About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Contemporary European Studies & German Media, Arts and Culture (double major)
Program: Yonsei University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Term: Fall 2020
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
Coming into Carolina, it was one of my priorities to study abroad. The fact that the University has so many programs worldwide was one of the reasons I had actually chosen UNC. With my mom being from Germany, the importance of learning about diverse languages and cultures was instilled in me from a young age. How this was something that of course would expand my worldview but also make me a more compassionate and understanding person. Initially it was my goal to spend an entire year in Germany, since I plan on relocating there after my Bachelors degree. However, through another student organization, I had met a friend who had studied abroad in Thailand. She explained to me how she knew nothing about the country and had never been to Asia before. And that after her experience abroad, she had learned the most about the world and herself than ever before. This venture into the unknown was something that I wanted to experience for myself. I looked through the UNC Study Abroad Website at the programs offered and was overwhelmed. This forced me to do some research on where I felt comfortable going as a gay Black man and where I could make the most of my experience. I gravitated towards cities and programs that offered extensive political science courses, as that is something that has always interested me outside of my majors. The wealth of courses about the politics of the Korean peninsula offered at Yonsei paired with the vibrant student life in Seoul, made the choice easy.
What did you learn about yourself?
Through this experience, I learned that I really enjoy my own company. The circumstances of the pandemic has made many feel isolated and cut off from society. There were some activities that I wanted to do that either my friends weren’t interested in or didn’t have the time to do, so I went by myself. For instance being the avid coffee drinker I am, I checked off most of the cafes I had planned to see in Seoul off my list by myself. Some of these cafe visits happened to be some of my most enjoyable and learning experiences.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my time in South Korea was my trip to Jeju Island. Jeju Island is an island off of the coast of South Korea and is known for its beautiful beaches and the highest mountain in South Korea, Mount Hallasan. This was a very impromptu trip (all the best ones are). When my friends and I had finally gotten to our Airbnb, we had no plans for our time in Jeju. I had jokingly brought up hiking Mt. Hallasan the next morning. It was our best idea for the night and we settled on it. We had chosen to take the “short” trail, a mere 5-hour hike, which turned 8 hours. None of us were prepared for this at all. One of my friends wore a pair of jeans and Air Force 1’s and another wore platform boots. By the time we were a quarter way done with the hike, we were all exhausted. Nevertheless, we persevered. It was definitely the most exercise I had done since the beginning of the pandemic and a bit of a struggle but this is a workout I’ll cherish for life.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My advice to any who might face some bumps on this road is to relax, trust in yourself, and do not be afraid to ask for help. While a problem may seem like a big deal at the time, trust and have faith that you’ll be able to get through it. Panicking won’t make the situation any easier to address so try your best to relax and take it step by step. And always remember, there is always someone in your corner. The friends you make abroad, family, and especially the Study Abroad Office. All of these people want to see you succeed and are a mere text, email, or Zoom call away!
How do you identify?
Student of color, LGBTQ+
Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
There were times when I was abroad, in which stereotypes about my identity as an American BiPOC were brought up. I came to the understanding that they were not out of ill will. That these were simply the only representations that many people had been exposed to. By being my true self, it was this exposure that helped break down the very stereotypes that had been assumed of me.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
I would say to anyone, who identifies as LGBT+ and/or a BiPOC, is to prioritize yourself. I am always one to stick up for myself and others in the face of adversity. However, your well-being and health comes first. Each moment you have abroad is precious so enjoy it. Once the time is gone, you’ll wish you could go back. You don’t want one unpleasant encounter to tarnish the memory of a day, week, month, or even your whole trip.