Mentioned in an older post titled Career Exploring I briefly discussed why I happened to move to Korea in 2013. However, other than just school there were a number of reasons more positive than negative in my decision to select Korea among other possible destinations.
It began during the end of my 2012 summer break. I was returning home from a two-month long Japan-America Student conference, which was held at various locations across the U.S. Having been interested and studied Japanese history, culture, and language in college I thought attending the conference might help me network upon my return back to D.C. in the Fall.
After registering for my fall semester courses in September I met with new adviser during my first week back, to discuss my school’s 1 year dual-degree program options with universities in Asia. Prior to beginning graduate school I had read about American University’s (AU) programs and was interested in being able to have the opportunity to study & live in Asia. Due to my background and familiarity with Japan my adviser highly recommended that I complete the 1 year program with Ritsumeikan University (RU) in Kyoto, Japan. However, she also chimed in that I could explore options in Seoul, Korea since our school had 2 programs available with Sookmyung Women’s University (program now closed) and Korea University.
Taking into consideration my options I informed her that I would pursue the Japan program. However, I also knew that in order to get into the program I would need to take my required language proficiency test in Japanese prior to going. That semester I registered to take the JLPT N3 level test to determine whether or not I would be successful for the required test. However, I was unsuccessful in my studies. After receiving my JLPT results I re-visited the 1 year program options. For the RU program I was very interested in choosing a degree with advanced Japanese skills as a requirement. However, in case of the universities in Korea, all degree programs were taught in English.
Not wanting to lose out on an opportunity to be able to go to Asia, the region I had spent years studying, I decided that I would choose Korea. While Korea was not initially my first choice it wasn’t chosen with bad sentiments. I was actually very excited to picture in my mind and think of what might await me by going.
Korea wasn’t an unknown country to me. However, it certainly would be a new one for me. Having never once been there I was certain that I would be intrigued and probably dumbfounded. Hearing only stories from friends I was not very familiar with Kpop, or Kimbab, or even Kimchi. But, I did study more about Korean history, politics, and some culture thanks to enrolling in an elective Korean Politics course during my spring semester.
Once my I received acceptance into the 1 year dual-degree program with Korea University, Korea became my official destination. There was no turning back the page. By the end of my final exams that Fall semester I started to make the big-move preparations. I informed my D.C. roommates that I would be moving out, donated furniture, informed my internship of my plans, bought new suitcases, and off-course informed my family.
Telling my family, especially my parents, about my decision to move to Seoul was not difficult nor easy. While they were used to me living in Boston and D.C., Seoul was different. Seoul, was a 14 hour flight away in a land that my parents had no ties or relations to. They worried a lot about my well-being, but supported my judgement in making proper decisions for myself and my future. Two months later in mid-winter I left on a midday flight one way to Seoul. Just like moving to D.C. I was once again beginning a new experience by moving to Korea.
During my first month in Korea I did feel stressed. I felt out-of-place majorly due to massive cultural exposure. Knowing no one all didn’t help. Unlike my abroad experiences in Japan and Brazil where I had classmates, advisers, and professors, in Korea I knew no one. But, all of that soon changed when I decided that if I wanted to finally use my opportunity to learn more about Korea as a residing student then I needed to immerse myself and meet native residents. So my journey began.
My first semester attending Korea University was as exciting as my first semester at AU. It was an easy semester, and in-between my classes I was able to explore new parts of Seoul. Additionally, beginning Korean language courses as my new language choice for my graduate degree requirement, I made friends with many other Korean language learners.
After a couple of months there I would say that I met some of the most supportive friends in my life. When living abroad you not only get to meet native people from the country you are residing in. You also get to meet many people from all around the world. Through my Korean language classes, I was able to meet and make many great friends from various countries (i.e. UK, Thailand, Russia, Japan, China, etc.) These friends and I studied together, traveled together, and even celebrated birthdays together. These friends became by second family, and Korea my second home.
After completing my full-year at Korea University, I stayed abroad in Korea continuing my Korean language acquisition. I attended more language courses at a language institution named YBM, and attended upper level courses with the Sogang University program. By, mid-spring 2014 I passed my AU advanced language proficiency test in Korean and completed by final dissertation paper, which focused on comparing the U.S. and South Korea’s Immigration Policy, and citizenship attainment in each country. I chose this topic because as resident in Korea for nearly two years at that time, I wanted to know how Korea was integrating its foreign population. Additionally, I wanted to better understand the differences in the of diversity and inclusion in U.S. and Korea.
Choosing to go to Korea as mentioned earlier was based on more positive than negative reasons. To briefly summarize some of them and not make a long list:
(+) Living in Korea: Positive Reasons
- Living in Korea gave me an opportunity to live abroad and gain international experience
- Living in Korea allowed me the privilege to learn a new language
- Living in Korea in Korea helped me know more about Korean culture, history, and allowed me to both meet and engage with many Korean people
- Living in Korea helped me breakaway from only knowing Japan – culture, language, people, music, dramas, shows, foods, etc.
- Living in Korea helped me focus my career goals in IR
- Living in Korea allowed me to see the world differently from outside the U.S.
- Living in Korea allowed me understand the life of an immigrant
(-) Living in Korea: Negative Reasons
- Not being able to pass my JLPT N3 level test and meet the RU Japanese language requirement for the dual-degree I wished to pursue
- Due to higher competition to get into the RU dual-degree program
- Due to higher cost of living and expenses in Kyoto vs Seoul
- Due to not wanting to fail out of graduate school over language retention (*however I did study a lot to bring my beginner level skills to high intermediate)
Ultimately, moving to Korea helped make my graduate school experience more meaningful. I was less stressed out than I had been during my second semester in D.C. where I had language studies, intense papers, group reports, and 10+ books to read per class. Many people might say that grad school abroad vs the U.S. is too easy and not the greatest education. However, I believe that you get what you put out of your time in school. While I admit that my study-load was much lighter in Korea than at AU I still worked just as hard in all of my courses. I am proud that I did because I enjoyed my graduate experience until the end.
My takeaway from my graduate experience was being able to live in Korea. It was a life-changing experience that I am forever grateful for because I received so much more back in return than I had expected.