From Foster Care to Honors Student, Rutgers Junior Earns Boren Scholarship

Friday, June 3rd
Julianna Johnson will spend the summer in Taiwan studying the country’s language and culture Julianna Johnson was only 7, and then known as Cheng, when she was sent more than 7,000 miles from the rural village in the Fujian province of China, where she was being raised by her grandmother, to live with a father she didn’t know in the United States. Over the next several years, Johnson lived in New York and New Jersey with strangers and people she was told were members of her extended family. When she was not in school, trying to learn in a language she didn’t understand, she worked in restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown and South Jersey with other Fujianese immigrants. She only saw her father one more time after the day he picked her up at JFK Airport when she arrived in the U.S. and dropped her off to live with a family in Brooklyn. “I knew no English, I couldn’t understand anything,” said Johnson, now 20. “I wasn’t able to answer yes or no to any questions so sitting in the classroom when I first came was really hard.” At 10, she was removed from her difficult life in the United States and sent to foster care, eventually finding the parents who would adopt her and open the door to a world of new opportunities Johnson is now entering her senior year at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and will be spending the summer in Taiwan studying the country’s language and culture as the recipient of a Boren Scholarship. The scholarship provides up to $25,000 to undergraduates to study in areas of the world that are critical to interests of the United States. In return, the organization asks students to commit to working for the federal government for at least one year after graduation. It is an opportunity that Johnson, who is majoring in Chinese languages and culture and mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, could have never imagined as a child. No one in her biological family had graduated from high school. The expectation, even after she came to the U.S., was that she would work as soon as possible and marry early. In foster care she was told the odds were stacked against her: only 3 percent of former foster children graduate from college. She was determined not to become part of that statistic. Instead, she is focused on what she can do with the doors opened through the scholarship. Johnson says she would like to use her Mandarin language skills working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Department of State. “I have gotten a lot of help along the way and am looking forward to giving back,” she said. Johnson's life changed not long after entering foster care when she was placed with parents who would become her forever family. Before that, Johnson lived in a number of different homes. She remembers her foster care social worker telling her that she probably was three years behind students her age academically because she had moved around so much. “Each move meant I had to adapt to new people, ethnicities and races different from my own, new rules and new schools,” said Johnson. “I learned to be self-reliant and resilient.” As she waited for her adoption to be completed in 2015, she changed her name to Julianna. She forged an identity that would help her fit in better with her new culture and would go with her new last name, Johnson.   Living in Cherry Hill, Johnson’s parents, both Rutgers alums, hired tutors and did everything they could to make sure she got the help she needed to assimilate and succeed academically. The teenager who was still reading at an elementary school level when she entered high school, two years later scored in the top 8 percent in the country of those taking SATs to enter college. Her parents worked hard to make sure their daughter stayed connected to her heritage – enrolling her in weekend Chinese school to give her a better understanding of Mandarin and in traditional Chinese dance and music classes. In her senior year of high school, after Johnson and others advocated for it to be added to the curriculum, she was able to take a language class in Mandarin. While Johnson, who became a U.S. citizen when she was adopted, took her new parents name and is called “JJ” by some of her friends, officially she is Julianna Lan Lan Lubov Johnson. Besides her adoptive mother’s family name, it includes her nickname, or what the Chinese call a “little” name, Lan Lan, which translates to blue orchid, a symbol of love and strength. At Rutgers Johnson is a student ambassador for foreign students at the University’s Global Admissions Office. She answers questions via email and video chats with foreign students and their parents seeking information about attending Rutgers. She is also a peer mentor in the Global Roommate Program, living with international students and offering support and guidance as they navigate life and academics at Rutgers, and president and choreographer for the Rutgers Chinese Dance Troupe. She also was recently inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the U.S., and the Rutgers Cap & Skull Senior Honor Society, which selects less than one percent of students entering their senior year. “As I reflect on my life experiences, I am amazed that I am even here – a rising senior in college, in an honors program, contemplating my academic and professional future. I remember as a young child being told that education was not important,” she said. Calling Johnson an intrinsically motivated self-starter, Flora McVay, program manager for the Office of International Academic Success at Rutgers Global, said Johnson is one of the most professional and proactive peer leaders who has worked at the program. “What made Julianna such an outstanding asset to the program was the combination of maturity and sincerity she brought to this exceptionally challenging role. Julianna’s poise paired with her natural and abounding capacity for empathy is what set her apart from the start; it’s what helped her hone real-world competencies as a peer instructor and what I believe will continue to guide her in all her bright and promising future endeavors.” Arthur Casciato, director of Rutgers Office of Distinguished Fellowships, said getting to know Johnson was one of the highlights of his year. "Very few candidates I have worked with have come as far or overcome as much as JJ has, and there’s absolutely no doubt that she’ll represent Rutgers and her country in Taiwan with distinction." This article originally appeared in Rutgers Today.

