I’ve been home for over a month at this point, and when I think back to my stay in Korea, it seems like a dream sequence in an arthouse film. I know that I really did meet those people, visit those places, and eat those dishes, but it’s so incredibly different from my everyday life that now that I’m home, it’s challenging to view my study abroad experience through the same lens as I do “real life.”
I cannot claim to have all the answers, but I would absolutely recommend keeping some kind of record of travel while you’re in the thick of it. This blog is so helpful to me in retrospect, since I wrote out all kinds of little jokes and experiences that I may not have remembered otherwise. I can look back on the posts I made and even track my adjustment, since I was very confused and guessing at things in the beginning but had all the food names and knowledge down by the end. The blog cemented everything I was feeling and experiencing in one place, allowing me to use it as both a time capsule and a tool for reflection.
Facebook posts, although hard to go back to, can be nice as well; sharing photos and stories with my family throughout my stay helped them connect to what I’m doing and gives us ways to talk about my experiences when I’m home. They saw it happen in real time, after all, and going into more detail when they ask me questions about specific people, places, or foods helps it all stay fresh in my mind.
This has been a bit more logistically challenging for me, but maintaining friendships with the people you meet provides a lasting impression of your shared time abroad. Korea has such a drastic time difference from the U.S. (as does Europe), so messaging and SnapChatting my friends on different continents isn’t always a linear experience, but I don’t want the friendships I made to ever feel temporary.
I’d love to reconnect with my friends in Europe and Asia through travel in the future, but alas, I’m a funds-strapped college student at the moment, so bless the digital age for making it easy to keep in touch. I not only learned about Korea, but about France and Germany and Vietnam and even other U.S. cities (don’t try to tell me there’s no culture shock between NY and Alabama). These friends are keepers for sure, and bonding over memories and differences is key. It will be easy to lose track; I’m going to commit to not letting that happen.
Seeking out the Culture
The U.S. has such a rich tapestry of people that wherever you’ve traveled in the world, odds are you’ll be able to find cultural markets and restaurants somewhere around here. It’s a bid harder in the small towns I live in, but even in my little hometown there is an Asian market where I can find some of the products I grew to appreciate in Korea – glass noodles, small snacks, etc. In Rochester, I’ve gone to a local Korean restaurant, where I could help my friend pick out some food – and I had a more tangible way to share my experiences over it as I recalled my first run-ins with bulgogi, sundubu jiggae, and all that good stuff. I truly missed the dumpling soup and gummy rice cakes regardless, so I’ll definitely be back. Plus, Korea has a bustling international cosmetics industry, so I don’t have to say goodbye to my favorite face mask solutions.
Food, language, and customs (like Korean drinking games, which I’m excited to teach my friends) are all things you can keep delving back into when you’re back home, and one of the best ways to share what you’ve learned with your friends and family so they feel in on it as well. My sisters will probably zone out if I gush about study abroad all the time, but if I have them try a dish or snack I was talking about? So much more relatable for them.
My study abroad experience was very real and very impactful, so committing to these things helps me avoid that hazy detachment from the past four months. Having my job, responsibilities, and hobbies back does not mean I’m “moving on” from the experience; I simply have new ways to weave it into my life.