Tag Archives: Justine Yu

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Navigating the Rocky Waters of my Kiwi Study Abroad

(featured photo by www.aspiringguides.com; All post photos by Justine)

“Oh my god—what is Magnolia Bakery like?”

“New York in the winter seems so fabulous. All those fur coats!”

“Wait, you said you’re from New Jersey? Do you know anybody in the mob?”

These were the questions I faced on my second day of school in Auckland, New Zealand, thousands of miles away from New Jersey. They may have been the same questions as my first day, only I couldn’t quite understand the accents just yet, comprehending requests to state my name and directions on where to sit in my classrooms.

I had recently moved from an uncertain life in Jersey to an even more unknown chapter in New Zealand. Back in the US, I had just started my sophomore year in a new school, only to be told in December that my mom wanted to go on an adventure and take my younger sister and I to New Zealand, where she had family. Leaving our father, I found myself a few months later in February unpacking my single suitcase in a new apartment, new city, new country, new time zone.

Looking back on it now as a recent college grad, I could have—and should have—handled the move differently. I mean, who would have been unhappy if they woke up to this view at their grandparents’ house?

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..or to walk up these steps every morning and be taught by Oxford-educated instructors?

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…or to know that this scene, free of any magical Instagram filter, would only take a quick hop on the freeway?

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But those condensed two years in New Zealand—I was deemed bright enough to skip a year and spent my junior and senior years there—were probably the darkest years of my life. Part of it was due to personal struggles in not being strong enough to handle such a move. Since my dad was back in America, I had to be the one my mom relied upon around the house, be it gardening, making sure our utilities were taken care of, or keeping track of our finances. However, one reason for my unhappiness in the Land of the Long White Cloud is because I expected too much.

Now, even though I had visited NZ as a tourist visiting family, a visitor’s experience of life in a country abroad (although they share your common language!) is still drastically different than calling it home. As an American teenager, I had simply waltzed through my school doors on my first day expecting people to like me and to want to get to know me. I’d expected that things people would be “like Americans, but different”—straight-shooters who were warm and open.

What I found instead was a society where people were friendly, but reserved. In fact, I had a teacher later tell me, after I had confided in her that I felt like I wasn’t making close friendships (something that everybody wants in high school, am I right?), that Kiwis were people who kept their inner feelings and even personality traits a secret, even to their oldest friends of decades. After a semester at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, I found this very similar to the British way of life as well.

And in hindsight, the slightly disappointing experience I had could have been completely circumvented if I had come through those arrival gates at Auckland Airport with an open mind, free of expectations. I should also have done more research instead of assuming everything would work itself out seamlessly. To my credit, some of the discomfort I encountered was due to college preparation stress: my classmates were coasting on their assignments, aiming to attend the local Auckland University, or if they were really ambitious, maybe overseas at an Australian institution. I had the additional obstacle course of navigating a new curriculum in addition to taking the SATs overseas with zero outside help like tutoring.

Most importantly, I should have enjoyed the great moments that did eventually happen. I am incredibly, deeply grateful to my parents for the opportunity of such a life experience. Once college actually rolled around, I felt infinitely more prepared than all the other freshmen, knowing that I now had the strength and grit to face whatever was coming my way. Because of college, we all ended up moving back to the US, but fortunately as a permanent resident, I have the freedom of returning to NZ whenever I like.

Thanks to this episode in my life, it pointed out what my career aspirations could be like. This international experience opened my eyes to the importance of communications and public relations that could resonate with a variety of markets. As such, it led to my interest and subsequent internships at places like the Senate and even Al Roker Entertainment, helping develop reality shows. This drive to succeed and attention to fostering relationships has awoken my interest in pursuing a career in PR, consulting, or possibly even diplomacy–it’s true, the struggle you’re in today develops the strength you need for tomorrow.

  

Justine Yu

Justine is a recent graduate of Rutgers University looking to get started in the public relations, diplomacy, or entertainment industry. If you don't want to keep up with the Kardashians, you can join her journey in navigating the post-graduate world at justineyu.com.

books

Tips from My Scotland Study Abroad

(Featured photo by www.freepik.com; All post photos by Justine)

As a newly-minted Rutgers grad, one question I’ve fielded a surprising number of times concerned my “best memory of Rutgers”. Even more surprising is my answer: the time I studied abroad for a semester at the University of St Andrews.

