My Korean Leap of Faith
If you are deciding to take your own leap of faith to study abroad in another country (graduate school abroad in this case), these tips will help you to get the most out of your time there. Learn from my mistakes, and see what to look forward to (hint I’ve never regretted a leap of faith abroad).
Jumping in the Deep End: Entering Asia for the first time as a Westerner, long term
1. You’re going to get homesick. Learn how to deal with it when it rears its ugly little head.
- It sounds horrible, but watch some good old fashion home-country television or movies helps when studying abroad for a long period of time. For Americans, Netflix is a great option now it’s slowly entering other countries; back in the day (2007-2009) I used to get an error sign, and I was tempted to watch US shows illegally (or did I?).
I also bought guilty pleasures like Lauren Conrad’s The Hills off of Apple for like $1.29 an episode and watched them with my roommate as we ate Korean ramen. Good memories. It always made me feel better instantly!
- Another great legal alternative is YouTube. I never really used it (sadly) before I lived in the Netherlands in 2014, but now I watch it every day. Doing the dishes or as a quick break, it’s good to laugh with and hear stories in your own language.
Inspirational clips or silly Youtubers doing their thing always quickly pulls me out of homesickness, and back into the real world.
- Keep a gratitude journal. My amazing friend Amy pulled me out of a depressed spot in the middle of my studies by giving me this amazing advice: every day, write down three things that you were grateful for. Anything from your morning latte, to the free piece of chocolate at the store, to a long walk. It is a nice reflection of the day that keeps you positive, aware and thankful for the little things.
- Take a language course. I made the classic mistake of saying “someday” I’d sign up for a beginners course in Korean. That never happened. My grad school classmates all spoke English (since everyone was from a different country), my Korean friends wanted to practice their English with me, and I taught ESL to small children.
I learned enough to go shopping, grocery shopping and out to a restaurant, but that was it. Regrets! You can impress people when you return, since when you tell them you went to school in another country, they will ALWAYS ask if you learned the language (unless it’s the same of course). Don’t feel silly like me.
Learn from this:
Always go to the ceremony or graduation upon completion.
I was in an LDR (long distance relationship) the entire two years I lived in S. Korea. Therefore, when I graduated in January, and the reception was in February, I high-tailed it out of there to be with my significant other. However, due to the nature of my relationship with that former significant other, we never even had a dinner or gathering at home to celebrate my giant achievement.
it IS a big thing to graduate from grad school, AND even bigger at the age of 23 (obviously I’ve reflected on my poor choice). Don’t let ANYONE tell you different – even if it’s ‘just’ a language program, etc., etc. You LEFT THE COUNTRY AND TRIED SOMETHING AMAZING! You have to celebrate that. It’s human.
My Top Three Best and Top Three Worst Experiences in South Korea
Quite simply, Korea has the best food in the world. The spicy dishes
(which is a different spice than Latin American food) and variety are
simply amazing. I was a wimp when it came to spicy food when I arrived, but I left a champ. If someone asks for my favorite dish I can never decide. The street food is top notch, the community style of eating is beautiful, and the experience of cooking many times directly from the table makes this the best dining country ever.
As a side note, people either hate or love Kimchi (the famous side dish of Korea – fermented spicy cabbage). I crave it to this day. To sum up the Korean food experience in two packed words? Side dishes.
I was terrified to try yoga out in another country, especially one where I didn’t speak the language. That little leap of faith got me through grad school (turns out I LOVE yoga), and later on I was inspired to become a yoga teacher. Just imagine if I hadn’t risked looking a little funny and not planted my booty in class!?
3. In LOVE with the culture
The Korean culture is so welcoming, respectful and kind. I can’t say the same for the business culture (it’s pretty intense by Western standards), but its people in general are so inviting and giving. Most are so happy to have you be there and learn about their beautiful space and customs, it can be almost overwhelming the amazing love and great attitudes you’ll receive.
Not So Bestest:
1. Homesickness was Difficult with a Long Distance Relationship
I really let this eat away at me and affect me more than it should have.
Long distance is hard, but focusing on it too much can lead to downright depression. Know that everything is temporary, and if you are in an LDR, know that you will be reunited much faster than you think. So enjoy the time you have in a new country now.
Your brain is easily distractable and will focus on what you want it to. Shift your focus to what is in front of you and ENJOY THE FREAKING PRESENT MOMENT! The present is all you have. So if you need to miss the person, do it for five or ten minutes a day. Journal about it during that time, talk about it, or cry if you need to. Then get up, brush yourself off, and go about your day in the presence of how amazing the world is around you!
2. Putting My School Loans on Hold
Even though my school was AACSB approved (meaning I could take that credit with me anywhere in the world – it was 10000% legit school and well respected), the US government did not recognize it, because of bureaucracy. It had not filled out and filed the proper papers with the US Education system, which was all it had to do since it was already an approved school.
To get communication to the president, in a Korean system, was near impossible. I checked in over the two years to push things forward, but with no luck. So, my loans for my undergraduate degree saw these two years not as a pass while I was in grad school (like they normally do), but was using up the forbearance time that should be given to me if I ever got laid off in the future (which happened) or was too sick to work. I now have no forgiveness time left, which means they didn’t care when I got laid off of work, and dinged my credit for the month I couldn’t pay. Nice! Cross check everything my friends!
3. I Didn’t Travel to Japan (so close!)
I traveled to Beijing to see the Great Wall and to Singapore/Malaysia to see southern Asia, but I never made it to Japan (layovers not counting). It was such a quick trip, but I always made excuses about money. A two day trip would have been easily swingable if I had just researched a bit! ALWAYS try out the nearby country trip. You will only regret it if you don’t.
Notice I never regretted my life abroad. In my entire two years in Asia, as with all my travel, I’ve never regretted the experience. Try it!
Paz y luz,
*Your turn: Help out others – what was your experience abroad like? If you’re in the middle of deciding whether or not to go, what’s holding you back? I’d love to hear your thoughts or answer your questions – let’s be friends on Instagram!