Interview with an exchange connoisseur

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Welcome back,

Today I am very excited to introduce you to my new guest, a true study abroad connoisseur from Mexico. He has studied in 5 schools on 3 continents over the past years so there is a lot to talk about in this episode, hope you will enjoy it!

Let me introduce you to my third guest, Ben. An entrepreneur, an amazing photographer and one of the best travel buddies/tour guides one could ask for.

 

In true study abroad show style we have met on our exchange semester at FIDM Los Angeles in 2018 and well with 3 other amazing ladies we basically became family during our 2,5 month in California. All international studies or exchange semesters are amazing experiences but sharing those memories with people you meet along the way takes everything to another level.

Ben in LA

Ben started as a Product Design major at the University of Oregon, then he left after freshman year. The following summer he attended a three-week fashion entrepreneurship course at London College of Fashion. That fall he has enrolled in De LaSalle University in his hometown León, Mexico as a Fashion Design student.
After his first year at De LaSalle, he attended another summer training in London participating in four different courses. In 2018 spring he went on exchange to FIDM Los Angeles and right after that, he has spent another exchange semester in the autumn at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea. Finally, he finished his degree in his home institution last summer.

What a trip, I know. So let’s jump right into it with the usual question: When did you first start thinking about studying abroad and why?
B: First it was in high school because I had the possibility of doing it and I wanted to do it. My high school was like a travel agency, they had a lot of exchange partnerships, so it was accessible and I wanted to take advantage of that.

What would you say the point is of an exchange semester?
B: Definitely not learning, it’s about expanding your cultural library visually, the people you meet is a huge part of it also. It’s about expanding the way you see the world and understanding that the way you live and learn at home is not the only way.

university of oregon team

University of OregonIf an exchange is not about learning what about the other ones? How did your attitude change throughout all these different study experiences? Comparing short summer course, exchange and then Oregon where you thought you would do your whole degree etc.
B: The learning and my mindset going into it were completely different because in the other ones I was going to the school, making friends having the whole experience as an exchange. When I was in London I was there to learn as much as I could, it was about taking advantages of the school, which should have been the case in the others too. I was also younger then so in London I didn’t go out, I didn’t make a lot of friends it was about studying, going to school then going out to explore the city, all the streets and museums. It was a shorter period not like in Busan or LA where I lived in the city, so I didn’t feel the need to go walk around the city every day.

Based on your experience, would you recommend doing a study-abroad in a country with a more familiar culture or a country with a completely new, foreign atmosphere?
B: I would encourage people going to somewhere more foreign to them because the culture is so different that the learnings are so much greater than for example in a more similar culture to your own. From my options, I choose the furthest and the one with the most different culture and I enjoyed my time in Korea, I would do it again if I had to choose again.

Would you choose the other places too, If you would do the whole journey again or is there something you would change?
B: Probably the only one that I would change, if I had to do the process again, which I enjoyed, but I would think about it again, but maybe because of that decision change the others wouldn’t have happened. I would change Oregon, I am not a small city guy so that’s one thing I didn’t enjoy and also the climate was not friendly for me so those are the types of things I didn’t consider going in, now looking back I would have chosen another place. Maybe if I have chosen another university, I would have liked it there and stayed there, then I wouldn’t have done London, LA, Busan…

You mentioned going to a more foreign country is better, but let’s see if your statement holds up. The next segment on the show: Kiss/marry/kill city version. Which city would you live in for a year, live in forever, never go back to out of all the ones you’ve studied in?
B: I would never go back to Busan, I would live in LA for a year and live in London forever.

Why?
B: Well, Korean culture was square minded for me and Busan is very difficult to move around if you don’t have a car. I would live in LA because it is a really enjoyable city and has a lot of things to do, but it is also very hard to move around. Then I would marry London because it has a really good transportation system, the city offers many things to see and do, a lot of parks and museums has a good economy so it’s a perfect city even though if it’s a bit crowded.

Let’s continue the war of cities with some more rapid-fire questions. Which city wins these categories in your eyes?

