Study abroad experience helped May graduate enter Peace Corps

May 1 2006

Jason Johnson, an Indiana State University May graduate, took his history major seriously and spent a year immersed in the ancient Chinese culture at the University of Hong Kong in China. While there, Johnson studied ancient world history and visited the actual places he was reading about in his textbooks.

"To see things in person and witness them firsthand is so much better than book knowledge alone," Johnson said. "Being on-site, seeing and touching things, gives you a sense of the grandeur and detail that you can't get from a book."

Angkor Wat in Cambodia, an ancient Hindu temple which is one of the most famous religious sites in Asia, and also the location of the film "Tomb Raider," is an example of something that must be seen in person to be appreciated, Johnson said.

"The size is overwhelming," he said. "It is surrounded by a moat and a wall which is more than two miles long. When you look at it up close, you see that everything is sculpted to pristine detail. To see it in person is incomparable."

Through the University of Hong Kong exchange program, Johnson also was able to hear lectures from Nobel Prize winners and world leaders.

"The program itself was pretty prestigious," Johnson said. "Most of the students were from schools like Harvard, Yale and Berkley, and I was studying with them and listening to lectures from world-renown figures," Johnson said.

Johnson of Austin, Ind., studied in Hong Kong from August 2004 to May 2005, and is the first student from ISU to ever study in Hong Kong.

"I first heard about the program my freshman year," Johnson said. "I attended an open house, and decided Hong Kong would be an interesting place to study."

Johnson said that in Hong Kong he lived in a dorm much like the ones at ISU, but with one twist. "My roommate didn't speak any English. He said he wanted an American roommate so he could learn English. Needless to say, there was a lot of hand-gesturing," Johnson said.

Surprisingly, the language barrier was not a major issue, he said.

"Hong King is pretty Western, and most people speak English as a second language," Johnson said. While in the Orient, Johnson took the opportunity to travel and see other countries, spending eight weeks in Thailand, three weeks in Cambodia, and one week in Malaysian Borneo.

During his visit to Thailand, Johnson said he experienced a tragedy he will never forget.

"I was in Thailand when the tsunami hit Pucket," Johnson said. "I was actually planning to travel to Pucket that day, but at the last minute, a friend invited me to stay on the north end of the country." After the tsunami hit, Johnson said he spent time helping rebuild the city.

"It was very tragic," he said. "In fact, one of the professors I had at school was killed."

The tragedy struck Johnson so much that he wants to continue to help. He received word at the end of April that he has been accepted to the Peace Corps. He will leave in August for central Asia, where he will teach English.

"It's a long process applying to the Peace Corps," Johnson said. "I had to go through several background checks. I even had to go to the sheriff's office and have my fingerprints taken."

Johnson's study abroad experience was the crucial factor in his being chosen for the Peace Corps, he said.

"During my vacation time overseas, I volunteered to teach English at local schools in Cambodia, Thailand and rural China," he said. "The Peace Corps officer told me the reason I got accepted into the program was my experience teaching English to non-native speakers and living in a country for nine months with people I didn't know, and a language I didn't speak."

Johnson encourages students to take part in ISU?s study abroad program.

"You don't have to worry about money," Johnson said. "ISU has it set up so you pay the same amount of tuition overseas as you pay to go here."

Johnson also said he received a stipend for living expenses.

As for his advice to students looking to study abroad, Johnson's advice is simple. "Spend more than a semester. Spend a whole year if you can. It's an experience you won't forget," Johnson said.

In the future, Johnson said he would like to go to graduate school for journalism.

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PHOTO: A publication-quality, high-res photo is available at:
http://www.indstate.edu/news/photodatabase/downloads/Asia.jpg

CUTLINE: Jason Johnson, ISU graduating senior, is pictured at Krabi Beach in southwest Thailand during a break from studies at the University of Hong Kong. It was Johnson's experience overseas, living for an entire school year in a non-English speaking country and volunteering to teach English as a second language while he was there, that helped him gain admittance into the Peace Corps.

WRITERS: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu; Rachel Wyly, media relations student intern

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Story Highlights

Jason Johnson, an Indiana State University May graduate, took his history major seriously and spent a year immersed in the ancient Chinese culture at the University of Hong Kong in China. Johnson's study abroad experience was the crucial factor in his being chosen for the Peace Corps

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