My study abroad trip to Seoul, South Korea impacted my career choice in a much more unconventional way than you would think. It wasn’t my classes, my university, or the academics at all. The classes I’m taking abroad are incredibly interesting and knowledgeable, but they fill my elective requirements rather than my English degree requirements. I’ve been learning about film and media rather than anything having to do with literature or the perception of the language of English in the country. Despite this, I knew this step of coming to South Korea through this amazing opportunity that UT offers would be crucial in me deciding my career path once I return.
As an English major, the most common – if not the only – assumption of my future career is often summed up into the one question I always get, “Oh, so do you want to be a teacher?” At first, the question intrigued me. Sure, why not? I love teaching and I love children… but as I became more involved in my major and I learned more about what I could do with my degree, it became a bit disheartening that it was the only career path others assumed English majors could succeed in. And because of that, I shut out the option of teaching for a very long time. Despite enjoying teaching and being obsessed with children and participating in numerous jobs and volunteer positions that combined those two things, it wasn’t until I came across blogs and YouTube channels of expats living and teaching abroad that I was suddenly intrigued. More specifically, I remember delving head on into the lives of expats teaching English abroad in South Korea through the EPIK (English Program in Korea).
At first I kind of put away the idea because one, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach English after graduating, and second, moving to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and I have never experienced is the most terrifying thought. There were many factors telling me to drop the idea… but it continued to be on my mind. When I learned about the opportunity to study abroad in Seoul, I knew it was something I had to do. It was my last summer before graduating and it was like the pieces just fell into place. I immediately began to work on my application and started working in order to save up money. I knew that this summer abroad experience would be crucial in deciding if I could actually live Seoul and if I would be able to leave my family to go across the globe and pursue a career my parents didn’t even know I was interested in until a year ago.
Arriving in Seoul, the culture shock I experienced was definitely more intense than I had originally expected. I had never lived in a place where I couldn’t communicate in the language – my two semesters of Korean prior to this trip was nowhere near enough – and I remember thinking how difficult this would be if my first experience of the culture shock was in this country alone and after I’d signed a contract. I was so incredibly thankful to have my friends along with me who I could relate to, otherwise I would have, no doubt, felt so alone and scared to do the most basic things like buying a meal.
As the weeks went on, adjusting to the differences Seoul had in store became easier. I began to feel more confident using the little Korean I knew and the subway systems in place are one of the most efficient and comfortable public transportation systems I have ever experienced. I began to take solo day trips here and there to visit a coffee shop I’d been dying to try or to one of the entertainment companies that produced some of my favorite Kpop groups.
As it nears the end of my trip here in Seoul, I started to really reflect on myself and if I could truly live in this country and I found that the answer was… yes! Sure there are things that will be different, but there is also so much about the city that makes it an amazing place to live. The people here are incredibly friendly, the streets for the most part are much safer than in America, and most importantly… the food is delicious. I also no longer feel extreme anxiety when running errands or using the public transportation on my own – something I knew if I experienced by myself would be very difficult to adapt to.
As thankful as I am to have the opportunity to study abroad at Korea University, and to see the incredible media and film program in place here, it was the opportunity to live in Seoul and experience the culture, the city, and language firsthand that gave me the courage to decide that I want to live and work in this wonderful country. This is an experience that I owe to UT and the wonderful programs in place, as well as to the advisors, who give their 100%. Without this opportunity to study abroad in Seoul with the support of my friends and my university, I may have never worked up the courage to make this decision, let alone realize it.
This post was contributed by Kiran Gokal, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Kiran’s experience in Seoul>>