While the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, Diandra Freese first encountered it in South Korea back in January. Freese, a senior hospitality, restaurant and tourism management major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she wanted to immerse herself in a different culture by gaining more experience in the tourism industry and organizing outdoor excursions for tourists through International Studies Abroad, but due to COVID-19, her trip was cut short.
After returning to America, Freese was given the opportunity to complete her internship remotely while submitting her work using Google Docs.
“As of now, I am researching and typing up tourism articles for my boss to post on the company website,” Freese said. “I’m happy that I still have the chance to work remotely because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working for Adventure Korea and my boss has taught me so much about the tourism industry.”
The 22-year-old traveled abroad for the first time for her spring semester. Her dad’s past experience played a large role in her decision to pick Seoul, South Korea.
“When I was little, my dad traveled to South Korea for the Air Force and he loved the country, so I wanted to experience it for myself as well,” Freese said.
Freese stumbled upon the Intentional Studies Abroad internship program through the UNL Education Abroad website.
After Freese sent her resume and cover letter to multiple tourism companies around Seoul, she received an offer at the end of August from the tourism company Adventure Korea, at which she would be forming trip itineraries, guiding tours and more.
The program was supposed to last from Jan. 8 to April 4, but was cut short in February. Dave Long, director of Global Safety & Security at UNL, informed Freese on Feb. 26 that she had to return to the United States no later than Feb. 28.
“I was heartbroken to have to leave early because I had fallen in love with South Korea,” Freese said.
Freese’s ISA Program Advisor Mary Bowen said this was the hardest part to overcome at ISA.
“Having to deliver such disappointing news to so many students was painful,” Bowen said. “Not only Diandra, but the vast majority of our students across programs were understandably saddened and reluctant to have to cut their programs short.”
Upon returning to Seoul after a work trip to PyeongChang at the end of January, Freese first heard about the coronavirus. At that time, she said she wasn’t afraid of it because the total number of global cases was only around 30.
“I would see posters around shopping malls that discussed preventative measures to take and businesses started to set up hand sanitizer stations. The subways would make an announcement about the coronavirus in Korean, English and Chinese over the intercoms. But everyone was going on with their daily lives like normal,” Freese said. “The subways were still constantly crowded, businesses remained open and the only thing that seemed different was an increase in the number of people wearing masks.”
Freese was the only student in the ISA program at Adventure Korea, but heard there were two other UNL students who were going to be studying abroad at Korea University through ISA. Freese said she was heartbroken to leave South Korea because of the people she met and the places she had experienced.
“My bosses at Adventure Korea became my family and I wasn’t ready to leave them yet,” Freese said. “My roommate in my apartment was an ISA study abroad student who had been attending a university in Korea since the previous semester and we became really close. The country itself was amazing and I had finally fully adjusted and was even starting to learn the language. I never saw it coming, which is what hurt the most, because I only had two days to say goodbye to my family at Adventure Korea, my ISA friends and a beautiful country I had enjoyed living in for the past month and a half.”
Since she was only in Korea for half of her program, she is getting a reimbursement for the half she missed out on. She is still on track to graduate in May and looks forward to immersing herself in the culture again.
“Some words of wisdom I’ve been telling myself to get me through this crisis is ‘everything happens for a reason,’” Freese said. “I plan on returning to Korea later this year to teach English, so I’ve been keeping my head up to look forward to my return to the country I fell in love with. Even though my experience was cut short, I tell myself to appreciate the time I had there, and I’m grateful for all the memories I made and the amazing people I met.”