I stand in front of the South Korean flag at Odusan Unification Tower on Nov. 8. North Korea was on my far right as I stood near the Northern tip of South Korea. Photo courtesy of Ji Yeon Cha.
When I heard about the online platform for fall 2020, I thought about how I would spend my time at home. Up until Pepperdine’s official announcement, I never imagined calling Seoul, South Korea my home for an entire semester. Studying abroad on my own pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to take initiative everyday.
The hardest aspect of studying abroad solo was finding my own routine. I didn’t have an established program and schedule to rely on, and I planned my own travels at my own leisure. Each week, I had to test what worked and what didn’t.
After trying to find a routine throughout the first half of my semester, I realized my time flew by and I didn’t visit as many places as I wanted to. I had limited myself from exploring places that were too far, and I was trying to find new friends while becoming familiar with the area around my home.
Once the halfway point in the semester hit, I realized that the pace of my time in South Korea needed to change. If I wanted to go on a trip, I needed to double my workload for a few days in order to go out of Seoul and explore.
There were various times when I felt overwhelmed with school work and my lack of planning. My family and friends were incredibly supportive during these times and they helped me stay strong by checking up on me through text and video call.
Bonding with my housemates also allowed me to receive emotional support. Although it is sad to know that I will have to say my goodbyes to them shortly, we are all making the most of our time together.
Traveling to South Korea solo provided me with the space to constantly make decisions. Without the weekly structure of ordinary college life, I was constantly deciding where I would travel, what I would eat, who I would spend time with and what I would do.
One reason why I had to constantly make decisions was because of the plethora of destinations that was provided by the well-developed transportation system in the dense city. There were so many locations, restaurants and attractions to visit.
Traveling abroad has granted me many first-time experiences. It was my first time quarantining and living independently outside of my house or dorm long term. It was my first time making friends with random strangers at the subway station. It was my first time planning solo trips to new areas. I had so many “first-times” that emboldened my adventurous spirit.
Initiating conversations and questions allowed me to learn about various cultural practices not only in South Korea but also throughout the world. The shared English language allowed me to connect with people from a diverse spectrum of foreign countries and age groups.
Spending my time abroad in South Korea for the fall semester has been one of the boldest and best decisions I’ve ever made. Trusting God allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and take a leap of faith in coming to South Korea.
There were many times when my trip to South Korea was nearly canceled because I was afraid. I was afraid to make the wrong decision and negatively impact myself and others from my choices. If it wasn’t for the immense support of my mother, I may have spent my fall semester at home. She pushed me to keep going during the times when I almost canceled the trip, but she also allowed me to make my own decisions.
By stepping out of my comfort zone and taking initiative, I have learned more deeply about my heritage and South Korea’s culture. The heart-breaking history, endurance and growth of South Korea has expanded my love for this nation and my Korean American identity.
I hope that the spirit of learning from diverse cultural perspectives and challenging myself daily will continue when I come back home. While personal commitments, work obligations and financial restrictions may inhibit trips to study abroad frequently, each day awaits an adventure that requires only a small spark of initiative.
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Email Claire Lee: firstname.lastname@example.org