Now, I could never imagine thinking that living abroad would be easy as long as I know Korean. I know I have had thoughts like that before, but now, I couldn’t even imagine it. I have heard foreigners say that living in Korea is easy, even if you don’t know Korean. But after getting around while knowing Korean, that can’t be true. Or maybe it’s not about a person’s language ability, but rather their expectations when they go abroad. I always thought that I would have a great time, I wouldn’t miss my home, would love the food, would meet so many new people, make friends easily, practice my Korean.
But I’ve realized none of that will happen unless you put the effort in to make it happen. The first two weeks of school, I pretty much waited for people to talk to me — maybe it’s because of my personality, I’m not exactly sure — but no one did. It was like I was a ghost that no one really paid attention to. I couldn’t make friends unless they were international students and if I ever conversed with someone in Korean, the conversation would end immediately after that told me my Korean was good. I felt like I had spoken more Korean back in the US. But I realize now it’s better to initiate the conversation and topics because part of the reason why the conversation ends fast is that they are unsure of the foreigner’s language ability and there are not confident in their English skill.
So, one of the things I have started doing is attending these extra free Korean practice sessions on Saturday’s, they’re free for foreigners, and for 2 hours we spend time just practicing. Then I also applied for a similar program at my college and even applied for school clubs. That way I am putting myself in situations to talk about my own interests in an environment I would enjoy. Additionally, I applied for the language exchange program at my school in order to practice putting myself out there and talking in Korean.
I think I will grow and mature a lot from this experience.
I chose not to live on campus and instead stay with a host family, however, sometimes Homestay experiences are different depending on the family but sometimes it doesn’t always work out. Then after the problems there, I realized that it would be better to move locations. For the first time, I went out looking for places on my own, looking at prices, deciding which places are better than others. It was probably my most stressful adult experience and it made me realize how independent I really am here in Korea. But, somehow it also felt empowered. It was as if there was a string that I was holding onto connected to my parents and part of living here has helped me to cut that string and be on my own.
I’m certain there are people like me out there, people who are too afraid to speak up to do things on their own, if that’s the case, study abroad will be an overall positive experience. Despite the cultural differences and the problems faced, things can only ever really get better when you feel like you have hit rock bottom.