When I missed my connecting flight to South Korea three weeks ago, I thought it was a sign from the universe that leaving home wasn’t the best idea. I struggled to find peace while I hastily shouldered my heavy duffel and tried to figure out how to get on the next available flight to Seoul.
It was my first time traveling internationally, so I was terrified. But after I resolved all the issues, I was on the next plane to South Korea, about 10 hours later. Halfway through the flight, I asked myself if I was making the right decision.
The date I had to leave my family had come too soon, and I thought to myself, was I ready to do this? Fast-forward to an extremely long 14-hour flight and I was in South Korea. Unfortunately, my luggage had stayed behind in Los Angeles! But enough of this unfortunate stuff — let me share what an amazing time I’ve been having during my experience abroad.
Every day is such a great day here. Each time I walk out of my dorm, I experience a new cultural adventure. Seoul has wholeheartedly allowed me to positively experience South Korean culture and language.
The first time I visited the store at the Incheon airport, I remember being incredibly nervous to speak Korean. Even though I’d been studying the language for two years, I was terrified and didn’t feel ready. During these moments, I encouraged myself to just go for it! One of the most effective ways to improve anything is to practice.
Some general questions in the Korean language have become more familiar to me, such as, “Would you like a bag?” or “Would you like a receipt?” Even though I’d never heard these phrases before arriving in South Korea, it just took practice and context clues for me to understand what I was being asked. Whenever I displayed some confusion or hesitance, people were gentle and patient. I truly appreciate the empathy and understanding I’ve received while adjusting to life here in South Korea.
I want to share one of my recent accomplishments: I accompanied my friends to the pharmacy and successfully translated a real-life conversation on the spot. I was surprised at myself and felt so proud. I didn’t realize what I was doing until I made eye contact with the pharmacist. I was listening to her next words while simultaneously translating from Korean to English. These small accomplishments mean the most to me. With complete and constant exposure to the Korean language, I’ve had the opportunity to improve my language skills, which gives me a lot of encouragement.
Ordering food in South Korean has also become more natural and fun. My friends and I take turns ordering in Korean and trying new restaurants. I have a fun story that happened recently. The Bangtan Boys’ (BTS) song “Permission to Dance” was playing on the speakers at a restaurant, and my friends and I, being K-pop listeners, started to dance in our chairs. An employee walking by immediately began laughing when he saw us dancing, and we all had a great laugh. After paying our bill, that same employee came back to give us complimentary coffee. We’ll be going back there! Other times when people hear us practicing Korean, they become supportive and often respond back in Korean.
Now, let me tell you about the wonderful people I’ve met, including international and native Korean students. Another fun story: I was using screenshots from a Korean navigation app on my way to the subway station for the first time when I heard a group of seven people next to me speaking English. With a bit of courage, I spoke up and asked if they were also heading to the subway station. They were all so enthusiastic and quickly accepted me as part of their group as we headed to the subway. When they told me they were planning on visiting the famous Han River, I got the chance to join them. We ate delicious fried chicken with rice cakes and ice cream while crammed into a small bench at one table.
We laughed at the fact that we had all just met and were already sharing meals together. I learned that some of my new friends were from Australia, Norway, the Philippines, Hong Kong and the United States. I am delighted to have met so many people from different backgrounds.
Growing up, I hadn’t realized how little exposure I had to international communities and cultures. Now it’s great to see new faces and hear different languages spoken around me every day. I am also part of a Korean “buddy” program here on campus, so I get to meet other Korean and international students at daily group activities around Seoul.
There’s so much more I wish I could tell you. Coming to South Korea was quite a challenging experience at first, but those early obstacles helped me get into the mindset to prepare for a newly independent life. I am lucky to have an education abroad that allows me to live in a foreign country.
Studying abroad has provided me the opportunity to socialize with my peers and engage in a new academic environment that improves my global awareness. I’m glad I took this step to enhance my educational experience, and I’m happy to continue taking steps forward to improve my cultural knowledge each day. Thank you for allowing me to share my personal accomplishments and experiences abroad at Seoul National University in South Korea. See you Longhorns later. Hook ’em!
This post was contributed by Lilliana Rivera, a Global Ambassador for Spring 2023. Lilliana is a sophomore Asian cultures and languages studies major studying abroad in Seoul, Korea.