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Immigrant Success Stories: Hannah Chung

Friday | March 11, 2022 | by Wilma Lee

Immigrant Success Stories Hannah Chung

World Education Services (WES) believes in the power of storytelling and shared resources. In 2019, we reached out to immigrants across North America. We asked about their reasons for leaving home, their challenges along the way, and the advice they would like to share with other newcomers.

In this new blog series, we are now sharing their stories with you. Below is Hannah’s.

Click here to hear from others who have contributed their voices to WES.

Hannah Hye Min Chung’s parents inspired her interest in pursuing an international education. From a young age, her aspiration to become a global citizen started taking root. By the time she turned 25, Hannah had traveled back and forth several times between Korea, Canada, and the United States.

It is fitting that she is now pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Development from the University of Pennsylvania. Below, learn more about this fateful journey.

From Korea to Canada

Hannah began studying English as a young child. She was enrolled in an intensive afterschool program in her home country of South Korea, where she first learned about a program that sends middle school students to Canada. As Hannah recalled, “It was very common in those days to send children for an immersive experience abroad. It seemed like almost everyone I knew was doing it.”

Hannah’s first stop was Maple Ridge, British Columbia. She spent two months of summer school exploring multi-modal approaches to learning. She especially enjoyed the aspects of the culture that acknowledged individualization and rewarded independence—personality traits that are less lauded in South Korea. Shortly after she returned home, Hannah felt like she already missed being in Canada. Soon, she found a way to move back and finish middle school through a Catholic exchange program. She lived with a Christian family for two years during her studies.

Of course, Hannah eventually had to return home for high school. She conferred with family and friends before choosing a foreign-language high school that had an overseas preparation program. She wanted to set herself up for college. Because, although she loved Canada, she had decided that she wanted to get her degree in the United States.

College Life in America

Hannah was determined to attend college in the U.S. She obtained information about what it would be like to study and live there through preparation programs, friends, teachers, and many other connections.

In the end, she was most impressed by Dartmouth. She loved its reputation as a small, liberal arts college, with a focus on humanities. She also liked that it was one of the only universities with a need-blind financial aid policy for international students. Hannah was thrilled to find out that she had been accepted to an undergraduate degree program for History.

One of the things that startled Hannah the most when she arrived at Dartmouth was how much her peers cussed.

And while she says she never felt unwelcome, she did “notice that Dartmouth was really white” and was surprised by how unaware of the rest of the world her fellow students seemed to be. This was one area where Hannah’s expectations had fallen a little short; given the reputation of American universities for attracting international students, she expected her peers to be more well-rounded.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Hannah transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. Hannah continues to meet with, and learn from, other international students and Americans. She finds that her expectations are “still evolving to this day.”

Challenges and Strategies

Hannah had been raised speaking English, and she traveled extensively from a young age. However, she still encountered some cultural hurdles when she entered the workforce in the U.S. For example, networking is not a popular practice in Korea. It would be viewed as “corrupt and an unfair way to influence others.” Therefore, learning to make small talk and develop contacts in the field was a challenge for Hannah.

Hannah also didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to work as an international student and to land a job within the one-year window allowed through Optional Practice Training (OPT). She found this part of her experience “extremely frustrating.”

Hannah took advantage of services at the Dartmouth Career Center. She found several helpful resources there, including a lengthy and detailed guide on networking. However, she thinks that there could be even more information available on topics like salary negotiation and how to write cover letters.

“The No. 1 item on my wish-list would be information on OPT and the difficulty of getting an H-1B visa,” said Hannah. These are the challenges that most impacted her decisions as she left college. She believes that having better information about these topics sooner would have ultimately altered her pathway.

The Future

Hannah says that she never set out to live permanently in either Canada or the United States.

After getting an education, she would like to have a global career. She wants to work on the implementation of educational development, all around the world.  Hannah believes that her next move might take her to a country in Sub-Saharan Africa.

After working there for a few years, who knows where she might travel, live, and work next?

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Wilma Lee is a Credential Examiner at World Education Services.