Top Ten Bad Reasons to NOT Study Abroad

Thursday, May 19th
By Catherine Charlton, Rutgers Global Resident Director, UK and Ireland Maybe you’ve heard that study abroad is an adventure not to be missed, a way to make you stand out as a job applicant, and a way to accelerate you towards graduation, but you’re still not sure it is for you. Well this article holds our top ten reasons to NOT study abroad. Ignoring the poor grammar in the title of this article, are you considering studying abroad? And if you are, do you sometimes hear a little voice in the back of your mind that’s holding you back? If so, you’re not alone. And let’s be honest, sometimes that voice in the back of your mind may be accompanied by two loud voices right in front of you: your parents/guardians and your advisors. In other words, you may need to convince more than just yourself about studying abroad and this article is designed to help you do just that. Getting your team on board is part of the planning to study abroad. But, you may need to also engage in a psychological battle between your desire to study abroad and any doubts about changing your entire world. That mini conscience sitting on your shoulder listing all the reasons to stay in the familiar may be persistent. If that’s the case, take a deep breath and read on. You may find you will debunk the myths that hold so many people back and send you on your way with only excitement in tow.  The Top 10 List of Bad Reasons Number 1: It’s too expensive and I can’t afford it. Coming in at number one, this belief assumes studying abroad is out of the price range even before looking at the costs. In many cases, studying abroad is really affordable and sometimes more so than staying at home. In fact, we have many programs that are at or below the cost of a semester at Rutgers as part of our Access the World program—be sure to check it out. And, if you’re receiving financial aid, in most cases it will go with you. Finally, there are scholarships to help you with international educational experiences.   Number 2: I will miss my family and friends. Well probably, but you’ll also make some new friends and your old friends will be there when you get back, ready to hear about your adventures. Homesickness happens, but is soon replaced by adventures and excursions to exciting places and cultures with people from all over the world.    To deal with any feelings of missing home, make it a point to get involved as soon as you arrive. Your new university may be a temporary home, but it is home so join a club, sign up for organized excursions with other students, host weekly dinner nights with students from your residence hall or classes. And technology has made it super easy to stay in touch, so start a blog and go explore and gather those adventures. Number 3: I can’t take time away from Rutgers as I need to graduate early. There is nothing about international studying abroad that should derail you from graduating on time. (By the way, if you’re in a hurry to graduate early, slow down as you have the rest of your life to work.) Be sure to peruse our academic planning webpage to see how we can help you map the proper curriculum to your program to ensure that you keep on schedule.  Remember, university education is intended to broaden your horizons and allow you to discover yourself. Consider this: If all your rush is to jump start a successful career, don’t discount the huge value of international education. Beyond the self-discovery, the skills you learn while abroad – independence, critical thinking, problem solving – are all evident to employers when they see that study abroad experience on the resume. Fun fact: 97% of students who studied abroad were employed with in a year of graduating compared to only 49% of graduates who did not study abroad. Not convinced? Students who studied abroad had starting salaries a whopping 25% higher than their peers who did not study abroad.  Number 4: I’m not good with other languages. The best way to learn another language is to immerse yourself in it. Every student learns how to buy a drink, get on the right bus, and order lunch very quickly in a foreign language setting. Necessity will force you to do so. And speaking a second language increases cognitive abilities like problem solving, creativity and memory, and being multilingual may make you a desirable candidate to future employers. But if you are simply terrified of speaking another language or it doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of English-speaking destinations throughout the globe. There are even programs in non-English speaking destinations where courses are taught in English. So, chat with an advisor in Study Abroad to find out the multiple destinations available within your comfort level for a familiar or new language. Number 5: The application process is too complicated. When you applied to university that probably felt a little intimidating. Study abroad programs are no different than sitting down to complete a paper. You just need to do it and you will find how quickly it can be done. Don’t forget to take advantage of all the people there to help: academic advisor, study abroad advisors, and anyone else on your support team to cheer you on the way. Number 6: I do not want to do a homestay. Most programs provide housing in apartments or dorms. But if you do have a program that involves an international homestay, you should know the family will have grown children, or neighbors and friends who will help you connect with the community and other students. Homestays provide instant language practice opportunities and the bonus of home cooked meals will likely be amazing.    