Program teaches student support, counseling concepts through lens of Korean culture

MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University graduate students and area professionals took part in a 10-day education abroad program in South Korea in late May, exploring how educational institutions in southeast Asia can define, assess and support the needs of their students.

The new Discover Korea program was developed by Dr. Ben Littlepage, associate professor and program coordinator of postsecondary education administration, and Dr. Samir Patel, associate professor of counselor education and counseling program coordinator.

Upon arrival in Gyeongsan, South Korea, the group toured Daegu University and met with students, faculty and staff in areas of career counseling, student support, disability services and more. The program also included day visits to the cities of Gyeongju City, Daegu and Seoul, where the group visited the Bulguksa Buddhist Temple, history museums, the Seomun Market, the Demilitarized Zone at the Korean border and other points of interest.

Littlepage said the program was created for both graduate students and emerging professionals, who benefit from short-term education abroad opportunities that accommodate those currently employed in the field. With student wellness becoming a popular topic in mental health counseling and student support services, it’s important for professionals to understand southeast Asian cultures to better serve students from those regions.

“Our group spent the first four days interacting with administrators, faculty, and students at Daegu University,” Littlepage said. “Immediately, graduate students were able to connect classroom learning and past work experiences with what they were observing in real time. We quickly observed a high ceiling exists for this institutional exchange agreement with Daegu University. Opportunities for internship placements, idea exchanges related to student success initiatives, reconnecting with our Murray State Korean alumni base and post-baccalaureate academic articulations are all possibilities if both universities are willing and able to commit the time and resources.”

“We went to Korea wanting to understand how wellness was conceptualized in Korean culture, but the program blossomed into so much more,” Patel said. “We saw how public schools are emphasizing the need for mental health services and observed the role that Daegu University plays in leading the country in providing educational opportunities for students with disabilities. We became more familiar with the cultural and generational divide with regards to work-life balance and began to explore how technology and social media contributes to the divide. 

“It is my hope that we can continue to bring graduate students to Korea and build on this experience.”

One of the Discover Korea participants was Anthony Prewitt, assistant director of multicultural affairs at the University of Tennessee at Martin and a May 2019 graduate of the Murray State postsecondary education graduate program.

“Discover Korea exceeded my expectations,” Prewitt said. “It was a cultural and educational experience that was well thought out and challenged the participants to broaden their scope of understanding beyond what we are used to in the American higher education system. Although this was my first time doing a study abroad program, I went in with an open mind and an eager will to learn. 

“From the food, to the sites and all of the people, we learned so much about the culture and their values. Dr. Littlepage and Dr. Patel perfectly sculpted a curriculum and agenda that allowed us to get the most out of our experience. I left with a greater appreciation of the Korean culture, but also a feeling of thankfulness for my professors for thinking beyond the norm of a graduate program to offer an experience that very few graduate students get. It was life changing.”

Kaitlyn Brooks, a postsecondary education graduate student from Grafton, Wisconsin, said she enjoyed learning more about a new culture.

“While at Daegu, we got to speak with many faculty, staff, students, and even future Murray State international students from a variety of different functional areas,” Brooks said. “This gave us an even larger appreciation and depth of understanding of Korean culture, society and way of life. The program was a great mix of academic and extracurricular experiences, and with the background information given to us by several educators at Daegu and Mr. Yun, our on-site facilitator, we were able to better appreciate what we were seeing, hearing, and comprehending.”

Photo: Murray State University graduate students and professionals took part in a 10-day education abroad program in South Korea in late May, exploring how educational institutions in southeast Asia can define, assess and support the wellness of their students. From left to right are Dorothy Boyle, Amelia Comper, Joni Moody, Anthony Prewitt, Dr. Ben Littlepage, Daegu University Vice President Kun Yong Rhee, Dr. Samir Patel, Emily Whitehouse, Kaitlyn Brooks and Alesha Allen.

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