I decided to study abroad because I just wanted to live in the USA at least for a year. I expected to use English, live alone, have new experiences, and meet many people there. I have heard that regrets come from results not from the process. I am still trying to keep it as a core memory and not regret all I did there because I know I did my best. I would say I learned four main things during my stay in the States.
What is love?
Coe College, which I attended, is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and around 12,000 students study there. Iowa is one of the midwestern states so the weather was not good. Also, it is the second biggest city in Iowa but there was nothing to do nor any place to hang out near the campus. It was so different from Seoul but this circumstance allowed the students to get closer. I saw my friends every weekday and we hung out literally every weekend. We did so many things together, like studying, doing a team project, watching dramas, doing club activities, going grocery shopping, going to parties, and so on. I usually thought that language was not that important when it comes to communication and I actually experienced that it really doesn't matter that much. We felt loved and expressed love. Additionally, living away from family made me realize how precious they are to me and how much I should tell them that I love them.
Cultures of various countries
Of course, I could experience many instances of American culture like Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. My host family, who didn't have a kid, sometimes invited me and my friend, my host sister, to have dinner together. They taught us the rules of football and the history of their hometown and shared their memories of Korea and Japan. Including my host parents, other friends' host families, and my friend's families let us make Easter eggs, took us to a haunted house, and so on. The college held many events for each holiday on campus as well that students could participate in, enjoy, and win a prize. Moreover, there are two international events held by International Club: The Culture Show, and the International Banquet. At the Culture Show, I could enjoy various performances from other countries and see many kinds of traditional dresses. The International Banquet is an event where students cook and share food from their home countries, so I could try food from various countries. There were other international activities like trying Vietnamese food, the Day of the Dead and making traditional crafts. Likewise, it was great to spend time with my friends from different countries privately and we got to know diverse values, thoughts, and cultures from each other.
What got through the travel
There were many opportunities to travel. Even when I did not want to go, all of my friends decided to go somewhere so I chose to go and enjoy it with them. And these trips made me stronger and more mature. I felt a bond with my friends during the trip and I also felt how different we were. There were problems with flight tickets several times and I learned how to contact the company, fix the problem, and what to consider when I book a flight. It also broadened my thinking to see how people live there. I visited 17 cities over 10 months and observed that every city has its own mood, culture, and system. It was hard for me to travel alone when it was needed; however, I feel like I have mastered taking a trip in the USA. Further, I should have taken care of myself entirely and I think this is how we learn to take responsibility for ourselves.
Who I am
At first, I could not understand why people said they found themselves when they were exchange students. But after arriving in America, it took only a few weeks for me to get it. There is much time to think when you live alone in a dorm. Also, Korean friends who went to Coe College together with me from Sookmyung influenced me a lot. We are all from Korea, but we have totally different personalities and experiences. It was impressive to talk with them. We talked a lot and shared our values, experiences, and thoughts so that I could figure out that I was a big fish in a little pond. The new surroundings, including unfamiliar food, new friends, and cultures in the country, gave me time to focus on who I am.
Take the opportunity to experience
I certainly believe that all experiences are worth it. Nowadays there are many chances to try something in Korea; it can be about studying something new, enjoying sports, or having an exchange with people who are from abroad. Even on campus, you can find some opportunities to have worldwide experiences through international clubs like a club called MINGLE where you can participate in an activity with foreign Sookmyung students or official clubs known as URINK and GPM. If you look for something new to try or a new challenge, there are even more off-campus. Let's be brave and take the chance to experience something, then we will be able to grow one step further.