalent themes of Korean society.

Favorite memory: My favorite memory is traveling to Japan with some friends from my program. It was fun exploring a new city after having been in Korea for a few months already, and getting to experience a new culture, even if it was briefly.

Greatest challenge: My greatest challenge was getting comfortable speaking another language. I think you have to eventually realize that no one cares if you speak badly, but that effort is all that matters. From this, I learned a lot about humility and getting comfortable being vulnerable, even with strangers. Ultimately, speaking Korean felt like a respect thing, and I was lucky to know the limited Korean I did, so it felt like a shame not to use it.

Did you apply for scholarships? If so, which ones and how did they impact your time abroad? I applied for and received the Gilman and Sachar scholarships. They relieved a lot of the financial burdens that I had as a low-income student. Part of this burden was the cost of food, since it was not included in the program fee. CIEE also offers scholarships for flights and free housing if you qualify.

What you know now that you didn't know before: If I want to survive, I really need to learn how to cook. This isn't to say that I really did learn how to cook while in Korea, but grocery shopping is so much cheaper and healthier than eating out. Since I'm a commuter at Brandeis, it was important for me to learn these types of basic skills, which I had just never needed before going abroad.

Fact about South Korea that you think people would be surprised to learn: There is a popular part of Seoul with college students covered in tattoos, even though getting tattoos is technically illegal in South Korea.