Zachary is from Portland, OR and an alumnus of the Korean AY 2019-20 program in Seoul, South Korea.
안녕하십니까? 저는 한국에서 유학했던 재커리 램지라고 합니다. 2019년 9월부터 2020년 2월까지 서울에서 한국어를 공부하고자 고등학교를 다니며 홈스테이 가족과 살았습니다. 예전 NSLI-Y 한국어 동창들의 경험에 비해 올해 유학했던 학생들의 시간은 짧지만 특별했습니다. NSLI-Y 프로그램에 참가하고 한국 유학을 결정한 것을 한번도 후회하지 않았습니다. 우리 프로그램을 체험한 후, 느끼고 배운바를 조언하겠습니다.
Hello, I’m Zachary, and I studied in Korea with NSLI-Y. From September 2019 to February 2020, I went to high school and lived with a homestay family to study Korean in Seoul. Compared to the experiences of former NSLI-Y Korean alumni, the time spent studying abroad this year was short but special. I never regretted participating in the NSLI-Y program and deciding to study in Korea. After experiencing this program, I will share with you about what I felt and learned.
Studying abroad through NSLI-Y was undoubtedly a busy business. Throughout my time in Korea, I was constantly trying to find the perfect balance between Korean high school, language class, host family time, and enjoying the city with friends. Every day brought new opportunities to try food, have an unforgettable conversation, or simply take a different route home. As I progressively explored more and more of the twisting streets of Seoul, I increasingly grappled with a question: What does it mean to be an exchange student in Seoul Korea at this point in history? How is my experience different from alumni of years past and how will it differ from years to come?
A large portion of my experience was directly shaped by the current events that unfolded throughout the program. No two years of the NSLIY Korean program are the same but I would like to think 2019-20 was a unique program. Perhaps of all the things that happened in Seoul between September of 2019 and my program’s departure from the country, none will make the history textbooks more than South Korea’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, our language classes taught us new words like ‘quarantine’, ‘prevention’, and ‘infectious disease’—words that were instantly recognizable in any newscast. The year always seemed to present both numerous opportunities and unforeseen challenges, forcing us students to grow in flexibility and communication. As the number of cases in Korea increased, we soon found ourselves on a plane back to New York. Although not necessarily the most happy way to end the program, these are the stories I will take with me going forward, the kind that I am truly unable to forget.
Defining the study abroad experience in terms of historical perspective is highly beneficial as every cohort experiences a slightly different Korea. Amongst our cohort we often asked ourselves how different would NSLIY Korea be if the program had existed back in the 90’s, 80’s, or possibly earlier. Following the Korean War, the Republic of Korea emerged as one of the poorest nations in the world, but various pushes for economic development have led the country to be ranked as one of the most developed global economies. Nations are not static, things change, and history unfolds right before our eyes.
Although making new friends and improving language skills are fundamental to the study abroad experience, current and historical events should always be included in the conversation. The study abroad experience is directly affected by politics and the various happenings of the world. The utility of reviewing our adventure through historical perspectives is that we can view our personal experiences with the incredible scope of larger movements and find our small corner in the tapestry of global history.