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Seoul searching: Life abroad not so easy

6 April 2014 By Ellen Back, Columnist No Comments
Columnist learns about parents’ struggles

With midterm week slowly approaching, libraries and cafes are packed with books, laptops and caffeine-filled students who are eager to do well on their exams.

I am one of those students. Next Thursday, I have my first two tests in my Global Journalism and New Communication Technology courses. Since these exams account for nearly one third of a student’s final grade, midterms are taken very seriously. This past week, I’ve been catching up on readings in order to prepare.

In my New Communication Technology course, we have already been assigned group projects. I happen to be the only foreign exchange student on my team.

Communication continues to be a struggle. When I first came here, I thought I was a fluent Korean language speaker, but now I know that I thought wrong.

Last week was a real wake up call. Without the help of my friends, I realized that I have a lot of trouble understanding what people say.

The slang and elevated vocabulary that students use leaves me feeling lost in the midst of conversation. As for the group project, luckily, after a fair amount of puzzled looks and awkward silences, Google Translate saved the day.

With a project topic approved and ready to go, we just have to research, discuss, write and present our project at the end of the semester.

It’s going to be a challenge but I’m hoping I can help to improve my group’s English language skills in exchange for their help in improving my Korean skills.

If I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that being a foreigner is not easy. One must adopt a totally new culture and live in a completely new environment with people who may have goals, morals, standards and beliefs that are entirely different from what one is used to.

Although I am considered Korean, I don’t necessarily think, look, talk or even dress like the Koreans here. I learned that there is a significant distinction between the students who were born in Korea versus the Korean-Americans who came to study here.

In some cases, this fact has left me feeling like an outsider. Nonetheless, my goal here isn’t necessary to change myself in order to fit in.

My goal is to learn about my identity and the culture that my parents grew up in.

After a long week of trying to decode Korean text messages between my group members and getting off at the wrong stop after misreading signs riding the metro for the first time, I am really starting to understand some of the hardships that my parents had to overcome raising my brother and I in the United States. Fortunately for me, I had a basic foundation of the language coming into Korea.

Not to mention, two great friends who have helped and guided me tremendously, but my parents started a life in a completely unfamiliar country with no support from friends or nearby family members. Once my stay here is over, I know that I’ll be leaving with a greater appreciation for my parents and the struggles they endured living a life in a country as foreigners.


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