Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Navigating My Korean-American Identity Abroad

April 12, 2022
By Angelina Oh, CAS '23

Angelina is one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents writing and sharing her experience abroad during the Spring 2022 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed. 

Something that I’ve thought about a lot before deciding to study abroad in Korea is how my understanding and perception of my identity may change based upon my decision. I was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved to the US at a young age. Even though I considered myself to be a lot more accustomed to living in America, I still had very fond childhood memories of living in Korea and remained in touch with friends and family there. Growing up, I didn’t go back to Korea that often; visiting Seoul briefly every four to five years during my summer vacations helped me keep this positive view of Korea from my childhood intact. The prospect of living there again for an extended period of time excited me and I wanted to take this opportunity to not only learn more about Korean history, politics, and culture but also experience it. As a Korean-American, I never really got to learn about my background in an academic setting, so I ultimately decided that I wanted to go back to my roots through study abroad.

Nevertheless, I was really worried about how this experience would impact my views about Korea and my identity. I thought about the possibility of becoming very conflicted while being there, potentially having somewhat of an identity crisis where I feel like I don’t truly belong in either country. Especially in recent years with the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, I really began to think a lot more about my identity as an Asian American and how that could impact my safety and well-being. I had my doubts about my level of comfortability in Korea as well, since the social and cultural norms there are really different from what I’m used to back in the US. Overall, I was hoping that studying abroad there would give me clarity; I knew I would be challenged during my time in Korea, but I wanted to experience it for myself and grow from it as opposed to also wondering what if. Since being here for the past few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I grew accustomed to my surroundings. While there were definitely obstacles along the way, I realized from this experience so far that I can envision myself living in Korea potentially in the future. I thought I have may become too distant from my Korean roots, but after continuously practicing Korean, meeting up with childhood friends and befriending new ones, and navigating the city on my own, I have definitely grown more comfortable and confident with my identity, knowing that I can balance and learn from both parts of me.

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.