When I Wavered

While studying abroad is something that I really wanted to do for so long, the more time I spent at Mudd, the more I wavered. Mudd was, in a way, my safe haven, and there was so much that I could be doing on campus during the semester that I miss: classes only available every other year, the seniors I wouldn’t be able to see again, all the different activities that I was a part of, the friends I wouldn’t be seeing and the memories they would be making without me.

A big one for me was just missing out on the community and of course summer internship opportunities. Going abroad meant that I wouldn’t have the full summer to do any  summer research, job or internship. I’ve always had this notion that the summer after junior year was super critical. While not a big reason for not studying abroad, knowing that it would be extremely hard to find things to do over the summer did deter me a little bit.

It was interesting because everyone I knew who went abroad always said to just go and that I wouldn’t regret it. Yet, I still had this fear. What if Korea wasn’t like what I expected it to be, what if I didn’t do well, what if it caused me not to graduate, what if I didn’t get into the program, what if I didn’t learn the things I needed to learn, what if it caused me to fall behind… What about the memories I could be making at Mudd, what about the classes I could be taking, what happens if I come back and I can’t relate to the friends I left, or I don’t understand their inside jokes and feel left out.

In the back of my mind, I knew that a lot of these fears didn’t make sense: I was going to graduate, I would be able to relate to friends, I’d find something or other to do over the summer. I also knew, that a lot of these fears were just bouts of self-doubt: why wouldn’t I get into the program, why woulldn’t I do well? If I tried them I could do it, if I didn’t learn the things I needed, I could probably find the time to learn or go to office hours, it’s not like I’m alone. My friends are not just going to leave me like that, I should know better than that.

I know that some of these fears and worries stemmed from things that happened in the past, but I think for me, I got over a lot of the fears by not imagining what could be, either if I did go or if I didn’t. Even though a lot of people thought I was definitely going to go, it wasn’t until I got the call that it finally hit me, and boy was I esctatic. Though even now, I feel like I’m not ready and that I can’t believe it’s happening. I guess it won’t be until I actually get to Korea that things will truly hit home.

Picking a Location

In my last post, I talked about why I wanted to study abroad, now I want to talk about why I picked South Korea.

For those of you who want to go to South Korea, you might have a similar story. Junior year of high school, a friend of mine really got into K-Pop and so for her birthday I decided to get her a 2 disc Super Junior CD while I was visiting family in China. That’s where it all started for me. She got a couple of us really into it and we formed a dance group, practicing twice a week and performing at talent shows. We had even thought about auditioning, though looking back now, I don’t think any of us had the skills.

From K-Pop, I got into the rest of the Hallyu wave: K-dramas, reality shows, entertainment companies, actors/actresses/idols and the culture. I’d binge watch shows, try to learn Korean, learn the choreography to dances and watch my favorites participate in reality shows. I had an obsessed phase once where I knew birthdays and bloodtypes, stage names and real names, random facts and special quirks. Coming from someone who probably couldn’t name enough actors/actresses from her own country to hit the double digits, didn’t really follow bands and singers, and wasn’t really one to watch TV, this was kind of a big deal.

Yet I knew that the things I see in the media, the things that I google and watch and read weren’t accurate portrayals of everyday life in Korea. I mean, not everyone falls in love at first sight, has a super strict snobby stuck up mother, or has some tragic secret that could ruin their entire world (or at least love life). I wanted to see what they didn’t show. It’s a culture that, in some ways I am quite familiar with, yet in others boggles my mind and it’s something that I want to experience for myself.

I also want to go to South Korea because of what it has. With one of the highest education rates, and one of the most technologically advanced countries (with over 82% Internet penetration and over 75% of the country with smartphones – taken from here), it also is big in the semiconductor industry (Hello Samsung), as well as the steel, car and ship industries (company names can be found here or google search top Korean industries). Yet these are just the fields that I find somewhat interesting (in one way or another), there’s still the banking industry, and the rapidly growing field of cosmetics and plastic surgery.

A lot of these desires started junior year of high school and that’s when I started to look more closely and think more thoroughly about going abroad while in college. Freshman year at Harvey Mudd, I took a Korean language course off campus at CMC and really enjoyed learning about the history behind the language and getting a little more in depth knowledge of it’s culture. While I am no longer (in my opinion) obsessed about K-Pop and the Hallyu wave as before, it’s still something that interests me a lot and a culture and place I want to learn more about, so my first choice location for studying abroad was South Korea.

Why I Wanted to Study Abroad

If I want to start from the beginning, I guess the very first thing I should put on this blog is the reason I wanted to study abroad.

I’ve been wanting to study abroad for years now. I don’t know how long I’ve had these thoughts, but if anything, I almost want to say that it definitely became more concrete during junior year of high school (you can find out why here).

Senior year of high school when I was looking at colleges, one of the most defining factors for eliminating and choosing schools, besides the normal things (programs, costs, location, etc), was whether or not it had a study abroad program for an engineering major, and still be able to graduate in 4 years. When looking then, it didn’t matter where the programs were, it just needed to have one that let me go abroad.

Why?

Because I want to explore the world. I want to be able to see how different the education systems are, and how that affects the way individuals approach a problem. I want to change the way that I approach problems, or at least see them from a different perspective. I want to learn a culture from the inside instead of what we can gather through the media and internet. I want to learn the customs, traditions and values of a culture from personal experience instead of through the words, videos and stories of others. Having family in China and being bicultural meant that when I learned about Chinese history and culture in the classroom, I noticed when values important to my family and I were glossed over. I found that things that are seemingly essential here in the U.S. could be completely useless abroad, and I want to understand this difference.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I probably also wanted to see if I could survive in a place where I don’t always have a helping hand available a phone call and 20 minutes away. If I really could be independent, or at least more so than I was or thought I was. I wanted to know what it was like to rely on myself more.

But anyways, these are the main reasons why I wanted to study abroad.