Originally published by Reach the World, December 18, 2015
Before coming to Korea, I knew relatively little about the country where I would be living for a year. I had heard some k-pop songs, I had read some history, and I had known that students went to school for as long as 14 hours a day. In the five months since I’ve been here, I have had the honor of learning so much more about this beautiful country and its kind people. And I know I still have so much more to learn during my second semester.
In Korea, I have visited palaces and temples that are hundreds of years old. I have celebrated traditional holidays like Chuseok and attended festivals like the Jinju Lantern Festival. I have lived with a wonderful and supportive Korean family. I have taught English to high school students and to refugees in a nearby city. I have seen traditional markets next to skyscrapers, and apartments and schools nestled in mountains. I have been immersed in Korean traditions, such as taekwondo and musical performances. I have been exposed to foods I never would have tried in America, such as seaweed soup, spicy octopus, and kimchi.
And that only scratches the surface.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned during my time abroad is the importance of adapting to new surroundings and a new culture. The best, though hardest, way to do that is by learning a new language.
While many Koreans try to speak English with me when they realize I am American, it is far more respectful for me to adapt to the Korean language and culture. I find myself using more body language and facial expressions when I speak Korean compared to when I speak English, but it is so rewarding to see how much Koreans appreciate when I speak their language. Language learning is a slow process, but becomes easier with practice. Some of my favorite moments in Korea were having simple conversations with taxi drivers or strangers on the street.
I know that in the future, I will want to continue to learn about new people, languages and cultures, while sharing my own language and culture with others. When I return to America, I hope to continue learning, volunteering and understanding what it means to be a global citizen.
Thank you for following my journey this semester. It was a pleasure sharing my experiences abroad and teaching a little bit about Korean culture. Feel free to stay in touch, and may you have many fulfilling journeys throughout your lives.