Number 7: There are so many options, I don’t know how to choose a program. Reach out to students who have been there and done that, they will tell you everything you need to know about a particular program. Reach out to a study abroad advisor who knows our programs. Consider your area of study, the program highlights, the costs and then choose the best match study abroad program for you. Number 8: I’m afraid of traveling. Okay, this one can be the toughest of all as you are the only one standing in your way. Travel can be scary. It is new and everything will seem unfamiliar and out of place at first. But the self-development that comes with pushing outside of your comfort zone is well researched and documented. If safety is a concern, then consider that when choosing your location. There are plenty of options in countries that will surround you with a safety net.   Increasingly, it is a global workplace and there are strong chances you will be required to travel at some point in your life. Easier to get comfortable with it now while you are young and carefree. Number 9: It won’t help my career. Wrong. False. Nope. Employers value study abroad experiences, as well as other types of international experiences like volunteering or internships. The mere fact that you studied abroad demonstrates a wider desire to learn about your world; it shows you are adaptable and open to new experiences; and, it reveals you’ve had experiences of cultures beyond your own and your classroom. It shows grit, determination, and resourcefulness. Many of the skills cited to be competitive in the modern workforce are developed while studying abroad. That’s definitely a win! Number 10: I have too many other commitments. Sometimes the demands of our academic and personal lives are such that being away for an extended period of time may not be available. If you really don’t want to spend a whole semester or year away, there are plenty of shorter options available: Faculty-led trips during spring break and Winter or summer study abroad options. Chat with an advisor. But here are three really EXCELLENT reasons TO study abroad: Excellent Reason Number 1: You want to stand out from the crowd. Unbelievably, less than 10% of students study abroad in any given year. That gives you a lot of room to out-pace your peers for that desirable job. Instead of having the same pedigree as everyone else, you will possess a diverse set of skills and experiences. And think of the stories you can share when you’re professionally networking or just hanging out with friends. But more, in a study by the Institute of International Education, the connection between studying abroad and the development of skills that contribute to employment and career development were explored. The top five skills developed while studying abroad were intercultural skills, curiosity, flexibility/adaptability, confidence and self-awareness, all of which are highly sought-after skills for employers.    Excellent Reason Number 2: You’ll learn to value experience over things. The memories of your experiences abroad will transcend any of the cool stuff you collect in your life. That leap toward extraordinary experiences – the ups and downs, the good and the bad, the silly and the challenging – all add up to your long-term satisfaction and happiness. It’s simple really. Students who study abroad have shown an increase in creativity, enhanced global competencies, growth in emotional intelligence and a comfort with trying new things. That’s stuff worth learning. Excellent Reason Number 3: You can add some AMAZING to your low-level degree requirements. Breaking news! You do not have to complete every class at Rutgers. In fact, knocking out a few general education requirement courses alongside some electives while studying abroad can really help you balance your course load. Classwork comes first even when studying abroad, and incorporating general education classes with those that are tied to your location (art history in Rome or theatre in London) can round out your overall academic experience. So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to make those study abroad dreams a reality?   Here are a few helpful tips to getting started: •    Visit Rutgers Global – Study Abroad to see what's on offer •    Meet with a study abroad advisor and some students who have returned from their experiences to learn more •    Meet with your academic advisor to map out a plan for how and when to study abroad •    Start the conversation with friends and family to get them behind your desire •    Outline a financial plan and look at program costs.  Apply for some scholarships •    Gear up for the application process – and don’t freak out! •    Get that passport if you don’t already have one •    Start packing your bags! This article is the first in a series by Catherine Charlton about studying abroad. Stay tuned for future articles about traveling in a "Corona-normal" world and packing hacks. You can reach Catherine at