Dear South Korea Study Abroad Student (present and future),
You have probably been traveling for 24 hours (or more) and are tired, excited, nervous, or some strange combination. You are not sure what to expect, but you know you are here to learn about Korean business and culture. You have now exited the arrival gate and see a familiar sight–me. However, you see another familiar site that is probably much more comforting–Dunkin’ Donuts. Please do not be fooled by this oasis of caffeine and sugar, it is different from the ones at home. Please allow me to explain further.
We learn and begin to understand culture; our own as well as others’; when we are confronted by cultural differences. It is difficult to facilitate such cultural confrontation even in today’s heterogeneous university classroom. If the classroom remains where it is–safely embedded in your own culture– you, the student, can still exit the classroom and re-enter the safe haven of cultural familiarity circumventing many of the challenges class discussion are meant to solicit. Take the same lecture, however, and embed it in a different country, and you must now confront these differences inside and outside the classroom.
Lectures are just a small component (although, please do not forget they are still a component). This trip is an integration of business and cultural experiences. You will learn by visiting Korean businesses and speaking to Korean business men and women. You will visit cultural sites and experience Korean traditions. All around the environment is unfamiliar, preventing any comfortable retreat you may have found during your studies in the United States.
This is when the transformation begins. You are confronted and must adapt and learn. You will be constantly taxed with making sense of your surroundings by applying what you are learning in the classroom, as well as what you are learning in the moment. This process may be difficult, easy, but more likely both.
It is through this experience you will confront your own culture, and in the process confront yourself. It is this confrontation, then, that is truly transformative, making the study abroad experience invaluable to your education as well as your business careers.
By signing up for this trip, you acknowledge that the skills of navigating culture; the skills you know you are here to study; are difficult to teach in the traditional classroom, and must be accomplished through confrontations with cultural differences. It is ironic, then, that the first site you see in Korea is a Dunkin’ Donuts. It may look familiar, but it is not. Itself, along with the environment, are quite different. Please, don’t let the Dunkin’ Donuts outside of the arrival gate fool you.