Best food? B: Korea
Best people? B: Oregon, Friendship wise LA
Most Beautiful? B: That’s hard because Urban planning-wise: London, but travel-wise Korea was beautiful, I got to go to Japan, Vietnam, China etc. The trip we did on Highway 1 between LA and San Francisco was also beautiful.
Best school? B: London
Best to-do on the Weekends? B: LA. It has so many things to do, go to Joshua and those type of things.
Culture & Art? B: LA. So many museums and street art and also the people bring in amazing different cultures

You have moved a lot and had to deal with a lot of settling down and housing, did your De LaSalle help with that or the exchange schools did?
B: My home university only helped with the partnership, the rest was on the exchange universities. In LA and Busan student housing options were provided and I could apply easily. The only place I had to look for a place to stay was in London. In Oregon, they offered an exchange family program, where you stayed with a family for a week before moving into the dorms and they took care of everything. They picked also offered airport pickup in Oregon and Busan.
Settling down was the hardest in Busan because I had no idea how to get Wi-Fi, I didn’t have all the apps because I didn’t know which apps they used. I didn’t speak the language and they didn’t speak English so it was hard to get around. I didn’t even know where to get sheets and pillows and on all those things, whereas in LA my cousin was there he knew all the places he had a car so that was easy. To LA I also went with Fernanda so I wasn’t alone in the whole process while in Busan I was completely alone. And for example, in Oxford I went with a group of 30 Mexicans, I didn’t know any of them but it’s different because there are people from the same country, same language and culture.

Were you able to get any scholarship to help you settle down or support your expenses?
B: Yes, so in Oregon, I received a small grant and when I went to London the state government in Mexico covered my travel expenses. In Busan, the Korean government had a scholarship for incoming exchange students, that paid for my travel plus a weekly budget which paid for my living expenses. I spent as less as possible to save for other trips during that time, but that was difficult because everything was so expensive and my dormitory didn’t have a kitchen or a fridge even.

Going back to the language issue, what were some other difficulties you faced during your time at Dongseo University?
B: The exchange students usually take around four classes but I had to finish all my credits for Mexico so I was taking seven courses in Busan plus three online classes from back home. A lot of the times my friends were like, oh, let’s just go and visit this temple and I couldn’t because I had a lot of homework to do. So yeah, that was tough.
I also had to take classes in Korean otherwise, I wouldn’t have had enough credits to graduate on time, so I had a girl in my class who would translate all the messages from the group text that were relevant for me, so that helped a lot. It was insane because I didn’t understand anything, but I did good in the end. It was only possible because both two were creative and design classes, so I just had to make things.

Korea exchange 2018

Korea exchange semester 2018What about making friends and merging with the student body? I would think in Oregon or LA it must have been easier to make friends as people spoke the same language.
B: Actually, Oregon was the hardest one to make friends. Americans often come from the same high school or same backgrounds, they are in the same mood and I was like, an international guy just fresh out of a Mexican high school. I had no idea what the American lifestyle was. Well, I did know but I haven’t lived it in a first-person manner. It was fun in LA as we were able to mix in with the student council and participate in all the clubs and different activities, going to the museums etc. that did help to mix with locals and other internationals.
It was probably the easiest in Busan. Because there were a lot of people from all over the world, most of them going outside of their country for the first time and they knew no one so a lot of internationals hang out and became friends. They didn’t have any roots tight with the Korean culture, so they were open to making friends. It didn’t matter where they’re from. Also, the school has its building for international students so they did a lot of activities to get all the international students together. But they didn’t merge the internationals with the locals, however, they did mix the full-time internationals with the exchange internationals.

Now that you have graduated, do you think you will ever go back to school or studying abroad?
B: Yes, definitely. I will my masters somewhere, haven’t thought about it where yet.

Do you want to continue because you feel like there is much more to learn or would like to experience a new place again?
B: The next school is not about the experience, I know that all the universities that I am aiming for are very important, they have good teachers and a lot of overachievers go to those schools and meeting them is a great opportunity. So it’s about meeting new people and learning.

Are you just considering going outside of Mexico?
B: I am choosing based on the level of education, not a country specifically. So I have plan A and B, but I am planning to apply to the top MBA programs and see where I get accepted. There are a couple of good ones in Mexico, but those are not as high on the list.

