Alexis Jones didn't study abroad as an undergraduate, and she didn't think she'd have time on the way to her master's degree.
But then fashion merchandising and design faculty member Joy Lee nominated Jones for Central Michigan University's first fashion student exchange with South Korea's Seoul National University.
"I would never have imagined being able to walk in an international fashion show." — Alexis Jones, CMU grad student
"It was crazy at first, because I didn't know a thing about Korea," Jones said. The Grand Blanc, Michigan, native had never even been overseas. But when she learned SNU was the No. 1 school in South Korea, "I agreed to go — excited but nervous."
From February to June, Jones and CMU classmate Stan Mathews studied and networked in Seoul, a global fashion industry hotspot. On track to graduate in December, Jones now is interviewing for a position in Hong Kong as she explores career options around the world.
"Academically and professionally, I advanced my career significantly," she said.
Five things to know
Here are five ways Jones made the most of her time abroad.
Gaining skills, making friends: "I learned new fabric dyeing techniques and attended lab each week where I created several different patterns and motifs. I also joined a club called SNU Buddy that immerses international students in Korean culture by taking us out on the town or going on field trips, trying new food, visiting temples, and exploring all of South Korea.
"My experience wouldn't have been the same without SNU Buddy. I've made friends for life, and we already are making plans to reconnect."
Appreciating different cultures: "One of the best parts of living in Seoul was participating in cultural exchanges with Koreans and students from all over the world. I could experience different traditions and customs while also sharing some of my own, especially as a minority.
"Stan and I participated in an international food day competition where we prepared foods customary to home and shared them with SNU's student body."
"Being abroad taught me how to welcome new experiences. Learning from locals was extremely humbling, and I enjoyed educating people about my culture, as well."
Career advancement: "I had the pleasure of attending Seoul Fashion Week and connecting with designers, models, bloggers and business owners. I met so many interesting people from all over the world that I was able to collaborate with. I even had a story written about me in the South China Morning Post.
"Through those connections, I was invited to model during the Seoul Africa Fashion Show and enhance my career as a freelance model. Participating in the show was an absolute dream, and I would never have imagined being able to walk in an international fashion show. I also took first place in the International Conference on Clothing & Textiles graduate student competition hosted by the Korean Society of Clothing and Textiles.
"I had the pleasure of joining the CMU fashion department study tour of South Korea and Hong Kong. Traveling to Hong Kong was yet another great experience to learn more about Asian culture and visit fashion retailers and institutions.
"Through all of this exposure, I met with different fashion companies during my time abroad and networked for some job interviews following my graduation from Central."
Taking on the language barrier: "While the courses were taught in English, I was eager to explore South Korea beyond campus, and at times it proved difficult.
"Luckily, the program offers you the opportunity to be assigned a Korean buddy to help you when you have questions or concerns. The school also provides the opportunity to learn Korean for free for certain classes.
"Learning the language really improved my experience abroad and helped me build closer relationships."
Affordability abroad: "The cost of living isn't as expensive as you'd think, and with the aid of scholarships and my graduate assistantship I was able to cut costs significantly.
"Food and travel were super inexpensive, which is why I was able to go so many places. My friends and I dined out almost every night. One of my favorite hangouts was Korean BBQ with my friends. I shopped a lot but barely made a dent in my wallet.
"The taxis and subways were really affordable, and there are apps that help you navigate around the cities easily. After about a week I had mastered navigating and was able to go more places independently."
Jones followed up her Seoul studies with a weeklong summer workshop with Dream Chasers in Hollywood, California, where she was mentored by a celebrity stylist, visited the garment district, attended the BET Awards and met entertainment industry professionals.
The SNU program is taking applications from CMU students, said Lee, who initiated the program with a visit to Seoul.
Participation is limited to two CMU students at a time, who can participate for a semester or an academic year. SNU students also attend CMU through the program.
CMU students — undergrad or graduate — must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and a faculty member's recommendation.
"Right now we are looking for applications for fall 2019," Lee said. The application deadline will be in February. "Students need to start thinking about it now."