I would be lying if I said that the minute I landed in South Korea, I did not want to click my ruby red heels and fly back home. Seriously! This was my first time away from home for more than a day or two, let alone in a different country. I missed my home. I missed my family. My dog. My comfortable bed. My familiar community. My work family. But especially, I missed (and still miss) my mom, who has been my biggest supporter and best friend since day one, and who made anywhere and anything feel like home for me. Making this decision to study abroad was the most out of the box, spontaneous decision I had ever made in my life; and yet, I think, there is nothing else in this world that could have defined me better than this one decision as who I am at my core. And if it could not define me when I made that choice, it has one hundred percent shaped me into that woman I idealized in my mind. And if you think that is a joke, I can tell you right now that if you had told 15-year-old me I would be studying abroad in South Korea for a whole semester, I would have laughed in your face.
Things change and with time, we change too. We grow, adapt, learn new things, find new likes, make crazy decisions like hopping a plane to South Korea for a semester when something as diverse as studying abroad was not even in our radar until senior year of high school… my point is, nothing stays the same. 15-year-old me and 21-year-old me are two vastly different people who probably would not recognize each other if they were standing face to face. And that is absolutely okay. If we did not change, we would not be maneuvering through life. If anything, I am glad for that change. I am glad some friends in high school introduced me to a Korean band called BTS who advocated so intently for their culture and that made ME research their culture, and then led to a decision of studying abroad. And even after having said trip denied two times because of a global pandemic, I persisted, wrote a letter to the heads of my university, and managed to live in South Korea for four months, studying the field I love. All these events in recent years plus every moment of my life have shaped me into the person I have always wanted to become.
I believe in fate and destiny. I think everything happens for a reason. As I said, I was denied studying abroad TWICE because of COVID. When I look back on it, I realize that it simply was not the right time. Which is why, the third time when the decision was still up in the air, I decided to write that letter to persuade my university to let us go, and I was finally able to board the plane and travel. In my mind, it is nothing short of a coincidence. Because if I had not ended up studying abroad, these are the moments I would have missed.
Let us start with the very cause of why I even decided to study abroad, especially in South Korea. If it were not for BTS whose music spoke volumes and whose love for their country was beyond measure, the idea would not have even existed in my mind. I would not have been able to visit HYBE museum and be reminded of all the reasons why I love them in the first place. If there is anyone I need to thank first for aiding in my decision, it is those seven boys.
I then need to thank my study abroad advisor back home who worked with me through every tribulation or set back and stayed as persistent and eager as I was to make this trip happen. Alongside her, thank you to the head of my university who took into consideration my and the other study abroad students’ standpoint and allowed us to go. Thank you to my ISA Seoul resident manager, Minhee, who helped me through some very difficult situations throughout the semester and became like an away-from-home sister to me. Thank you to Eusioo as well for helping alongside of Minhee and making my first time away from home easier and better. Thank you to all my family and friends who have supported me since the beginning of this journey. Thank you to God who has always given me strength, pulled me through, and led me to this beautiful country where I had the experience and opportunity of a lifetime. Most importantly, thank you to my mom who supported me, loved me, pushed me, and helped me with every single step, even when letting me go was the hardest thing either of us ever had to endure. Without any of these people listed above, I would not be able to say any of the following.
There are plenty of things I love about South Korea, or things I have come to love because of being in South Korea. I learned that I really love going to Cafes. Each one has its own unique sense to it and there is nothing better than finding a new one to explore and enjoy. Likewise, nearly every business I have been to in this country plays sad bops or ballads (aside from the few who play English pop), and contrary to what one may think, I have really enjoyed it. There is just something about that kind of heart touching music. If I had not come here, I would not have known that there are many, many kinds of foods I love from several different cultures. I would not have tried the army base stew or learned that I actually like some Indian dishes. I would not have found those strawberry yogurt smoothies that I have at least once a week. I would not have tried to eat things with eggs on them again because I have never liked eggs, but there is just something about how Korean cuisine uses them in dishes that makes them taste ten times better than the eggs I have had back home. And I definitely would not have had the chance to taste the mouthwatering street food that is unique to South Korea.
If I had not studied abroad, I would not have experienced, seen, and walked around the breathtakingly beautiful campus of Korea University. I would not have been able to enjoy my very first in person class in one of those beautiful buildings on campus. I would have likely never ridden a subway and enjoyed it (especially considering how clean Korea’s subway system is), and I would not have gone to one of my favorite leisure activities in Korea—karaoke rooms.
Alongside other beauties in Korea, I would have never been able to check off a point on my bucket list of visiting the incredible Coex Starfield Library.
I would not have experienced Korean culture or witnessed the stunning palaces that truly reflect a significant piece of ancient Korean history.
I would not have been able to walk around in Korean traditional hanbok and feel like royalty for a day.
If I had not come to South Korea, I definitely would not have ended up on a spontaneous birthday trip to Busan with two of the greatest friends I have ever had. I would not have seen such a beautiful coastal city with all its special little traits that made seeing another part of South Korea aside from Seoul even more worthwhile.
But most of all, I would not have met these three people who made even the most difficult hardships of these trip worth the beauty of it all. Without them, I think I would have ended up back home a lot sooner than I planned. Thank you to these four special people who have only further molded my thought that home is not the place, but the people who make wherever feel like home.
Although I am coming down to a little less than a month of time left in South Korea, and it may seem like the end, I have come to realize that this is only the end of my semester abroad. In fact, this is not the real end, but only the beginning. Where I go from here and who I become beyond this will all be kickstarted by this one decision I made three years ago and did not let go until it finally happened. And in case you are wondering, yes, I am ready to go home. I have loved South Korea and everything in it, and I am beyond grateful and blessed that I was able to travel here. But at the end of the day, even though South Korea will always have a little piece of my heart, I still know deep down that there is no place like home. You can travel anywhere in the world, but make sure you always end up back home, or with the people who can make anywhere feel like home.
So, before I go, I would like to give one last thanks. Thank you, younger self, for always chasing your dreams and never letting no be an option for those dreams. It has really propelled us farther than anything else could have. And for you, reader, I will leave you with this: go on, travel the world. Get your experiences. Take in every moment and see everything you can; but never forget where you came from. There is nothing in this world quite like home.