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“Being able to make a difference in my own neighborhood was something I really enjoyed.” –Karleta Peterson CC’16
Hometown: New York City
Favorite Spot on Campus: JJ’s Place
Favorite Course: “Introduction to Cultural Psychology”
Clubs: Liberty in North Korea – Columbia University Chapter, Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, Community Impact
Awards: Community Impact Exceptional Leadership in Service Award
This July, Karleta Peterson CC’16 will head to South Korea to embark on the year-long Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program, an exchange initiative that places native English-speaking college graduates from the United States in grade schools around Korea.
Just a few years ago, it would have seemed like an improbable route for Peterson, whose love affair with Korean language and culture began “by accident” when she registered for “First-Year Korean 1” her freshman year because it was one of the few language courses that was still open and accommodated her schedule. That experience “made me want to be engaged, not just with learning the language and the grammar but also with cultural elements,” says Peterson.
Peterson spent the first semester of her junior year studying abroad through the Council on International Educational Exchange Seoul Arts and Sciences Program. There she took courses on Korean history and North Korean politics at Yonsei University and mentored kids 8–13 at a care center for disadvantaged children, where her responsibilities included leading art and craft activities and workshops on the English language and American culture. She fondly recalls bonding with the children by teaching them how to play the hand-clapping rhyme game “Quack Diddly Oso.” “It was cultural exchange in the moment,” she says.
Peterson, who grew up in East Harlem, was a Thompson-Muñoz Scholar — an honor for need-based scholarship recipients in the College and Engineering who come from schools and communities that surround the University. Having grown increasingly aware of inequality and class differences in New York City, she majored in sociology to learn more about those issues. For her senior thesis, she explored different ways in which people use the term “ghetto.”
On campus, Peterson was involved with the Visitors Center and the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, which in both cases entailed leading and coordinating tours. With the URC, she also helped organize Days on Campus, two days of events and programs for admitted students and their families.
During her first two years in the College, Peterson also was a coordinator for the GED program run by the Columbia-based nonprofit Community Impact. In that role, she met a few participants who lived near her family’s home. “Being able to make a difference in my own neighborhood was something I really enjoyed,” she says.
— Nathalie Alonso CC’08