When I first arrived in Korea, it did not really feel all that different. While in the months prior I had been overcome by nerves and anxiety, the night before I left, I was strangely calm. Even after I arrived at Incheon International Airport after more than 19 hours of travelling, I did not get that rush I was expecting. For some reason, that was unsettling. In the same way some women expect to cry when they find the perfect wedding dress, I expected some sort of overwhelming emotion to confirm that I had really done what I had said I was going to do.
I am not sure what I was expecting when I stepped outside — maybe trumpets or fireworks or a parade celebrating my arrival. Perhaps I just wanted to cry like the woman in the bridal store. Whatever it was, it was certainly not just being greeted by a bunch of other tired, sweaty exchange students melting in the miserable, muggy heat of the Korean summer.
Studying abroad, at least for me, is a big deal. Very few people in my family have done it and even fewer people have gone to Asia.
“Why do you want to go so far? Why not go to Europe?” “How do you say ‘missing black girl’ in Korean?” “Don’t they eat dogs over there?” I was bombarded with such questions by friends and family. For some reason, this made me even more determined.
Throughout my life I have intentionally rebelled against my family’s tradition of always being safe, of finding home in the familiar. I find it lacking, unsatisfying, unfulfilling. They know this about me, so they eventually came to respect my decision and even grew increasingly excited about my trip. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the words “We are so proud of you” the week leading up to my departure. And perhaps this whole ordeal further engrained the ludicrous ideal that studying abroad was going to be one of the most monumental things to ever happen in my life.
And maybe it will be, but now that I have been in Seoul for one month, that is no longer important to me. Currently, I am focusing on reveling in the moment, on enjoying the impact of the decisions I made earlier. I sit on my bed sometimes and instead of thinking “God, how did I get here?” I am more focused on being grateful for the opportunity.
I do not know when it started, but a few years ago I suddenly began to notice how quickly time could pass. Even the little things, the little moments, seem to pass more quickly than they used to. I think that is what pushes me to step out of my comfort zone. In high school, I knew I wanted to study abroad at some point, but I pretty much settled on any English-speaking country with a culture not too dissimilar from America.
This changed when, in the fall of last year, I spoke with a few upperclassmen who encouraged me to do otherwise. And honestly, before those conversations happened, Korea seemed like a far away, almost unattainable option. I was not fluent in the language, nor had I ever dealt personally with the culture aside from what I learned in Korean class.
These mentors of mine then brought up something that I had not thought of — the takeaway. Why was I going in the first place? What experience would offer me the greater impact? Where would be the most memorable? And thus I decided to come here, headfirst and without regrets.
I must admit that as much as I like Seoul, I am still not completely comfortable here. Then again, I am still getting settled. Still, being uncomfortable is one of the aspects that I like most about this trip. But I hope that by the end, I will have finally gotten over myself, found my groove and settled into a place here.
Jasmine White is a junior in the College. SETTLING IN SEOUL appears every other Friday.