HomeNews & Views Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Gilman and Freeman-ASIA Scholar in South Korea

Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Gilman and Freeman-ASIA Scholar in South Korea


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Nabila—a Barnard Psychology major who speaks Bengali, Korean and some Spanish.

Ask Away 5 Questions banner image with Nabila portrait

1. You’re currently in Seoul, South Korea for your semester abroad with the Gilman Scholarship and the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship. What got you interested in Korean? How did that lead to your decision to study abroad?

It started with me listening to K-pop and watching K-dramas way back in 6th grade. Because I watched so many K-dramas, sometime in high school I started distinguishing many Korean words from my dramas and learned bits of the language in this way; I also took to teaching myself the alphabet because I was so interested in learning the language  and even tried to learn Korean from a textbook.

I got the opportunity to explore Korea for the first time in 12th grade as a youth ambassador through a program called Project Bridge, and then later got to officially learn the language in college for the first time. After having learned the language officially for 3 years, I wanted to be able to get more practice speaking it and figured studying abroad in Korea would be the best opportunity. This was also influenced by my short 10-day trip to Korea in 12th grade and my desire to travel the world and learn about all the different cultures of the world first-hand.

Nabila standing beside a stone with writing in another language

2. So far, what’s been the best part of choosing to study abroad? What are you looking forward to the most this semester?

The best part has been how much I have been able to travel the country, try new experiences and just learn about Korea.

I’m not used to seeing new places and trying new foods since my family doesn’t travel much and my dietary restrictions can make trying foods in new places difficult, but I’ve been constantly pushing myself out of my comfort zone in order to make the most of my time here.

I have hiked mountains just as the locals do during their pastime and learned so many little things about Korea that I might otherwise have never known—for example, the alleyways are the best places to go to try out new and good eats, even though I would probably avoid them in the States.

I’m looking forward to traveling all over the country, from rural cities to metropolitan places deeply hidden, all the while being able to improve my Korean as I talk to more Koreans. As I talk to more locals, I want to try to expand their perspectives, even if it’s by just a bit more by allowing them to meet a Muslim American, who doesn’t fit their typical idea of an American, and by also showing them how Korea is also relevant in other countries from the fact that I, a non-Korean, am learning it and know a lot about Korean culture.

Besides this, I am also looking forward to some of my classes, because I like my Chinese Characters and International Business Communication courses as they’re different from what I’ve been learning at Barnard and Columbia.

3. Do you have any funny stories about using your Korean in Seoul?

I’m not sure about a funny story, but I have a heartwarming story from was when I was buying some fruit from a sweet grandma on the roadside:

I was able to hold a conversation with her all in Korean as I helped my friends buy fruit from her and at the end of the experience she said my Korean was really good and on top of that I was really pretty too. The whole experience made me feel all warm and fuzzy because her sweet, toothless smile reminded me of my own grandma in Bangladesh and our conversation made me feel like I was maybe finally becoming a part of Korea instead of just a passing traveler.

4. You’re planning on sharing your experiences on your YouTube channel, nabstheyoutuber. What types of videos can we look forward to? Are you planning on incorporating the Korean language?

Nabila standing in an archwayFor my duration in Korea, you can expect to see many vlogs of all the various things I experience, from events and the places I visit to the food I eat!

I hope to document as much of my trip as I can so that I can show my viewers what Korea is like, whether they have ever go abroad or not, and so other people, particularly Muslims and people of color, can see a bit of what to expect if I inspire them to come here.

Reaching out to others interested in traveling abroad is important to me because I myself also looked into many videos before coming here so I had a better sense of what to expect.

I’ll try to make some commentary as I film, but I might also make a separate video where I simply speak to some of the experiences I haven’t been able to film. I also hope to challenge myself and make a video or vlog of some sort in which I only/primarily speak in Korean.

Additionally, because I’m unsure of how often I’ll be able to post videos as they take time to create, if anyone is interested I would suggest following my Instagram account, nabsthekpopper. I post more often on that account as I am already posting there to share my raw experiences in Korea with my family, friends and other people who are interested in studying abroad.

5. How does Korean figure in your future career plans?

Nabila with her hands in the air, in a fogMy initial career plans were to work in marketing or somewhere in the business field, so I hoped learning more about Korea might broaden my perspective since globalization is something that will continue to happen in business and become even more relevant.

However, after having gone through the study abroad process and having come to Korea, I’ve found that sharing the importance of learning other languages and about other cultures and how to respect them is very important to me, so I might consider career options that have to do with this such as diplomacy or a non-profit organization.

Hopefully my experience abroad as well as my being a part of many cultural clubs on campus will help contribute to this career path.

BONUS QUESTION: What advice do you have for other students aspiring to study abroad?

My advice for other students, especially if they come from a low-income background but have big dreams, is to just go ahead and apply. Often times we feel guilty or discouraged about applying, but there’s definitely no reason to feel this way!

Nabila leaning on an ornate columnStudying abroad is a HUGE thing and requires a lot of research and planning, but if you are committed to wanting to do it and come across the opportunity, I would advise students to apply even if they think they don’t have the money or their parents won’t allow it.

There are plenty of scholarships out there to help with the cost, in addition to any aid your college might give you, and if you show your parents how serious you are and that you can be responsible for yourself, then even they will eventually come around enough to let you go. Of course, students should start warming their parents up to the idea of studying abroad as soon as they know they want to do it because it’s something that their parents will definitely need time to accept, or at least get used to before thinking of accepting.


Are you interested in Korean scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with Korean page to learn more. Or maybe you’re considering a grant or fellowship, like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program or Freeman-ASIA Scholarship Program? Check out our Grants & Scholarships page for information on available opportunities.

And as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!