WHAT’S GOOD PEOPLE. As most of you may know at this point, I am back in U.S. territory. I am actually writing my last blog about my life-changing, three-month endeavor to South Korea. I’m extremely blessed for the opportunity and it was made possible with the help of my parents, Dr. Lim, Dr. Suk, and the rest of the graduate students in the Molecular Ecology lab. I’m going to finish the series of blogs with a final reflection on my experiences in Korea along with an emotional recap of what I discovered.
First of all, thank you South Korea for treating me kindly and returning me back home safe and sound. Before I left for South Korea, actually throughout the first week or so of my stay as well, I didn’t know what exactly to expect. Again, as most of you may know, this trip was my first experience outside of the U.S.; let alone traveling the world independently-without my family. So that’s a big deal. I’m scared, nervous, hopeful, excited, tired; my first emotions during the flight and during touchdown in Korea. I’ve never dealt with any major forms of jet lag, but this was definitely not the case during my first week. Sitting at a 14 hour time difference, South Korea ahead of the U.S., it made it hard to grow accustom to; however, it also made it hard on communicating with loved ones back home.
Interestingly enough, I give a lot of credit to my academic advisor for my leave to Korea. Although he didn’t bring up the opportunity, he took the seed my mom planted in my head a long time ago, about me studying abroad for a semester, and encouraged me to take the chance during my college years to travel. I want to thank Tony for encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone and expressing his confidence in my future choices, whatever they turned out to be. I actually had the chance to meet up with Tony in South Korea! Tony is an independent world traveler himself and he made a tour around the Asian countries, but during his stay in Gyeonju Tony was sure to visit with us. I thank him for what he helped me accomplish and also for taking time out of his travels to spend time with us college students.
The trip to Korea changed me in ways that I am currently unable to fully comprehend, but I have already noticed the small things that are different about me. One of the major changes that Ive found is my perspective of the United States. I think there is a stigma that surrounds the idea of the American culture that everything is the best, America this, America that. In my opinion the trip to Korea changed my overall perspective on the world. As cliché as it is, it opened my mind to other alternatives and allowed me to focus on the idea that there are positives and negatives to all things existing in life. The United States, for example, excels in many categories; however, it lacks in the seemingly insured self-safety. At first reading, my previous statement may come off confusing, but in a deeper, in-between the lines analysis, you will find that it is the safe mindfulness that people tend to seek out for personal comfort. What do I mean by this? Well, I believe that people naturally acquire instinctive safety and somewhat of an aura regarding their safety. In Korea, I never once feared for my safety. Every night, even at the late hours of about 11:00pm, I saw girls walking around the city, going for runs, etc., all completed alone. Something of that sort is unheard of in the U.S. and I think that is sickening. As I said before, in some aspects the U.S. truly ISN’T the best country in the world… We do indeed have our problems that need attention. Another example is our present day gun problem. The fact of the matter is that banning guns in the present day will result in no solution due to the hundreds of thousands of guns currently distributed in the U.S. In Korea, guns have always been banned. Sure knives exist and pose a threat to peoples’ safety; however, it doesn’t take a pull of a trigger in a millisecond to take someone’s precious life away. I met a girl named Yunmi during my stay in Korea, closer to the latter portion of the trip, and she is traveling around the United States for a few months as she travels around the country. She is traveling to the big cities, which poses an arguably greater threat to a foreign traveler. I met with her to inform her of the pros and cons of America, one of the cons being the lower levels of self-safety, and I made sure to note that she needs to use her head. Anyways, moral of the story, the whole stigma behind the U.S. being “the best country ever” definitely became humbled during my long summer stay.
