What I do first, once I decide to challenge myself to do something, is research. It means facing reality first before dreaming about it pointlessly. Likewise, to study abroad as an exchange student required I do (and maybe you, too) tons of preparation and research. Getting a TOEFL score was just one slight part of this process. I googled every single university on the SMU webpage. I had a certain criteria to find the right one for me. The keyword was “Communication.” I was eagerly looking for some fine school that could help me learn and experience the advertising field in greater depth. (I double major in Division of Chinese Language & Literature and Department of Public & Advertising in SMU) Since that was my only concern, it wasn’t that hard to find two fine schools to study communication in the States - the University of South Carolina (USC) and Florida State University (FSU). Even though they both have a good reputation for their schools of communication, for me, it was FSU. The reason was simple: the campus! I have been starved for a college campus having vivid nature around. I wanted big trees, with a green grass field spread out. The nice weather of Florida and some pretty classical buildings seduced me. So it was FSU.
Since I was serious about my academic goal at FSU, my first semester schedule was very intense. But looking back on my time at FSU, I learned far more precious things out of the classroom and textbook. So here are three big topics that made my life in FSU - life style, class, and people.
1. Life Style : Going Slow
I am a typical city girl, meaning that I feel comfortable with the busy and hectic pace of Seoul. I loved the word ASAP (As Soon As Possible). When I do something, I pushed myself to come up with the best quality results with in the quickest manner. It might be the right way to be successful in Seoul, but not in Tallahassee where FSU is located. My first impression for Tallahassee (Tally) can be expressed with two words - “quiet” and “peaceful.” Everything is slower than usual. It seems the clock runs slower in Florida. Reading the textbook, going grocery shopping, and even banking took me more time than in Korea. But most of all, making friends was the slowest part of my life in Tallahassee. Hanging out with someone and being someones friend was two different things. Anyone can hang out or party with American friends there but it isn’t very easy for an Asian exchange student to make a real local friend who can listen to your problems and pray for you. Since I am an outgoing person, making friends wasn’t very big of a deal in Seoul. But at FSU, as a stranger of this new group of people, there wasn’t any other choice for me but to WAIT until they open their heart . I didn’t hesitate to share my time as much as possible with people and didn’t rush to be a close friend with everyone right away. I went slow in everything. One thing I learned there is the value of “waiting” and “going slow.” Life in Florida taught me that time is not about speed but about direction.
2. Class : Between Hell & Heaven
As I mentioned above, my primary goal was to study advertising in greater depth. So the communications courses I took were mostly junior and senior classes. One of the courses named Advertising Research was the one that gave me the most difficult time. Just like senior courses in SMU, they were very serious about grades. The air of the classroom was always intense. For me, just entering this classroom gave me a lot of stress, for literally no one in there cared about the Korean girl. I always felt like an invisible woman. I did over 100 pages of textbook reading every week to keep up with class. If I previewed as much as I could, understanding lecture wasn’t very hard. The hardest part was TEAM PROJECTS. When our team members gathered, they began to talk about stuff like TV Shows last night and sorority gossip. Since I didn’t have any common background with them, I became an invisible woman again. It was such a horrible moment, for I never experienced this kind of situation in SMU. But I accepted the reality I faced and just did what I had to do quietly. I researched data as much as I could for our team project and sent it to our team members. My job was to back up their work. When the semester ended, one of the team members came to me and said “thank you” very quietly. I got a B+ from this class, and that B+ is still the most unforgettable and valuable B+ in my entire college life!
After advertising research class, I always ran to the music building for my guitar class. Guitar Class was my small heaven in college life at FSU. People in the guitar class were family-like friends and they enjoyed playing guitar regardless of their level. After class, I brought my guitar to Landis Green-the biggest green grass field in campus- and practiced the song I learned that day. It was my joy. Back in Korea now, I am still not a good player yet. But holding my guitar always reminds me of the comforting feelings.
On my facebook, I have over 200 American friends. Among them about 10 people are the ones that I call “real friends.” I made 10 real friends at FSU. They are all precious people. I usually tried to be friends with Americans (not Koreans there) since I really wanted to see if I could be a friend with people from a different background. But Lisa-another SMU exchange student- was an exception. I loved my American friends but when I got so terribly homesick or so stressed out that I didn’t even have any energy left to express that feeling in English, I found Lisa, my only Korean friend. She has been like my little “Korea Town” at FSU! Other than Lisa, 9 of them are all Americans that I shared real friendship with. Gracie and Luis are the greatest people for me. I attended Life Group (a small Bible study & talk group) every week and the girls I met there are all my spiritual family. I hope some of you who are going to study abroad meet awesome friends there too!
After 6 months of intense job seeking research during the hectic semester, I got an internship position at an advertising agency in New York. So I came up to New York from Florida and worked there for 4 months. My advice is to research as much as possible and as enthusiastically as possible if you want to get an internship! And customize the job market to your strengths and abilities. In my case, I put emphasis on my Asian background (Native Korean & Chinese Major). So I was able to do some advertising work targeting the Asian American market in New York. It was another precious experience. I believe it was all Florida that gave me courage to challenge myself to go out to the new world. Florida wasn’t always like heaven for me. Honestly, the loneliness I faced there was horrible sometimes. But living as a Floridian gave me a great inner strength and finally let me be brave even in the darkest time. Now I am back in SMU, and the beautiful time there is still vivid in my heart.