First and foremost, I need to start this blog by communicating that despite the preparation one does and the expectations they have within their mind about their new environment, things are rarely ever that easy! In other words, despite thinking that I would have minimal trouble acclimating to Seoul, South Korea, a thought based on my previous knowledge of the culture and the general over preparedness brought on by my own anxiety, I was swiftly and harshly proven wrong.
Coming off of a 15-hour plane flight, I just wanted to get to my dorm, eat some food, take a shower, and sleep. Luckily, I booked a transport service to get from the airport—something I highly recommend to others, especially if you are not familiar with public transportation, have lots of luggage, or live off campus! Check one: I made it to my housing; now came food. Frankly this is where everything went wrong. I knew before leaving for Korea that it was likely that my palate would have some adjusting to do, unfortunately anticipating and experiencing are very different. Needless to say, I had a little bit of a breakdown that first couple of days due to harsh reality that my bed was no longer the pillow castle I had built at home, my mom was no longer across the hall to hug, my cat was no longer just a staircase away from calming cuddles, and even food was no longer familiar and uncomplicated.
Alas, as I mentally prepared to do before getting on a plane to live for several months across the globe, I was able to overcome and as others might phrase it, “Fake it till you make it!” For food, I learned where to go for groceries (but be careful as many of them close for two Sundays of the month) even if it’s still troublesome to have to carry them all the way home, memorized my neighborhood’s layout, learned how to use the bus system (which was just as easy as it looked, really!!), and I’ve occasionally even spoken in Korean to others! Honestly, Seoul is very easy to navigate whether on foot or by public transportation and the people here, while not outwardly as friendly as some might be used to, are kind and accommodating. Therefore, rather than reflecting about my outward choices, I’ve instead come to focus on my own mentality and reservations regarding experiences. For instance, I’ve yet to have a negative experience when it comes to speaking to locals here, regardless of it being in English or Korean, yet every time I debate going to somewhere new, I’m overcome with what ifs and doubts. In that regard, and many more, I’ve come to love this semester abroad regardless of any past, and yet to come, difficulties. Not only have I become more self-aware of my own fears and hesitations, but I am also in a place where I have the freedom and independence to explore my introspections and overcome them!
I hope this blog post can be reassuring to those who might be scared to go abroad, whether it be due to their own anxiety, their lack of knowledge regarding the language, or the uncertainty of being in a new place without your previous support systems easily within grasp. Despite the negative nature of my initial couple of days, it is important to always remember to cut yourself some slack and allow yourself time to breathe and adapt. Expecting yourself to experience the change and new environments the same as those around you (such as people from the same program) is doing a disservice to yourself, especially since you are not them. It is ok to not be automatically comfortable, or to take time to yourself. All in all, be kind to yourself! With the me who is writing this being a month into this semester, I can say that my time here has become so much closer to the exciting, freeing, and unforgettable adventure that I had anticipated and dreamed about!
I wish I had heard of someone’s experience like mine before going, rather than only having people’s accounts in which everything was amazing and comfortable from the get-go. The most negative thing I’d heard was, “Oh, the jetlag is terrible!” The jetlag wasn’t the best admittedly, however when compared to the hurricane within me regarding just about everything, having that be my only understanding of others initial experiences, did nothing but make me feel even more alone. I hope this account of my initial time in Seoul, South Korea isn’t seen as too brutally honest and instead can be helpful to those looking to experience a semester abroad themselves, as well as reassure others that it’s ok to take go at their own pace!