With a degree in International Studies from Yonsei University in South Korea she is now pursuing her masters in China! Her ultimate goal.....to use her understanding of East Asian counties to help form strong partnerships between Rwanda and East Asia.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Claudine Ukubereyimfura and I am from Huye district in the Southern Province of Rwanda and I graduated from Gashora Girls Academy in September of 2015 with a strong interest in politics and Korean culture. My goal was to study in Korea and I was lucky to be admitted to Yonsei University. In 2016 I left for South Korea excited to start my new life in a country I considered to be my second home, even though I had never been there before. In February 2020, I graduated with a major in International Studies.
You studied in Yonsei University in South Korea for your undergraduate studies. What did you study and what interested you in this major?
At Yonsei University, I attended Underwood International College (UIC) which is a unique college with an all-English program, bringing together Korean students and International students from all over the world. Majoring in International Studies I took classes in politics, international relations, economics, and history. I found most of my classes very interesting mainly because most of my professors were experts in areas of Korean politics and China-Korea-US relations. My professors offered me a Korean perspective to world politics, which is something I guess I could only get form Korea! I was really able to explore my interest in Korean domestic politics and East Asian international relations. Along the way I also developed interest in China.
Thinking back to your first months in South Korea, what were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge during my first months in South Korea was not being able to speak Korean. Although at UIC all classes are in English, speaking Korean was critical for daily living. Thankfully, during my first year, one of my Gashora sisters, Lisa, was there. Lisa had taken one year to learn Korean and she helped me a lot especially during my first months in Korea. My lack of Korean skills and my cultural barriers didn’t really seem to prevent me from having a good time in my first year. I think my naivety, open mind, and enthusiasm really helped me engage more with Korean culture, make many Korean friends and try many new things.
What were some of your highlights living in South Korea?
Honestly, there are so many highlights, I am not sure where to start from! Some of my best memories in Korea include attending Yonsei University AKARAKA festival which is a festival in which many different K-pop celebrities are invited to perform for Yonsei University. There were both Korean and international students singing and dancing together, shouting the Yonsei slogan in unity with a shared passion. It was such a happy moment and definitely one of the best memories I have had in my life!
During my 4 years in Korea I have had many opportunities to visit different places outside Seoul, try many different Korean dishes, and participate in multiple festivals. I even visited a friend of mine and joined her family to make Kimchi in winter which was so much fun!
Living abroad can be an incredible experience, how do you think it has impacted who you have become and how you see the world?
For me studying abroad has been a very meaningful experience that shaped me as a person. Studying in Korea strengthen my passion for East Asian International Relations, gave me opportunities to interact with people from different countries and helped me become an independent person. Living in Korea for 4 years taught me that cultural barriers are real, but that they can also be overcome as long as you have a genuine desire to understand others. And by learning about other people’s cultures, you open doors for yourself to a new world and new ways of thinking and understanding the world we live in.
You graduated and went back to Rwanda in the midst of a pandemic. How has Covid-19 impacted you?
I graduated in February of 2020 and was unable to have a ceremony, but we were able to borrow graduation gowns and on the graduation day, my friends came to congratulate me and take pictures with me. I left Korea in the last week of February, right after my graduation as cases were increasing rapidly. When I arrived in Rwanda there had not been a positive case, but after two weeks home, schools were closed, and Rwanda entered into complete lockdown. This meant that I couldn’t find an internship or volunteer opportunities which was my plan after my graduation. Instead, I decided to start teaching myself Chinese and learning Chinese history through podcasts since I would hopefully be leaving for China in September to pursue a master’s degree. This was a fun experience because I started to enjoy learning Chinese.
You are now in Graduate School pursuing your masters at Yenching Academy of Peking University in China! Congratulations! What are you studying and has COVID impacted your plans?
I am pursuing a master’s program in China Studies and my concentration is Politics and International Relations, however, because of COVID-19, I was unable to go to China and have been taking my master classes online. It was really hard for me at first to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to go China. I felt like my learning experience was not going to be the same and that I won’t be able to make friends.
As expected, it has not been easy! Due to time difference, I now have 3:00 am and 4:00 am classes! But, overall, I have been enjoying my Yenching experience and I have been able to make friends and even participate in extra-curricular activities online. The whole Yenching community has been very optimistic which is encouraging and helps most of us stay motivated. I am still hoping that I will be able to leave for China in early 2021, because it is important to learn about China when you are in China, and I am also excited to meet my friends and classmates in person.
What do you hope to do with this degree?
As I mentioned earlier, during my undergraduate, as I studied more about Korea, I naturally became interested in China as well because both countries share history and both countries relations are important for East Asia region’s stability. By pursuing a master’s program in China, I am hoping to get a better understanding of East Asian international relations from a Chinese perspective. After Yenching, I am thinking about pursuing a PHD in either East Asia regional studies or Korean Studies but my ultimate goal is to use my understanding of East Asian countries to help form strong partnerships between Rwanda and East Asian countries. I also believe that there is a lot we as Rwandans can learn from countries like Korea and China in terms of economic and social development.
What advice would you give to your fellow Gashora Girls Academy sisters graduating from GGAST in the Spring?
One thing that I would like to tell to Gashora girls graduating next year is that it is fine not have all the answers to the questions of who you want to become or how are you going to help change the world. Of course, if you already have those answers that is great, and I am super proud of you! But if you don’t, that is also ok. But make sure to use your time in college to figure out what you really love and what you are passionate about. As George Wilhelm Friedrich said, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion”. So, I wish you all to find that one thing that you love and then use that love and your passion to accomplish great things!
What are your hopes for your future? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
This is a hard question especially this year now that I have seen how many things can suddenly change in a very short time. But my hope for the future is to continue doing what I like and to share my passion and interests with others. I love East Asia and I am very interested in East Asia and I hope that in the future I can become someone who can bring East Asian countries and Rwanda closer together be it culturally, politically, or academically. I hope I can be someone who will foster understanding between Rwanda and East Asia. Right now, I am not yet certain how exactly I want to do that but everything I do now and plan to do in the future one way or another will be geared towards that goal.
- Asian Studies
- International Relations
- South Korea