UNWASTE BAG

UNWASTE prototype in California

Ben has started his business UNWASTE, a leather upcycling brand that uses leather scraps from local factories and creates amazing accessories out of them. He started it a few years ago, before all the exchanges so I was curious if he was able to apply the learnings directly to his business. To give you a short intro to the brand, I asked about its background first:
B: The first time I started thinking about doing something is when I was in Oregon, I felt like I was wasting my time and I didn’t want to study anymore. So that’s the first time I seriously started thinking about being an entrepreneur. Then I went to London to study fashion entrepreneurship where I did a really good business plan, it was awarded the best in the class.
So when I came about UNWASTE, which was like two years after that, I started applying that business plan. And then I had the prototypes done before LA actually and then that was about it.

unwaste mx bag

Bucket Bag from the new collection of UNWASTE

How do you think the study abroad experiences have contributed to where you are now in your life, career?
B: I don’t settle for what’s available. And studying abroad is really about expanding that visual library inside your head and that helped me a lot with UNWASTE and doing things differently than the types of bags that are designed and produced here in Mexico.
I don’t feel the exchanges influenced the way I do UNWASTE, maybe Busan because LA was technical, and Busan was more artsy and experimental in terms of design. So realized I have to take risks and do different things and that’s the new collection’s approach a little bit which is fun. I also took a leatherwork class in Korea, where I learned a lot about handcrafted leather accessories.

UNWASTE is based in Leon, but you’re still thinking about like going abroad, how are you going to do that?
B: Well, the plan is if let’s say because things change a lot. Let’s say I go and study for the Masters in two years. And in two years UNWASTE can pick up and able to run in a way where I have enough people I trust around the brand whom I can trust with different things and then I can just micromanage. Mostly setting up a system that allows me to be out away without losing efficiency.

I have included some UNWASTE and travel photos from Ben’s adventures throughout the post, hope you like them, and if you would like to see more, don’t forget to check out Ben and his brand on Instagram @benjamillanmx and @unwaste.brand or on www.unwaste.mx

Let’s close this interview off with a short fun question. Because you have packed your life up so many times, especially in 2018, what is one thing everyone thinks they need but they don’t?
B: More than one pair of shoes, as long as you have one pair of sneakers you are good.

Don’t forget to leave your questions in the comment section to be included in the next post’s reader’s mail!

See you on the next one,

Eszter

 

 

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About Author

Eszter Németh

Hi! I'm Eszter, I grew up in Hungary but have been studying abroad since I finished high school. Earned my BA in the middle of nowhere in Denmark, spent a few months on exchange in Los Angeles and now I am pursuing my master's in Switzerland. A wild ride I must say, but wouldn't trade it for anything, learn more about studying abroad from my blog posts.

8 Comments

  1. Wow, what a journey! I love the part with cities comparison/quick questions!

    Also, very inspiring to read about creating an own brand from scratch!

    • Eszter Németh
      Eszter Németh on

      Glad you liked the cities section Martyna.
      Maybe it will inspire you to start something on your own as well!

  2. Margherita Valle
    Margherita Valle on

    Hi Eszter, I love your blog format so much! I feel like I’m traveling with you around the world 🙂
    I really like the comments about packing more than one pair of unnecessary shoes..maybe it would be nice to have some practical tips to pack the” perfect semester abroad” luggage..the first time I did it I struggled a lot! Of course, I then learned from the experience but I would have loved to have some guide back there.

    • Eszter Németh
      Eszter Németh on

      I think we all struggle with packing light sometimes. So that’s a great idea Margherita, I have the perfect guest that I can talk about this with.
      Hope you will stick around for that!

  3. Hikaru Hanaoka

    Wow Ben’s experience really inspired me! His passion for fashion and exploration of the world is amazing. I especially liked his comment about doing a study abroad for the firs time: “I had the possibility of doing it and I wanted to do it.” Can’t wait to hear stories of other interviewees!!

Reply To Hikaru Hanaoka Cancel Reply