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Spotlight on our Students: Embracing Adventures and Cultural Perspectives with Sydney Jett `25

Studying abroad offers a unique opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, gain valuable skills, and expand their perspectives. In this interview, we chatted with current Caldwell Fellow, Sydney Jett (Class of 2025), who embarked on a transformative summer experience at Hanyang University in South Korea.

Sydney Jett with a hand-painted self-portrait.

Throughout her journey, she has learned about International Relations, explored Korea’s rich cultural heritage, and discovered the importance of servant leadership in navigating intercultural challenges.

Sydney describes her summer abroad as an exciting experience at Hanyang University’s International School program. Studying International Relations through a Korean lens allowed her to grasp the dynamics of our interconnected world from a fresh perspective. The history of the US seen through Korean culture was particularly captivating. Beyond academics, Sydney eagerly explored Korea’s rich culture, visiting palaces, famous attractions, pop-up stores, cinemas, and even the DMZ border. Each day brought a new adventure to embrace.

The summer experience wasn’t solely about sightseeing; Sydney also aimed to acquire valuable skills and knowledge during her time abroad. She sought to develop intercultural communication skills and enhance her adaptability, recognizing that facing cultural differences would ultimately reinforce her problem-solving abilities and a sense of independence. Along those lines, the principles of servant-leadership played a significant role in navigating this summer experience. Foresight guided Sydney in making thoughtful decisions for herself and her friends abroad. Embracing a servant leader’s creative problem-solving mindset proved useful in overcoming various challenges. Moreover, adopting a systems-thinking approach aided in adapting to the complexities of a new culture.

Sydney exploring a shop during her travels.

The most valuable lesson I am learning during this experience is the mental flexibility and stamina it takes to adapt to an antithetical culture.

Sydney admits that the summer experience tested her endurance, especially as an introvert in an extroverted setting. Nevertheless, she embraced the opportunity to recharge creatively and make the most of each experience. This connected to the most valuable lesson she’s learned, which was the significance of mental flexibility and stamina in adapting to a foreign culture. She shared a humorous example of initially perceiving the Korean public transportation system as offensive due to the pushing and shoving, which contrasts with American norms. However, she quickly learned to appreciate the difference in cultural perspectives, leading to a more profound understanding and open-mindedness.

Since this was Sydney’s first time leaving the country, she states that approaching this experience with an open mind and limited expectations proved to be a wise decision. The language barrier posed unexpected challenges, highlighting the importance of effective communication in daily life. And despite the challenges, there are profound rewards. Sydney said the most rewarding aspect of her time in South Korea was undoubtedly the immersion into Korean culture. Exploring diverse markets, palaces, and cafes, and trying various foods enriched her understanding and appreciation of Korea’s heritage.

Knowing that many Caldwell Fellows aspire to study abroad, Sydney emphasizes entering such an experience with an open mind and no preconceived notions, allowing for a more enriching and flexible journey. Additionally, she encourages others to find ways to explore independently, as this discomfort can lead to invaluable personal growth.

Sydney Jett (left) and Freddy Kelley (right).

There are going to be lots of times when you are uncomfortable while abroad and I learned quickly that being uncomfortable is positive and means you’re “doing the experience right”.

Sydney’s summer abroad experience in South Korea has proven to be an enlightening adventure. From academic studies and cultural explorations to honing servant-leadership principles, the journey has left a lasting impact on her personal growth and perspective. With valuable advice for aspiring study abroad students, Sydney serves as an inspiration for those seeking to embark on their own global adventure of learning and self-discovery.

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