SARASOTA, Fla. (May 19, 2015) – While most students are enjoying a dip in the pool or simply a break from studies, Moe Maung and Kathy Vu will spend their summer sitting in class in South Korea.
The two, who also happen to be in a relationship, are enrolled at Seoul’s Yonsei University as part of USF’s Summer Study Abroad program.
They’re among four USF Sarasota-Manatee students, along with Emily Herman and Kailey Fischer, who received scholarships to travel overseas, including merit scholarships from USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Global Engagement Office.
The fact that Maung and Vu will travel together makes the trip extra special.
“It’s almost like planning an anniversary trip, but we’ll be studying together,” Vu said.
Before earning admission to the six-week Yonsei International Summer School, which attracts hundreds of students globally each year, the two were involved in a near two-year relationship. Their anniversary will coincide with the trip.
Each submitted scholarship applications under requirements of USFSM’s Global Engagement Office, while also applying separately to study abroad at Yonsei – not knowing whether both, one or neither would ultimately be accepted into the program.
They chalked up their mutual success to a happy coincidence – coupled with hard work.
“We were very worried. I was worried she would get accepted over me,” Maung said. “If that happened, I’d still want her to go. I wouldn’t take that away from her.”
Both, meanwhile, are polar opposites academically and will not attend classes together. Maung, 19, is a biology major focused on physics and genetic science. He said he hopes to learn more about genetics and perhaps gain a new perspective on the intricate discipline from Yonsei instructors.
Vu, 20, will study business management and marketing. Aside from her studies, she admits a curiosity about South Korean culture, including its mix of modern and traditional, as well as the near-obsessive drive of South Korean students toward education.
“It’s very competitive over there,” she said. “I take my education seriously and I like to be around people who feel the same.”
The two will stay in separate dorm rooms on campus and expect a full day of classes four days a week. When not studying, they look forward to exploring the city.
Set amidst the bustling capital, Yonsei is easily accessible by train and bus to downtown and nearby cities.
Maung said he’s interested in visiting the region’s ancient temples, but he also wants to soak in downtown’s vibrant hip-hop scene. Vu said she’s excited about the prospect of hopping a train with Maung to take in the sights at nearby cities and villages.
“It’s definitely nice to travel with someone you’re close to,” she said.
Neither of the Sarasota residents is fluent in Korean, and while both have been abroad, it’s been years since either has traveled extensively.
Vu twice visited relatives in Vietnam, the last time 10 years ago. Maung, born in Myanmar, immigrated to California as a boy. At age 5, he and his family settled in Sarasota.
The two met at Sarasota High School and for years cultivated nothing more than a friendship. Maung asked Vu to the senior prom and she accepted, figuring they would attend as friends. A romance developed, however, and that relationship carried over into USF Sarasota-Manatee.
They said they had hoped to visit Yonsei last summer after their freshman year, but Maung was committed to an internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, scuttling the plan.
This year, they made Yonsei a priority, although they admitted it was long shot to be accepted together.
After applying, they succumbed to weeks of worry that neither would be accepted or earn the necessary scholarship funds to travel. Vu said she quashed any talk of Yonsei for fear of jinxing the plan.
Then in late February, the two attended an information session for study-abroad applicants when they bumped into Rene Sanchez, assistant director for education abroad at USF in Tampa.
“Congratulations,” he told them. They both had made it.
They later received emails confirming their acceptance as well as their scholarship approvals. Among others, Maung received a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and Vu earned a Clyde G. Nixon International Business Endowment Scholarship.
“We hugged. It was a complete surprise,” Maung said. “I was very relieved. We’re just happy to be going together.”
Also selected to study abroad, Herman will study in Ireland and Fischer in Spain.
The four students are the first to earn merit scholarships from USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Global Engagement Office since its formation last year. The office coordinates a variety of international initiatives, including study-abroad scholarships. Visit http://usfsm.edu/global/ to learn more.
To learn about giving to these or other programs at USF Sarasota-Manatee, contact Dennis Stover at (941) 359-4582.