Major: International and Area Studies and Communication Studies
Hometown: Pittsboro, NC
Study Abroad Program: Yonsei University
My semester abroad taught me countless lessons about community, my American identity, and self-reliance. Although I visited Korea a few years ago, I left the country with a deeper understanding of Korean society and a strong, emotional bond to my homeland. I am so thankful that I returned to Korea instead of going to a different part of the world. Without these experiences, I definitely would not be heading in the same path I have chosen in life.
I spent almost five months in Korea and I unquestionably wish I could have stayed another semester. For the first four months, I attended Yonsei University in Seoul and took courses at Yonsei’s Underwood International College. Korean professors who lived through a lot of the history they taught and who, in turn, shared a world perspective that is rare in American classrooms was definitely a huge part in bettering my understanding of Korean society and politics.
Korean culture is hierarchal, and depending on your age, status, and gender, everyone is either your brother, sister, junior, senior, uncle, or aunt. I loved meeting my oppa (big brother) outside a bulgogi burger stand and making plans with my dongseng (junior) for coffee after class. It is amazing that such a strong sense of community and understanding can be established through language. That feeling of unity is irreplaceable, and it added to my sense of kinship with Korea.
I also learned a lot about the issues and difficulties Korea faces. Korea experienced tumultuous change throughout the twentieth century, and the fast-paced development and transformations continue. I was primarily interested in social inequalities I witnessed. The negative treatment of foreigners, women, gays, lesbians, and other minority groups was distressing. The competitive nature of Korean culture also became a source of stress, as I felt many of the cultural expectations placed on me as a Korean female were unfair. Although some of disparities I saw were disturbing, I understand that like the rest of the world, Korea is still growing and incorporating more worldly views.
I definitely did not spend enough time at my adoption agency. I tried to volunteer as an infant caretaker, but unfortunately the swine flu scare made ESWS change their policies for volunteer work. Instead, I edited their English language publications and reports to foreign donors and adoptive parents. I also did my third file review, which gave me a completely new perspective on meeting my birth parents. My birthmother experienced hardships that I cannot imagine, and after thinking over her situation, I felt that it would be selfish and unnecessary for me to meet her at this time. I was still undecided about meeting her when I went to Korea, and after talking with other Korean adoptees, we all concluded that at this moment in our lives, meeting our birthparents is not a priority or even conceivable for some of us. In order to raise awareness about adoption issues, I also gave a presentation about my experiences as an adoptee. My Korean classmates shared their personal views on adoption, and compared them with their parents’ opinions of adoption. That conversation was evidence of the generational gap in Korea, and I appreciated their openness and willingness to debate adoption with their parents.
My experiences in Korea were tumultuous, enlightening, and exhilarating. I formed many strong relationships with the people I met while abroad, and my interest in Korean culture and identity has increased even more. I definitely plan on returning next year and working with Korean adoptees and their families on the homeland tour organized by ESWS. I am grateful to Ambassador Phillips for the opportunity to study in this amazing country and learn so much about myself and other human beings.