May 09, 2022
My name is Griselda Carolina Torres. I am a Psychology major, and I studied abroad in UCEAP’s Yonsei University program in Seoul, South Korea, in fall 2021.
I decided that I wanted to study abroad during my sophomore year in 2019. However, my plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I debated whether to continue my dream of traveling and studying in a different country since many of the programs I was interested in were closed, and I was still conscious that a pandemic was happening. I stopped planning to study abroad, but while preparing for UCSC online classes during my junior year, I wondered if I could take advantage of how accessible coursework had become through online learning. Even though I would be taking online classes, I could do so in another country. I was still having second thoughts because I would be traveling during my senior year, which was intimidating. Still, I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, in the fall of 2020, I decided to set my hesitations aside and applied to study abroad in South Korea.
As a student from a first-generation, low-income household, I had many doubts about leaving my family for a few months due to financial restrictions because I was a source of income for them. I decided to work two jobs during the summer so I could save enough money to help when they needed it. I did not want to worry about them during my trip, and I never wanted money to stop me from following my dream of pursuing global learning.
Studying away as a Latinx student in an Asian country was intimidating because I was scared that I would not fit in due to my physical features. While I was away, I did face some challenges related to my identity. Living in a country that was much less diverse than the U.S., I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb because of my darker complexion and my long curly hair. I had trouble making friends initially because I didn’t meet many people who looked like me or could relate well to my experience. However, I decided to turn this challenge into something positive. I sought to surround myself with people who were different from me. This helped me learn about different cultures, experiences, and world perspectives. I decided not only to surround myself with local Korean students but also with other international students because I knew some of them might be feeling the same way I did. I also helped them get to know someone who was multiracial. Every time I was asked where I was from, I would say I was Mexican-American, and they assumed one of my parents was White, but I did not look like it. This experience challenged me to open up about my parents’ story of how they migrated to the U.S., and it also helped my new friends understand the concept of being multiracial. I also knew adapting to the new culture would be difficult at first. The first step was enrolling in a Korean language class to help with the language barrier. Also, befriending local Koreans helped me understand and learn more about their culture.
Being in a different country where I had to adapt to a new language, culture, and lifestyle contributed to the knowledge I gained about how to interact with people from different backgrounds. Ultimately, this made me more open-minded to the different opportunities that life has to offer. I gained new friendships and perspectives of the world that made me want to explore more of it. Being a study abroad student has now become a part of my identity. Living and studying in South Korea was an unforgettable experience because it will be a story I will never stop telling.