By Yerin Kim |Staff Writer|
One short-haired, Korean student standing alone before the library, while holding a campus map, seemed lost.
She managed to enter the first orientation day, but she couldn’t understand what the professor said.
She arrived at the dormitory, and there was no one to ask, “How was your day?”
Suddenly, her eyes were wet with tears.
One year later, she goes to the Santos Manuel Student Union (SMSU) where her friends are and they welcome her with smiles.
Every Friday, she shares her culture through the Korean Culture Club as president. Now, she is writing about her stay in America, looking back upon her life.
This is the story of how I changed during my year-long exchange program.
Although it was a short period, through a process of trial-and-error with priceless people I met on this side of the world, I achieved my purpose and learned a lot about myself, people, and love—bringing happiness to my life.
I was often asked: “What made you come to the U.S.?”
I wanted to find my true self, the part of me I had forgotten in Korea’s busy daily-life.
Once I realized that good grades and careers may guarantee social success, but not true happiness and love, I confused my values and purpose in life.
My hope to see more diverse people in the greater world, and encounter distinct values pushed me towards the U.S.
Adjusting to the new environment was the process of training myself to trust and follow my inner voice.
It reduced fear and anxiety and loneliness, doing everything alone in a different country, where I knew no one and the language and culture were alien to me.
When I got lost in front of a Walmart, my phone died and I felt scared, realizing that it’s only me I could rely on in this unfamiliar country.
Unaffordable dormitory fees caused me to go house-hunting, and I felt overwhelmed with the unfamiliar information—like rent, water bills, heating, and electric.
I struggled to understand the above considerations while comparing one house to another. In my major, history, almost everyone communicated with one another actively, except me, because of my insufficient English skills.
Overwhelming amounts of weekly reading assignments and journals tested my persistence and patience, since it took an hour to read a single page.
These difficulties allowed me to develop a sense of independence, confidence, and self-determination. But most importantly, during the process, I realized that my friends are always behind me.
My year-long stay developed my interpersonal relationships, forging powerful connections with students of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
At first, it was not easy interacting with new people.
I felt excluded during daily conversations with friends when they laughed at jokes I did not understand.
I was afraid of approaching American students at first, thinking: “What if they rejected me, laughing at my different cultural background and poor English pronunciation?”
Contrary to my negative prediction, American students accepted me as a person regardless of where I came from, how I looked, or how bad my English was.
Through cultural exchanges with American friends, I figured out an important truth: Hearts comprehend one another, far beyond linguistic and cultural barriers.
My American friends—my family—taught me to accept and consider the differences between individuals; neither is it wrong to be different, nor to be myself.
They always encouraged me to discover who I really am—my interests, weaknesses, and strengths, and my purpose in life—by respecting and loving who I am.
Thanks to their support and trust, I challenged myself on everything I’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t put in practice, using any plausible excuse I could find, like school assignments or exams.
Now, I am president of the Korean Culture Club; I write for the Coyote Chronicle; I play guitar.
I finally found what truly makes my heart burn, the way I love to live. My exchange program is now coming to an end.
Every moment is important and precious to me as I spend time with my loved ones, show the affection I can’t express enough, and follow my dream with burning passion, as always.
“Don’t forget who you were in the U.S. and who you will become,” said Cesar Morales, my genuine friend.