Liana's not studying abroad on a CAPA program, but when we read her Huffington Post article about her experience in South Korea, we thought her story would ring a bell with many CAPA students! Liana talks about why study abroad in important, both for career and personal growth, how she has learned to cope with challenges abroad and how music has played an important role in helping her to integrate with locals and form a community.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
LIANA WEEKS: My name is Liana Weeks. I am 20. I was born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts where I study film and anthropology. I am currently living in Seoul, South Korea as a study abroad student for the year. My hobbies include filming, watching films, discovering new music, DJ-ing, reading scholarly articles, trying new foods, photography, traveling, art and urban fashion
CW: Why is studying abroad important to you?
LW: I grew up in a place where most people end up staying within our own paradigm. Although, I see myself going back to hometown at some point in my life, I always knew the world was bigger than Pawtucket. For me, studying abroad was meant for self-growth and learning. I wanted to learn about myself as well as a new world. I get this great pleasure from traveling to new places that are completely out of my comfort zone and being forced to quickly adapt. This process allows me to learn a great deal about myself and my ability to survive in the outside world. For me, studying abroad offered not only this but a new culture filled with art and creativity that would also help cultivate my mind and studies as both an anthropology and film studies double major.
CW: Huffington Post recently published your article "The Token Black Girl" which is about your experience studying abroad in South Korea. Did your identity or how you identify yourself shift during your time in South Korea?
LW: My identity and how I see myself is the same as when I first entered Korea. I identify as an Afro-Latina as well as with the term ‘black’, using it as an umbrella term to define my connection with the African diaspora. I am aware of the shift in the way in which people view me, directly referring to me as black because of the color of my skin rather than referring to my connection to the diaspora.
CW: Your article talks about your experience of feeling different while abroad. Do you remember a moment when you maybe didn't feel such a difference anymore, when you felt like you belonged?
LW: Korea being a homogenous and collective society, in the eyes of Koreans I will always be a foreigner. Although I do stand out, I am at the point where I have been able to enter paradigms that have people that share similar interests as me. For example, I joined a hip-hop club on campus where although there is a language barrier, we all enjoy and appreciate hip-hop music and culture. In addition, here I have met people who share the same love for media art as me, so although I am different, I gave found a small community in Korea where I feel as though I belong.
CW: Your piece opens with quote about how travel leaves you speechless but fills you with stories. Share one story that represents a turning point in how you experienced South Korea.
LW: The first week I got to Korea, it was one of the most difficult and growth-filled weeks of my life. During that week I met amazing people that I knew would eventually change my life for the better but I also experienced various micro-aggressions and feelings of homesickness. One day, my study abroad program group went to the middle of Korea where we visited a Buddhist temple in which we had to climb to the top of the mountain to see. After all the sweating and stairs, we finally made it. As the sunset, a Buddhist monk played the drums calling all the spirits together. Never in my life had a witnessed something so calming and serene. In that exact moment, I experienced an extremely existential feeling where at that moment all the obstacles that I had been going through earlier in the week seemed to not matter because I was seeing the world and pushing myself physically and mentally; showing myself that I could accomplish anything if I put my mind to it. The 30 minutes I spent on the top of the mountain listening to the monk play the drums, I realized that in life things may seem and feel like they are pushing you back, but you just need to keep climbing because at the end, when you make it to the top, the outcome is worth way more than the struggle.
CW: Is diversity defined and understood differently in South Korea than from your community in the US?
LW: Diversity in the US and in South Korea in my opinion is completely different. The US is filled with people from all different types of cultural backgrounds with different thoughts on all aspects of life. In the US, there is a large scene of individuality and this idea that everyone needs to be different from one another. Contrary, Korea is a collective society with little diversity of people, being that foreigners make up only a small part of the population. Rather then individuality, I think of Korea as a place were there is more of an emphasis on being one. Not that there isn’t diversity but rather diversity doesn't exist completely in the way we would think but rather through style, music, ideologies, etc.
CW: Have coping methods you developed while studying in South Korea helped you in other ways?
LW: I will be staying in Korea until mid-June, so I continue to use to the coping methods I have created. During challenging moments all I can do is discuss issues that I can relate to and will be able to understand. I take time to relax and contemplate the issue at hand. At the same time, one of the most important coping methods that has helped me is to not seek validation from others. While in Korea, I have gained a huge sense of confidence and drive that I have never had before. If something gets tough, I do talk to others and allow for them to give me support, but at the same time, I don't allow it to stop me. Obstacles are obstacles and I have enough confidence in my abilities and myself; allowing me to face any obstacle at hand head on and not let it affect my goals or how I view myself. Having confidence in everything you do and say is the biggest piece of advice I can give people. Confidence has allowed me to throw myself into Korean culture with the confidence that I will be able to adapt and survive all the obstacles that are thrown my way while knowing that I will still be standing in the end.
CW: How will your experience shape how you inform others about the opportunity to study abroad?
LW: My experiences will encourage everyone who has the opportunity to study abroad to do so. Studying abroad has taught me so much about myself, how I interact with others, my ability to adapt in different surroundings, and most importantly it has allowed me to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Being abroad has not always been easy. There were times when I felt low and struggled financially and emotionally but I do not regret anything. Those hard times helped me grow stronger and they do not outweigh the amazing memories and experiences that I have gone through while abroad.
CW: As an aspiring anthropologist, how has your experience abroad helped shape the direction you hope to take your future career? Did you develop new research interests?
LW: The reason I came to Korea was to chase my dreams as an inspiring filmmaker and media artist who has chosen to use anthropology as a discipline when working. My dream is to investigate youth culture in East Asia, as well as transcending hip-hop in South Korea and its effect on the black community. While in Korea, everything fuels my work, including just being around people. I constantly take pictures, film random things, and examine everything around me. Being here, I have been completely observant and open to anything because I know that in one way or another it will influence my future work. While here, I have also become more appreciative as an artist and anthropology major of Korean culture, being careful not to make false assumptions but rather take things in with a completely open mind.
CW: You're a DJ. What role has music played in your understanding of this new culture or in helping you build local connections? Do you feel music helped bridge the gap you felt between yourself and the people of your host country?
LW: Music has played and continues to play a large role in my time abroad. Hip-hop culture is a deep social-political movement and through listening to the music here (mostly hip-hop and rap), I have been able to get to know Korean culture ideologically as well as investigate its both appreciation and appropriation of the hip-hop culture. Also through joining the hip-hop club on campus, I have able to make friends with people through music, helping to bridge the gap between Korea and me; allowing me to feel at home. It has brought me closer to people as well as helped me to find a community here in Korea. Being that my music taste is extremely particular, finding a group of people who share the same interest in music and share the same ideologies regarding the importance of music and popular culture, especially in Korea has allowed me to dig deeper into the culture while making connections and a home for myself.