When I met my roommate for the first time, a kind girl from California who has family in Korea and speaks the language quite fluently, she asked me upfront, “So, why are you here?” Caught off guard, I didn’t have a response ready. I can list the things that attracted me to study in Seoul, like fashion, Korean cuisine, academia, fast paced society, and the fact that everything was completely outside of my western comfort zone. But at the end of the day, why did I, a white privileged female from Minnesota who has no connection to the Asian world, choose to spend four months taking in a homogenous society I don’t speak the language of?
There are so many benefits I am gaining from this experience. I am learning what it’s like being a ‘minority’ in a homogeneous Korean society. (I use that term here to strictly mean a smaller part of a dominant collective. Let us remember that minorities in the United States are denied equal power and representation! My privileged experience here in Korea cannot compare to the atrocities they deal with back home.) For once I am the one being stared at on the street, and it feels a little weird. I am learning what it’s like to prioritize academic success over happiness from Korean university students. Their determination and work ethic is inspiring and reflects through in the overall efficiency of society. I am better understanding the potential of technology increasing a city’s capability to care for its citizens. Safety is so secure here you could leave your laptop in a cafe and come back an hour later to see it still charging. And there is so, so much more.
Honestly, I’m still struggling to figure out what I can contribute to a society that has given so much to me. If all I can do is learn the language as best I can in four months - is that enough? I will continue to have an open mind and take in as much culture as I can while I’m here. When I return home to the United States, I know this experience will stay with me as I think in terms of being a global citizen, rather than just an American girl.