It has been a couple of weeks since I have been back in Europe. My days have been filled up with long days of work within a U.S Company in Barcelona, Spain. Often over lunch break, I chat with my friends still in Seoul, through the local Korean Whatsapp, KakaoTalk installed on my smartphone. They send me selfies and comments on their latest adventure. Sometimes, I happen to go through the many pictures I have taken during my exceptional experience abroad. I still cannot believe that it is me on the pictures I’m looking at. And if someone had told me a few years ago that I would live in Seoul and have a fantastic time, I would have replied, ‘Are you having a joke or something? ’. And here I am now, going through those Korean selfies with friends, having lived in East-Asia and schooled for three months in the region.
Changing the Guard ceremony
I remember calling my mother in late December 2016, explaining my fears of racism and the loneliness it would probably bring into my life. After many conversations, she reassured me and I realised that wherever I would go, communities would have to acknowledge my existence as a normal being and realise that my skin colour could not be a statement of my abilities. And here, I was on the 13th of February, 2017, landing in Seoul, and becoming the very first member of my family to do so.
My deceased father was born in 1932, Paris, living through World War Two, and moving to the Republic of Congo, in the early 60’s. He then met my mother in Abidjan, Ivory-Coast. She was born in a family where the oldest siblings could not afford to go to school and the parents – my grandparents – did not know how to write nor read. However, as one of the younger childer, she was given the opportunity to be schooled entirely until University Graduation. Indeed, as an exceptional student, she received several scholarships which offered her a different path than her older siblings. On my fathers side, his parents were born respectively in 1908 and 1909, in France making my several grand-uncles fighters in the World War One. Anyway, my background is rather uncommon as someone born in 1995, and I often wonder, how has my existence turned out to be so different than my family descents, and this over just two generations? South Korea was indeed the six countries within which I was schooled, for a minimum of three months, and was perhaps one of the very best experience I have known.
The many lessons I learnt from this journey, will be carried throughout the years in my spirit. I will start with the idea that wherever I’ll be willing to go, whatever I’ll decide to achieve, never to let my fear act upon me. In fact, if this latter had guided my decisions, I would have missed on this fabulous Seoulite experience. I wish to never miss out on any other great present life has for me. Even though this cannot be guaranteed, at least I have this Study Abroad programme as a reminder. Overcoming such feelings was also infinitely liberating and self-empowering. I proved to myself that I could be stronger than my personal doubts. And even though, racism and discrimination were part of the journey, here I am, still alive and well.
Most importantly, I have met so many good friends and unique personalities. Students from more than fifteen countries, photographers, artists, and talented students. Many of them were also like-minded travellers. It was incredible. Just like me, they had understood the power and change that living abroad could create within oneself. They knew the challenges that each of us had encountered through such endeavours and therefore had known at some point the kind of solitude that comes with the act of exploring the world. We had each others back just for that and were accepting of each others differences. No one was to be left alone and fun, acceptance, a common will for adventure and good laughter guided every interaction, trips and personal issue.
So, if my social life went up like never before, my wisdom did too. In fact, what is more, valuable than knowing and understanding a different culture, as well as another language? It rewires your brain as your thoughts are processed in a different linguistic code; makes you more understanding of differences as you realise that behind each culture is a common humanity; makes you more capable of engaging critically with issues in your surroundings as you gain in maturity through independence, solitude and new encounters. You simply grow enormously as a person and realise that your life can be way bigger than you could ever imagine. People love you a hundred miles away and you love them back from where you are; you have understood a culture that you can now explain and spread in your own community. You thus defy the natural logic of borders and geographical barriers. Last, you now are insured that you can settle into another nation, miles away from where you first grew up. You can understand their language and environment while being understanding of your own differences and uniqueness. You truly become two versions of yourself, even though it is hard to comprehend.
Also, employers will see through this journey your ability to be bigger than you fear and need for comfort. Such an adventure is almost guaranteed to open doors to you that thought were unthinkable perhaps, unachievable. Your life will take a slightly different path just for that reason, at least it has for me.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? At least my experience is living proof of the benefits that living abroad can bring, and that’s why I often believe that each and every student around the world should have the opportunity to travel for just a month or two. They would feel the good it would bring into their life. It would make the world a more peaceful and tolerant place. That’s for sure.
In a nutshell, go wherever you can. You will gain immensely from the cultures you will discover, the locals and international personality you meet and the discussions you have. You’ll be stronger and smarter than you’ll ever imagine!