Serena Pham

boren profiles

Serena Pham

2010 Boren Scholarships

Clark University

Korean, South Korea


As an undergraduate preparing for medical school, I take a full class load, do research in neurobiology, and participate in clubs related to public health and medicine. Since my ultimate goal is to practice medicine outside of the United States, I take advantage of summer vacation to gain valuable experience abroad. As a science student, I was eligible to apply for the Boren Scholarship’s summer STEM initiative. 

I received a Boren Scholarship to study in Korea during summer 2010. I had already spent the previous summer in Korea and had studied at Seoul National University, so I had a good background in Korean. While on the Boren Scholarship, I continued studying Korean and was actively involved in a culture-exchange program. I helped tutor Korean locals in English and American culture, and I co-instructed for a few first aid events held at Seoul National University. I also volunteered at an orphanage, and I traveled to different villages to help the elderly with the farm work and home repair, while also exposing them to international cultures. These activities significantly furthered my language skills and cultural understanding, while helping to prepare me for my pursuit of medicine in the future.

Now that I am back in the United States, I listen to the news in Korean so that I can continue to improve my listening skills. I use the information in discussion with my Korean friends; this greatly assists my speaking skills. My daily written journals and frequent emails in Korean with my friends in Korea serve as reminders of the grammar and vocabulary. Still, since immersing oneself in the culture/environment where Korean is the main language is still the most effective way to learn the language and understand the culture, I plan to take a year off before attending medical school in order to return South Korea and continue my studies and volunteer work. 

My experience as a Boren Scholar helped me to improve my Korean language skills. Furthermore, this experience of studying and actively volunteering abroad definitely has been an important step toward my future career goals. I hope to complete my service requirement in a position related to international aid and development, such as the U.S. Agency of International Development, and I eventually plan to work as a humanitarian doctor.

Written: December 2010 

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