For the past four years, I have been living in Seoul, South Korea, as an international student, and it has been one of the most rewarding periods of my life. However, all of this wouldn't have been possible if I gave into the doubts fed to me by some who understandably were worried about my safety and wellbeing moving very far away from home.
I guess it was reasonable for them to worry because not only was I moving 12,740 kilometres from my home in Accra, Ghana, but I was also venturing into a country with a very different lifestyle. And for many like myself who love the thrill of adventure and experiencing new cultures, the whole idea of studying abroad was exciting. Yet my journey to Seoul wasn't just one fuelled by the joy of a unique experience, but a careful plan back by my love for the Korean culture and language.
This Interest in Korean culture started early in high school when I stumbled upon some Korean music and fell in love with the language. I was already researching universities abroad during that time, as I had always wanted to study overseas. Suddenly, it dawned on me, "why not check out South Korea, " and my world became bigger from that moment. I did countless research about being an international student in Korea, the lifestyle, culture, expenses and many more. I widened my choices to other Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Malaysia; however, in the end, I chose South Korea.
The intensive research I did before coming here definitely helped me deal with the cultural differences. So although I experienced some culture shock, it was never so overwhelming that I felt too out of place. It made me understand why Koreans do certain things and adapt quicker. I also tried to learn the alphabet and elementary Korean phrases before coming, and honestly, that saved me so many times when I was lost. It made me realise the power of language and how just knowing the alphabet can help you decipher many things like menus in a restaurant. I used free resources available online to learn the language and even apps such as HelloTalk (a language exchange app) to learn from native speakers. This app helped me communicate with Koreans, and
I even made some friends there that I have to this day. People are more willing to connect with you when you show interest in their culture and open yourself to trying new things.
Naturally, I still face language barriers, and I always try to keep an open mind; this has made me learn so much about myself and discover many amazing people who have taught me countless life lessons. Coming here has shaped me into a person who believes regardless of cultural differences; in the end, we are all connected simply by being human.
Nadia Esi Berchtenbreiter
Student, BA in International Studies