The Value of Living like a Local
This blog post was written by Education Abroad Peer Advisor, Julia Dean ’19…
Semesters abroad are an exciting time for all of us. Time to explore a new country and culture, make new friends, try new foods and, most of all, travel…right? Many a Beaver believe in the fallacy that abroad is only ‘worth it’ if you travel to as many new countries as possible. I’m here to challenge that belief.
I’m Julia Dean, a senior Education Abroad Peer Advisor (EAPA), and I’ve studied abroad for two semesters, in Seoul, South Korea, and Vienna, Austria. I truly believe in the value of staying in your local community when you go on exchange to deeply experience another culture and learn about its people.
“Living like a local” means rewiring certain thought patterns many college students have about study abroad. Instagram and Facebook has convinced us that a ‘successful’ exchange semester involves travel every weekend to the four corners of the world (or however far you can manage). Why is this the goal? Surely, if you want to spend four to five months of your life in one location, doing the above is going about it the wrong way. This is, of course, not to discourage anyone from traveling. Some students are confident that they won’t be able to return to a certain area in quite a while, so they use their time abroad to travel extensively. But if this is not you, then let me try to convince you of the power of “living like a local”.
When I was in South Korea, I spent one entire weekend outside of Seoul. One. And that was to go to Busan, the 2nd biggest city in South Korea. Because I never once left Korea, I was able to spend my weekends with new Korean and foreigner friends I made in class, sharing kbbq dinners or nights at board game cafes. I grew my friendship with my new North Korean defector friend Cheolgook, who shared a bit more of his life story during each meeting. I was in Seoul to experience how quiet it gets during certain holidays (Chuseok, aka Korean Thanksgiving) and how buzzing it is for others (Pepero Day, when people exchange chocolate-covered cookie sticks as gifts). At a restaurant nearby my dorm, the hostess started bringing me my favorite whole fried fish without even asking me what I wanted to order. I officially had a ‘regular’, ‘the usual’. When the walk across the bridge from the Yonsei University campus to Sinchon felt boring because I had done it so many times, I knew I was a local. Spending my entire semester there wasn’t enough, as each new cultural experience made me fall more in love with the country and made me wish I had another week, another month, another semester. I don’t think I would’ve fallen in love as hard as I had if I didn’t commit myself to living like a local. For this reason, I knew I wanted to come back to Korea as soon as I landed in the US. I spent the next year and a half planning how to do just that, and will be returning this fall as a Fulbright Junior Researcher, working to build an entrepreneurship curriculum to teach basic business skills to North Koreans and defectors.
Not all Babson students will necessarily love their abroad locations as profoundly as I did, nor do they need to. But it may be worthwhile to consider staying in your city and country as much as you can. Embrace your daily commute until it becomes second nature. Have a grocery store that you always go to on the walk home. Form a habit of going to a specific restaurant, café or bar with friends every week. Whenever you look back on your semester abroad, you can confidently say that you lived like a local.
If you’re interested in studying abroad in either Seoul or Vienna, or are thinking about applying for the Fulbright program, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy studying abroad!