If you had told me during my freshman year of high school that I would be studying abroad, I would have probably responded with, “That’s really funny but I don’t see that happening. Besides, where did I even go?”. Upon hearing that I would be in South Korea, I would have completely stood there in disbelief and thought you were lying.
There just was no way that I would pack my bags and travel to the opposite side of the globe to a country with a language that I do not even speak. The thought would have been anxiety inducing enough to have me reject the idea of studying abroad all together; it was unfathomable for me to imagine that possibility especially even more so because I would have thought my strict parents would never allow it. However, here I am, typing this blog in Seoul, South Korea. I truthfully did get to study abroad. You might be asking yourself, “what changed?”
The idea of studying abroad came about when I was looking up a particular Korean singer that I liked. I saw that he had gone to a prestigious university in Korea and it peaked my interest. After clicking on a few links, I found a bunch of information about the university and other equally respectable schools in the country. I began to wonder what going to those schools must be like and the educational system within it.
The one school that caught my eye was Korea University and I discovered very quickly that they had an international summer semester program for foreigners to come and take classes at the school while participating in programs to increase cultural awareness about South Korea. Immediately my attention was focused on everything this program had to offer. I instantly fell in love with it and told myself that I wanted to participate somehow.
As a student who likes to challenge herself, I began to contemplate the possibility of going abroad however, there was one thing that stopped me for a while: my self confidence. Would I actually succeed? What if I regret it? How would I survive in a country far away from home? I told myself things such as ” you do not even know the language, why would you go?”, “you are going to miss your family way too much for that”, and “you can’t do it.”
Self confidence is something that I have always struggled to maintain. I used to chicken out on presenting in front of my class and I did not like stepping outside of my comfort zone. However, despite all the negative thoughts I had, I could not get the idea of studying abroad out of my mind.
Once I finally started school at my home university, I went to a couple of school events hosted by the study abroad office just to see what the process might look like to go abroad. The more and more I attended these events, the less afraid I became about the idea. After much contemplation, I decided that I was just going to power through the emotions and the situations to come because I knew studying abroad was something I truthfully wanted to do.
My self confidence was low but my ambition overpowered me. The whole process of convincing my parents and sorting through all the logistics took about a year but I began to feel so much more empowered once everything fell into place. My parents are very strict and getting them to agree was probably one of the most difficult tasks I have ever had to do in my life. In order to convince them, I had to show them that this was something that I was serious on and not afraid of doing. This is what helped boost my self-confidence by tenfold.
I would have endless conversations with my parents about how important this was to me and just how wonderful the whole idea would be. I began to educate myself on South Korea and everything it had to offer from their food, their culture to even their history. My parents soon realized through all my efforts that I was very confident on my decision and that it would be a benefit to my future so, they agreed to let me go. I felt so happy once my parents granted me permission because I knew in that moment that if they believed in me, I should not have any reason to doubt myself.
That was only step one; soon I would actually be abroad which came with its own set of challenges for me. Being in South Korea studying has tested my self confidence on many occasions. There have been times where I felt intimidated to speak to people out of fear that I would not understand what they were saying. Other moments, I felt scared to take public transportation on my own because I feared getting lost.
As time passed and I began to become homesick, I began to contemplate if I was even strong enough to handle everything that was being thrown at me all at once. The beautiful thing about studying abroad is that it forces you to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Even if it feels like the worst thing in the world at the moment, you will appreciate the lesson that you learned by the end of it. When I first came to Korea, I went to a beauty store and I wanted to ask about a face primer but I had no idea how to ask.
I began to become fearful and I wanted to just give up on the idea however, I mustered up all my courage and I forced myself to ask the store worker about it in broken Korean. By the end of it, I ended up getting information about it and I became happy that I asked in the first place. I knew that if I turned away and let myself become scared, I would just be doing a disservice to myself. If I wanted to improve in Korean as well as become a braver person, I needed to put myself in the cross fire and fight through the battle that is my fear.
When it came time for myself to travel somewhere alone through the subway station, I was truthfully terrified that I was going to get lost. I wished for so long that one of my friends were with me to help guide me but alas, I was alone and I needed to accept that reality. After referencing my metro app on my phone and doing a few transfers, I made it to my destination just fine. It was not as difficult as my mind made it seem and in fact, I felt so proud of myself in that moment that I could not wait to do it again.
These small milestones are victories that ultimately have led towards increasing my self esteem. Even during times when I feel homesick, I have begun to remind myself that it is not a sign of weakness and that I am a strong person.
Going abroad has been a life changing experience for me and without going through this process, I would not be the person that I am today. It has allowed me to improve on a quality of myself that I disliked for many years.
Finally, I am becoming more empowered by myself and I hope that somehow it can motivate those around me to do the same. As I enter the last week of my program, I will continue to work hard, enjoy my remaining time in South Korea and continue growing personally. After reflecting on all my growth thus far, I tell myself now, “You have done so well thus far, why stop here. Keep going far!”