The experience of studying in a different country and culture than your own cannot be overemphasized. As someone who rarely leaves Monroe County, let alone the state of New York, the opportunity to see another side of the world was both exhilarating and terrifying.
Though I had many learning experiences during my month abroad in the Korean summer program, the one that stands out to me the most is the sense of perspective that I received from interactions with my homestay and observing Korean protests in action.
I happened to be fortunate enough to have a homestay within Gwanghwamun Square, the government complex of both Seoul and South Korea as a whole. As a political science major, I was excited by these arrangements because it gave me a firsthand look at local politics. Not to mention the Blue House, the South Korean equivalent of the White House, was about a five minute walk away.
As luck (or misfortune) would have it, this was also during the time that the U.S. president visited South Korean President Moon Jae In to discuss relations with North Korea. This chance meeting gave me the opportunity to get the political opinions of my homestay family. My homestay mom didn’t like Moon Jae In. When I asked why, she said that it was because he was “too friendly with Kim Jong Un.”
It was through these chats that I got to understand my homestay mom a lot better than small talk could provide. I had studied South Korea before my trip, but seeing people instead of statistics was grounding.
While traveling through Seoul’s government complex, I saw many protests, some supporting the current president, others denouncing him for not taking a hard enough line on Kim Jong Un. One protest in particular struck me. They were protesting the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system, a defense system that was part of a joint agreement between the United States and South Korea.
It was then that I vaguely remembered a headline about the 2017 conflict these protestors were so passionate about. Back home, it was just a news bulletin, but now the story that I had barely glanced at years ago was playing out right in front of me. It was surreal that I could watch how the actions of my country affected the place I was now living.
When you see an international news story, there’s a tendency to ignore events that don’t immediately concern you. Obviously, we’re not omniscient, but to ignore the actions of yourself or your country on others is a dangerous way of thinking. The world is larger than one small county in the northeast of the United States.
I leave you with this: Step out of your comfort zone. In a time of impending climate disaster and increasing political polarization, it is a necessity to break down preconceived biases and introduce new ideas into our daily discourse. It’s for that reason I highly recommend the Korea study abroad program, or any study abroad program for that matter. These experiences have not only helped further my career path, but have given me memories that reinforce the importance of different perspectives and consequences of action.