While on her thirteen hour flight, Jena Fowler had enough time to think about what was to come of her three month trip to Seoul, South Korea. Aside from the original excitement, she was anxious. After all, she was going to be alone and out of the country for the first time in her life and that can be scary for a young woman. Pushing aside the anxieties that accompanied this trip, Jena focused on maintaining her emotions and realized she was very lucky to be able to do something most people are either too scared or can’t afford to do. The plane ride was long and tiresome, with every turbulent bump creating a more anxious woman out of Jena. But still, she carried on.
Looking into her eyes, wanderlust was all one could see. For miles, they went on with a desire to travel and meet the unknown. Her attitude gave off a positive radiance with a touch of zeal. She was ambitious and ready to meet her future head-on. A twenty-year-old woman who is just beginning to acquire a taste for her prime years, Jena finds herself studying abroad almost seven thousand miles away from her hometown. She is small and slender with pale skin. Her dark blue eyes shine bright for knowledge. Her short hair is ashy blonde and falls on her shoulders almost poetically.
With only a bold spark of interest and a love for South Korea, Jena found herself wanting to venture out of her comfort zone. After a quick thought and a short-minded decision, she was off to figure out more about herself and relish in the differences this Asian culture has to offer her.
After everyone around her had been telling her this was essentially a bad idea, she listened only to herself and made this once in a lifetime decision.
Her initial thoughts after landing were that of excitement and familiarity. Seeing that most of the community in which she was staying spoke English, she hadn’t yet felt the culture shock of being thousands of miles away from her comfy home and family. Yet, she often felt a slight disconnection to the people around her. After asking her if she had felt the pressure of being away from home, she responded:
“You have to live in the moment, even though you’re anxious. It’s like, I’m doing something that’s so worthwhile and a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do these things because of anxiety and…I don’t know. You just can’t let that hold you back.”
Settling into her dorm room was yet another challenge down the road. With a roommate who had no appreciation for sleep and even less for personal space, she felt as though she had no haven. After forcing herself to mingle and go out, her room was supposed to be her safe space. But not here. Feeling alone, she was compelled to further push past her comfort zone and travel the city she now calls her temporary home, Seoul.
“I literally had to force myself to go to the doctor,” an anxious Jena told me.
With no sense of direction in the large capital of South Korea, Jena found herself needing a friend and feeling loneliness slowly creep its fingers around her. After a few weeks of adjusting and accommodating, she began taking her friend’s advice from home and going on walks to cafes and museums by herself. On these walks, she found a small part of herself within this huge city. She came across hole-in-the-wall cafes such as “Rain Tree” and “Peachy Grey” that featured watercoloring while enjoying tea. Walking alone gave Jena a strong sense of power, which was ultimately the most liberating feeling she’d ever felt.
Slowly creeping out of her shell, Jena made lifelong friends while on her trip—friends with whom she could share her love for museums and cafes . They went on walks daily around the city and discovered new places along the way. She was no longer alone and quickly realized there’s more to life than being scared of making big jumps. This trip gave her a piece of herself she never knew she was missing; it gave her freedom.
“For me, after being over there and having to force myself to do these things alone, I feel so much more comfortable with myself at home,” she admits.