Since I’m still waiting on the safe return of my passport (with visa inside!) from the Chicago-Korean Consulate, I’ll write a bit about the whirlwind of goodbyes and my thoughts the past few days.
Fun fact from an earlier post! In Korea, I’ll probably get called a “way gook” a time or two—it’s the Korean term for a foreigner or alien…wait, alien?! Sounds rough, I know, being an American is apparently the equivalent of a martian in Korea…implications? I’m sure I’ll post more about this later on.
However, I am weirdly interested in life as an outsider and I can’t wait to learn Korean language and culture! (I’ll post more later about what I’ve learned so far of Korean culture…it is sure to dazzle!)
A few days ago, I was lucky enough to have a mini reunion with some of my best friends from studying abroad in Italy. We all reminisced about ridiculous travel blunders and hilarious situations we found ourselves in.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing so humbling as being totally lost in a city where you don’t speak the language. The feeling of helplessness brings you to a level that necessarily strips you of your pride and forces you to ask for help. I’ve observed that it’s a feeling lots of people loathe but I have become more familiar with over time.
To better explain, I have to back up a little. I think studying abroad in Italy (fall 2012) changed me and challenged me more than I ever expected it would. I arrived in Italy with a puffed up sense of how well I could speak Italian and how much I thought I knew about Italians and their culture and basically, I felt like I was going to be unstoppable.
Well, let me tell you culture shock is real and sneaky. Knowing the language was definitely a major asset in Italy, but now I think that it is even more important to have humility and acceptance of the fact that there is always more to learn about other people.
Language and culture are inseparably sutured together and I used to think this meant that it was hopeless for me to ever learn enough Italian to be able to blend into Italy and that I would be found out as a foreigner and imposter. But the beautiful thing is that by learning and experiencing other cultures, you add new pieces to your own culture. The goal of language fluency or proficiency shouldn’t be to become someone you’re not. Yes, it’s true, I am an American, but that’s not all I am. I am an American who speaks Italian and English and tiny bits of Spanish and a few words of German and I have now found people I would call family on three continents. This adding of culture- this is what I love about travel.
Inevitably though, I am aware that it will be tempting to compare all of my future difficulties living in Korea to my time in Italy and to look back on Italy as a perfect place where everything was better and easier. I admit this for honesty and accountability! I know things will be so difficult in Korea and that I will surely get frustrated at times and certainly I will miss the people I love. But regardless of the truth, I am telling myself that I am up to the challenge!