Why South Korea
I made the decision to apply for Fulbright, but now I had another decision to make. What country? The hardest part about the application process was deciding which country to apply to. Fulbright only allows you to apply for one country, so deciding which country is extremely important. I knew the continent I wanted to be in, Asia. I wanted to learn and experience another Asian country as I do not know much outside of my own Chinese background. Growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, there was not much diversity like you would find in Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles. Then going to college in Ames, Iowa, it was even less diverse. I had already studied abroad in Spain and traveled much of Europe during my study abroad but never really spent a prolonged period in an Asian country (besides China before I was adopted). During the summer of 2018, my sister and I traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan for about three weeks. I absolutely loved the trip and loved all the countries we visited which prompted me to want to explore more of Asia. The cultures, societies, and people where so different from the United States and it was interesting to experience it. Just like my study abroad experience in Spain, I wanted to live, eat, and breath like a local in a foreign country and thought the continent of Asia was the best place for me.
Another major factor that played into the decision of where I applied was the opportunity for a homestay. I find that homestays allow you to experience the culture, food, people, and community better than if you lived alone in an apartment. I also believe homestays force you outside of your comfort zone and make you connect with the locals more. One of the best decisions I made for study abroad was to live with a host family and some of my best experiences/memories I had while studying abroad in Granada, Spain was from my homestay family!
Between wanting to be in Asia and wanting a homestay, the country had been laid out for me: South Korea. South Korea is one of the only countries that provides/requires homestays during the Fulbright grant year. After deciding on South Korea, I did a lot of research on the country prior to applying because I had no knowledge of the country itself besides the fact that it was split into North and South Korea. After much research, I discovered Korea did not split into its North and South counterparts until 1945 and South Korea did not establish its own government until 1948. In less than 75 years, South Korea was able to rebuild a government infrastructure, become a world leading economy and have an incredible educational and medical infrastructure. The most impressive thing to me about South Korea is how they have been able to influence western cultures through its soft powers. South Korea has been able share their culture through soft powers of technology (i.e. Samsung), Korean beauty products/routines, Korean foods/snacks, Korean TV dramas and Korean music. I have seen an increase in Korean restaurants near me and have even seen Korean snacks/food products at my local Costco.
I would say one of the most notable influence has been the Korean boy band, Bangtan Sonyeondan (BTS). BTS is a group of seven, mainly Korean speaking, guys who have been in numerous American talk shows, award shows (won Billboards), and have solid out some of the biggest stadiums in the world. There have been reports that BTS brings in about ~$4.5 billion dollars into the South Korean economy and 1 in 12 tourist that visit South Korea did so because of BTS influence. It is mind boggling how a boy band has had this much influence for a single country. They are much like The Beatles but for my generation. I'm not much of a music guru but having listened to some of BTS's songs, I understand why they are a big deal as they send out a positive message about self-love.
I have also thought about how would the technology world be different if Samsung had not existed in South Korea? Samsung was founded in 1938 in Seoul, Korea but this was when North and South Korea were a single country. This got me thinking, what if after World War II, when Korea was split into two countries, Samsung had become part of North Korea instead of South Korea? How would that change things in the technology world? Samsung is Apple's biggest competitor and there are millions of people in the United States and around the world that use Samsung products (phones, watches, TVs, computers, audio devices, home appliances, etc.). There has been a healthy competition between Apple and Samsung, and I believe the two companies have pushed each other to create new products/features which has allowed technology to advance so fast and far. I think it would be interesting to live in a country that has so much technology influence. I know the United States has a lot of technology influence in every aspect, but South Korea technology influence is even bigger (they have such things as internet cafes - search it up if you don't know what this is, it's cool).
It truly fascinates me how South Korea is a relatively new country but has been able to dominate the world stage and impact/influence American culture through their soft powers. Overall, South Korea held a lot of interest which is why I decided to apply there. I would love to learn more about the culture, society, and people as it seems the rest of the world is starting to realize the impact they have as well.