The time in Gwangju, studying with Chonnam National University students and the other international summer students was probably the best experience of my life.
For many of the others in the group, it was the first time away from family and friends, first taste of freedom and independence. Although I’ve had independence, lived alone, spent time away from family and friends, it was still the longest time that I’ve been separated from everyone I know. So for me, it was an opportunity to find out who I truly am, away from the comfort of familiarity, and away from roles that define me.
I know for certain now that above all, I need my independence and a sense of control. I sought these out at every opportunity, and regular walks alone and 6am gym workouts kept me grounded.
I also know that I am drawn to funny kind hearted people. I’m not interested in the loud, attention seeking people, who are like shiny baubles, drawing crowds of people to their side. I look for the ones who spread joy and happiness without even realising it. The ones who are such a pleasure to be around, and they don’t even realise it or flaunt it. People who attract others naturally, with no pretence. Above all, I value genuine human connections. I treasure moments when I can get to know what someone is truly like, what their hopes and dreams are and what they believe in.
I know that I have strong morals and values, that can’t be swayed by other people. Someone once asked me why I was studying so hard, I told them that I have high standards when it comes to my own work and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. They immediately responded with, “yeah me too, but not while I’m here in Korea”. Regardless of where I am, I have the same expectations of myself.
I also witnessed many guys jokingly calling the Korean girls ugly or dumb. It was all in jest, but eventually I cracked. Australian humour is all about self-deprecation and giving each other crap, but cheap shots at women who already have low self-esteem is just despicable. When I told them exactly what I thought of them, the Koreans applauded me. I hope they can do the same in future.
I now know for sure that despite being an introvert, I need people more than I think I do. After spending 4 weeks surrounded by 120+ students, it’s strange not to have someone to talk to every second of every day.
This experience of being in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, not knowing the local language, was exhilarating and eye-opening. I think I stayed true to myself, but also found out things about myself and others that I want to explore. Regardless of how adult/complete I think I am, there’s always more to learn and discover.