Korea has always played a big part in my life, long before I ever set foot off that airplane at ICN in August of 2015. My grandmother, born in North Korea, fled to the South at a young age with a few of her siblings and lived in the port city of Busan before meeting my grandfather, a US soldier, and flying back to his family in Florida to begin a new life. My childhood was full of stories of her homeland, and her household has always been operated using an eclectic mix of Korean and English (affectionately dubbed Konglish). When my older sister studied abroad in South Korea back in 2012 and 2013, she returned to the US speaking of nothing but her love for the country, and ended up moving straight back as soon as she graduated. It feels like an understatement to say the retellings of her experience influenced my resolve to study abroad and an even bigger understatement to say that spending the entirety of my junior year in Incheon, South Korea was the best experience of my life.
I went to Korea with expectations of having a wonderful time, but I was completely overwhelmed by how quickly those expectations were not only met, but also surpassed by such a margin that the expectations were completely forgotten. Everything was so new. Initially I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the culture thanks to my grandmother, but actually experiencing and being completely immersed in the culture introduced me to so many new things that brought my love for the country to a whole new level. From spending time around the back gate of Inha University to spending nights roaming the streets of Seoul, from staying in a hanok in Jeonju to visiting the site of my grandmother’s family restaurant in Busan, from studying Korean in school to learning random phrases in Vietnamese from other exchange students, every day of my year abroad brought new experiences. I was able to hike a mountain with people I’d met the same day, take a week to fly to Japan and explore Tokyo, enjoy free concerts on campus with people from all around the world, and completely emerge myself in an amazing country that I completely consider to be my second home.
Now that’s not to say every second was sunshine and daisies. Going abroad came with frustrations, and there were times that I missed America, missed familiarity, and felt overwhelmed by the constant stream of new experiences. However, it was with each new challenge that I appreciated my decision to study abroad even more. Being in a new country can be scary—it’s anything but routine, and more times than not I had no idea what I was doing. But I was also excited, and I learned more about myself during those difficult times than I ever would have had I stayed home and never ventured outside my comfort zone. And so with that I would say I am more thankful for the “hard” parts of my study abroad experience than the “easy”—they shaped me into who I am today and gave me a wider perspective on the world around me than I had ever imagined.
And with those difficult times came great rewards—new friends to miss, new lessons to learn, new sights to see, and a new hunger to see more of the world. So to anyone thinking about going abroad: prepare to be scared and excited and amazed and for your outlook on life to be forever changed. And if you’re hesitant: just do it. Take the plunge, and appreciate the “new”.
Ashley Boyett ~ Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 ~ Incheon, South Korea