Currently on her second year of her undergraduate studies in Public Health Studies with a minor in Developmental Studies at the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Neha Gauchan comes across as a go-getter! Her recent experience at the study winter program in South Korea proves that Neha is set out to make it happen. Gauchan is a Hong Kong Board Scholar and currently pursuing her studies with 90% scholarship alongside students from sixteen different South Asian countries. She has definitely learned a few things about being in a diverse setting since her arrival at the AUW.
Being selected for a winter program lasting three weeks at the Korea University International Winter Campus running from 28 December 2016 to 17 January 2017 not only came as a relief but it also brought with it few hurdles to surpass for the Public Health student. Coming from a small middle-class family, Neha did not wish to trouble her parents with financial stress. It was decided that she would take matters in her own hands and fundraise the estimated $2,500 (minimum) cost which would cover tuition fees, return airfare, food and accommodation. She also launched a fundraising campaign online titled “Education Without Borders – Study at Korea University (KU)”.
Now back in her base from South Korea, I wanted to catch up with Neha to hear about her experience and to learn how she managed it all. Here’s a brief conversation I had with her recently.
LEX: Hey Neha! Congrats on your successful time in Korea! So can you tell me and people who are reading right now about how the opportunity to study in Korea came through, did you have to compete to get a place?
NEHA: Well last year, I was involved in a lot of activities inside Nepal (nationally). I was an English volunteer teacher at a Buddhist monastery for young monks and nuns and taught them Basic English language. I was also personally involved in my research work along with 6 other students from my university. We were fully funded by AUW to conduct our research on “Socio-economic conditions on Nepal’s tourism sector after the earthquake of 2015.” Also, I was working with the Earthquake Relief Project of the previous year with my group and built a school library in Jiri. Hence, all of these works were conducted inside Nepal and for this year I wanted to gain more of an international experience by applying for exchange programs and internships outside of my comfort zone. I did a thorough online research and looked for many opportunities but the study abroad “Korea University International Winter Campus” KUIWC was what caught my eye. It fulfilled most of my criteria as it was a short winter program for 3 weeks and it was their first ever winter program besides the summer program which has been known widely for more than 5 years, with a subject of my interest “Psychology”, the tuition cost was fairly ok compared to other programs (though expensive) and hence I decided to work hard to study there. Yes, I had to go through a long Application Process, submitting transcripts, official papers and health insurance and I was among 150 students from 300 applicants from 30 different countries who were selected for this program.
LEX: That’s incredible! Well done for making the cut. Now I know that there were hurdles along the way with the costs. How did you fundraise online and offline to support your trip?
NEHA: Personally speaking, I did not want to burden my parents more in bearing my tuition fees and applying for an exchange program outside of Bangladesh. I did not let them know about my application process and fundraising campaign until the very last moment. I only told them when I was accepted and I knew they would be very happy for me yet I had to struggle hard in order to gather all the expenses. I started my offline fundraising before the online campaign. For this, I sold food on a weekly basis. I sold spaghetti noodles and traditional Nepalese-Bhutanese style Momo to our university students. I am also a student employee at AUW. I am a Resident Assistant for Work-Study Program at my university hence collected my salary and savings every month. With these money I was able to bear my food and accommodation cost in Korea. For my online campaign, I made a fundraising video and launched my campaign, “Education without Borders- Study at Korea University” on 21st November 2016. I was able to raise $470 from 12 donors from all around the world within a month time frame. I am really grateful to my donors who supported me all the way and who always believed in my capabilities. I still needed 1500$ to bear my overall travel and tuition expense hence I reached to my family members, relatives and close ones and somehow I was able to manage all the cost even though I had to take some small loans.
Here is my fundraising video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc0o1XJI5OE&feature=youtu.be
Here is my fundraising website:
LEX: That’s impressive! Being in a different country, costs can easily pile up, whether that’s lunch money or travel money. How did you manage financially in Korea during your three-week long stay?
NEHA: I was lucky enough to find a part-job there in Korea as one of my Nepalese senior helped me in getting the job. I worked in a Nepalese-Indian restaurant and hence in this way I was able to manage financially in Korea and pay back my loans as well. I worked there only during weekends as for weekdays; I was busy with my class preparations and extra-curricular activities.
