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A Year Abroad Helped Define the Future for This PhD Student

Mira Abed teaching in classroom

Written by Miranda Bunnis

The idea of going abroad as a student can be a daunting: embracing a whole new culture and language on top of working or studying. Wilson College of Textiles doctoral student Mira Abed decided to confront this challenge head on when she applied to teach at the Incheon International High School in Incheon, South Korea.

Abed graduated from NC State in 2012 with two bachelor’s degrees, one in Polymer and Colour Chemistry and one in International Studies. She started pursuing her PhD in Fiber and Polymer Science at the Wilson College of Textiles in 2014.

Beginning in February 2013, she worked at the school, as a high school math and science teacher. “I wanted an experience abroad. The opportunity just fell into my lap since I was able to teach both maths and science at a higher level,” she said.

There was one class in each year that had a strong international focus, with those students having either already been abroad or with the intention of traveling abroad for college or university. “They were all so interesting,” said Abed about the 23 students she taught for one year. “Many had lived abroad, and they were able to teach me all about Korean culture. The relationships I was able to build with the kids was the best part of my experience,” said Abed.

Mira Abed teaching in classroom
Mira Abed

While the experience of being abroad was a culture shock in some ways, Abed said her experiences in South Korea were incredibly valuable. Having never visited Asia before, she had the opportunity to travel to Thailand, Taiwan and other parts of Korea.

“I loved some things about it and hated other things, but that’s normal about any country,” she said. She experienced one of the biggest shocks upon first arriving to Incheon: how isolated the school was. “I was teaching on an island that was just off the coast of mainland Incheon,” she said. Abed also found it strange to be back to a dorm life of sorts, living on campus in an apartment near the other students.

“It was one of the best things for me to do, in trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” said Abed about what she learned during her year teaching in South Korea. Always having a passion for tutoring with the thought that maybe teaching could be the career path for her, Abed realized that it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Abed is now researching perovskite solar cells, – a promising alternative to existing silicon solar cells, with the potential to achieve higher efficiencies than existing technologies with lower production and material costs – with Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei, associate professor in the department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science. This project is on an offshoot project of his work with dye-sensitized solar cells. Abed is also currently pursuing a public policy certificate. She plans on working as a science advisor to advocate for different policies after she graduates.

If you are interested in teaching abroad, or if you want to find more about the Incheon International High School in Incheon, South Korea, you can find more about them here.