'The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must destroy a world.' This is one of the sayings in Herman Hesse's novel 'Demian.' I would say this expression encapsulates my exchange student life. While living in Korea, I finally realized that I was 'a big fish in a small pond.' That's why I needed countless hours and continuous courage to decide to go abroad. To achieve my internal growth, different choices and courage at another level were required. Let's get started with my story.
The moment that I cracked an egg by myself
A number of students have dreamed of being an exchange student in college and so have I. However, I applied in 2020 which as you know was when COVID-19 appeared. I thought it would go smoothly, but I underestimated the situation. After several delays from SMWU and the exchange school, it was finally possible for me to go abroad for the first semester in 2022 to Norway. While these postponements were happening, my desire to go to Norway increased, but at the same time, my anxiety about myself got bigger. My family and I were worried about the virus, plus, the location was the countryside in Norway, like an unknown world for me. It made me feel scared but also curious. In the meantime, I tried to listen to my inner voice. My heart was saying, 'If not now, I won't be able to easily challenge myself.' That decision required lots of courage for the experience of living alone because I had never enjoyed traveling even domestically, let alone traveling abroad. I tried to re-imagine the meaning of being an exchange student, and clarified what I would get out of being there for about 6 months. Having the mindset that I couldn't get anything if I did nothing right now worked more than I expected. It was a memorable moment when I heard my sincere voice and it was the first time I had cracked eggs by myself.
The reason why I chose Norway
When I let my friends know that I was going to go to Norway as an exchange student, their reactions were all surprising, saying things like "Are you sure?" Of course, I totally understood that. At that time, when I thought of Norway, I only thought of 'salmon' and 'Vikings.' However, thinking back after my time in Norway, it was the most precious time that I wouldn't trade it for anything because it's really rare to experience living in Norway for 5 months alone.
Molde University College, where I went, specializes in logistics in Norway even though it's a small school next to a beach in Molde. At first, it was important for me to find a school where I could take my major classes. I chose Norway because it inspired my dream of European life and awakened my curiosity about places that others do not choose easily. I'd like to say that the most impressive class there was Norwegian I Language and Culture. It was an unfamiliar language, but I took that class to learn about the values and culture of the people in Norway. I felt the importance of learning language to understand the history and culture of that country as well as the joy of learning a new language. It was an opportunity to expand my horizons since realizing again that I was 'a big fish in a small pond.'
How I overcame my challenges
When I was in Norway, all the exchange students who went there were foreigners from all over Europe. It was quite difficult for me to show my presence among Europeans alone. But, I knew that if I didn't do my best at every moment, I would definitely regret it looking back. 'Let's get along somehow in my own way!' With this mindset, I tried to participate in parties that exchange students took turns hosting, and I met another friend who was interested in Korean culture and language there which I hadn't anticipated at all. Even when I thought a door was closed, I realized that if I kept knocking and trying, another door would open. I was able to develop my relationships with friends while participating in various events hosted by Molde College. Also, I tried to understand friends who didn't fit with me, rather than only just looking for friends who did. I could make good memories by filling the daily lives that we shared together. What I realized during exchange student life was that I'm okay as I am, and sometimes I can find something different than what I originally thought. And then, my answer was 'It's okay no matter how things go.' Instead of being complacent, I was constantly trying to face new things, and I could say that my active attitude made my life colorful.
What I learned from traveling alone
I think the climax of being an exchange student is a trip after the semester. I know many students prepare for being an exchange student by thinking about traveling to Europe or the United States. Likewise, I learned the joy of traveling alone. I found a lot of new aspects about myself by meeting new people in new places with unexpected variables. In my eyes, unexpected variables and coincidences are the biggest advantages of traveling. Just as life doesn't go as I expect, traveling also doesn't go as I planned. After deciding to enjoy them, every moment I experienced meant a lot to me. I was alone at the beginning and the end of my trip, but I had a good time with the people I met by chance in the middle of the trip.
My most memorable city in Europe is Paris, France. Before going to Paris, I didn't have any fantasies about it. But after a week there, I found out why the French are so proud of their culture and language. Being interested in history and art, it made me a fan of visiting museums and galleries to develop my humanities knowledge. It was invaluable and precious for me to visit there because these were international works which cannot be seen in Korea. If you have a temporary European residence visa, all art galleries and museums in Paris are free for students. I strongly recommend you guys to visit there, if you are going to go to Europe as an exchange student.
You got this, don't worry about anything
It is often said that after experiencing exchange student life, one's view of the world has widened. Whenever I hear this, I think, 'What does it mean to have a wider view of the world?' I've always wondered about it. I felt that there are various forms of life in the world and that I can freely lead my life in the way I want to live without social standards. I hope that students who go abroad have the confidence and excitement to have good experiences and make good memories.