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Good friends, Tight schedule : meet Gilda from KOICA Program

One of the three main ways you can apply for Ewha GSIS, apart from the direct admission and via GKS scholarship application, was through the KOICA program, which stands for Korea International Cooperation Agency.

Some might have heard about this program, but still wonder what KOICA program at Ewha GSIS is like and how it is different from the general programs, in terms of admission process and curriculum calendar.

Today, we have a short interview with Gilda Valenzuela, the alumna of the Ewha KOICA program from Ecuador (class of 2019) with the DC major

Could you please describe the main objective of the KOICA scholarship? And how did you apply for it?

The Ewha KOICA program is designated for government officials. This is a program for improving the capacity in leadership for women with gender focus. So this is mainly for government officials from the countries that are partnered with South Korea. You need to be a public official and you need to apply according to your government office. I was working in the ministry in my country, in the economic and social inclusion ministry. And I applied for the program there.

This is a program for improving the capacity in leadership for women with gender focus.

Is it always about gender or is just a focus issue for each year?

It is focusing on gender. The main objective of the program actually is the capacity development on leadership in gender equality. So the main objective of the program is that we, as government officials can improve our gender focus. And that way we can implement development policies and development programs back in our countries, by focusing on gender equality.

Before coming here, what is your responsibility in the ministry?

I was working in a program that is for people with severe disabilities, catastrophic disease or diseases that are at very high risk and children with HIV. So I was working mainly with them and with their families. The primary caretaker that is in most of the cases is the moms. In 95% of the cases is the mom. The mother of the person who is related in this program.

And why did you decide to study at Ewha GSIS?

I decided to go to Korea for my graduate studies five years ago. I was very interested in Korea’s higher education system at that time. So while I was researching about it, I learned about Ewha and I fell in love with Ewha since that moment. That was my goal to get in there. And then I learned about the KOICA program that it was for this university and many others. I decided to apply for the program. Thank God that I was accepted.

Can you elaborate about the reason you love Ewha?

First of all, in Latin America, we don’t have universities only for women. We only have the schools maybe and high schools, but we cannot even think about a university only for women. And it’s not only the fact that we are only women there, but in this kind of organization, where women are learning or working together, even if it’s not intentionally focusing to promote gender equality, it does. Because between women, we can have different perspectives. In GSIS, there are people from all over the world, and that also helps. We can have a better insight of women’s issues in different parts of the world. So the idea that I was going to be part of this system with women from all over the world while I was learning in the university completely changed my mind. So I firmly decided that I needed to go there.

In GSIS, there are people from all over the world. We can have a better insight of women’s issues in different parts of the world.

What are the differences between the GSIS program and for general students and for KOICA gas students?

In the case of KOICA students, we have our program for 17 months with our theses. So we have a more stress calendar for the study. We need to be in more intense programs. In three semesters, we need to finish the whole curriculum. And after that, we need to work in our theses. Also, we study in winter and in summer. We start with our thesis from the first semester. So we don’t have vacations. It is the whole 17 months straight, completely with the studies. So we have to take more subjects every semester. We need to do additional courses, for example, Korean language. The course is at a basic level, but we still need to pass this course. And also we have some mandatory courses for our Development Cooperation major that is focusing on gender. We need to pass that all.

The schedule is so tight. How did you manage to pass it all? 

Yes. I think it was very helpful. There are 20 KOICA students each year. So we are really like sisters. From the moment we started studying at Ewha, professor Lim, who is the director of our program, tells us right away, “You need to support each other. You need to be close. The person that you are right beside, is going to be your sister. She is going to be your partner. So you need to learn how to work together.” 

“The person that you are right beside, is going to be your sister. So you need to learn how to work together.”

And I think that that’s a key point because without most of them, I wouldn’t have made it. So we really support each other. We had many sleepless nights. We were in a group study in the room starting and working together, discussing the different classes, discussing the different issues. And that also helps you because you have other perspectives into several things. And that gives you a different approach. I was very, very lucky because I had a great roommate from my program and great classmates that helped me a lot. 

I was very lucky also with the professors. Professor Lim  was always with us for any issue. She was always available to answer any question that we had. I had a great thesis advisor, Prof. Willougby. She helped me a lot. She always made me calm when I was very stressed and I thought I was not going to make it. She always told me like, “You’re going to make it. Don’t worry. Just keep working like you’re doing it right now.” And that was completely helpful. 

What are the good things that you’ve got from Ewha GSIS both from the academic perspective and in terms of life experience in South Korea?

First of all, from an academic perspective, I could see the differences. Ewha is an excellent university. That’s why it’s one of the best. You can see the content in the classes. What I was learning while I was sometimes outside the school, meeting people from other universities, who were also part of scholarships in other universities, that Ewha was really very good academically. I could discuss with people about different issues that I was learning there. And they were always surprised that we were learning that at Ewha. So I think, in terms of academic achievement, Ewha is definitely one of the best in Korea. They made a lot of effort to have a real relationship with the students. So the professors can really be involved in our development as students. And I think that you don’t find that easily in other schools.

Ewha is definitely one of the best in Korea. They made a lot of effort to have a real relationship with the students.

This is not only for the KOICA students. In classes, we are with several students from general admission. And even though we are from different programs, we could always work together, and be friends. And it’s amazing. The kind of relationship that you develop with each other, you support each other, and you give each other a lot of strength. For example, as KOICA students, we didn’t have a lot of time to take a chance in life in Korea, for example, in social life. And they always were very, very concerned and very detailed about telling us, “Oh, you should go to this park. You should go to a temple or to this place. This is where you’re going to enjoy. Let’s go together. Let’s go to eat at this place. You’re going to love the food here is a traditional from Korea, et cetera.” And that gives you a sense of being part of something. 

After you graduate, does the program that you take as a KOICA student make you perform better in your career?

Yes, definitely. When I came back to my country, I started working in an NGO that focuses on girls’ education and also different areas for girls to prevent, for example, violence and different issues that are happening. And right now, I started working as a coordinator in a program between the ministry and local governments. So we manage different programs and I’m also working with the NGO that I was previously in. For example, I’m working in human mobility in family issues that is custody of kids and domestic violence against women. I’m also working with childrens in custody that are left behind for femicide cases. So, in this case, the gender focus that Ewha taught me has helped me a lot. There are several things that I didn’t know before. And thanks to Ewha now, I can apply them now.


Published by Khing Amatyakul

Thai, Working at SuperPlanet, IR grad from Ewha GSIS | @khingamat

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