Scholar Reflection: International Program

By Giselle Fesalvo, Highland Park High School '17

Through The Experiment in International Living, and sponsorship from the Schuler Scholar Program, I was granted the amazing opportunity to travel and study abroad in South Korea for a month during the summer of 2016.  The focus of my program was social justice and peace studies.  Through discussion and workshops, each individual grew in many aspects from individual empowerment and in group dynamics.
Sixteen teenagers, from all walks and backgrounds of life, came together with one common interest: social justice.  This allowed for deep insightful conversations, inspiring ideas, and motivational spirits throughout our program.  We talked for hours about women’s rights, along with LGBTQ+ rights.  We had many late nights talking about our experiences with marginalization and there were many times where we learned from each other’s different perspectives of life.  For the first time in seventeen years, I felt empowered by my community to share my ideas and thoughts.  I felt as if my vocal contribution meant just as much as the next person’s, and I didn’t feel as though my voice was suppressed by those around me.  We discussed things that people don’t want to talk about because we understood that sometimes the things people don’t want to talk about are the things that should be discussed the most.
Besides the maturation and growth we experienced from a social justice aspect, we all definitely grew in a cultural aspect as well.  We traveled across all of South Korea, from the border of North Korea, to the southern end of Busan.  Staying in a hostel instead of a hotel allowed for us to truly get in touch with the culture of South Korea, even meeting other tourists and hearing their stories of how they ended up where they were.  The homestay was a remarkable experience, and it was very heart breaking to say goodbye to our host families.  They welcomed us with open arms, and they were definitely a family my own family would be glad to know was taking care of me.
I believe Schuler prepared me very well for this program, teaching me the fundamentals of advocating for myself, mentoring me in ways so that culture shock wouldn’t be as impacting, and even preparing me in the sense that they helped me build confidence in myself from the beginning.  However, one of my biggest challenges in regards to traveling internationally was adjusting back to the norms of America and overcoming reverse culture shock.  After talking so much about social justice and being surrounded by a community so passionate about what we were learning, coming back to my community where it is “hush-hush” was very difficult for me… but that doesn’t stop me.  I still feel very strongly about what I learned and will do everything I can to carry on the lessons.
I would like to express my deep and genuine gratitude to both the Schuler Program and to The Experiment for allowing me to embark on such an amazing journey that led to my own personal growth.  Much of what I have learned there can be applied to my everyday living- today and in the future.


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