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Alyssa Taylor's year on exchange in South Korea

Program: UMD Exchange: Seoul National University (Korea)
Term: Full Year 2022-23
Major: Government & Politics International Relations
Social Media Handle: 0.0_alyssa

I learned a lot about myself and about people from different parts of the world

I learned how resilient I am as I had to navigate living in a country where English is not the primary language. I also realized being born in the U.S. instilled in me a somewhat hyper independent spirit where in other parts of the world people rely more on their relationships and the government for help. I also enhanced my Korean language skills as living in Korea forced me to speak the language because I couldn't rely on the assumption that someone knew English. Increased Korean language skills will help me in my academic and professional career as my minor is in Korean studies and I want to become a foreign service officer so language skills are important in my career. One really cool person I met was Josh Lustig who is a UMD alumni and public diplomacy foreign service officer at the US embassy in Seoul. He expanded my network as he told me about different events the diplomacy house was holding which led me to making friends that I still stay in contact even now!

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad

I am going to give my advice as an African American woman and GVPT students so take what you may. First, don't let the fear of being the only one (in my case Black woman) stop you from going to different place. My first semester I dreaded going out because I always got stared at and disliked the attention. But by the second semester I realized that people are going to stare and I am not going to let them make me not live my best life by trying out new things and doing what I want. Second, you will have awkward experiences. If they are good awkward learn to laugh it off and if they are bad learn to not take it to heart. People have touched my hair and have asked me why Americans have so many shootings. I have learned to pick my battles and let other things slide like water off a ducks back. Third, don't be afraid to travel somewhere where English is not the primary language spoken. Either you can give someone the opportunity to practice their English language skills and/or you get the opportunity to learn a new language. Win-win situation if you ask me. Lastly, travel outside the city! Living in the city is comfortable but traveling to other parts of a country (especially rural places) gives you a different perspective of the country. Bonus points if you also talk to the local people because you may be the only person from another culture/region of the world that they have talked to.

When I reflect on my time in South Korea I am amazed at how outgoing I was

Before I studied abroad I was shy and didn't feel comfortable talking to strangers and even if I knew people it took me some time before I opened up to them. But in South Korea I accumulated my friends by either gathering the courage to approach them first or being vulnerable with them. For example, I met one of my friends Jihye through an American Diplomacy House roundtable event between American students and South Korean students. After the event we promised each other we would hang out and we did! We grabbed lunch, went shopping, and talked for a few hours at a coffee shop. Recently, she texted me and asked if she could visit me in DC as she was planning to travel to the US which I excitedly said yes to. Another example I have is with my friends, James and Eunsook. I met James from another friend since they both participated in the Fulbright ETA in South Korea. I reached out to James first and ever since then he took me under his wing and helped me get adjusted to life in South Korea. I met Eunsook through a language exchange program in which I was her English teacher. Although we started out in an teacher-student relationship after the program, I invited her out to lunch with James and the rest is history. James, Eunsook, and I would do fun activities with each other like going iceskating together, picnicking at the Han river, and eating at delicious restaurants. I share these experiences to say that I am thankful for the risks I took because I love the friends I made.

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad

I am the first person in my family to study abroad and I also come from a working class family so although I wanted to study abroad it was more like a dream to me than an actual possibility. While I understand the hopelessness you may feel don't keep/stay in that mood for too long! Reach out to others. The Education Abroad team are there to help you (in my case finding funding and getting my parents to agree to let me study abroad). But along with reaching out to others also do your own work and be proactive. If there are scholarships that you find out about, start working on those applications ASAP and keep track of deadlines. You can do it and don't lose hope!!

Finding my own housing and moving out of my housing [was the hardest part about studying abroad that I didn't anticipate]

Thankfully my mom came with me when I first came to South Korea so we looked for housing together and she helped me move in. Also my host university had an advice section for people looking for off-campus housing so although the process was stressing I did have resources available to me. I could have gave up and told my mom this was too much for me to handle. But I knew I did so much to prepare me for this experience and would not let this hurdle wreck everything that I had done so far. So I think it instilled in me a resilience to keep pushing even when I can't see what's ahead. In regards to moving out having friends and family to talk to back home while I was cleaning out my room was helpful as they helped distract me from the chaos. But I was also able to lean on my landlord as she was very nice and helpful. Again this experience made me realize the tough times are only temporarily and once you get past it you'll be able to laugh at it later.

If I hadn't studied abroad, I would have never explored another country for the first time in 30 years, attended Seoul National University, travel to a disputed Island (South Korea calls in Dokdo and Japan calls it Takeshima), made a last minute visit to Ulleung-do, went to so many K-pop concerts/festivals/award ceremonies, become friends with someone from North Korea, visited a restricted part of the DMZ, gone to an ice festival in South Korea, visited Japan and met local friend, saw a Japanese wedding, pet a meerkat, and visited the American Diplomacy House.

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