The Study Abroad Newsletter

People Are Universal

Alena Seim
Hanyang University, South Korea

At the end of my freshman year I was at an all time low, but it all turned around when I learned about studying abroad. I decided after much research that I would go for a year abroad to Hanyang University in South Korea. My experience in Korea has placed my life on a whole new plane of existence. I’ve learned to be comfortable while not in my comfort zone, truly accept the views and ideas of other cultures, and appreciate life on a deeper and more ethereal level.

Comfort zones are an important part of establishing a stable psyche, and creating a comfort zone while studying abroad was an extremely difficult challenge. I didn’t have the traditional support of family, friends, culture, or even my own language to help me in my endeavors. Letting go of my ability to control the things around me caused me to spiral into deep depression, but it was necessary for me to feel that way. By allowing myself to feel vulnerable, I’ve never felt stronger in my whole life. In fact, I developed a discomfort around familiar objects and people. When I would see an American on the subway, I quickly made my way to the next car.

Insadong, a Buddhist Birthday celebration When one is a part of the larger group, it is easy to feel moderate and accepting of a lot of things. When one is a part of the minority, being defensive of oneself and critical of the majority is a natural reaction. Because I am multi-ethnic, I had never really viewed myself as being an American, and like most people from Hawaii I identified myself as my many different races (including Korean). While in Korea, I learned that being part Korean was not a widely accepted thing, and that culture/ethnicity can be a pure entity. For Americans, and especially local people, that is a hard concept to understand since we are a hybrid culture. The American culture is not entirely accepted by everyone, and when they did not seem to enjoy my culture, I reacted by being extremely critical about theirs. After months of riding an emotional roller coaster, I learned to accept their way of living, while still appreciating my own lifestyle. In America, conversation with people who are providing your service (i.e. taxi drivers) tends to be avoided, and whenever employees ask you how your day is, it is done with the utmost insincerity. In Korea, people genuinely wish you a good day, and when they inquire about your day it is because they are trying to get to know you.

Everyone knows the idiom, “you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone.” When you’re studying abroad, everything that you’ve ever had is gone and your appreciation for it deepens. I would spend days in complete silence because I couldn’t express my feelings in Korean, and there was no one who spoke English near me. Being in complete solitude taught me to stop thinking of myself and enjoy good company. People are so important to your livelihood, and not enough appreciation is shown to those people.

Alena on a visit to the mountains in Seoraksan Call it enlightenment, or nirvana, but now more than I ever am I sure of who I am. It took the absence of everything in my life to help me appreciate what I had all along. The personal change that I underwent in Korea was the best thing that I could have ever done for myself. It resonates throughout my soul, and despite the depression I felt, I don’t regret a single thing. I find it moderately ironic that it was in the midst of a land foreign to every facet of me, that I truly discovered who I am, and who I will become.