3 of My Most Impactful Experiences in Korea
Experiences are what mold us as individuals. Whether positive or negative, we go through them. I’ve had a wide range of experiences over the past 10 months I’ve spent in Korea and I can say confidently that I’m a little wiser, stronger, and more mature because of them. With just over three more months before I return to the states, I think it’s time to sit back and reflect on the three main types of experiences I’ve had and how they have molded me.
I’m honestly not very open about my relationship life. This kind of information is normally kept within a small group of my closest friends, but I want to briefly mention it because it has been such a big part of my experience here in Seoul.
It has been a few years since I was in the dating scene, but my extended leave of absence ended about a month after arriving in Seoul. I don’t regret any of my romantic pursuits while in Seoul because they taught me lessons that I simply wouldn’t learn unless I was willing to take the risk and invest myself in a relationship that quite realistically has an expiration date--the day I return to America. Dating in Korea has not only taught me how to be a better boyfriend; the hard times have taught me how valuable quality friends are and subsequently strengthened those friendships exponentially.
For a few months now I’ve been of the opinion that there’s no point in pursuing a relationship for the remainder of my time here. I’ve logged my fair share of relationship time while in Seoul and now I feel like it’s wiser in the long term for me to simply enjoy the perks of the single life with the time I have left in this amazing city. One semester dating, one semester solo. Seems like a pretty balanced experience.
Over the past 10 months, I’ve been fortunate to get to know people from over 23 different countries. Most of these friends are in Seoul temporarily just like me. Although our friendships may be short-lived, I love that the lives I connect with and the stories I hear are just as diverse as the communities they come from. As I speak with friends from countries I’ve never even been to, I’ve come to appreciate the insider perspectives and opinions that I can’t find on a Wikipedia page.
I’ve been fortunate to discuss the refugee crisis with German university students and really understand the mind and heart of the German people. I’ve talked with a friend from Saudi Arabia about her plans to return to her country as a doctor after completing medical school in South Korea, setting a new precedent for women in her society. In addition to many more coffee talks over everything from Philippine presidential candidates to LBGT rights in Russia, I’ve been able to have a variety of genuine discussions that I feel are absolutely priceless. Getting to know such a diverse group of people has really expanded my perception of the global community and it’s citizens. I’ve realized that there are many people throughout the world who share the same fundamental human values that I do.
As a part of my Korean program’s curriculum, I’m required to take advanced media Korean for the two semesters that I’m attending Korea University. Every week, we analyze a trending issue in Korean news and then have discussions, debates and presentations regarding the topic in Korean. We’ve covered a variety of issues ranging from North Korean nuclear tests to social stratification in South Korea. This single course has given me a depth of Korea-related knowledge I would never have imagined acquiring. Add to that my senior thesis research about the social integration of refugees in South Korea, and I’ve realized that I’ve gained a genuine curiosity in South Korean issues that extends far beyond school assignments.
Originally, I didn’t plan to become a specialist of sorts on Korea related issues. I was drawn into my Korean program by of the lure of it being a prestigious program with non-Korean alumni who have attained professional Korean proficiency. I just wanted to speak the language fluently. But now as the months count down to my internship on Capitol Hill next fall, I realize that my time on the hill will be a pivotal point in my life where I will determine what my next step in life will be.
These three most impactful experiences amalgamate into a blend of moments that seem like a blur in retrospect. These past 10 months have literally flown by. As I look back at this plethora of experiences, I see one underlying theme-- growth. Relationship-wise, in terms of networking, academically, and in many more ways, I’m a different Keoni from the one that arrived in Seoul 10 months ago. I’m sure these last few months will be filled with more experiences that will help me grow more as an individual. As Steve Jobs would say, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”