Becoming in Korea | Inquirer Opinion

Becoming in Korea

This student exchange program in South Korea feels like a lifeline for my 22-year-old self.

I’ve grappled with persistent unease, constantly searching for pieces of myself and often adapting to my surroundings without truly knowing who I am. Expanding my world has highlighted my stasis, making me realize the difficulty of self-discovery when trapped in a familiar environment and routine. Belonging to a middle-class Filipino family where it’s common to live with family into your 20s while studying, it’s hard to create my own space.In Korea, I break free from the complacent reliance on others that once held me back. I rely on myself for grocery shopping and decision-making instead of depending on my mom, who bases her choices on the needs of the whole family. I plan my errands or mini-getaways during my short day breaks without the approval or company of others. I explore different cities, go on beach trips just because I feel like it, and savor solo meals at cafés and restaurants, discovering the joy of my own company.It’s a revelation that shifted my perspective, showing me that happiness isn’t elusive when I’m alone. I’m doing all these little things and making all these choices by and for myself.I’m aware that my days here aren’t always perfect, but I know I have more mornings when I wake up feeling like listening to funky or pop music and moving along to it. Most days, I take a moment to admire myself in the mirror, appreciating my wavy brown hair with its uneven highlights that I once disliked. I’ve grown more comfortable taking solo photos outdoors, enjoying my choice of outfits. And there are plenty of days when I treat myself without feeling the need to justify it. How refreshingly sweet and stirring to give myself these moments of appreciation that I haven’t often done in the Philippines over the past few years.Now, facing the reality that my time in Korea is nearing its end and I’ll soon return home after arriving last February, I feel a mix of emotions. The prospect of leaving weighs heavily on me, as being here has made me feel more alive than ever, with endless possibilities ahead. It’s daunting to think about returning to the version of myself that felt stuck and broken before. I’ve met inspiring people here—folks in their 20s who’ve already made strides in their careers, traveled the world, experienced more than I have, and even graduated early. How could I go back to my old life when I’ve tasted so much freedom and growth here?

In the Philippines, whenever we wrap up an out-of-town trip, we often feel a bit down and might say, “We’re going back to reality now.” I’ve grown to dislike this saying and refuse to accept it when the time comes for me to board my plane back to the Philippines. Saying it suggests that my time in Korea is just a dream, separate from real life. But it’s not. My experiences here are part of my reality, and I refuse to see them as anything less.The places in Korea that I’ve been to are real; I’ve felt the chilly air in my bones and the sunburn is still visible on my skin. I’ve been dazzled by the blinding lights in Hongdae and tasted delightful cocktails in a lively Seoul nightlife area with a friend I just met. The people, too, are real—they’ve had such a significant impact on my life that it wouldn’t be fair to think of them as hollow dream characters you forget when you wake up. Even though we’ve only had a short time together, some I’ve only known for a few days or weeks, I feel more connected to them than some people I’ve known for years.

It’s strange to feel that I’m going to be more homesick for places and people that aren’t even my real home. They’ve seen me as the version of myself that I built and loved, and perhaps that is enough for now. Through it all, I’ve realized I thrive on fleeting moments. From making a friend on a two-day trip to Nami Island, sharing a night with people I’ve just met in a cozy restaurant in Busan, to the friend who told me over coffee that my nickname means something funny in French—I am more of myself now than I was before.


Everything in this program isn’t just a passing phase; it’s an existential experience of my becoming.

Trixia Marie Policarpio, 22, is a creative writing student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is currently an exchange student in South Korea for the spring semester. She has a newfound interest in solo city hopping and indulging in beachside reading.

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TAGS: opinion, Young Blood

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