Our first impressions of someone are almost always formed by an individual’s physical features. If you look at me, you immediately take in that I am very obviously Asian, and thus, it’s easy to assume that I am from an Asian country. However, my outward appearance doesn’t tell you how I immigrated to the States with my family when I was one years old and that I lived in Boston since kindergarten. First impressions don’t explain one’s story.
I think I’ve had a bit of a different experience in France than perhaps some of the other American students, as I don’t fit the typical idea of an “American.” I always find it funny seeing confused faces when I tell people I meet for the first time here that I’m from the States. I’ve had people do double takes and stare at me like “??? Wait what?” and others say, “You’re from the States? But you’re Asian…” It always allows for a conversation about how we both happened to end up here.
Studying at CIREFE, the international school of Université Rennes 2, has been one of my favorite parts of being abroad. It sounds cliche, but it has opened up my world in ways that I didn’t even know was possible. I’ve met people from all over the world – Iran, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, Spain, and more – and have been able to be a part of a beautiful exchange of cultures. Even now, with the program being more than half over, I still find it absolutely crazy and extraordinary that despite cultural differences, different upbringings and backgrounds, my classmates and I somehow find ourselves next to each other, studying French in Rennes, France. What are the odds and a crazy draw of luck and coincidence that I can practice French with people who are from all walks of life, from all different parts of the world?! Whether people are here for personal reasons of wanting to learn the language, reasons pertaining to work, or somehow their circumstances just played out so that they’ve ended up here, I find it beautiful that France and the French language has brought together so many different cultures and welcomes it. It makes me think that France really is “le berceau de la culture” – the cradle of culture.
Being in France has given me a deeper appreciation of my Korean American identity. In being both Korean and American, I feel like I’ve been able to connect with more people on a deeper level. I think that’s one of the best things about learning and knowing different languages: it opens you up to other people’s worlds and allows you to connect with others instantly.
Studying abroad has been one of the best choices I’ve made. Aside from learning the language more in depth, I’m also learning so many things that I didn’t even know was “out there” to learn – things I probably would’ve never experienced if I hadn’t come here. It’s crazy to think that there will continue to be so much within our lifetimes that we are going to take in that we can’t possibly even imagine right now. Even though I’m here for only a short time, I am filled with waves of gratitude that this is my life right now. It really blows my mind away; I feel so lucky. I am so happy.