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Blending in to Foreign Territory

Melissa walks down the street during her year teaching English in Korea.

Melissa considers the differences between working in Korea and studying in Denmark.

Here I go again. There is something deeply rooted inside of me that does not allow me to stay still. I am constantly looking for new adventures and places to discover that I am packing and repacking my bags more than I seem to be unpacking them.

In 2010, I left for an exchange semester in Vienna, Austria and I haven’t looked back since. I came back to Canada to complete my business degree and graduated feeling completely lost and yet somehow completely liberated. Soon after, I ended up in South Korea, standing out as a very apparent foreigner—tall, blonde and definitely not Korean. I wanted a different experience. I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone and immerse myself in a culture I didn’t know anything about. My year teaching English in Korea allowed me to take some time to focus on myself and reflect on what I really wanted to do in life. I wanted to pursue a Masters degree but I wasn’t sure where to start or what exactly I should study. After exhausting the Google search bar, I finally found the perfect program.

The European Master of Tourism Management program is a joint degree from The University of Southern Denmark, The University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and the University of Girona (Spain). I will be spending five months in each country followed by a semester to complete my thesis. I applied without hesitation and ended up not only being accepted to the program, but also receiving a full scholarship. You can imagine my excitement upon hearing this news. I get to live in Europe for two years for free! What more could I ask for?

I leave for Kolding, Denmark in two weeks but something feels different this time. Although I keep adding tasks to my list of things to get done before I can even cross them off, I feel as though I am getting used to this process of leaving. I don’t feel as overwhelmed because it’s like I am simply going through the motions, doing what I have to get done, while I enjoy my final weeks of freedom at home. Friends and family are used to me leaving, and Europe suddenly seems much closer to home.

It’s funny because the worries I have this time around are different from those I have had before. I am actually nervous about blending in with the locals, something I would have so deeply loved when I first arrived in Korea and had to get used to the curious stares. I have often been mistaken for Scandinavian, so this time I can get lost in a crowd. You wont be able to tell that I’m not Danish unless I speak to you, but I’m looking forward to being able to compare the two experiences. I think I took it for granted that I was an obvious foreigner in Korea. I didn’t expect people to understand me and they didn’t expect me to understand them. We had a mutual understanding that we had to be patient and open-minded with each other while engaging in conversation.

Now, I am wondering if the Danes ride bicycles in the winter and if I will like living the student life again. I spent a year being a teacher and now the tables have turned. I’m really looking forward to exploring Kolding and the experiences it will offer, but for now, I am going to focus on a more immediate problem: figuring out how to pack for two years—and with all of the shoes I plan on bringing, that’s a challenge!

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Melissa Gagne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Melissa Gagne has always had a knack for finding adventure. After completing her undergrad in Toronto, Melissa ventured off to South Korea for a year to teach English. She is now on her way to Europe to begin her Masters in Tourism through the Erasmus Programme, which will take her to Denmark, Slovenia and Spain.

Website: hereandtherelocally.wordpress.com/

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