LEX: Hats off to your dedication! So about Korea, tell us all! It’s a dream country for many – for so many different reasons. How was it for you?
NEHA: My experience in Korea cannot be described in words as it was beyond my expectations. It was my dream country and never in my deepest thoughts had I felt that I would go there and study. Being a young kpop fan girl myself, I was always into Kdramas and kstyle in my high school days but as time passed by, I realized Korea is not only a place for all these hauls, there was more to it and finally I decided to let go of all my instincts and went there to pursue “Psychology” which in many ways is related to my major Public Health.
Korea University was founded in 1905 and it is one of the top three universities in Korea. Starting with the orientation, program schedule, staffs, student support center, extracurricular activities and field trips – they were all up to the mark. I joined two classes: “Psychology- Mind and Brain” and Beginning Korean 1. The education quality was phenomenal as there were international professors from different universities along with internationally experienced local professors. My Professor in Psychology had a keen interest in neuroscience and was equally interested in teaching and sharing his experiences, researches in this field. I enjoyed all of his classes as I got to learn new things everyday such as the structure and different functions of the brain, how brain controls one’s mind and behaviour, how and why brain is considered to be the vital part of one’s body, what drugs are used to relieve the human brain, brain colouring projects, the anatomy and sheep brain dissection and many more. I secured a good score for my mid and final exam and was one of the top 5 students among 30 students. Currently, I am preparing myself to transfer those earned credits back in the transcript of my home university. I also learned Beginning Korean with speaking and writing and I am sure that now I can read those vowels and consonants easily. Our Songsengnim “Teacher in Korean” taught students with great enthusiasm and my voice in the class was always at a very high pitch. I enjoyed every bit of my education that I received in Korea University and it was worth all the hard work.
I made a lot of friends from different nationalities who came from China, Australia, America, Singapore, El Salvador, Bolivia and Korea itself. Though it was only for 3 weeks, I made amazing bunch of friends who will be there with me for a lifetime. Being away from home and missing mom, dad and my brother was the hardest part as I wanted them to see my happiness and my success at the same time. It was tough not being able to share everything to them due to time zone difference but I was in frequent contact with them and they always encouraged me to learn more and do more. Maybe because it was my first time going to a developed nation, I had many random thoughts regarding why our country Nepal is still lagging behind and why and how Nepal has so much to do in terms of science and technology. During my stay in Korea, I used to take a subway train from my place to my university every day and it took exactly 7 minutes (20minutes walking distance). During that 7mins I thought how fast life in Korea is starting from transportation, education, work etc. One thing I really loved about Korea was how people were so much organized and systematic at everything they do. I know Nepal has a lot to work on and accomplish to reach those heights but I have positive feelings about it and I really hope people like you, me and many other youths can one day make our country better socially, politically, economically and technology wise.
LEX: That sounds like an incredible experience in three weeks! Now that you are back – what does this year hold academically?
NEHA: I returned back on 19th January 2017 and started my classes from this week. Now that I have returned, I have a lot of things to resume from studies, work-study program and many more. New Spring semester has started with me taking four heavy loaded courses. I have to start looking for internships this Summer and start to work for my final senior thesis which will be in my final year (next year). A lot more challenges coming up but I am now ready and energized for a busy semester ahead of me.
LEX: Well I certainly wish you all the best with the academic year ahead and your final year thesis. Before we wrap this up, what do you aspire to build a career in once finished with education.
NEHA: As a science student, I was asked to pursue a mainstream career of becoming a doctor by my society but my passion was different than theirs. Since childhood, I loved interacting with people. Hence, I aspire to become a Public Health specialist in the future by advocating to the community about different health related issues. I will finish my studies and graduate from Asian University for Women (AUW) in 2018. I am planning to take a gap year so that I can have some work and internship experiences. I will go for a graduate school in a South Asian country, after that I hope to complete my PhD. My vision for my future is to establish my own health organization in my village Mustang and start up my own free health services there with the local health clinics.
LEX: Thanks so much for your time! All the best for everything you do!