Hola! Bonjour! Konnichiwa! In how many ways can you say “hello”? Alyssa Yvonne Alipis was a typical Mechanical Engineering student from Mapúa University who wanted to make the most of her stay in college. When the opportunity came, it was “Goodbye, Philippines!” and “Annyeong, Korea!”
It didn’t come easy. After all, you’d pretty much be representing the country in a foreign land.
Was it worth it though? Definitely! We sat down with Alyssa to ask her about her time in Kumoh National Institute of Technology (KIT), North Gyeongsang, South Korea.
The road to Exchange Student status
Before qualifying as an international student, you have to get your grades in order. Alyssa wanted to be an exchange student from the beginning. When Mapúa University’s Office of International Careers and Exchange Programs opened slots, she jumped at the chance.
“The application process usually revolves around getting the requirements as posted by the office, and being endorsed by your professor under your department,” she cites.
While the school offers assistance with the paperwork—the visa, transcript of records, and endorsements—the applicant puts in most of the work. To be considered, you have to reach a certain grade and pass your target university’s screening process.
Mapúa University has 33 partner universities across 16 countries and 21 industry partners across 4 countries. They made sure that where they send their students is compatible with and beneficial to their students’ learning and career objectives.
In Alyssa’s case, she aimed for Korea because of the country’s technological advancements. When she applied for the exchange program, she felt that she’d be able to take home some practices and insights from one of the leaders in global-quality research.
Education, but make it K-Drama
Korea is known for brands like Samsung and Hyundai, both of which she visited on her field trips. It’s a dream come true for a potential engineer who just so happens to also enjoy K-Pop and K-Dramas.
KIT assigned her (and other international students) buddies to help with their needs. No person is an island, and this truth becomes starker for exchange students. The right support can make or break a person’s stay abroad.
“You’ve seen K-Dramas and how they depict Koreans. They live up to the friendliness shown on-screen. In KIT, people were more helpful than I expected,” she said.
Despite the language barrier, which she mentioned was the biggest obstacle, she was able to make the most of her stay.
With the help of both her buddies and technology—thanks to translator apps—Alyssa applied for the laboratories that KIT offered. There, students could pursue their interests or specializations. They can either begin their own research or work as a professor’s research assistant!
Real-life plot twists
She recounts, “There’s this office under my department in KIT called Center for Convergence-Oriented Pro-Mechatronics under Professor Dongwon Shin. Through that, I was able to go to another country. I was able to go to China and Japan for field trips.”
Surprise! Exchange students also have the option to travel further. In her case, KIT had strong connections with symposiums and other institutions in East Asia, which gave their students opportunities to expand their horizons further.
“I also applied for the lab, under Professor Baeksuk Chu. There were 8 people and I was the only girl! Of course, I was grouped with these tall, Korean guys,” she continues.
“We made an intelligent, terrain-overcoming robot. After completing it, we started applying for different competitions. Our team gathered, a lot—not really a lot—maybe 5 or 6 awards? We got cash prizes.”
She goes on to say that all the cash prizes went to the team! All her professor asked for was the trophy as a keepsake.
On top of this, she was also assigned to develop another system for her thesis, which won a silver medal. When we asked her how it felt, she said, “At the time, I was just exploring possible careers.”
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and Alyssa made sure to take hers.
Meanwhile, back home…
Her parents weren’t worried. Mapúa University went to great lengths to ensure that its students will be well taken care of. While absolute safety is never a guarantee, every international program has staff assigned to coordinate with partner institutions.
That aside, the host universities also have agreements with Mapúa. Part of it is for the host university to help students get insured. No one’s getting sick on their watch!
With support from home, the host university, and her newfound friends, Alyssa’s stay in Korea became a K-Dream come true. Yes, it was fun—she went to her share of tourist destinations and K-Pop concerts—but it also gave her treasures that can never be stolen.
Begin your own exchange program journey
When Alyssa came home, she was no longer just a mechanical engineering student. She saw her career path’s role in the context of the world. As someone who was just “exploring career options” at the time, she got way more than she bargained for.
Irreplaceable perspective, lifelong friends, and two years well spent—little did she know that this was how her exchange program would end. She can use the things she took home to get further in her career.
You could take on a similar journey. If you’re still looking for a college, check out schools with strong international ties. Or maybe, give your school’s exchange program a shot! It’s terrifying at the start but fulfilling when it ends—and it all begins with “Hello, I would like to apply.”