Many people have asked this million-dollar question, and I’ve never quite known how to come through with a million-dollar answer… I just knew I didn’t want my experience to be easy, common, and, in a weird way, too comfortable. Before I could even realize it, South Korea robustly granted all three of my wishes though at one point in time it was literally the last place on earth I would have ever thought I’d go. Exploring the why of this adventure is one I definitely had to answer in retrospect in order to tell the whole truth… Now six months removed from my first East Asian travels, I think I can honestly articulate the madness to my method.
When I first entered university, studying abroad was at the top of my list– I barely knew my way around campus, but I still envisioned my directionally-challenged soul embarking on some sort of foreign excursion to gain some college credit, beef up my resume, and have the chance to say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.”
Pretty early on in my destination search, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t trying to have a cliche experience with uncomfortably posed pics in front of a *European* Wonder of the World. I
pretty ignorantly concluded that anywhere in Europe seemed too easy, and, as you could probably imagine, that criterion eliminated most of the popular program choices. Also, most tropical places in the world don’t provide undergraduate students the opportunity to enjoy the bougie beach life and gain credit for a political studies… but they should. When thinking about studying abroad in the “Motherland,” my wallet channeled the spirit of an African American mother with “You got some Africa money?!”… then, my same familiar childhood disappointment of realizing I wasn’t getting my McNuggets kid’s meal resurfaced once again as I realized that a semester anywhere on the world’s second largest continent was indeed way out of my price range… Completely neglecting to even consider anywhere in Asia or the Pacific (besides the too-quickly-filled slots for study abroad in Japan), I was forced to focus my energy on sustaining my current, less than fulfilling routine in my college town.
But then undergrad life came at me fast, and the idea of studying abroad diminished from a College Bucket List Top 5 to a lukewarm prolly not. But somehow, a series of yes‘s, no‘s, and thankfully, one more yes landed me in Songdo, South Korea for four life-changing months.
Eventually, college life got to the point where even dreaming of leaving the country was the last thing on my mind. Then, one of my upperclassmen friends who interned in Morocco for a summer invited me to a special event she was hosting where she featured other black travelers and their study abroad experiences. Though my mind was nowhere near thinking about studying abroad myself, I always love to support the passions of my peers (especially since I was in search of my own), so, of course, I agreed to be in curious attendance to support her hard work. Yes!
At the event, I encountered a pretty cool guy whose storytelling abilities made South Korea of all places sound like a hidden wonder of the Far East. Not only that, but he also detailed how he landed a paid leadership position through our university to go to Korea and also how his varied experiences there as a black male shaped some of his global perspectives. Right then, South Korea became the perfect, peculiar escape to my conventional college experience. My next week following the event became solely dedicated to reaching out to all the right people and filling out all of the necessary papers to land this position and head to South Korea. However, even after meticulously crafting what I thought to be the best application I could possibly present, I was emailed a discouraging rejection letter letting me know that I did not get the position for the next semester. No.
After this heavy disappointment, I figured I would hold off on my study abroad pursuits until “later”– whenever that would be. In any case, it was time to move on to the most stressful part of the semester– finals!– so I didn’t have much energy to plot my next moves as big as to work and study abroad. I thought much smaller and left the dreaming for another day. Then, three weeks later, I received the email that dotted a line from my comfortable college dorm room to a cute Korean suburb across the Pacific. Though I had initially been rejected, the hiring representatives extended the position to me. I had already made plans for my next semester, but I had about a week to decide if I was going to take a chance. YES!
To many, it may seem like a rather spontaneous decision. To me, it was just another story of taking a road less travelled and also seizing an opportunity that presented… and then re-presented itself to me. The way in which my story unfolded further solidified my need to find out just why South Korea seemed to be calling my name so badly. By the end, I made personal connections with amazing people, I conquered fears I didn’t know I had, and I discovered new elements of myself that I now know how to nurture more passionately.
Now, I would definitely be bluffing if I didn’t say that this journey did not come without apprehension in various forms– especially considering who I was (a black woman) and where I would be going. However, I’d like to think that it’s a fear that stems from childlike curiosity but is still rooted in the anxiety about the unexpected. This is a paradox that I’m glad I got to live out on the other side of the world, one that I am privileged to have lived at all, and one that I can only hope to keep propelling my dreams forward.
“This is a paradox that I’m glad I got to live out on the other side of the world, one that I am privileged to have lived at all, and one that I can only hope to keep propelling my dreams forward.”