South Korea, Cameroon Give Students New Perspectives on Cultures

Allison Hardy’s experiences as a study abroad student in Cameroon have reinforced her knowledge about criticisms of the United States. One common stereotype she encountered is that “all Americans are really wealthy.” In fact, she was asked if she had a huge sweet sixteen birthday bash like what is depicted on television.

Although Hardy ’10 has explained that the majority of Americans are not wealthy, she feels that other issues are harder to explain. For example, she’s gained a new appreciation for the United States’ improving gender equality, fighting homophobia and moving past hetero-normative attitudes, she says.

Sherry Cho ’10, another study abroad student, decided to return to the country of her family: South Korea. Hardy and Cho are among the more than 120 students who are studying abroad this fall, according to the Office of International Studies [OIS].

While Cho has been living with her grandparents in Seoul and attending Yonsei University, Hardy has lived with three different host families in Yaounde, Dschang and Ngaoundere, Cameroon.

“I have really mixed feelings about having three different families over the course of the semester,” Hardy says.

“It’s nice, because that way I’ve really gotten to see a variety of ways of life here and gotten to meet a bunch of awesome people. But on the other hand, every time I leave a family it’s really difficult. And maybe if we could spend more time with a single host family we’d be closer with them and get to be more a part of the family,” Hardy says.

Hardy’s current host family includes six sisters who range in age from 3 to 19.

“I get to come home and hang out and play with my sisters, help cook dinner, do homework, teach my sisters some English while they teach me some Fulfulde [one of the many languages of Cameroon].”

With majors in French and biology, Hardy picked Cameroon partly because it was French-speaking but she’s been exposed to Fulfulde and Bassa because most people don’t speak French at home.

“When I first arrived the language [French] and the new accent were difficult and there were a lot of misunderstandings. I accidentally agreed to marry someone, which was pretty awkward. But they’ve usually been funny,” she says.

Cho has also enjoyed the opportunity to speak Korean more.

“I’ve been improving my Korean through just forcing myself to talk in Korean to friends and reading the newspaper. Texting in Korean has also helped me out,” she says.

Cho, a College of Social Studies and psychology dual major, says she enjoys the international human rights, rule of law, sociological law and international politics courses that she is taking.

“The academics are interesting because the professors try to encourage dialogue and student opinions but Korean studies aren’t accustomed to talking in class and this results in just a couple student talking too much,” Cho says.

“The emphasis on dialogue gives me incentive to do in-depth reading and also helps me integrate the knowledge from all of my classes together. I’m lucky because my classes cover some of the same issues from different perspectives and [that] allows me to remember more from classes.”

Cho also says that she enjoys not having to worry about a car since “the subway and bus system in Seoul is really great.”

Hardy says that the best parts of her educational experience in Cameroon have come in the time spent with her hosts.

“I’ve absolutely learned more French and more about Cameroonian culture with my host families than I’ve learned in my classes,” Hardy says.

Hardy has also had to overcome the challenge of keeping her vegan diet while abroad and mentioned that the vegan lifestyle is not understood by most people in Cameroon.

“Most of my meals are at least prepared with meat, and then I eat around it. Meals are generally a starch of some sort—rice, corn couscous, potatoes, manioc [also known as cassava or yucca] and then a sauce that’s usually a combination of vegetables and meat or fish,” Hardy says. “I’ve asked all of my families to teach me to cook a few things, though, so when I go home I’m excited to try making some of the recipes vegan friendly.

“I’ve discovered some great food here. I’ve learned that there are about a thousand ways to cook plantains and they’re all incredible. And fruit is sold everywhere on the street, papayas, bananas, tangerines, avocados, pineapples. And it’s really cheap compared to prices back home. That’s probably my favorite thing about the food here, the fresh fruit.”

Hardy’s greatest academic challenge has been the research project focusing on the integration of traditional and western medicine in the country, which she needs to complete before leaving Cameroon.

Both Hardy and Cho credit OIS with making their time abroad easier by sending out reminders for class registration and housing selection deadlines.

“[OIS was] also great last semester with planning to go abroad. I was there a lot during drop in hours first picking the program and then getting the application in,” Hardy says.