I knew coming in to college that I wanted to study abroad. I do not know if it was my lack of travel experience or my interests in international affairs that led me to my decision, but it was one of the best decisions of my college career. The summer of the sophomore year, I decided to study abroad in South Korea at Yonsei University. It wasn’t necessarily the easiest decision to make, but one that felt right.
Growing up as a Korean-American in a predominantly white neighborhood, I had a hard time recognizing my self-identity. It was hard coming to terms with the “American part” of me and the “Korean part” of me; always trying to choose one or the other. When you are a child and no one else in your school looks like you, it can leave a really big impact on your self-image. That is predominantly the reason why I chose South Korea as my study abroad country. It felt as though there was a piece of my identity missing and I thought that by going to South Korea, I would be able to find it.
Being in South Korea definitely was not rainbows and butterflies. I will admit that it was extremely difficult for me to adjust living there. While my skin tone and hair color match those of native Korean citizens, it was as if they could sense that I was American (not to mention, I did not fit any of the “standard beauty” trends that they mold themselves to). I thought that as soon as I entered Korea, I would find a sense of belonging – it was “my” culture, after all. Instead, I found myself torn once again with my identity.
It wasn’t until it was about three weeks left in my study abroad trip that I slowly started to realize the true scope of what self-identification is. I was able to realize that there’s no use in choosing one side as opposed to the other – each piece of a puzzle has to exist in order to create a whole. And while the journey to find this conclusion wasn’t easy, it was more than worth it.
Now that I am back in the United States and I am able to reflect on my study abroad experience, I can truly say that it was an honor and a blessing to have an opportunity like this. Studying abroad isn’t necessarily easy nor is it happy and fun all of the time, but it is extraordinarily rewarding.