There was a phrase that I always kept in my mind during my student exchange period. "Don't be shabby by poverty for a while. Throw away the idea that you have something to lose. Treat every situation as a device of romance. It is a privilege of youth." It was the past four months when I wasn't afraid to challenge myself under the name of youth. I was able to go there and do it because I was young. This is the story of the challenges, happiness, and romance of an exchange student.
Curiosity about myself
"Let's find out what kind of person I want to be." It was my own goal after becoming a college student. Having studied only for college entrance exams, I suddenly wondered what I wanted. What life I want, what I want to do, and what kind of job I want to have. I found myself in college but still without knowing what I wanted, so I did a lot of activities to find it. Then, when I went to Canada during the summer vacation in the first grade, I could see the difference between Canadian and Korean students. The students there were studying to live the "life they wanted," not the Korean style of study for "success and wealth." And they had entered the educational field that helped them think about what kind of person they wanted to be. Also, I was so envious to see people who valued various experiences and were not afraid to challenge themselves. As a result, I thought that if I stayed in a place like this, I could discover what I wanted to do. So, I immediately came back to Korea and prepared to be an exchange student. Among many countries, I searched for a place where I could meet various people, where exchange student programs are well organized, and where there are many activities to participate in together with others. Finally, I found Albright College, the place where I would go as an exchange student for a semester.
Even though I went through many problems such as COVID-19, visa, and self-quarantine to go to Albright College, there was one problem that could not be solved. It was that I was the only "Korean." For me, who had no experience studying abroad or living alone without perfect English, living in a foreign country was a big challenge. In that environment where only English is heard wherever I went, I was lonely and tired at first. Contrary to my determination to do well before coming, I found it difficult to adapt to an unfamiliar environment and strangers. As a result, the time I spent inside increased, and the time I spent alone became more comfortable than being outside. However, just as if someone noticed my difficulties, my situation got better. Foreign friends approached me first when they saw me alone, and the school cast me in a play because I was the only Korean. Since then, I became closer to people, talked, and shared opinions in English. At that time, I was surprised that I could establish a relationship with someone in English. Rather, the fact that there were no Koreans around allowed me to use only English. Therefore, I improved my English more than others and got closer to my foreign friends. Also, I participated in a play under the theme of "COVID-19" and played the main character of "Stop Asian Hate." In the play, I was able to talk about Koreans in front of many foreigners, saying, "Please stop Asian hate" in Korean.
Let's go to New York
As I was alone in a foreign country, I had the choice of all situations. The best one I made was going on a trip to New York. I traveled to New York, the representative focal point of the United States, and did everything I could there. Exchange students not only got a pass or fail grades but also had to get fewer credits than in Korea, so they have lots of time. Therefore, I was able to make a trip that would have been difficult during the general semester as an exchange student. In New York, travel expanded my horizons. I was inspired by world-famous works of art while visiting art museums, and I experienced Americans' responses toward performances while watching them on Broadway. Watching people from many countries in Times Square, which was always crowded and sparkling, I felt New York in it. While tasting American food, I came to know the food culture there. In addition, I participated in the #insideoutproject, whose goal is "helping people stand up for what they care about," and displayed my photos in the middle of New York. I felt like I was in a scene in a movie just by sitting in a park and looking around. Like this, I spent a happy time traveling only for the sake of traveling.
The memories that make me live
When I first went to the United States as an exchange student, I thought about many things. I was prepared to some extent for how hard it would be, what I could get out of it, and how fun life would be. However, the memories I experienced during those four months are worth more than that. The time I spent alone abroad was harder than I thought, but I gained much more. Above all, I gained confidence in myself. Whether I can overcome the linguistic barrier depends on how hard I try to do it. Although I lacked language skills, I built relationships with people by trying to get closer to them confidently and kindly. As I became close to friends with different languages and cultures and talked to them, I got to consider broader thoughts and perspectives. Especially when I participated in the play, there was time to talk about one's thoughts and feelings at the end of practice. Every time, I saw my peers actively expressing their opinions. By watching the process of producing better work by reflecting on it, I tried to learn their attitudes. Also, in class, I saw students expressing their opinions freely with the professor regardless of whether the answer is right or wrong. In addition, I encountered their confident attitude in many situations. Ultimately, I received an opportunity to reflect on myself while living with them.
Young, wild, and free
Young, Wild & Free is one of my favorite songs. Being an exchange student seems to be truly a privilege reserved only for college students and an experience that they can only do at this time. The past four months, when I was young, wild, and free, have changed my thoughts and attitudes a lot. And it will be a big asset for me to have this experience as a part of my college life. If you have a chance, don't hesitate to do it. You will be able to see yourself change.