August 04, 2022
My name is Jaydah Branch, and I’m a Linguistics major who had the opportunity to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea for an academic year. As a low-income, African-American student, I never dreamed of being able to study in a continent as far away as Asia due to financial barriers. One day, I happened to be browsing study abroad programs and saw the list of countries that were available alongside the various scholarships (such as Freeman Asia and Gilman) offered. From there, I decided to take a leap of faith and apply. Through the help of various resources, such as the UCSC Global Learning team, the UCEAP team, and the scholarships that I applied for, I was able to study in South Korea for an entire year.
I think that when people go abroad, they tend to funnel out all the negatives and are in a honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phase can last from the moment you get accepted to the moment you leave the country. In my case, the honeymoon phase ended after my third month in Korea. I decided on Korea in November of 2020 and landed in Korea in mid-July, 2021. Initially, I was so caught up in my newfound freedom that I didn’t realize what it was like to actually be alone in a foreign country. I come from a huge family where everyone is super close, and the holidays are spent together. It wasn’t until the holiday seasons started rolling around that I realized how lonely I was and how much I missed home. After working so hard to get permission from my family to pursue this opportunity and applying for so many scholarships in order to afford to go abroad, I felt like I couldn’t go home yet because of all the hard work I put in to study in South Korea. For a long time, I struggled with being alone (given my family background) and was in a state of misery, in all honesty. It was bad for a while, but my experience started improving when I became really good friends with some Korean natives who took me under their wing and helped me combat my homesickness.
I was enrolled in intensive Korean language courses to help me communicate with the locals. My friends really pushed me to study, understand what was being taught, and helped teach me outside of the classroom so that I could overcome the language barrier. Granted, a large majority of the Korean population speaks English, but learning Korean and being able to practice and hold a conversation was extremely rewarding in the end. My friends also took the time to teach me their culture from a native’s perspective (including how to cook local dishes, how different clothing is worn, the honorifics, and how to properly bow) while also forcing me to fully participate in their culture. I’m very grateful for their friendship, and we are still in communication to this day.
There are two primary takeaways that I received from studying abroad. First, you have to learn how to be uncomfortable and grow from it. That was the biggest obstacle that I struggled with and my friends helped me through it. Secondly, when you find something you love, always go back to it. I love Korea as if it’s my home country and I have learned so much about myself that I didn’t know existed before I left —I am not as quiet as I thought. I have always been quiet and reserved, but being alone and miles away from home forced me to speak up and start talking to people. I also learned how to network while abroad and mastered the art of small talk. Forcing myself to be uncomfortable and allowing myself to grow immensely was exactly what I needed for the next chapter in my life.
I can confidently say that I am not the same person I was a year ago when I left (my family has not stopped reminding me of this me since I’ve returned home), and I truly think I made the best decision by studying abroad in South Korea. I genuinely believe that if anyone is considering studying abroad, they should go for it. While in Korea, I learned the phrase “ 거침없다” which means “without hesitation” and, to this day, I still live by it.