Diversity

Make Study Abroad Fears Your Inspiration

Ayanna Soares is a student at SUNY Purchase and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

One of the many intersections I've grown comfortable walking past since being here.

One of the many intersections I’ve grown comfortable walking past since being here.

A little fact about myself: I have never traveled outside of the United States before. So studying abroad was like a dream come true for me. Yet I couldn’t shake the paralyzing fear that creeped up on me as the departure date got closer and closer. After all, I was going to a country where I did not know the language at all, where I would be 13 hours ahead of my home timezone, and where I would be traveling completely alone.  My inner anxiety was only increased by my mother who has always been the person to voice my inner thoughts for me, whether I wanted her to or not.

Strictly speaking, my main worries came from the fact that I would be a young black woman in South Korea, a rarity in itself. Americans already have a negative image abroad and black people have a history of negative stereotyping across the board, especially with the political climate right now. As much as the idea of going abroad intrigued me, it also terrified me. What do I do if people continuously stare at me? What if someone tries to touch or pull my hair? How do I react if someone calls me that one dreaded word? The thoughts only emphasized the fear I had about being alone in my traveling.

So to ease my worries, I did research. I read up on how other people who looked a bit more like me dealt with being in Korea with mixed results. I doubted myself and just how well I would be able to handle myself in such a foreign country. But rather than give up, something else occurred to me. Why not make my worries and fears be my inspiration? Statistically speaking, a meager 5 percent of black students study abroad at all for a multitude of reasons. Why not do my part in increasing the percentage? If people have questions about my race like I have questions about their culture, then I certainly have answers.

Culture shock is a terrifying concept but it could also be a challenge as well. Being alone while traveling may not be ideal but it’s not the worst thing. Having fears doesn’t mean you are a fearful person but simply that you aren’t quite sure what you are capable of handling yet. Fear doesn’t have to be a roadblock in your journey or even a speed bump. Sometimes fear can be the acceleration you need to make it across a gap that seemed impossible to cross before.

When a group of Korean businessmen joined my friends and I for dinner one night and paid our bill, I realized how silly my worries must have seemed.

The world awaits…discover it.

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