Jemma Hwang is a DAAD Young Ambassador, currently studying German and Bioengineering at the University of Georgia (UGA). She studied abroad in Germany for one year; first in Bonn and then in Karlsruhe. As a DAAD Young Ambassador, she helps promote study abroad in Germany on her home campus and supports DAAD at events such as most recently the Diversity Abroad conference and its Global Student Leadership Summit.

Our DAAD network is a vast and global net of connections between DAAD and its award winners, ambassadors, alumni, grant holders, future applicants – all united by their love for study and research abroad and all things German.

We asked Jemma a few questions about her work and experience:

  1. You are a Korean-American female STEM student. How did your background shape your study abroad experience?
    The media that Germans consume about the U.S. mainly exposes them to white Americans, so meeting me is often a surprise to them. They’re curious about my story of immigration, and how I learned English and adopted the American culture. Germans never meant anything by it when they asked where I was from; I had an American accent and that stood out among other Asian exchange students. Therefore, I decided to change my outlook on this question. They wanted to get to know me, especially my cultural background. I was happy to share that I felt  I wasn’t quite Korean or American though, because my perspectives were a mix of my two cultural identities, indecipherable to me as to which parts belonged to which culture. In Germany, I introduced myself to other exchange students from all over the world. I found myself easily able to connect with students from “Western” and “Eastern” backgrounds because of my Asian-American identity. I was even able to merge the two groups together during a social gathering one night, and I felt an immense pride of being able to act as a bridge between them. The in-between feeling of not being quite Asian or American came together here under a positive light.
  2. As a DAAD Young Ambassador, you recently attended the Diversity Abroad Global Student Leadership Summit. Can you tell us about the summit and what you gained from it?
    Words are not enough to explain the almost spiritual experience I had at the Global Student Leadership Summit. The students there were of diverse backgrounds (i.e. ethnicity, socio-economic class, geographic location, studies/majors, study abroad location, etc.), and because of this diversity, I could feel a real sense of acceptance and validation. When students told their stories of doubt and hardship before, during, and after their study abroad experiences, I truly empathized with their sentiments. I felt understood and accepted without anybody explicitly saying: “I accept you exactly as you are.” In my search to give back to the world, I always felt discouraged by the negative outlooks of media and the people around me. But every students’ and speakers’ successes told me that I, too, could dream of making that level of impact on my community. Through practical workshops we learned to unpack our study abroad experiences and articulate them in order to relay our incredible experiences to our friends, family, and even future employers. Our resumes were critiqued and tips on professional etiquette during interviews or networking were given as well. There were also multiple opportunities to meet and to network with professionals attending the Diversity Abroad conference.
  3. What was the most challenging experience in studying and living abroad in Germany?
    As someone who had already adjusted to a new culture, language, and environment, I was confident that I would be able to adjust quickly when I arrived in Germany. But what I didn’t realize is that as a child, the burden of adjustment really had fallen on my parents. I didn’t have to think about currency exchanges, visas, transportation, school registrations, grocery shopping, living arrangements, and so on. Even with all the preparations I made prior to my departure, I felt lost and alone, since no one in my life had ever lived in Germany before. I was afraid, but I had to keep going or remain trapped in my situation. I asked people around me. Other students on exchange shared my frustrations and were also happy to provide advice based on their experiences. They gave me tips on where to shop for cheaper linens or Asian food items.
  4. What was the most ‘German’ experience you have had while there?
    I have a few, but I think any sort of celebration or festival like the Cannstatter Volksfest or Weihnnachtsmarkt felt incredibly ‘German’ to me. I saw all the heart-shaped Lebkuchen hanging in booths and was able to taste/smell the foods from the other booths that I was only able to see in pictures or videos shown during class back in the U.S. The collective singing in the tents at Volksfests was also very ‘German’. There is a similar atmosphere at American football games, so it felt familiar but also ‘German.’
  5. What advice would you give traditionally underrepresented students who are thinking of studying abroad?
    I heard this from one of the speakers at the Global Student Leadership Summit: Do something that scares you to death. I may have been scared and uncomfortable countless of times while I was abroad in Germany, but I always thought that I’d regret it more if I didn’t follow through with taking a solo Italy trip or going skiing in the Austrian Alps. They ended up being the highlights of my time there, so I agree with the speaker completely. Be uncomfortable. Be scared. But do it anyway.
    Another piece of advice: Maximize your opportunity. Many opportunities that I have taken, have never appeared to me as a diamond at first. I’ve had to dig deep to find its true potential. I’ve had to polish it and shape it to what I want. The opportunities don’t become gems by wishing it was something else. Be present and really take advantage of who you are around, where you are, etc.
  6. Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?
    I’m quite good at cooking Kartoffelpuffers! I just didn’t have the correct grater here, so my last attempt didn’t turn out too well in the U.S. We also have apple sauce here, so it’s not too difficult to make.
  7. Who has inspired you the most in your studies to date and why?
    I have always admired women of color (WOC) in the STEM fields who persist and are recognized for their intellectual contributions. Not just because they are women or because they are people of color, but truly because of their intellectual feat. Katherine Johnson is one of those women, and I admire her greatly. There may be hardship for me as a Asian woman going into the field of engineering, but knowing that women like Katherine Johnson and other women have been able to overcome the obstacles that come with being a WOC, I feel like a part of their story and feel stronger to continue. They confirm that I don’t have to sacrifice my love for science to be a woman, a Korean-American, a budding scientist/engineer, and a global citizen.

Editor’s note:

Weihnachtsmarkt: Traditional German Christmas Market
Lebkuchen: Gingerbread
Kartoffelpuffer: Potato pancakes

Learn more about the DAAD Young Ambassador Program

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