The process of expanding my world

Bojeong from South Korea, Summer Semester 2020

The six-month exchange student life that lasted till the end of February was like a dream to me. Not every moment was happy. Especially, the first month, all German restaurants, clothing stores, and pubs were closed. During the time I just cooked, took video classes, and watched Netflix in my house, Ifelt like I was wasting my time as an exchange student meaninglessly. But now that I think about it, it was also a thankful moment that gave me some time to relax. Every moment of the six months of the exchange semester was a valuable and unforgettable time.

I'm from Korea there are two main differences between Korea and Germany. The first difference is that South Korea is located in the far east of East Asia. Three sides of South Korea are in contact with the sea, and the other side is sharing the borders with North Korea. It is virtually the same as an island country. By comparison, Germany is located in the center of European countries and shares its borders with numerous countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland. This geographical difference makes a great cultural difference. It is really hard to meet and talk to foreigners in Korea. For me, who have not had a lot of candid conversations with foreigners, this exchange student period was very meaningful. Especially with my special status as an exchange student, I could have more opportunities to experience other cultures. Talking to individual exchange students from Germany, Azerbaijan, Australia, Brazil, Georgia, Albania, Ghana and Jordan, which broadened my view really. We have expanded each other's world by meeting people who have lived in various cultures. I learned that the world is really wide.

First of all, the first time I felt a cultural difference in Germany was when I ate with my professor. Korea, like other Asian countries, has a clear hierarchy. Students should respect professors, and young people should respect older people. There is a kind of order in which the superior helps the subordinate, and the subordinate follows the superior. However, the memory of having a meal and talking with the professor in Germany remained as a memory that made me feel cultural differences. Also, the most memorable cultural difference is talking to strangers. It is not common to talk to strangers in Korea. If I talk to a passerby who was passing by, he'll be on guard, thinking I'm talking to him with bad intentions. But I became friends with the person who spoke to me while I was taking a walk in Germany. And I had a lot of conversations and had a great time with a person I met while camping in the mountain. I don't think either culture is right. The unique culture has a valid background and role. I learned how to embrace various cultures in Germany.

The second difference is that Koreans work and study very sincerely. Most of the students who manage their grades while attending university and spend their time in various clubs, language studies, and external activities at the same time to get a good job in future. I was also one of those typical Korean students. I drove me into a rush because I was anxious if I didn't live busy. I didn't have time to look back on myself because I didn't have enough time to just do what I had to do. The exchange student life gave me time to look back on myself with ease, free from such obsession. In my spare time I came to think about what I liked to do, and the new experiences brought by the exchange student semester made me discover a new me in it.The exchange semester was 'the process of becoming me' for me. In fact, I was conscious of other people's eyes. I was especially afraid of others' assessment of my failure. But here, no one has blamed me for my failure or my lack of skill. I wasn't confident about speaking English. So, I apologized to other exchange student friends for my poor English. But the answer to me was, 'That's not something to apologize for. Everyone goes through such a period. ' They listened to me to the end even if I spoke poorly. I'm no longer afraid to say the wrong sentence. Besides that, no matter what I do or what I wear, they didn't judge me. I was able to get away from other people's eyes and do what I really wanted to do.It's a lie if I didn't have any fear until I decided to be an exchange student. At first, I was afraid that I would have to accept a new way of life alone, without the confidence of language in a strange country. But now that I've had a really fun exchange student life, the fear of living in a foreign country is gone. Rather, I found it exciting. Among the exchange student friends, there were friends who wanted to go to graduate school and get a job in another country. A friend whom I met while traveling in Paris said that he was going to college alone in Spain, away from his parents. Meeting these friends naturally expanded my goal to the world. The world is no longer a fearful and unknown object to me, but a stage full of wider and more interesting opportunities. The exchange semester extended my stage to the world.