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TaLK has given me a certain perspective that I would never have had before participating in this program. I think that anyone of us TaLK scholars, whether we stayed for six months, or we stayed far longer, can agree that this program is unique and special in many ways. I personally have never heard of another program quite like this one. What TaLK offers upfront, and what it offers by consequence, is something completely revolutionary. Going into this you sign up for a chance to see another country or a chance to learn a language perhaps. But experiencing another culture, living outside your comfort zone, and learning about yourself as a person… well, that’s the kind of stuff that TaLK offers, but doesn’t really tell you about.
Before considering this program I really didn’t know much about Korea at all if I am being completely honest. Sure, I knew what was pertinent to U.S. history, namely the Korean War and such, but other than that I knew very little. In the back of my mind, Korea always seemed like a place I would like to visit someday, but since I knew very little about the country, it really wasn’t very high on my priority list. I knew so little about South Korea simply because of a lack of exposure. In fact I had never met a Korean person until I took a trip to Japan for a month. Even my first Korean meal was the day I landed here in Korea (samgyeopsal of course).
Originally I was signing up for this program for teaching experience. I have always wanted to teach abroad, but I had never considered South Korea. This opportunity presented itself to me one day and I said, “I’ll never be chosen, but I’ll put my name in the hat anyways.” So I did, and then I simply forgot all about it. When I was chosen, I kind of couldn’t believe it. I really didn’t think that I, of all people, would be chosen for such an experience, especially since I never had a huge interest in the country before. I really didn’t get my hopes up too high because I was expecting an e-mail sometime before I was supposed to board the plane saying, “Sorry, we just saw that (blah blah blah) and unfortunately we have chosen someone else.” Fortunately, that e-mail never came.
Here I am today though, still humbled by the mere consideration, and today more than ever, I have found perspective on a lot of things. Consider it like a view from up high of a city you’ve known for so long but only from the ground. I am the same person I was before coming to Korea, but perspective has also made me a different person at the same time.
Living alongside a culture completely different from mine has given me perspective about the world as a whole, and about myself as an individual. Every day that I live here I am reminded that I am different, I am a waygook. Yet every day I am also reminded that even though I look different, think a little different, and even speak differently, I am just the same. I am just as boring on the weekdays and… well boring on the weekends too. (Again, we’re tying to be honest here!) I now have perspective on what it’s like to live in another person’s shoes. No, I will never fully understand all of the nuances that make up the Korean culture, but this program has provided me with an insight into this culture. That in itself is worth far more than a monthly wage.
The TaLK program has given me a wonderful opportunity that can’t be bought. There is nothing like living in another country so different from your own. To say it is an experience I will never forget is putting it lightly. Funny, coming from someone who knew very little about South Korea before coming here, as I think about leaving (as I inevitably will have to), I am very sad just thinking about it. There are things I dislike about Korea, just as there are things I dislike about my own country, but there is so much more that I love about it. I think both of those things make life here all the more interesting and rich. All of this, though, does not even compare to the emptiness I feel knowing that I will have to say goodbye to my students. The thought of never being able to see where they end up fills me with a sadness I cannot express in words. Though that may seem like a negative point, TaLK has given me the opportunity to feel emotions I have never felt before, and these kids aren’t even my own. In doing so I have also learned about myself and the love I have for my students.