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don't fear change



It’s been a year since I started grad school in Korea. Last December, when I received my acceptance letter from the university that was my first choice, I was so happy and full of anticipation. I remember being super excited to experience the lectures and make friends. People often say, “Stepping out into a new environment is important!” But I think what’s most important is what you do in the new environment. What do you try to do when you’re in a new environment?


I’ve experienced studying abroad a few times before, and I even wrote “Highly adaptable” as one of my strengths in my self-introduction so I wasn’t really worried about life in grad school. But actually, it took me half a year to fully get comfortable here which was quite long for me. I guess that’s not a surprise. When I was an exchange student in Korea during my undergrad years, I bonded with my friends talking about makeup, fashion, and pop stars. However, the topics that I discuss with my friends in grad school are different. We usually talk about academics, recent incidents, debates in class. I guess it’s a given since it’s a place where people with the same interests gather, but as someone who chose a different major from when I was an undergrad, I was lacking some foundational knowledge and struggled to keep up during conversations.


I struggled just to keep up with the lectures, and even though I received an acceptance letter, I didn’t feel like I truly belonged to the student body of the university. Now that I think about it, it might have been because I was comparing myself as an international student to the Korean students around me. The students around me were more knowledgeable than me, and was used to speaking out about their opinions during discussion. In contrast, I was always nervous during lecture, and even when I did contribute to discussions, I always looked back on what I said and wondered if it was right. I was worried about how others see me.


In the grad school I’m in, there are three-hour lectures. Just going to one lecture tires me out, and after the lecture, the other students gather to go eat lunch together, but I always wanted to just go home to rest as soon as I could.


What changed my mindset was something a professor in my department said during the lecture.


“When we decided who would be accepted into this university or not, I chose to accept you, Yurina because I thought you could spark something within the Korean students. I thought you would do well academically regardless of the fact that you’re a foreigner. From now on, of course, I will be evaluating you academically just as I do with the Korean students”


In that moment, I was struck. I did not take those words as criticism, I took it as pressure. And at the same time, I felt a breakthrough. I wondered what I had been fearing before. No matter what anyone thinks, I am the one who decided to study here.


I realised that ever since I came to this school, I had been putting so much of my energy into hiding what I couldn’t do. I thought up excuses like “I was in a different major during my undergrad years” “I’m a foreigner”, but they weren’t the reasons things weren’t going well for me. They were just truths that reflected where I was at the time. I learned that my situation wasn’t going to change even if I blamed things on my surroundings and environment.


My life in grad school changed dramatically in my second semester. During an orientation event for new students, I took the role of the presenter and I explained things about my department. I don’t think the old me who was in her shell and didn’t feel a sense of belonging would have taken this job.


Additionally, I decided that I wouldn’t regret anything during lectures, and started to contribute often to discussions in class. There were times when I was too nervous to properly convey my thoughts, but when that happened, I just said “Sorry, let me just organise my thoughts!” My friends and professor laughed. Nowadays after those lectures, I chat with my colleagues over drinks about lectures and things I didn’t understand. I think this time is really beneficial for me and makes me happy. Learning in a foreign language is difficult. My colleagues often tell me, “I can’t believe you’re doing that, it’s difficult as it is.” When I feel stuck, I try to tell myself,


“There’s no point if it’s not difficult.”


I am the one who decided to take the difficult path. I wouldn’t have chosen something easy in the first place. These words are magic to me, and telling myself that just makes me ready to put my best foot forward. Being honest about my weaknesses makes me able to seek help, and magically keeps things moving forward. Now I’m able to believe that a day that had something positive or negative is more valuable than a day where nothing happens.


Is there anything you try to do in a new environment? Even though it’s good you stepped out into a new environment, if things aren’t going well, I want you to recall my magic words. Things will get better once you focus on yourself instead of the people around you or your environment. I’ll work hard too to spend the rest of my time in grad school productively.

Images by Yurina

English Translated by Kiara

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