A Korean in India

Not many Koreans go to India for secondary-school education. When I first went there, I was only 15. Because I was not accompanied by any of my family members, my experience was a significant point of maturity. Going to a completely different place, by myself - and India really is a completely different place - made me stronger and more able to adapt.

It being the first time I had been abroad, I had been anxious about my destination - a new world. From the moment I stepped outside the Mumbai airport, I never stopped learning more about myself, India, and even Korea.

When I ask friends in Korea what comes to mind when they think of India, most say "curry." The breadth of most Koreans` knowledge of Indian culture is not terribly wide. After all, Indian culture is not well known in Korea. Most Koreans are only aware of small facets of Indian life and even have prejudices toward it.

I had intended to stay in a city called Pune, nearby Mumbai, for just 3 months. While staying there, I learned so much at an international school that I simply could not imagine it coming to an end. It felt like I had just gotten used to how things were done around there.

Busy street scene in the business district of Pune, India. Pune is the eighth largest metropolis in India and the second largest in the state of Maharashtra. Busy street scene in the business district of Pune, India. Pune is the eighth largest metropolis in India and the second largest in the state of Maharashtra.

After discussing my future with my parents, I decided to give up middle-school in Korea and move permanently to India. Despite my age, during the first three months I slowly began to learn about this new world. Interacting with people from different cultures changed my life. Soon I moved into an Indian friend's home and lived with his family.

Maybe it goes without saying that my experience there was completely different than if I had lived with my parents in Korea. One of the many cultural differences I experienced is the frequency of festivals, and how they are celebrated. India has lots of festivals, many lasting more than three days. They are amazing: thousands of people dancing on the streets, firecrackers, food - whenever there is a festival, staying quietly at home is nearly impossible. Experiencing how the locals celebrate their gods was culturally eye-opening.

My most challenging and unforgettable experience was a trip to the Himalayas. Our school went there for a week. The climbing was challenging, not all the students could take part, and so only some of us went. I am sure few Koreans have experienced a raging snowstorm on the Himalayas.

After finishing Grade 10 - despite my ambition to continue studying there - I had to go back to Korea. I am interested in diplomatic services, and to learn more about it, I had to finish my studies in Korea.

India is a land of magical colors and variety. Standing on the busy streets of Mumbai, with its enormous population, including lots of foreigners from various countries, I could feel I was not alone. As far as I was from Korea, I could feel myself maturing. At the central business district of Mumbai, known as Marine Drive, a beautiful view of India`s colors is visible. Along the coast, there are tall buildings, and luxurious houses as well as slums. In India, there is everything. Anyone who actually steps on its land will soon realize "Incredible India," the land of opportunity.

By Jo Hyun-tak

(from The Korea Herald, 30.03.2010)