“By willingly accepting foreign circumstances, the illusion of control is disrupted and we open ourselves to the creative work of God and greater intimacy with Him.” -Skye Jethani
Before departing for South Korea, I made some goals for myself and chose this quote by theologian Skye Jethani as my mission statement of sorts for my trip. I chose obvious goals, such as connecting with a foreign culture, but I also wanted to seek out spiritual growth.
This semester with Veritas in South Korea has far exceeded my expectations both in its cultural impact and spiritual impact. The spiritual challenges and growth I have encountered here have been phenomenal! I’ve especially learned a lot from the people I have met through Veritas and Jubilee Church.
Without these three people, the Veritas program, and Jubilee Church, I think the impact of this trip on my life would have been much less significant.
Victor Chun taught my Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. This class gave me such a different view on missions! The course material was already convincing, but Victor’s own personal passion for the topic of missions greatly added to the class. It would be near impossible to not be excited about missions after hearing Victor talk about it! This course gave me a much better understanding of what the Bible has to say about missions, the history of missions, the current need for missions, and how to practically and effectively carry out missions in today’s day and age.
This course also increased my self-confidence. The discussion-based model helped me solidify my own personal beliefs and learn how to better articulate them. Victor facilitated this with such unjudgemental understanding and was always an encouragement to my classmates and I.
Borra Han played an essential role in my spiritual growth here in Korea. Not only did she host a weekly Bible study I attended, but she also connected me to Jubilee Church, helped me find volunteer opportunities, and encouraged me to seek Christ daily. Borra’s interest and compassion for others was truly amazing. Although Korea, in general, has a high concern for others, Borra’s heart for people definitely stood out among the rest. Never before had I seen someone who inspired me to show Godly love quite like Borra did.
My friend Stephanie DeMott has had a tremendous impact on my spiritual life here. She leads the Bible study for college girls at Jubilee Church, and teaches English at Konkuk University in Seoul. Every week, she has come to Bible study with material prepared that challenges me and helps me grow in my faith. The thing that I appreciate most about Stephanie is her honesty. She is honest about her own struggles and insecurities in every Bible study. She has been such an encouragement to me spiritually!
Living in a foreign environment is hard. Being part of a study abroad program rather than simply being an exchange student was extremely helpful, but it was still difficult. My own experiences have made me much more sympathetic toward international students. I have also learned a lot on this trip about loving others with a true, honest, and Christ-like love. When I return to my home university, I think I will be much more likely to reach out to international students since I understand what they go through, and have gained more passion for loving people.
Culturally, I learned a lot about the vast differences that exist between different areas. Even though Korea is very modern and fairly westernized, the small differences add up surprisingly quickly! Businesses are open different hours, the food is different, television is different, the paper sizes are different, the list goes on and on. I am also now more aware of things in my own culture that could be seen as strange: tipping in restaurants, giving engagement rings, buying foods in bulk, etc. It’s interesting that in all the differences, though, I have realized there’s not a “right” way to do it- and that is what makes culture so beautiful!
Through this experience, I have gained so much trust and self-confidence. Although my own future still terrifies me, I can certainly say that everything is going to be okay. After living on my own in a foreign country for four months, I know that I am capable of handling much more than I give myself credit for! I now know that I am more capable, confident, independent, and intelligent than I believed I was before.
If summing up the biggest lesson I learned here in Korea, it would be this: sharing cultures doesn’t diminish each culture’s significance; sharing cultures enhances the beauty in each culture.
Adopting some aspects of Korea’s culture doesn’t make me any less American. It just means that I’ve seen the beauty in Korean culture and realize that it’s okay to recognize that. Every culture includes both good and bad. That is simply a truth. There is no shame in admitting the areas of your culture that need improvement, and recognizing the areas of other cultures that deserve accolades!
This semester has been one of the most fantastic times of my life. That doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed it all, but I did grow a lot out of the incidents that I didn’t enjoy. This semester has been a time of spiritual renewal, cultural learning, and confidence building. Korea has earned a very special place in my heart.
This blog post has been contributed to by Victoria Nelson, student at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. Victoria studied abroad and served through global missions in Seoul, South Korea in fall 2014 with Veritas Abroad.
Who will you meet abroad and how will you change for the better? Step into a spiritually challenging yet rewarding experience with Veritas Christian Study Abroad. Summer application deadlines are around the corner!
Photos by Veritas Abroad students Alicia Vang and Victoria Nelson.