Breaking Comfort Zone: Life Lesson in Korea as a Young Woman

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Receiving a Korean Government Scholarship and moving to South Korea was a huge and best decision for Cresti. Beyond a degree, she gains new perspectives from aspiring women in the cohort that shape her personalities and mindset. Here is her life lesson while living and studying in Korea.

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At first, the idea of leaving my hometown, Semarang, for three consecutive years seemed to be very daunting. I had the utmost idea to study hard, be a good student and aim to finish my study early and return to Indonesia for good as soon as I can. Nevertheless, there I was after spending almost four years in the land of Kimchee. I had a hard time taking the last look at Seoul city before finally gathering the courage to board the light blue aircraft that would take me back to Indonesia for good.

I used to joke to my friends that South Korea was the land of my “birth” in my adult life. To the loyal viewers of Korean drama, Korea is a dreamland for lovers – where couples get the opportunity to spend a lovely afternoon near the Han River or to celebrate the milestones of relationships with matching T-shirts free of judgment.

While they are not entirely wrong, at least to me, living as a student in South Korea taught me some meaningful lessons beyond the classroom that I learned, which have shaped my character, personality, and capability as a (young) adult woman.

Equal opportunity and exposure: limitless self-development

I was over the moon when starting my program in the International Development Department of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS). I had tons of curiosity about the field and pledged to myself for using the best of my time within and without a classroom. I took my chances as a part-time lecturer, volunteer teacher to the Indonesian migrant workers community, researcher, and part-time server in cafes and restaurants.

Juggling between full-time study and part-time jobs was indeed challenging. Nevertheless, these different experiences and roles shaped my communication skills, enabling me to communicate and interact with people from various backgrounds with an open mind and respect.

My days were not typical – one day, I could spend an afternoon being a curious student discussing global issues.  The next day, I could promote the mouthwatering Indonesian Nasi Goreng to Korean customers. I also spent a morning liaising a high-level United Nations Officials and another morning sat together listening to my students’ experiences as migrant workers in South Korea. While I believe these experiences can enrich both men and women, to me as a young woman back then, the exposure received as an international student from these opportunities was a  remarkable turning point.

Growing up in a reserved environment and community where girls were less encouraged to speak, I used to shy away in expressing and communicating my ideas, approaching new people and starting conversations. I was lucky to meet professors and supervisors who encouraged equal participation between women and men in classrooms and workplaces, thus building my confidence to speak up gradually.

In addition, spending time through various opportunities and people from various nationalities allowed me to learn different communications skills, expressing my ideas, and going after what I wish to pursue. I arrived an unsure, high-strung girl, and left as an assertive woman. Curious about pursuing International Development in Korean Universities? Read: The Graduate School of International Studies: Choices for Full-English Programs at South Korea (Part 2).

Korean Government Scholarship Awardee
                                     Korean Government Scholarship Awardee

The girl power: being an independent woman by learning from one another

Aside from inspiring academic or professional experiences, there comes the not-so-inspiring but practical and essential part: day-to-day responsibility as an international student. Living independently as an international student means we need to ace it all. Ensuring to pay the bills on time, making sure that we are legally recorded by the Korean immigration office, up to be creative with our cooking game under the non-festive lifestyle as a student. But by living as a student, there was one meaningful time that significantly impacted my life as a young woman and has shaped my views and actions in life.

For almost four years of living in South Korea, I had the opportunity to meet amazing girls who I got to be a roommate of from various nationalities – South Korea, Sri-Lanka, Panama, Italy, Colombia, and The Philippines. Each of these girls brought a unique life experience and knowledge shaped by their cultural backgrounds. This diversity united us and complemented each other.

Housemates in Daejeon
Housemates in Daejeon

We had a Korean girl who grew up running a store with her single mother and made her way to university in the middle of high competition in South Korea. Colombian girl who self-taught herself with self-defense skills as she grew up in a dangerous environment. We also had a Sri-Lankan woman who aspires to be the youngest lecturer from her base university to obtain a Ph.D. She continuously encouraged us to pursue education as highest possible.

From as simple as learning different cuisines worldwide, we also encouraged each other to stand up and protect ourselves when things go south independently as women. These times were special as I learned about young women’s stories and life experiences from whom I learned many practical skills, which I frequently apply to date.

Practical skills and lessons learned are essential for both women and men. I share my stories with specific emphasis on experience being an Indonesian woman studying abroad in South Korea. As a female student, the experiences have taught me and many of my female friends with special skills and experiences which may not be encouraged in some cultural background and have empowered us as women. From acing our study, setting up our career goal, managing our finances, and standing up to ourselves, girls, I believe we can have it all!

Learn more about the Korean Government Scholarship Program: Experiencing Life in the Land of Kimchi through Korean Government Scholarship Program

photo source: author


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Cresti Eka Fitriana
Cresti currently lives in Daejeon, South Korea and will move to Seoul in the near future for her graduate study. She will be studying in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies majoring in International Development Studies with full scholarship from the Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP). She is currently taking the Korean language training program in Chungnam National University that is compulsory for the scholarship. Cresti received her Bachelor's degree in Humanities from the Faculty of Humanities in Diponegoro University. During her undergaduate study, she was awarded The Best Student (Mahasiswa Berprestasi) of Diponegoro University and was selected as a National Finalist in 2011. She also actively took part in Undip's Debating Forum and was selected as a delegate for Harvard National Model United Nations in 2010. Prior to her study in Korea, she was a Youth Trainer for volunteers in an NGO called Indonesia International Work Camp (IIWC).

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