In terms of a reflection on the Korean culture, it’s amazing and different. My mom always urged me to study abroad for longer than only a J-term, but rather to take a whole semester worth abroad. She told me this for a couple of reasons. One, jet lag takes a toll on the human body and it takes a week or so to acclimate to the time zone difference. Two, it takes a couple weeks to GROW accustom to the culture shock, if it were that different. Three, that’s the whole J-term trip summed up in three weeks. She preached that once you became comfortable you’re already on a plane back home to start the jet-lag process over once again. The Korean culture definitely came to me as a surprise. For one, the food was eaten in a group setting, which is extremely UNLIKE the United States-we Americans tend to like our food served in an individualized manner in a great quantity. Also, the extremely small napkins in Korea caught me by surprise, but also allowed me to see something from a new perspective. Theoretically, one would think that a bigger napkin is better, right? Well, the more I think about it, the more I came to the realization that I use a napkin to get something on my face but proceed to crumple it up and reduce the amount of surface area I am able to use. Noting this, a small napkin size not only does the job, but it also reduces the amount of waste in a landfill. On the flip size, if a person fails to acknowledge the simplicity of a small napkin and uses 5 small napkins… Well… Now you have a problem because it is now larger than 1 American sized napkin. Balance is the only plausible answer. As for the food, it was unbelievably delicious. Personally, my favorite food in Korea was the Korean barbeque. Interestingly enough, my last meal with Hyung-bae and Har ri was at a Korean barbeque at my request J. Thanks Hyung-bae for eating and paying for our last meal together, I miss you! Hmmm, what else. In Korea, it’s against the societal standards to isolate yourself with an individual of the opposite sex in a personal living corridor. I found this fascinating because that is definitely not the case in America. On an extremely positive note, everyone in Korea approached us American tourists with love, appreciation, and kindness. Overall, Korea was uniquely different in its own special way. This trip changed my life perspectives for the better.
Living in the International dorm, as cliché as it is, allowed me to expand my perspective on human culture; each person in the dorm had a story specific to themselves on why they were there and how they got there. The first Friday night that we went out with students from the dorm I learned that one kid, Mario, speaks 5 different languages fluently. FIVE LANGUAGES. It was hard for me to comprehend how different our lifestyles and life goals are, yet we had common ground in common-in those specific months our life stories intersected and we made an impact on each other’s life journeys. The impact may have been small, yes; however, the fact of the matter is that an impact happened. Life opens opportunities with each shining day. I’m blessed that I attended the research meeting during the winter months at the University of St. Thomas and I had the opportunity to have my life positively influenced and impacted by individuals I otherwise never would have met if I failed to attend the research meeting held by Dr. Lim.
“Moment to moment you have a choice:
to create a thought or destroy a thought in you
Thoughts are creative,
they can make or unmake you.”
The connections I made with the graduate students made the trip as amazing as it was. One of my favorite parts of the day was walking into the lab early in the morning and seeing the graduate students’ faces light up when they saw us. Actually, on the third day of our stay in Korea a desk opened up in the “graduate student desk area” and I snagged the opportunity in a second. Due to that split moment decision and commitment I became closer to the graduate students than I ever would have normally. What I loved about my relationship with the grads is that they made me feel welcome in all situations and exercised their patience with us overall. I saw Hyung-bae as my older brother and Har ri as my older sister. They truly took me under their wing and let me join them on a couple of the dates they took. I am truly blessed to have met such creative, kind, and intelligent people. As I wrote in a couple of my earlier blogs Hyung-bae and I consistently talked about the times we would see each other in the future. Actually, Hyung-bae is U.S. bound next summer for a conference meeting in Texas. I already discussed this with him, but I was thinking that we could both somehow meet half-way, but that’s quite far in the future and there’s much research to complete before then.
Research. Looking back on the research I completed in South Korea it’s hard to believe how much I accomplished. I have explained my research findings to many people since my return and it startles me how my mouth continues to move and explain things in explicit detail. I learned more than I ever thought I would in a mere three months and hopefully have 2 research papers to show for it in the upcoming months. I will continue my communication with Professor Suk and Hyung-bae as I write my draft of the first research proposal on the DNA barcoding results I discovered. Also, as I become older with each day, week, year, I have begun to narrow my focus of studies. After spending 3-months in a foreign country conducting research on phylogenetic analysis, I have figured out that it is not exactly my cup of tea. Although it is an interesting subject, I believe that I prefer more cell biology and potentially the anatomy of living organisms; I guess only time will tell.
I want to finish this final blog with a GINORMOUS THANK YOU to all of the YU graduate members, Professor Suk, Dr. Lim, Tony Lewno, and my parents for making this trip possible. I traveled the world for the first time and I’m itching to make more lifelong memories and connections in the future. Thank you all for reading my blog(s). Until my next world travels, anyeunghekaseyo.