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From Conklin to Korea

Corrine Spencer recently moved to Incheon, South Korea to take a position as an English Writing Professor at SUNY Korea. 

As an eighth grader, she was one of the first students to participate in LPP at the Susquehanna Valley School District. Corrine didn’t know at the time that her education would take her across the world. But she credits LPP with helping her begin the journey – first with academic support and then with helping her apply to universities as a first-generation college student.

Corrine joined the program as she was entering high school, but she wasn’t sure whether it would be the right fit for her at first. She was already doing band and orchestra, and she wondered if Liberty would be just one more thing to keep track of. 

But her friend, who was also joining Liberty, convinced Corrine to give it a shot. 

“What’s a couple nights a week?” Corrine said, thinking back to that time. “But it became a pretty central part of our high school experience.” 

She recalled the designated Liberty room at Susquehanna Valley High School as a safe place both to have fun with friends and find the sense of focus that helped her excel.

With access to Liberty’s mentors, Corrine was able to get individual support that accommodated the way she learned. She recalled one of the academic counselors, Sasha Fassett, who was always around to help through academic and personal rough patches.

“Sasha had unending patience for our – let’s call it ‘shenanigans’,” Corrine said. “She was good at getting us to focus on things that were important when maybe we didn’t feel like they were so important right in that moment.”

Outside of the classroom, Corrine and the rest of her Liberty class visited the Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca at the end of every year. And, like Liberty classes still do, they also went to visit different colleges. 

It was on one of those trips that she visited the college she ended up attending: SUNY Potsdam. That trip was an important first step in her college career. But Liberty’s involvement in the college process didn’t end there. 

Corrine said they were instrumental in helping her through the application process, especially as a first-generation college student. “I would’ve never known what to expect, or what to do, or how to fill out the FAFSA,” she said. “I think they even bought some of my postage.” 

With Liberty’s help, Corrine filled out all the necessary paperwork and identified a few scholarships she qualified for. She also attended several college prep events hosted by Liberty on the Binghamton University campus. 

“The college aspect of it was just priceless,” she said.

Corrine went on to earn her bachelor's degree from SUNY Potsdam and a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She returned to New York State to work as a lecturer at BU and began studying again, first at BU, then at the University at Albany, where she was encouraged by her mentor to pursue a PhD in Educational Policy & Leadership.

Although it ended up being the perfect path for her, it wasn’t one Corrine planned for. 

“I think it’s important that students know that they need to be flexible coming into college,” she said, going on to say that switching majors felt at the time like a big disappointment. “I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that part of my brain. This is obviously the perfect place for me.” 

Before pursuing education, she originally chose a music major, then switched to biology, and took business classes. While she was thinking about what she’d do next, her roommate at the time – an international student from China – encouraged Corrine to try teaching English in China.

“I’m a kid from Conklin. I didn’t know that was an option,” she said.

While working at BU, Corrine taught in Beijing and Taipei, and fell in love with Asia. Now, she can see the Yellow Sea from her new home in Songdo, Incheon. “I really like it, and I’m enjoying the adventure here."