1. From June to July 2015, I studied abroad at Korea Aerospace University near Seoul, South Korea. I stayed at an on campus dorm and took two classes: Aviation & Tourism and Aviation Safety & Security. The university also took us on two field excursions, one to Incheon International Airport and one to Korean Air, towards the end of the program.
2. More than anything else, my month-long stay in South Korea had a large personal impact. Often times when you visit a country unrelated to your heritage it’s for vacation. I’ve been to many countries on vacation, but this is the first time I’ve been able to experience another culture so vividly. Not only because I stayed there for an entire month, but also because I became friends with Korean students who took me to their favorite restaurants and shops and hangouts. I lived in the same student dorms as they did. I went to class with them, took the subway with them, did school projects with them. Being so involved with another culture was fascination. I learned a lot about Korean society, and in turn, understood so much ore about my own home by being somewhere with so much contrast to my own cultures. At the same time, I was also surrounded by international students from Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, China, Britain, and so on. Staying in Korea helped me learn more about myself, and that is something I would never give up.
Another major personal impact was that staying in Korea allowed me to try and experience things I may never have experienced at home or with my family. Although I was pretty homesick for a while, I gradually came to understand the freedom in being somewhere new and all alone. I ate foods I would never even have dreamed of trying (example: live octopus), made friends with people I would not normally run into, and became comfortable deciding things for myself.
3. Logically, it makes sense that cultures and societies have a lot of variation. However, living in Korea helped me understand how large that variation can be. As a whole, Koreans (in Seoul, at the very least) tend to stay out late on weekdays, work hard for incredibly long hours, drink more than most countries, and get very little sleep. It wasn’t uncommon to find people sleeping at school, in the subway, or even on the streets because they spent so little of their time resting at night. One of my Korean friends tried to keep me up all night celebrating the end of finals after she hadn’t slept for four days! They also love cute things. I cannot recount how many cute cartoons I saw everywhere, warning about safety, giving information, etc. The food was super spicy and they eat so much meat that many of my Muslim friends who only ate halal meat had trouble finding good food.
All of these things (and much more) put together led me to a better understanding of myself. Every time I noticed something different (example: an abundance of selfie sticks), I would think about the contrast to my own society. Not just my American roots, but also my Indian heritage. Things that I’d known unconsciously in some part came to the forefront of my mind. I realized that it would seem odd to use a selfie stick in the US, which was probably not as true for India. I realized that gendered products in the US (esp. for men) were far greater than in Korea, where everyone bought the same cute, pink bread rolls regardless of who they were. I realized the similarity that comes in respecting others, especially elders, between Korea and India.
One of my major connections to Korean culture came through my friendship with a Korean girl I was partnered with for a project. She was extremely friendly and kind, helping me out when I needed to find formal attire for an interview by researching nearby shops and going with me during her lunch hour. She treated me and another foreign student to one of the best Korean meals I had at her favorite restaurant and called it payment for our friendship. Near the end of my study abroad we even took a weekend trip to Busan (the “second capital” of Korea) and had a blast visiting temples and the beach. It’s one of my favorite memories of being in Korea. Knowing her helped me become more open to approaching others and befriending them. I had been in the same class as her for two weeks before talked and if I had never been grouped with her I may never had had such a great experience. I brought that back with me to OSU and feel more at ease conversing with new people. You never know who will end up becoming a close friend!
4. I believe learning more about myself will help me become more comfortable with who I am. Along with opening up to new people, I can now say that I have a better chance at achieving my dreams than ever before. I hope to someday work on developing safety systems for vehicles. I have always been bad with interviews and I get anxious at the thought of presenting myself to others. This study abroad has helped me open up to new people. I feel as though I am more ready to face interviews and actually look forward to entering a workplace and meeting new colleagues. Being at ease with these things will no doubt help me land the job I want with less stress on my part. It will also help me when I travel in the future, which is something I would like to do. Now I can be comfortable meeting people around the globe and further expanding my knowledge on the world and myself.