Back in 2009, Hyeji Do left her home and family in Seoul, South Korea, to study at Northwest Missouri State University.
Now Do, who will graduate Saturday, says she is thankful her sister Hyemin, who attended Northwest in 2008, suggested that she travel thousands of miles across the world's biggest ocean to continue her education in a small Midwestern town named Maryville.
"Because (being able to speak) English is so important in Korea, she suggested to me, 'Why don’t you come here and study?'" Do said. "She said I would be able to learn English better than at other universities, and she also said it was a quiet and safe environment."
Though Do's undergraduate career is coming to an end, her family's connection with Northwest is not. Her brother Changhwan enrolled as a Bearcat last fall and is currently a freshman majoring in management information systems.
Like many students — including those who live a lot closer to home — Do said she has missed her family and native country while away at school. But she believes her marketing degree and polished English skills were well worth the effort.
And besides, Maryville has become something of a second home.
"I started out staying at my apartment and going to class and then going back to my apartment — no other activities or trying to make American friends," Do said.
Then, while working on an oral communication homework assignment, she interviewed Jeff Foot, Northwest’s director of international affairs. Foot, a native of Canada who started out as an international student himself, gave her some advice.
"If you want to make your study-abroad experience better" he said, "you need to try something different."
And so she did, joining a handful of other South Korean students as a founding member of the Korean Student Association. Do also volunteered at the University's Intercultural International Center, where she was soon put on the payroll as a desk attendant.
During off hours, she started helping other Asian students become acclimated to Northwest and adjust to their new lives in the United States.
Do said one of the reasons she chose Northwest was its distance from a large Korean-speaking community. Separated from the culture she was raised in, she said she was able to absorb American culture more completely.
"Americans are so independent," she said. "I used to care about what others thought about me too much. I used to do what people would think is good or what my parents would want.
"However, through the years in the United States, I realized that what I had been doing was wrong. I realized none of my American friends do that. They follow what they want and do what they want to do."