Learning to step out of my comfort zone

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Story by LEAH WANKUM, for The Muleskinner—
2043When I got to Korea, I wanted to study the Korean language and develop my skills as much as possible.
For the most part, this was easily done.
After living with Hyunjung and befriending several Koreans back at UCM, I already had a basic understanding of Korean language and writing.
King Sejong the Great created hangul, or Korean writing, in the 15th century; this means Korean is the only language of known origin which, in my opinion, makes it one of the simplest non-Indo-European languages in learning to read.
While at Korea University, I took five credits of the Korean language and often studied in the evenings.
I made many Korean friends in Seoul, all who were willing and enthusiastic in helping me learn their language.
Also, while being as immersed as possible in the language, a basic knowledge helped in everyday matters such as ordering food and getting directions.
Finally, I think that showing an interest in the Korean language really helps relations between the United States and Korea.
Because I am American, many foreigners assume I don’t have a genuine interest in learning another language because of the dominance of English, or so I’ve been told by many of my international friends.
This leads to the next expectation I had.
I expected that many people would hate me because I’m American.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, many Koreans have showed a genuine interest in me as an American, asking me questions about my country and my community, what I think of Obama, etc.
I have had many discussions with Koreans and other foreigners, and for the most part, they assume as a whole that, as an American, I am set in my ways, I’m not open-minded, and I only want to give my opinion and not listen to others.
Perhaps this is so with many Americans, but there are more than 309 million of us; there’s bound to be a few, shall we say, “well-established” fellows out there.
From this perspective, I have made it clear countless times that, with the world looking intently at America, America will continue looking intently at itself, just as the rest of the world is doing.
This is going to make us seem egocentric, and perhaps some of us are.
However, I did not step out of my comfort zone to prove a point like that; rather, I have learned to become open-minded, and to search for the underlying meaning of others’ thoughts and behaviors instead of accepting everything for face value.
In this way, I have adjusted my own values and beliefs accordingly.
This became my initial purpose for studying abroad, and, because of studying abroad, I have changed in many ways and have become more “well-established” in other areas of my life.
I’m more than willing to discuss this with anyone who is interested in studying abroad and is concerned with this issue.
Next week, I will share more of my experience with life in Korea.