Billy Noiman graduated from USC with a double major in Business Administration and East Asian Languages and Cultures in 2010. While at USC, he received the EASC Area Studies Abroad (ASA) Fellowship, funded by a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation, to study abroad in Beijing, China. He was also a USC Renaissance and Global Scholar and Deputy Editor of U.S. China Today. Currently, Billy lives and works in Daegu, South Korea as the Academic Director of YGM Language Academy. He manages a staff of English instructors and oversees branch recruitment and development.
How did you become interested in East Asian studies?
Many people ask me this question, and I never really have a good response. I was born in a hospital near Chinatown in Los Angeles, so my father believes that that could be part of the reason why I was so “naturally” attracted to China. However, I did grow up with lots of friends that had ancestral ties to Asia. For example, my high school was around 40% Korean. I’m sure all of my Asian friends played a major role in my decision to come live in East Asia.
What did you enjoy about being a double major in East Asian Languages & Cultures and Business Administration and how has it helped you in your career?
I really enjoyed the flexibility that I received from being a double major. There are so many business majors out there, so studying EALC was a differentiating factor for me. Whenever I would go into interviews, the recruiter would always show an interest in my decision to study Chinese.
Also, learning Chinese has really accelerated the process of learning Korean. So many Korean words come from Chinese, so it’s much easier for me to memorize them. In a workplace where Microsoft Windows and Office on all of the computers are in Korean, learning some Korean is extremely important. My double major definitely prepared me well for this experience.
How was your experience studying abroad in Beijing, China and what impact did it have on you?
Studying abroad in Beijing, China was one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences that I’ve ever had. When you are in an environment that is unlike anything you have ever experienced, you are forced to adapt and learn quickly. During my time abroad, I broadened my understanding of the world, created special relationships with people from all over the world, and learned to embrace uncertainty. I could literally spend days talking about the people I met, the places I visited, the food I ate, and the knowledge I gained through my study abroad experience. If you are a student, and you have an opportunity to study abroad, do it! It’ll change your life!
Of course, none of this would have been possible if it were not for the very generous financial support provided through fellowships such as the EASC Area Studies Abroad Fellowship. It was a comfortable feeling to know that I could travel around the world and learn about another culture with a lightened financial burden. The EASC Fellowship gave me this peace of mind, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. I’m also happy to announce that I’ll be starting my own scholarship for students looking to study abroad in the spring of 2014. I believe in the study abroad experience, and I would love to help other students just as I was helped.
Billy with Chinese students while studying abroad at Peking University.
Why did you decide to teach English in Korea?
After graduating college, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I half-jokingly tell people that at that point in my life, I had a list of companies that I knew I didn’t want to work for. I can trace my decision to come out here back to my friends. One day, while having lunch with some friends from high school—all of whom happened to be Korean Americans—one of my friends challenged me to try and live in another Asian country since I had already been to China. He shared his experiences in Korea and mentioned teaching as a possible opportunity.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Inception, my situation was pretty much just like that. Someone planted an idea in my mind, it grew, and I just ran with it.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your current position as Academic Supervisor? What are some challenges?
I love stories, and I believe everyone has a story to tell. So, the best part of my job is my constant interaction with so many different people. In the classroom, I learn a lot from my students as well as watch them grow and develop. With the Korean staff, I see the inner workings of a Korean company. And it’s always great to work with our foreign teachers. They come from many different backgrounds and have unique experiences.
As for the challenges, I don’t particularly enjoy writing lengthy reports. Who does? But it’s a part of the job. It’s a good challenge. Sometimes, it’s also difficult to manage the many different—sometimes competing—interests and desires among our customers (students), the foreign teachers, Korean staff, and Seoul head office.
What advice do you have for students thinking about working in East Asia after they graduate?
If you want to work in East Asia, you must come with an open mind. Living in East Asia is great, but I’ve seen many people struggle because they aren’t willing to learn about the culture and adapt. You don’t have to be fluent in the local language to be successful out here, but you must put in the time and effort to learn about the people and the culture.
Also, there are so many opportunities, but it’s difficult to see them when you are not here. I’ve met people who started off teaching English, came across a good opportunity, and then decided to start a company. Once you get here, doors will start opening up for you.
What are your future career goals?
The first step is grad school. After that, I hope to come back to Asia and work. I’ve got a lot of ideas about things that I’d like to do, but I need more time to sift through them.
Ultimately, I’d like to start a trade company that ships goods from countries like China and Korea to Kenya, my ancestral homeland. We’ll see where God leads me!