How Studying Abroad Truly Changed My Life

Programs for this blog post

Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Anna M.

     Being able to see the world and experience a new culture has given me new outlooks on life and sweet memories that I will never forget. In South Korea I got to enjoy so much traditional Korean food, go to cafes with my friends, try trendy activities, and I made many international life-long friends which is an opportunity worth seizing. The amount of things I've learned about Korean culture, people, history, and traditions is limitless in ways that have shifted my global perspective significantly. And in learning more about another culture I have also learned an unexpected amount about my own American culture by proxy. My preconceived notions about who I am, my country, and my culture were all challenged and reinforced with a new educated and balanced perspective thanks to studying abroad.

     Of course it is called study abroad for a reason so getting to participate in a different educational system, and in my case at a Korean SKY university, helped push me to adapt to a different and more challenging educational environment which made me grow to embrace the international education style. It has been fascinating to me how different teaching styles, testing strategies, grade percentages, and study culture have differed from my home university. It really gave me a sense of compassion and understanding of how different everyone’s college experiences can be. Being in Korea, I have learned how different colleges can be from school to school in America from my US friends and of course other countries like France, Sweden, and Canadian school systems too. I’ve learned that most European students are expected to study abroad and some even have that as a degree requirement for a well rounded education. As for my personal academic goals for going abroad to Yonsei, I wanted to learn more about Korean media, especially as an advertising major, as well as the culture, history, traditions, and language which I can confidently say I learned more than I ever expected and that wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my goals at my college in America. 

     Speaking about learning languages, a huge reason I came to Korea specifically was to deeply learn the language through immersion. Now for context, I wouldn’t say I am skilled at learning languages by any means, so I was curious how much my language skills would improve given that. I can honestly say that my verbal and written communication skills have improved way more than I thought was possible. Instead of being overwhelmed when people talk to me at convenience stores and restaurants, I now can listen and know what they are saying, plus I can even lead the conversation with specific questions. Thanks to my daily interactions in Korea and my Korean friends I’ve made along the way, I have a renewed sense of confidence and fresh drive to learn Korean. In my experience, as my language skills and intercultural understanding improved, I became more willing to take initiative to connect with native Koreans and generally integrate in society which I think was my greatest improvement and success in helping me learn the language. So certainly if you are looking to gain language proficiency I would say studying abroad is the best way to do that. 

     Personally, my strongest and most memorable experience is the lifelong friends I’ve made along the way. It’s amazing to make friends from so many different cultural backgrounds and it is hard to imagine my life without them as they have become so integral. The most valuable asset is to create lasting relationships and networking, especially in the expat community if you are looking to work internationally like I am. I’ve learned that being brave and actively deciding to get out of your comfort zone to take more chances and go to more events to meet people can make friendships and connections that will last a lifetime. Thanks to CIEE’s events which introduced me to my U.S. friends, my U.S. based network has grown so large that it is truly insane what 4 months can do with a little bravery and pushing out of your comfort zone. Not to mention how my international network has grown shockingly large from friends I made in class that are from Australia, France, Sweden, Vietnam, China, and Russia.

     My personal development that has happened while studying abroad was an unexpected win as well. By being abroad I decided to view it as an opportunity to challenge myself and my limiting beliefs by choosing to go to events to socialize, to introduce myself to people, and to try to speak Korean in an effort to practice (which is a strategy I highly recommend). Additionally, whenever you move to a new city it is a chance to begin with a fresh slate which I personally used to move towards a version of myself that I feel most connected with. Being abroad challenges the self limiting identities you associate yourself so my personal goals for coming to Korea were certainly to challenge myself to be brave and push past my personal limits to meet more people in an effort to grow personally and connect with others. An unexpected bonus from being abroad is also that now I appreciate my home and family even more for everything they do in a refreshing and new light. 

     Lastly, for the practical benefits I’ve gained from studying abroad, I simply have to say it is a valuable experience to put on a resume these days. Being able to have perspective on different cultures, and possible language fluency as a result of going abroad are powerful skills in our globalized world. But also the soft skills that you gain like adaptability, cultural understanding, and communication will take you miles professionally, and now show up on my resume. My professional goals for studying abroad are seriously close to being actualized after I graduate thanks to CIEE. CIEE held an alumni event where I was able to meet the most valuable connections for jobs I am looking to have in South Korea in the future, so I am incredibly grateful for that connection. And as a side note, personally I decided to study abroad also because I realized it is one of the few opportunities I have to travel for a prolonged period of time in my life. After I graduate I’m going to be looking for a job immediately because life is expensive so I decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity and live my life which is the best decision I have ever made, hands down.

     As for a little fun recommendation round, the most memorable places I have gone to in South Korea are certainly Gyeongbok Palace, Gwangjang Market, Hongdae shopping district, Olive Young, Han River, and the Hanok villages. These were places I got to enjoy exploring with my friends and learn more about traditional Korean culture. Additionally, Sinchon in general is a place that I now call my home. There are countless memories of exploring Sinchon alongside my friends with smiles on our faces so I definitely want to return when I eventually come back to Korea. I tell you all these recommendations because they are remarkable and places where I spent some of my best moments of my life. I will be forever grateful that I have had such a life-altering and amazing experience here to the point that it is truly hard to say goodbye. But it is so beautiful to return home with the love and priceless memories from South Korea that I hold close to my heart and will carry for a lifetime.