There’s a narrative of studying in a different country which most students can relate to. For the most part, we’re college students with limited international experiences. We have a new amount of freedom and independence that we haven’t previously faced. And, of course, we’re encouraged to seek out as many experiences as possible and actively do as much as possible to make the most of our time abroad.
So, I want to agree with the value of the latter statement, and also argue for the importance of maintaining one’s emotional boundaries and limitations. For a long time, I’ve struggled with accepting myself as an introvert who appreciates introvert activities (reading and writing, listening to music, going to lowkey places like coffee shops with only one or two other people). As a response to my introverted qualities, I often try to prove to myself that I can go out and do things that require a lot of social energy. This can be incredibly frustrating learning to balance, especially when social activities feel more valid than independent activities.
Studying abroad is sold to us as an extrovert experience, wherein you travel, meet other students, and receive constant social stimuli. While being in Seoul, this is a lifestyle that is easily attainable, and one which I spent the first month of my experience abroad partaking in. However, I’ve also spent time veering away from this narrative, while still appreciating Korea, the people that I've met, and valuing my limited time here.
In my opinion, the advice to go outside of one’s comfort zone should be taken with a grain of salt. There were experiences I wanted to have in Korea but were not necessarily in my comfort zone, such as going to concerts despite being one of the only foreigners there, that I partook in and didn't regret. Even traveling to Japan was outside of my comfort zone, despite being surrounded by friends. Nonetheless, there have also been times when, as an introvert, I needed to re-energize and spend time alone, but ended up exhausting myself, purely to soak up as many experiences as possible.
Yet, it doesn't really matter how many unique experiences you have abroad, but that you got something out of them, and that they were able to leave an impact. Because, in reality, I find that my most valuable moments of reflection and self-growth are moments spent alone. It’s rare that I leave a conversation, especially one taking place in a large group setting, feeling like I’ve learned more about myself.
While being in Korea, I’ve begun to reinvest in the idea that people spending time alone is worth no less than spending time with someone else. While Korea is a society that values group behavior, I'm ironically beginning to stress in my personal life that alone time is a strong trait. It shows independence and self-reliance. I am so happy for the people I’ve gotten to spend time with in Korea, but I'd also like to use this post to reassert that alone time is underrated if it allows you to learn more about yourself.