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The Lasting Effect of Time Abroad

“Even several months after our reentry touchdown at the San Francisco airport, the trip still continues…” ~Tylor Johnson

Tylor shows off her new culinary skills with a bowl of bibimbap

I was not always that girl who enjoys the savory taste of seaweed; or that girl who is quite proficient at eating with chopsticks; or that person who stops in the middle of a doorframe to take off her shoes before entering a house; or that quirky New Yorker who bows each time she says thank you to anyone; that subway rider who listens to MBLAQ and Shinee, two of my favorite K-pop bands, morning, noon, and night. These are the peculiarities that have now become a part of who I am. South Korean mores are an essential and unique part of who I am now, and incorporating them into my life continues to incite my thirst of knowledge to learn more about what it is to be a Korean.

The first time I had a meal in Korea, I vividly remember cringing at the seaweed mixed in with my bibimbap, a tradition Korean dish made of rice, an array of vegetables, seaweed, and fried eggs. Seaweed was never something I had considered edible. It was something for fish and beaches, not for my mouth. But feeling adventurous, I took one spoonful, swished the food from cheek to cheek, to test the melding flavors of carrots, sesame oil, cucumber, fried egg, seaweed, and rice, and ended up liking what I had initially judged as unappetizing. From this point on, I started to enjoy traditional Korean cuisine and even to this day, I still have cravings for the dried seaweed that I used to have with almost every meal in Korea. Now, I make my goal that each month I will go to Koreatown in Manhattan to indulge in Korean cuisine, so that I never forget all that I tried and loved while I was abroad.

Boarding the plane to Korea, the thought never occurred to me that I was about to undergo a major change in my life. I knew that I would learn a substantial amount about Asian culture, but I never for a second believed that that would affect who I would be once I got back to America. I thought that the Tylor entering South Korea would be the same as the Tylor going back to America, failing to realize that when you immerse yourself in a culture for one month, it is impossible not to adapt to something new. You learn to live according to the conventions of another society, subtly adjusting your behavior every day, until these new ways of living stick with you, whether you are aware of it or not. The things that you learn while abroad become a permanent part of you, like those unique new quirks you cannot help but do, or new English/Korean phrases that have permanently become part of your speech. This trip changed me for the better.

Team Korea—what we call our group of 13 students and 3 leaders who became a tight-knit family over four summer weeks—have settled back in their hometowns and have adjusted back into their old routines, but I can bet in some ways, things are not the same as we left them. Whether it is the introduction of prayer (with the Buddhist prayer beads we made during our temple stay) into our daily rituals, or eating dinner with chopsticks each night, little details of South Korean culture have become ingrained into our beings. Even several months after our reentry touchdown at the San Francisco airport, the trip still continues. Its effects are not limited to the 30-day span of our program in Korea. The experiment taught us to create a synthesis of our culture with the one we experienced in July. We are no longer part of one culture, but of many. This is our life since The Experiment. This is who we are.

~Tylor Johnson

This post originally appeared here, on the (U.S.) Experiment in International Living blog.

Find program details for the Experiment in South Korea here.

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