Growing up, I dreamed of going on adventures to learn more about the amazing wonders the world had to offer. Being born and raised in California, I had only known how to navigate life through the lens of a Vietnamese girl living in the diverse suburban city of San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley. I realized how blessed I was to be able to have the comfort of my friends and family, as well as to be within arms reach whenever I needed them. When deciding whether or not to study abroad, I knew that I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone to truly learn who I am and understand the world around me. Although it was hard to leave the place I have been to all of my life, I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege to be able to immerse myself in a whole other culture on the opposite end of the world. I’ve learned so much about myself that I had never known before. If you are ever debating on if you should take a shot at experiencing this life-learning opportunity abroad, I say TAKE it because you’ll never know how much you can grow and who you’ll meet. After these past 4 months in South Korea, this is my reflection of my experience studying abroad in my never-ending journey of self-discovery.
Personally, I am very family-oriented and very attached to my personal space, therefore, I became very homesick when I left that familiar environment. This was my first time being away from home for so long without my family, which was terrifying but nonetheless exciting. My curiosity made me strong from the fear of the unknown, and I dived straight into it.
I never realized how dependent I was on my family until I had to live on my own. I learned how to do my own laundry, clean the room, take out the trash, go grocery shopping, cook my own food, open a foreign bank account, pay insurance, and the list goes on. I realized that I was oblivious to what it really meant to be independent, as well as the number of life skills that I was lacking. Most importantly, I learned how to communicate and navigate around a country I had little to no prior knowledge about. In San Jose, I had the privilege of having a car to transport myself around the city, however, I did not have that luxury when coming to South Korea. I learned how to read a map to use public transportation, which included the bus, subway, and train. I walked like I never walked before in my life and have become so accustomed to it that I feel like it’s going to be strange to drive my car when I’m home.
Although I am doing my best to learn the language, there are times when I blank out and have no idea what’s happening. When that happens, Papago is your best friend. Instead of Google translate, many people use an app called Papago to translate English to Korean and vice versa. As I attended more of my Korean classes, I began to be able to read and listen if they were speaking slowly enough. In the beginning, it was very difficult but I can say I am comfortable with going from one place to another by myself now without asking for help.
Looking back at high school, I remember feeling like I needed to be with someone all the time. If I were walking from one class to another, I wanted to walk with someone. If I were to eat out at a restaurant, I had to eat with someone. If I were to do anything alone, it would seem like I was lonely. After living in South Korea for several months, I realized how different the social structure is here compared to where I came from. On the aspect of eating out, I was shocked by how many restaurants had tables meant for just one person. Because I was so accustomed to restaurants being a place that you go to for social gatherings, I thought it was odd at first. Now, I love to eat out by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love going out to eat with my friends and meeting new people, but there’s a beauty to being comfortable with being by yourself. It became very therapeutic for me to walk from place to place while blasting music through my headphones.
I began to enjoy my own company, which strengthened my self-love and boosted my confidence because I wasn’t afraid to be seen alone. I was able to be unapologetically myself without the fear of anyone’s judgment towards me. This new discovery of being comfortable in my own skin made me realize how to make myself happy. All of my life, I don’t think I knew how to be happy by myself. If I look back to it, it was always an outside source that made me happy. Being away from everything I knew forced me to discover new activities that I enjoyed, new foods that I loved to eat, new people that I love to hang out with, new music that I love to listen to, and the list goes on. In a way, this journey was lonely but one that I am grateful for because now that I know how to love myself, I can love my friends and family so much harder.
I saved the best for last because my experience would not be as great if it weren’t for the people I’ve met along the way. It’s amazing how many people you’ll meet are from all different paths of life, but you all somehow wind up in the same place at the same time. Everyone’s story is different and I love to learn about others’ perspectives because it opens my mind a little wider every time. Prior to studying abroad, I never thought that I would be able to build a deep connection with people I would only see for 4 months, but I was wrong. Now, I believe the length of time you’ve known someone doesn’t define the depth of friendships because the friends I’ve met here are unquestionably one of the most genuine people I have ever met. From going on trips to karaoke nights, I cherish the times we laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. From happy drinking to sad drinking, I will always remember being there for each other when one was feeling sad. To the friends I’ve met along this short road, you all will always hold a special place in my heart even though we will be far from one another in a couple of weeks. I am grateful that our paths crossed and that we were all able to experience this journey together!
Comparing four months to your entire life span, it’s a short amount of time and made me realize that time is so precious. To be transparent, I would be overwhelmed some nights because of the surrealness of being 5,649 miles away from home. At first, the four months seemed so long but I realized the people I’ve met along the way made this journey worthwhile. Before I knew it, I only had 3 weeks left here. Every now and then, I would still be mind blown that I’m on the opposite end of the world from everything and everyone I knew prior to this experience. This path of self-discovery is never-ending because I will constantly strive to become a better version of myself every day. I hope this inspired you to explore beyond your comfort zone and let me know if it did!
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