The first week of quarantine, I received a friendly direct message on Instagram from, “M,” another girl in Ewha’s exchange program from a school in Kyoto, Japan, after we had mutually followed each other’s accounts.
She expressed to me that she was anxious about making friends on campus since she wasn’t confident in her English— and naturally, our exchange student group chat naturally gravitated towards chatting in English, which didn’t help. Since we’re both in advanced Korean courses, we considered our chance interaction lucky and made plans to hang out as soon as the government gave us the thumbs up to leave quarantine.
Not a week after we got out, we met up at a café in Hongdae, and we clicked instantly. For the next two months, we made a point to hang out regularly and frequently commiserated about the woes of our assignments and midterms, and how we had unfortunately signed up for separate Korean classes.
Since we don’t share a common native language, our only choice is to chat in Korean (which is great practice, btw!). Topics that would take one a few seconds to explain sometimes take half of our lunch and lots of laughs to get through. While some might think this would be a nuisance, the conversations I have with M are some of the most hilarious and meaningful I’ve had with a friend in a long time. By taking extra care during our conversations, we’ve learned just how precious it is to listen intentionally and see past our sometimes choppy explanations of tough concepts to see our friend behind the words.
Together, we’ve tackled deep issues like feeling like outcasts in a foreign country, mutual stereotypes that our home countries have of each other’s countries, WW2 (yeah, that was a heavy one), and lighter conversations like funny attributes of each other’s accents when speaking Korean and how to play Korean games when you just can’t seem to wrap your head around the instructions.
Now just past the halfway point, I’ve found myself already grieving the impending absence of M, who I’ve grown close to during my time here.
M is a year younger than me, and while we both love Korea and learning the language, we both agree that really assimilating is nearly impossible and that we find that the work culture can be a bit toxic. Without concrete future plans to return and without language skills to even get through a simple transaction in each other’s home countries during a visit, it hit us that meeting in the future is going to be harder for us than most new friends who have met during their time at Ewha. And frankly, that sucks.
Now that it’s hit us that we have just under two months left to spend together, we’ve gotten busy filling our weeks with plans to check off items on our study abroad bucket list together. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll keep in contact even after our semester ends, but as someone who is already coping with a long-distance relationship, it feels so cruel that I’ve been given another important long-distance friendship to tackle.
Sometimes we meet the people we mesh with the best when and where we least expect it— plus studying abroad raises those chances astronomically. And as it turns out, going through an unfamiliar experience together, especially with a slight language barrier, can make your bond even stronger.
The first week of study abroad, when the homesickness was still hitting me hard, I couldn’t wait to get back to the comfort of Main Campus, my friends, and my hometown. But right now, I know I’m just not ready to let go.