By the time I graduate (May 2015), I would have gone on the greatest adventure during my undergrad, which is studying abroad. About a year ago, I glanced at my life and came to a realization that I wanted to travel half-way across the world, but to where? That inevitable realization lead me to South Korea where I would study at Korea University for four months.
Now granted, studying abroad can be complex for some people in terms of logistics, but I’ll cover that some other time. However, in this case, I would like to shift my focus on what studying abroad has done to me and why each and every individual should partake on this experience.
When I left Dane County Regional Airport late last August, I embarked on a journey that would soon land me at Incheon International Airport 15 hours later. I wasn’t ready for “culture shock.” I wasn’t ready for anything to be honest. All I knew was that the friends I once had, didn’t exist, and for awhile I would have no communication to the outside world. It was going to be a long week, or perhaps month, in my head.
Those long weeks or months in my head became enjoyable days with fun and laughter, but were due to results of changes. Changes that would ultimately change how I perceive the country and my own. Changes that would make me realize how important it is for us to acknowledge other country’s culture and be open-minded about everything.
During my trip, I became more aware of their culture. I started to accept my role in the Korean society. I started to accept the fact that in order to live half-way across the world from the United States, I had to engage myself in their culture. There was no Hi or Bye, it was all 안녕하세요 (Hi) or 얼마에요 (How much) and yes, I can speak little Korean and read it as well.
It made me a much more humble person. I couldn’t bring over my American habits here and act like it was acceptable. I couldn’t get away with always speaking English and act like they knew what I was saying. I had to conform to them as if they probably would have to conform to an American society. But the most important thing I learned about myself was that I had taken the American society for granted. Driving cars, high value food that were affordable, unlimited texting, and cheap groceries…There was none of that in Korea!
When I came back from Korea, it was almost as if I had became a better person; an educated person. I felt like I could understand international student’s struggles and how they may perceive us. It made me want to build a bridge and connect them with us. It made me realize that this world is much smaller than it is.
As you go through your undergrad, I challenge you to take your studies somewhere else in the world whether it’s for studying, volunteering, or interning. Obviously the experience will be different from mine depending on where you go, but it will challenge your cultural norms. It will push you out of your comfort zone and it will break your boundaries, but it will definitely make you a more educated person.
So next time you are on your laptop and you really want to go embark on a journey, don’t be afraid to point your finger on a country and say “I’m going there.”