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Chico State

International Relations Senior Makes the Most of Debut Trip to South Korea

Mark Arey poses at a restaurant with fellow students from South Korea.

Since 2016, approximately 1,600 Wildcats have studied abroad at one of 200 locations across 35 countries. In the opposite flight path, Chico State welcomes over 250 students from 54 nations annually. The following article is one of six student profiles included in ‘Passport to Self Discovery,’ a feature article in Chico Statements, Spring 2023.

  • Name: Mark Arey
  • Traveled to: Seoul, South Korea
  • When: 2021–22
  • Majors: International Relations, Asian Studies
  • Minor: Japanese

Mark Arey is a great international traveler—something he only recently learned about himself. Hailing from rural Somerset and having never left the United States, Arey nurtured his passion for languages and global affairs by seizing opportunities to get involved on and off campus—this includes his current work as a Japanese language teacher’s assistant, peer advising for IEGE, and previous community work as a taekwondo instructor at Morningside Martial Arts.

He had his heart set on going to Japan his sophomore year, but when pandemic restrictions eliminated that option, he made a new plan: South Korea. Arey spent the entirety of his junior year (2021–22) taking online classes toward both his majors at Yonsei University. 

Replicating his approach at Chico State, Arey dove into everything Seoul had to offer, from café culture (which pairs social drinks with a specialized activity, such as archery, pottery, or karaoke) to sampling its myriad street food options. He also joined a local choir club, where, through a mix of English and Korean music, he built community with a group of people who were equally excited to learn with him in a universal language: song.

“I was literally the only foreigner at Yonsei Choir Club,” Arey said. “Everyone was super nice and it was also one of the few opportunities I had to experience a real Korean classroom environment.”

Arey experienced life in a Yonsei dorm for the first semester and then moved off campus to a long-stay Airbnb with other international students. This allowed him to make friends and memories with both locals and people from across the world. South Korean cities are largely enshrined by hills and mountains that offer dramatic views of the sprawling skylines and plenty of hiking opportunities. A standout moment happened near Busan, a large port city, on the Mount Geumjeongsan trail that leads to Beomeosa Temple.

“My friend and I were walking through the mountain, and we could hear chants of Buddhist monks echoing through the mountain,” he said. “It was so beautiful, like the mountain was singing somewhere.”

While Arey spoke no Korean before leaving, he found Seoul very accommodating to English speakers and said a few key phrases made life a lot easier. “People from other countries are usually very patient and want to help you. If I had any advice, it would be that you can actually accomplish a lot by just knowing five phrases: ‘Hello,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘is this OK?’ and ‘where’s the bathroom?’”

When it was time to return stateside, his year abroad inspired him to turn a layover in New Zealand into a two-week impromptu visit to another country he wanted to see—all on his own. “I felt confident in my ability to just travel, be free, and go wherever I want,” Arey said, noting his own growth.

Mark Arey made a side-trip to New Zealand on the way home from South Korea, visiting sites like Hobbiton.

This summer, Arey finally gets his chance to visit Japan, as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) for summer 2023. He is the first Chico State recipient of CLS, an intensive language and cultural immersion group-based program that is designed to promote rapid language gains through cultural enrichment. There is no one as ready as Arey.