A Young Colombian Living in South Korea

I started at Altamira when i was just 4 years old. Back then i was just a child who didn’t have much responsibilities apart from doing my homework, going to school every morning, and living happily along with my family; I usually only worried about the common kids stuff: playtime, vacations and food. Funny to think today that back then I had no idea that  at just 19 years old i would be living alone in South Korea.

My adventure began on June 6, 2018; I decided to move to Seoul, South Korea.  Without having officially graduated from Altamira, I packed my belongings and along with my mom took the first plane to Korea. By that time my urge to follow my dreams so big that it was enough to make me give up one of the moments I waited for the most while growing up, my graduation ceremony, and to say goodby, even if it was temporary, to the most important people in my life. And so, just like that i came to a country I didn’t know much about without even being able to say one word in Korean. But why?

I was always known for being a good student; at the beginning it just came natural to me without even noticing but, as years went by, with a lot of effort and dedication, I was able to keep up my good work and make a name for myself at school. I was always able to achieve everything I set my mind to while also standing out from the group; in other words during my time at Altamira I never came across something I couldn’t do. This is why, just a few months before school ended, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, I had no idea of what I liked or what I wanted to major in; the only thing I knew for sure at the time was that I had an uncommon love for studying, learning and always doing my best to be the best. I think that in that sense I was the perfect example that sometimes being the best student doesn’t guarantee the future, on the contrary, for me, having focused on being “the perfect student” for so long made me put aside what was really important for my future after Altamira. An so, just a few months before graduating and “starting my adult life” the person I saw everyday in the mirror was still a total stranger to me; however, it was not but after i realized this that I understood that what I was in urgent need of time for myself.

As a result, I decided to move to Korea with the main purpose of getting to know myself, who Ii am and what is my place in the world. After a long process of thinking and debating within myself I finally  got to the conclusion that what I really needed was not to rush and get into a school without being sure that I was doing the right thing, but instead what I needed was time to know myself in an environment where my happiness was more important than my academic life; and that’s exactly what I did. Thanks to my family’s unconditional support I was able to get into the best Korean Language Program in Korea and move to the city that had been part of my dreams for so long. And,  even though my initial plan was to just be here for 6 months, one day I woke up and those 6 months had become 1 year and then that year had become 5 more.

In fact, in January of this year I received the news that I had been one of the 147 people from all around the world who had won  the 2019 KGSP Scholarship; reason why today I can proudly say I study for free here in Korea and I was accepted into Korea’s most prestigious school, ranked 36th in the world, Seoul National University to major in Aerospace engineering starting february of 2020. This scholarship has allowed me to not only to continue my Korean Language studies but it has also given me the opportunity to know people from more than 50 different countries from all around the world and, consequently, get to know about as many different cultures. Thanks to the scholarship I have been able to expand my mind and knowledge to places I never even thought existed, and so  I have also managed to get rid of many misconceptions that come with ignorance.

Nevertheless, I would be lying if I said that my journey to where I am today was easy. From the day I decided to move to Korea, i started having difficulties. Getting my visa, translating all the necessary documents, applying to different Korean Language Programs, searching for housing options, saying goodbyes, among many other things, were definitely not easy. And all these added to the difficulty of learning Korean, the strange looks I get daily from  people who notice that I don’t look or act like them, getting used to a new culture, being away from my family and my home, and living alone for the first time often make me stop and ask myself what am i doing here? And, is all this had work going to be worth it? Yet, I’m still here; even though many times I’ve been so close to giving up before, I’m still here and it’s all because despite of the difficulties, I know I made the right decision every time I think about all the positive things that moving to Korea has brought to my life:

In the almost 11 months  I’ve been living in South Korea, I have immersed myself in a culture completely different from mine, I have learned to live alone, I have managed to master  Korean enough to use it as a main language in my daily life, and I have had the privilege to known so many wonderful people whom, in such a short period of time, have become like family to me. Thanks to the risk I took by coming to an unknown country, I managed to secure my education through the KGSP Scholarship and I’ve gotten to know a side of the world that was unknown to me before and from which  countries like Colombia could learn so much and take as an example. In this sense, leaving Colombia has allowed me to look “inside from the outside” and discover so many different ways in which, in the future, I could help make my country become a better place.

Among the most beautiful and useful things I have learned from Koreans the importance of teamwork and of home and education stand out. Up to this date it doesn’t stop amazing me how Koreans, despite their differences, put all their work and effort towards one same goal: making Korea the best place it can be. Through education and the love they have for their home,  Koreans have managed to make a country that has suffered so much be one of the world leaders in matters of technology, entertainment and education of our current time. As a Colombian, being a witness to this phenomenon gives me hope, but it also makes me realize that we Colombians look up to “the wrong side” to take example. That’s why knowing that I am one of the few Colombians who has  the opportunity to experience and live what I’m living here in Korea makes me feel very fortunate and makes me realize how privileged I am.

My family always encouraged me to take risks and this experience has shown me that it IS 100% worth it. Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, coming to Korea has been and always will be one of the best; what I have learned and lived here is priceless. As part of the AIS family, I feel it is my responsibility to let parents, students and other members of our community  know about my experience because I’m sure it can provide information about different opportunities that exist after school in addition to information about a country and a side of the world that we often just ignore because we do not know it but that in fact has so much from which we could learn.

Me moving to Korea taught me that life is full of surprises. It never would have occurred to me that I, Ligia Carballo, was going to live in a country so far away from Colombia, let alone speak a language like Korean. But all this only proves that the opportunities that we, young people, have today are almost endless and that risks are always worth taking.


천리 길도 한 걸음부터

“A long journey must always begin with a single step”



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