It’s a real shame to finally be leaving South Korea. As cheesy as it sounds, I made so many wonderful friends in this country and I grew a lot as a person. Although I attended some fascinating classes about international affairs and Korean culture, most of the growing and learning I did happened outside the classroom. I think a lot of people don’t realize that you learn about your own culture just as much as others’ when you interact with people from other countries. I didn’t hang out with my friends with the intention of learning anything in particular, but by observing and conversing I naturally began to notice both how we were different and how we were alike. What I noticed above all is that despite cultural differences, I was able to become incredibly close with people from around the world because there were so many more ways in which we were similar than different. Everyone loves to talk, laugh, eat, and have fun, and at the end of the day, the ways that we do those things aren’t all that different. All of my friends in Korea liked to try new restaurants, watch movies and plays or go shopping, listen to music, and talk about anything and everything just like my American friends.
One of the things that I feel allowed for closer relationships and better communication was the ability to laugh at oneself, on both a personal level and a cultural or national level. My roommate Migle from Lithuania told me that Lithuanians and many Eastern Europeans in general love to make fun of their country’s neighbors, but are just as willing to make fun of themselves and take a joke. Having a sense of humor about both myself and about the U.S. allowed me to get along with others better, whether we were just small talking or discussing our nations’ differences. Of course I am not suggesting that you just laugh it off if someone says something seriously offensive about your culture, but if a friend is making a light joke or an earnest and well-meaning constructive critique, reacting with a sense of humor and a willingness to accept other viewpoints is important. On a side note, you might find that many other cultures do not value extreme political correctness in the same way that many Americans do, and if you travel abroad you should be prepared for some jests or questions that are more frank in their phrasing than you are used to.
I’m not exactly sure what the “moral of the story” is here, but I came away from this year abroad believing it is just as important to unite over human universalities and cultural similarities as it is to share and accept what makes our cultures different. I believe that finding a balance between these two will lead to more friendly international relations around the world.