I believe going into anything with expectations is bad. Often people build up expectations of how things will be in their minds and then are greatly disappointed when these expectations are not met. For this reason, I prefer to go in without expectations and find myself pleasantly surprised by the good things that happen and somewhat prepared for the bad things that happen. So, I did not come into my program with expectations. I would highly recommend this for future study abroad students as well. I have met many students while abroad who had these great expectations of what life was going to be like when they went abroad and then saw them go into a deep depression when things don’t work out as they had thought they would.
That is not to say I go into things without any idea of what I would want to do or what the culture is like. I did research ahead of time of things that would be nice to do, to see, and about what the culture is like (such as good manners, bad manners, etc. based on South Korean culture). But, I didn’t hold myself to getting everything done and seeing everything because I knew life gets in the way sometimes.
I am glad I went abroad with this mindset because a lot of bad things happened while I was abroad. I don’t want to say I regret going abroad, or that it was an overall bad experience, but it was a very difficult time for me. I would say my time abroad was neither good nor bad, it just was a time in my life that happened.
I do not think I really changed much from being abroad. I have become more independent and self-sufficient than before, but I also contribute that to living alone and getting older (I am not sure I can say this was purely caused by being abroad). I come from a multi-cultural household and have lived abroad twice before, so this experience wasn’t lifechanging the way others might experience. But I did have the opportunity to take part in an internship at a multi-national corporation during my last semester in Seoul. This experience helped me build my professional communication and teamwork skills.
I faced many obstacles while abroad and I still have not overcome many of them. The details of the obstacles are not as important as what I quickly learned. It is important to know that the organizations, departments, offices, etc. that tell you they will support you when you leave for your abroad trip will not necessarily be helpful once you are abroad. I was left with no responses to my messages, emails back saying that I needed to contact someone else (which would usually send me back full circle), or the people meant to help me causing me additional distress. But, I found that my fellow study abroad students were very supportive. When I really needed help and I thought maybe other students had been through similar experiences, I would ask in group chats, my classmates, and my friends what they had done or were doing. This was by far the most helpful route of my entire year abroad.
While it was disheartening to realize you often cannot rely on those who are paid to communicate with you and help you, it was also heartwarming to see students coming together to create a community. We weren’t paid to help each other, and we didn’t necessarily benefit from helping each other, yet we still decided to help one another.
Due to some of the obstacles I faced while abroad, what comes next is somewhat unknown, but I will likely not be back in the United States for a few years.