If you’re not familiar with Rutgers, you should be: founded in 1766 as America’s eighth-oldest college, it is the public research university of New Jersey that’s a member of the Big 10 Conference with alums that include governors, senators, vice presidents, and even media figures like Mario Batali (we’re really proud of you, Mario!). It’s also one of the best universities in the world in terms of diversity, having a sizable chunk of its undergraduate population as the first in their families to attend college.

During my fall semester of junior year, however, I longed for a different experience–the grass is always greener, right? I wanted to experience an international life where I wouldn’t have a terribly difficult time assimilating, nor an unforgivable time difference, and an environment where I could hit the ground running, so to speak, especially if I were only to spend a semester there.

The University of St Andrews was the perfect choice. Situated in St Andrews, Scotland, it was picture-perfect, nestled in a sleepy “town-and-gown” area that 1. was English-speaking 2. had a doable time difference to keep in touch with family and 3. was centrally located enough to reach the touristy bits of London/Edinburgh/Europe but also was isolated and special. I mean, how many people do you know have been to Scotland, even though it’s so accessible? St Andrews is also famous for its golfing, hosting a myriad of golf tournaments that provide for some great celeb-spotting, and the student clubs even get in on it by having golf outings or just holding their special events at the line of hotels on the shore.

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From January to June 2013, I was in an amazing, bizarre, grandiose, and illuminating bubble that helped open my eyes to the workings of the world, and I’d already thought myself to be a pretty solid world traveler. First of all, the school itself will demand rigorous attention. I’m very happy that I chose to attend St Andrews over other study abroad programs where I could have floated through my academics. I really didn’t mind the fact that I was taking courses that factored into my GPA because I got to attend classes in halls like these:

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In fact, one of my favorite nooks for knocking out essays was in the Classics department, which was situated on prime real estate because you had views like this:

And yes, that’s the ocean you’re seeing!

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Since it was such a small university, student life can be quite inhibitive if you’re used to being on a huge campus, like I was. But it was the perfect opportunity to thoroughly explore the town, and if I ever got bored, I could always dip out for a weekend. Students usually busied themselves by indulging in the sophisticated foodie/bar scene thanks to the higher-end hotels in town, or with the societies (student orgs/clubs) that they joined. London was a six hour train ride away, and the nearest major airport (Edinburgh) could take you to a plethora of other European countries for jaw-dropping prices. I bought a ticket to Berlin at only £25 (around $40). I usually got started with a jog on the beach. Literally across the street from my dorm was water and sand in front of me! Fun fact: my friend told me that he was able to watch Rowan Atkinson film his Chariots of Fire skit for the London 2012 Olympics from his room–in the same exact spot where the movie was actually filmed.

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Now, making friends is something people fret over right before a big life change. A study abroad experience is no different. Before arriving, I hadn’t realized just how large the American population there was, in terms of study abroad students like myself, or others who named it as their home university. Regardless, if you wanted to fit in with the Brits, an American accent just won’t cut it unless you have an interesting background. Needless to say, I played up my schooling in New Zealand in order to add to my American study abroad friend group. Regardless of that, the town itself is comprised of posh students who fuel their club meetings with port and cheese instead of the old pizza standby, and any party you were invited to was usually implicitly black-tie…sometimes even white.

Studying abroad teaches you so many things that college in your home country doesn’t: how to take care of yourself in a foreign land, how to really pack your day, and how to make new connections with unfamiliar people. In my case, it also taught me a stronger self and to not be afraid to be alone. For spring break, I ended up traveling by myself for three weeks to Milan, Venice, Berlin and London. Believe me, nothing will tell you how independent and strong you actually are like ducking out of honeymooners’ photos near the Grand Canal in Venice or trying to find your hotel at 10pm in a deserted Milanese street!

  

Justine Yu

Justine is a recent graduate of Rutgers University looking to get started in the public relations, diplomacy, or entertainment industry. If you don't want to keep up with the Kardashians, you can join her journey in navigating the post-graduate world at justineyu.com.