I am very thankful to have spent the last parts of my teenage years in such a beautiful place: Seoul. Not only am I able to experience and have a better understanding of everyday Korean culture and lifestyles, but I have also been able to understand myself better.
Throughout high school, I constantly strove for good grades and attended all of my extracurriculars. I would go to school early, leave school late, and stay up late into the early mornings.
My second year of college was hybrid, so I was finally on the UT campus. This was my first time balancing being an adult for the first time: moving away from home, going to college in person, balancing a part-time job, trying (and failing) to make friends and maintain a social life, and overall trying to figure out who I was as a person. It was so hard.
Now, I am in my third year, and I’m in Korea. This was my first time actually getting to sit down and feel. Fortunately, none of my classes here are super difficult or time-consuming, nor do I have a job here, so I’m left with my thoughts a lot of the time.
So, here are 9 things that I’ve learned at age 19 (because if I did 19 of them, it would make this blog really long):
1. Every day is different. There will be days when you wake up sad, and that’s just the type of day you’ll have. Of course, I didn’t think that going abroad would solve all of my life’s problems, but having a 4-month abroad experience sounds blissful and heavenly. There’s no way you could be sad if you’re traveling abroad to a new country you’ve always wanted to go to, right?
I’ve often heard: “Nina, you’re living your best life!” I mean, studying abroad is fun and all, but every day isn’t always the happiest. I realized that no matter where I am or how good life could get, there will still be days when I feel down. I think that’s just life.
2. Make time for the people that you love and care about. Sometimes everybody is drowning in school and work, so we’re constantly tired. I realized that even seeing a loved one for just an hour makes a difference. I am so grateful for my midnight FaceTimes with my sister or best friend; they are truly my support system.
3. Enjoy the present! This was a hard one for me to learn. Sometimes it felt like I was constantly trying to survive until the next thing. I was on autopilot. All of my life, it felt like I was chasing happiness, but I could never quite attain it. Back then, I constantly overworked myself. I had an odd mentality, thinking that If I just suffered now, I wouldn’t have to suffer later in life.
You don’t have to suffer! (It sounds so obvious and silly to say, but to me, for some reason, I always felt as though hard work had to be measured in pain.) You can work hard and allow yourself to have fun. I am going to enjoy the present, especially since I’m never going to be 19 years old and studying abroad in Korea again.
4. Do it scared. I’m pretty anxious a lot of the time, so new things can be scary for me. 12-year-old Nina would be so proud of 19-year-old Nina for somehow making it across the world. The idea of moving abroad for four months by myself without the comfort of my family and friends was scary. I honestly thought about backing out, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
5. Set boundaries! We’re all adults with different schedules, priorities, thoughts, and feelings. Some people need to block off time to study for their midterms, and sometimes you need a break, even if you are traveling abroad. It’s okay to voice those feelings when you need to.
6. It’s okay to ask for help. Hyper-independence is not fun. Although we all want to be an all-knowing individual who knows how to do everything, I am unfortunately not an all-knowing individual who knows how to do everything.
7. Communicate! Tell that person you want to hang out with them! Tell your friends you care about them! You never know who is secretly wishing to hang out with you, too.
8. It’s the little, mundane things. Again, I recognize that silly mindset I had, thinking “I can start living once I graduate.”
I am living right now, at this moment! I wish it hadn’t taken going all the way across the world to have this revelation, but it is true; traveling and experiencing a new culture is “living,” but doing the mundane things in life is also “living.”
9. Make friends! Please! I often tend to make friends who are similar to me or have the same interests as me, but I recently realized how great it is to have friends outside of that.
Before coming to Korea, I thought I’d be lonely and do a bunch of solo traveling, but I made friends and am so grateful for my experiences with them. Not only are they fun to travel with, but I get to hear their perspectives on life, which also altered my philosophies for the better. People are part of the life experience.
Of course, I am still learning about life as I go, and I am still trying my best with everything I have learned. Here’s to a lifelong journey of learning, expanding our perspectives, and bettering our mental health. Hook ’em!
This post was contributed by Nina Gaona-Menchavez, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2022. Nina is a third-year elementary education student studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Read Nina’s first post here.