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.