An Unexpected New Home

Story by Sherilyn Gautama, Study AbroadPhoto by Victoria Romulo

As an international student who moved out when I was 15, I am used to adapting to new places and shifting homes. It’s interesting as a teenager to have changing definitions of what a home is, and I felt that the most when I was in Seoul, South Korea. As background, I am an Indonesian student who moved to Singapore for high school, then came to Northeastern for university. When I received the acceptance letter to study abroad in Yonsei University, I didn’t feel elated. I felt a mixed sense of dread and excitement (mostly excitement, though). South Korea is a special country for me because it is the place I spent my high school graduation trip with my friends just a year before. It’s a country where I have hidden a lot of memories and a country where I’ve really bonded and fell in love with its culture and people.

When I moved into Yonsei University for my study abroad, I was so excited. I could already tell that I would have a great time in this summer program. I also started becoming very familiar with the surrounding areas of Sinchon, Ewha and Hongdae. I got to know friends who kept me company every day. I was lucky enough to share the same classes as Yunjin, a Korean girl studying in the United Kingdom, and we always went to our second class together while we shared what we did on the weekends. I even had a routine everyday for school: ordering coffee from the same spot and eating the same menu for breakfast. As a person who loves a sense of routine, I didn’t even notice that I was starting to become very familiar with my surroundings.

About two weeks in, me, my roommate and her boyfriend went on a weekend trip to Nami Island. This had been my dream because it is the set of a famous Korean TV drama I watched when I was young. We had a magical time there exploring the island by bike. We also passed different cities in the East and witnessed the most beautiful sunrise in Korea (and arguably, in my life) in Jeongdongjin. As I watched the sunrise, I just realized how in love I was with this country and it really felt like home. I was in awe at how at ease I was becoming with this unfamiliar city. We also went to some other beautiful places like Seoraksan mountain, a freshwater river in Yang Yang and a filming site from a popular drama called ‘Goblin.’ I never thought I would grow to adapt so quickly, especially when many aspects in my life in Korea were vastly different to my life back home in Singapore or even Boston.

Around halfway through the summer program, there was a talent show program where the Yonsei International Summer School students could audition and be a part of the Summer Fiesta, a dinner party the school arranged for all of us and our professors. My roommate (who was also from Northeastern) told me to apply for it because she knew how much I loved singing. I auditioned right after my classes and thought I wasn’t going to pass because I did not do as well as I wanted. I sang a famous song called “Eyes, Nose, Lips” by Taeyang with a bilingual twist:, I sang the first half in Korean and the second half in English. It turned out that I did well, passed the audition and was asked to perform. I was very nervous as the day came closer because I was singing in a language I was not familiar with, but the event planning team was so supportive and emailed me constant encouragement.

I was also lucky enough to be approached by the GEO office in Northeastern to do a takeover on their Instagram about my time in Korea and my study abroad experience. I loved sharing how my day went and answering questions about it. Yet another amazing opportunity from this experience! The International Marketing Team in Yonsei emailed me that they saw my GEO takeover and wanted to interview me about my time. I never thought I would have this much involvement in such a short amount of time in my study abroad, so I felt beyond grateful and blessed to able to share my time in Korea.

As my time in Korea came to a close, I reflected back on the amazing memories I made while I was there. I reflected as I sit down sipping my favourite coffee order at the sandwich place down the road from my dorm. I thought I was going to struggle a lot in terms of adapting to this new country because I was not there just for a mere vacation. I had to study and be in school. I did not realize how comfortable I felt the more I went out and was able to order food by myself or even use the subway trains without getting lost. I mean, it took me at least six months to a year to be able to call Singapore and Boston home, and here I was feeling at home after six  weeks in Korea. Though I only visited Korea for a short time, I did not expect to find a place to call home, and that made South Korea an irreplaceable place in my life.