By Marie Veillette
Throughout all of the 2014 academic year, junior Jade Choung studied abroad in multiple locations, including Central America and the island of Guam, and teaching English as a second language along the way.
For Choung, traveling has been a lifelong desire, but she wasn’t always confident about going off on her own.
“I’ve always wanted to travel, but I didn’t know about getting a passport,” Choung said. “I kind of felt comfortable here. You feel comfortable when you live in the Midwest.”
But from the long list of places she’s been, people wouldn’t think she ever had doubts about jetting off to a new location thousands of miles away from her Fargo home.
Her last year of college was spent in two foreign locations, and she’s also visited Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Nyrobi, Myanmar and Southeast Asia.
Last spring, Choung arranged her schedule to take all online classes. Then she booked a flight to Central America. Due to her extensive traveling outside of academic purposes, Choung had friends in multiple countries on the continent. Though she wasn’t technically enrolled in any study abroad program, she earned credits while exploring and sightseeing.
Because she was taking classes through MSUM and not tied to a campus, Choung took the opportunity to immerse herself in the culture.
“I don’t really travel to where you would say it’s luxurious by any means,” she said. “It’s more of a backpacker style. I got to see a lot more of the actual culture.”
This fall, Choung participated in the National Student Exchange program through MSUM. She chose to study on the island of Guam because “it was farthest away from Fargo.”
“Another big reason why I picked it was because it has a lot of influence from the Japanese, and the Spanish used to be over there, so I got to see a big mix of culture.”
She added that choosing Guam was a last minute decision, as most of her travel plans were made, but “it was a really good choice.”
“When it came to Guam, I was on my own,” she said. “I had to get a car on my own, otherwise it’s kind of hard to travel around the island.”
This experience included a dorm room and physical campus with classes to attend.
“I lived in the dorms and made friends right off the bat,” she said.
While both experiences were valuable, Choung said they differed in ways she was and was not expecting.
She found Guam was much more similar to the United States.
“In Guam I felt like there was a lot of western influence,” she said. “Media has a huge impact. Everybody is thinking about beauty. In Guatemala people are thinking about how they are going to supply for their family.”
Choung was also surprised at the prevalent prejudice she encountered on the island.
“The Islanders in Guam, they’re from different islands, and they would speak about each other not the most positively,” she said. “That was kind of hard for me to accept.”
But she said the differences she’s noticed in the multiple countries she’s visited has made her “more open to different perspectives.”
“I learned that in this country I do feel spoiled,” she said. “I have everything I really need. I’ll travel and someone will not have enough money to afford food or might have no shirts that don’t have any stains on them. It changes your life and makes you want to do better for your local community.
“One guy I met, all he wanted in his entire life was one shirt that was his, so that was pretty amazing. I was just able to donate, and that changed a lot of things for him, surprisingly.”
As far as how her major ties in to all her experiences, Choung said she feels more confident she is pursuing the right career.
“As a future teacher it makes me realize that I can have a big impact on the world,” she said.
But how could a college student afford to travel so frequently? Choung is a popular artist on deviantART, producing commissions for anyone from her fans to popular music artists like Skrillex. She uses the profits from her art, plus general donations from her fans, to fund her trips across the globe.
“Some of my sponsors like that I’m a traveling artist,” Choung said. “I promote myself as an artist that doesn’t like to stay in one place, that likes to travel. I’ve always wanted to see if my art can get farther than just the states.”
When she is ready to fund another trip, Choung lets her followers know.
“I open up a little post saying I’m willing to do drawings for this amount, and I have this many slots. Usually they really support me. I save the money and go.”
For students who may be apprehensive about taking their college experience to a new country, Choung has advice to belay the nerves.
“You should be more excited than scared, because I think that puts up a wall,” she said.
She suggests doing research to discover more information about possible destinations, contacting people who have traveled, like herself or professors in language departments or the study abroad office, as well as visiting government websites to find out what countries require visas to enter and researching other laws that may be pertinent.
Choung will speak in March to Spanish classes at North High School about her travels and encourage students to continue with their language learning courses and consider traveling.
“I just want to share my love for different cultures and people all over the world.”
Choung has another trip to Guatemala planned for March.