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Focus International Voices

My Last Semester Goal: Taking a Breath Doesn’t Mean Failure

It seems like only yesterday that I was hanging the pictures of my friends on the wall to decorate my room. A year later, now I’m sitting in a cozy bed writing about my third and last semester’s goal at Temple University. I still can’t believe I’ll be graduating in four months. 

Although I’m not an organized person, I set several goals for each semester. For example, right after I transferred to Temple from Korea, my goals for the first year were ‘Making many non-Korean friends,’ and ‘Getting an internship.’ Because I transferred as a junior on top of being an international student, I had to learn everything about Temple faster than others. I had to rush to make friends and work on my language skills so that I could report back home: “My English has gotten so much better and I’m not lonely over here!” I had a lot of joyful experiences, but at the same time, the rush triggered my anxiety many times throughout the first year.

Spring 2020 is my last semester and I want to set the goal in a little bit different way: ‘Stop pressuring myself and enjoy the campus life as much as possible.’ It might sound vague. However, I want to lay down the burdens I put on myself and take some time to just wait and see where my life will go.

Looking back at my Temple life, I think not pressuring ourselves and just enjoying life is one of the hardest things for many international students. Being an international student is not simply moving to another country. We are risking every chance we have to live in an entirely different country. Most of all, we have parents and friends back home who expect us to adapt as soon as possible. Studying abroad is not only an experience for me but also for the people close to me in my life. That’s probably why international students are pressured and try to get outstanding results immediately. We don’t want to disappoint anyone, and often put pressure on ourselves to show positive results—perfect grades, an internship, and new friendships.

Still, I believe some of the pressure helps us to be aware of what’s happening and to get on the right track. After all, trying our best to achieve outstanding results is what we should all do. However, sometimes, the burden can make us judge ourselves too harshly in such a short time. We need some achievements that can show our adaptability and reason for studying abroad. If not, we consider ourselves to be failures.

During my first year abroad, I realized that I was the one who was hard on me. I cried several times while calling my mom, blaming myself for not having any close friends. I was so pressured to make new friends that I thought my personality was the problem. I imagined countless times that I would have made many friends, had I been born as an American and spoke English well. In Korea, I belonged to many groups while participating in student government activities. The fact that I didn’t belong to any of the groups in the U.S. made me think I failed. Whenever my friends from home asked me if I made good friends here, I felt like I had to pretend I did, which was not true.

I pushed myself so hard to maintain my GPA and to get a good internship so I could get a good title as soon as possible. As an advertising major, I love to learn about digital platforms and media planning strategies. I was so proud of myself for getting an internship in the entertainment marketing field. But I had been trying to get the perfect result so fast, that in the end, I was more anxious than I was happy. I haven’t had enough time to pause and enjoy every little moment of my international experience. Most of the concerns were based on results: Can I get an A? Does my resume look good? Am I a successful international student?

I realized that being an international student is harder not because of the different culture, but the way we push ourselves to obtain everything. I’m trying to embrace the fact that, ironically, happiness can come from unexpected moments, not necessarily from the results I worked so hard to achieve.

One of the most rewarding moments last winter was when I finished writing my Korean Coffee Hour article. It was probably the most honest article that I have ever written, and writing it made me so happy—even more than when I got so many compliments after being published. Also, when I volunteered at the Philadelphia Film Festival last fall, I was happy to introduce the Korean film “Parasite” and the whole Korean film industry to other volunteers—more than adding a new activity to my resume. For those things, I didn’t even try to be perfect. I stepped aside and just simply enjoyed it. 

I know that my last semester’s goal will take some time, maybe a few years. However, I will try to keep in mind that taking a deep breath and pressing the pause button doesn’t necessarily mean failure—it’s a pause, not a stop.

Now, I want to ask you the same question; What is your goal this semester?