02/09/19. 18:30. P11
/A Worthwhile Investment/
/Category: Digital Technology/
/Guide Question: Do you think one can “study abroad” virtually? If so, how? What benefits would be lost?/
From the moment I decided to apply for the program, I knew that studying abroad will definitely be one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. When I was applying, I remember responding to a prompt that asked why I wanted to study abroad. I said something along the lines of “since I was an International Studies major and hoped to work in Seoul in the future, I wanted to learn about the Korean economy and study my emphasis subjects from the perspective of Korea that I cannot get from studying those particular subjects in America.” This is still quite true, as my fall semester subjects did not disappoint. However, more than the expansion of my global knowledge and growing academically, the greatest lesson this study abroad has given me did not involve my intellect, but rather, my heart.
To me, the greatest lesson studying abroad can give you is to be open and get out of your comfort zone. Therefore, I think it is quite difficult to study abroad “virtually.” To be fair, I will have the experience of participating in a sort of “study abroad online.” I’ve recently been given the honor of participating in the Spring 2019 cycle of the Reach the Worldprogram. This program aims to help K-12 classrooms become engaged in global learning by connecting them with students like me, who are currently abroad. Selected travelers will write topic-controlled articles, take photos, work with faculty, and skype with the students, with the intent of sharing our experiences abroad. I applied because I agree with the program’s mission to bring the world to children and inspire them to be more curious about the differences of culture, rather than be wary about them. By following travelers’ content, this is the children’s way of virtually traveling. This is as close to studying abroad as it can get.
This is quite an amazing thing to do for others who do not have the opportunity yet to go abroad. It is great that we can learn so many things about the world online and be able to connect with people from anywhere. Nonetheless, nothing is quite like the experience of studying abroad itself.
If you don’t physically go, you lose the value of discovery, interaction, and experience. Interaction with the locals and the culture, visiting local spots and new environments, learning to speak a new language and the joy it brings when a local finally understands you, tasting new combinations of foods… nothing is quite like experiencing things yourself rather than hearing it from others. You are forced to become a little braver because you’re pushed out of your comfort zone as you re-learn to live life, this time according to how another set of people live theirs. It challenges your perceptions and assumptions about the world, and you learn humility as you suddenly become a helpless and burdensome stranger/foreigner in a new environment. This makes you appreciate others’ company and kindness, and in turn, you give back by becoming more patient and extending that understanding with others. More importantly, you begin to appreciate spending time by yourself, finding peace in solitude, loneliness becoming solace. Studying abroad can sometimes get lonely as your family and friends are far away and at different time zones. But you learn to entertain yourself, enjoy your own company, and respect your abilities to solve problems as they come. I think it’s an important skill to have, autonomy.
As you learn more about the new culture you are in, you become more attune to similarities of the human race despite the difference in the way we do things. For instance, Koreans speak another language from me but if you strip that language difference, my fellow students are worried about getting a job like me, people go to work and make a living, spend time with friends, love and cry over breakups, try to do good and be a good person, etc. Fundamentally, people are more alike than they think. At the same time, studying abroad helps people appreciate their own culture more. You get numerous chances to share who you are and where you are from and miss the things that you can only find back home.
These are things that are difficult to develop online, not to mention the relationships you make while abroad opens you up to wider possibilities career-wise. It is also quite different from traveling because traveling is usually for fun and ends quite quickly. If you are not having fun anymore, your flight home is usually just 1-2 days away. You can’t really quit in the middle of study abroad, you have to at least finish the semester. I know that studying abroad is a big decision and a big commitment. That’s why I still think that if you can go, you should go. It’s an investment that definitely pays.
I wanted to share these photos taken at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. They were taken about a month after I arrived in Korea. This day was quite special because it was my first time wearing the Korean traditional clothing Hanbok. As I was surrounded by Korea’s history all around me, this was also the day where I first thought that, “Wow! I really am in Korea! I made my dream come true!”