I think that I didn’t realize the magnitude of moving abroad for a semester until my plane landed at Incheon in August. I arrived in Korea knowing not a single person and with bright-eyed determination to soak up every experience possible and learn lots of Korean. I unfortunately fell for the trap of watching too many TikToks and YouTube videos about travel and life in Korea and therefore I put undue pressure on myself to live a certain lifestyle and to check off a certain number of “must-see” locations and experiences.
I don’t want to say my expectations were too high, because I think that the excitement I was feeling for my upcoming adventure was something so special to experience. But understandably, my expectations were too glittery and better curated for a social media feed instead of for a true everyday lifestyle.
Moving abroad for any extended period of time is a daunting undertaking, and I think that I did not set the proper expectations for how the academic, professional, and personal development aspect of study abroad would sometimes be difficult and confusing.
I want to start by reflecting on how my expectations for life in Korea thus far have pleasantly exceeded what I could have hoped for before I left for my study abroad program.
First, are the friends that I have met and how they have influenced my worldview and given me a deeper understanding of how important cross-cultural education is for everyone — even members of the host country.
Thanks to the Korean Wave, South Korea is an increasingly popular destination for study abroad students that come from all corners of the world, fields of study, and walks of life. Our international exchange cohort at Korea University this semester is one of the largest ever, and that means that in my everyday life I meet new friends who always remind me that at the end of the day we are all a lot more similar than we are different.
My new Korean friends have also taught me that there is so much potential for deep friendships regardless of the language barrier, and that smiles and silliness don’t require a Quizlet set or a grammar lecture to understand. I have been surprised by how close I have gotten with my social circle in such a short period of time, but I am confident that we will keep in touch for years to come.
Academically, I expected that the university lifestyle and rigor to be quite intense. South Korea is a bit infamous for its academic rigor, and I have to say this is one expectation that has been spot-on. It is one thing to understand in theory what it feels like to go to school in a very competitive environment, but another to actually live out this new style of education.
Finally, I think that my time in Korea so far has cemented my desire to incorporate my knowledge of Korea and the Korean language into my future career. I have devoted a lot of time to my Korean language study, and I have no plans of stopping any time soon. I think I expected some sort of professional epiphany throughout my time here as I considered my career prospects, but really what has occurred has been a quiet understanding of how far cultural competency can take me in the future.