Horns meet World. World meet Roger. Roger is a Government major who has been in South Korea for quite a while. The world is his classroom, and he’s learned a lot about Korea during his extended study abroad experience!
For me, coming to Korea hadn’t been on my mind until the summer prior to my senior year. I had entertained the idea of saving money to visit during high school but the idea never fully panned out the way I intended. I was attending a lecture in Spanish class that summer when my professor interjected that studying abroad in any country would be a life-changing experience. At first, it didn’t make sense for me to study abroad my final semester of undergrad. I would graduate “late” and be unable to apply for graduate programs until after I get back, as my advisor had put it. Since I wasn’t in a rush to apply for law school though, I figured that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity that I may never have again. So, here I am going into my fifth month in Seoul.
I don’t think words could adequately describe the feeling I experienced when I first arrived in Seoul. The first thing that occurred to me was that I was now in the extreme minority of a homogeneous society. The second thing that occurred to me was that I didn’t speak a wink of Korean. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from experiencing Korea to the fullest. My first few weeks here were spent adjusting to culture shock, becoming amazed at how different Seoul was compared to Austin, really loving Korea, to wanting to go back home – in that order. Now that my experience has reached a point of normalcy (in my final month here, mind you), I felt it would be appropriate to explain what has amazed me the most.
The food is amazing. I’ve never been presented with so many different options at fairly cheap prices, and no tipping! One of my first meals with a group of friends included samgyeopsal, or pork belly, served with a myriad of side dishes and soju – traditional Korean liquor. Afterwards, we stopped at a dessert café for bingsu – a shaved-ice dessert, which is basically one of mankind’s greatest inventions. I also learned proper table etiquette: the person closest to the utensils passes them out for everyone, you never pour your own glass of soju, and if there’s only one piece of meat left, the oldest person at the table may delegate it to whomever. Overall, I’ve been impressed.
My mother always questions why I came and why I like it so much here, given the political environment. To be honest, I’ve felt much safer in Korea than I ever had in the States. The North’s bellicose rhetoric is generally just that – rhetoric. Life goes on normally here in Seoul. When I arrived, I experienced protests (inadvertently walked into one while exiting a subway), the impeachment and jailing of a sitting president and subsequent special election of a new one. All of these events had never caused any concern for me and I continued my tourist activities as I normally would around Seoul. I would say that if the political environment is what keeps you from deciding to visit Korea, don’t be afraid. Seoul is very peaceful compared to Austin.
After my midterm exams, I booked a flight to Jeju Island in the southern part of the peninsula. It was a nice change of pace from Seoul – much more relaxed and the cleaner air was much easier on my lungs. We spent four days exploring the various terrains, hiking, trying new foods and taking it easy before starting the second half of school. The water was probably the deepest blue I had ever seen and the beaches easily put the Texas coast to shame. On hiking, we climbed Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea and a UNESCO world heritage site. The people in Jeju were much more surprised to see foreigners and I received quite a few “hellos” from Koreans on vacation.
In closing, I couldn’t have chosen a better way of finishing my undergraduate career. Living in Korea is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life. At the time of writing, I’m back in Seoul finishing up my semester. I become emotional thinking that my time is almost up here. Although I’ve reached that point where I’m ready to go home, I could easily stay another semester if given the opportunity. In a way, Seoul has become a second home for me. If you’re ever on the fence about studying abroad, whether in Korea or anywhere, don’t take my word for it. Just do it. Applying for law school a year later than I intended was a minor cost in the grand scheme of things. As Ferris Bueller states, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”