Oberlin Blogs

3 Months Later

November 25, 2022

Ben Smith ’24

The skyline view from my university, overlooking the Han River, busy streets, and tall buildings.
The best skyline view from campus. 한양대학교에는 아름다워요...

Three months ago today, I landed in Seoul to embark on this long-awaited adventure of studying abroad. Knowing that I have one month remaining here, it has certainly put things into perspective for me. I can’t say I know where things will go once I am back at Oberlin–my mind feels like it is swirling around every day with new ideas, ambitions, challenges, hopes, dreams… It has been quite emotional, really. With that said, I do know that I have changed in my short time here. The changes that have occurred are all ones that I could not have anticipated three months ago. Some changes are small, some big; some are physical, some are a little philosophical. All in all, though, these changes have shaped me into a happier and more whole person. So, I figured if I’m going to start unpacking some of my study abroad experiences, this is a solid starting point. There are a lot of little changes that would take too many words to write, so I’ll just talk about three. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to some new renovations. 


Change #1: My hairstyle

Yep, that’s right. The first major change I’m recounting in my tale of traveling across the world is the change that my hair went through. It might seem an inconsequential modification, but quite the contrary! My hairstyle has been something that I’ve held onto with an iron grip since middle school. Truth be told, in middle school, my hair started to become curly and this caused a lot more mental anguish than I’d like to admit. As a counteractive measure, I began to play around with my mom’s hair straightener and continued to do so until… well, October 5, 2022: the day I got my haircut in Seoul. I didn’t walk into the hair salon on that Wednesday afternoon thinking I would be walking out with a new hairstyle… but, when I did, I was surprised to find that I didn’t hate what I saw. (For clarification, the hairstylist did follow what I explained. It’s just that as the appointment went on, she noticed the curls starting to make their appearance and decided to lean into it.)

As I left the salon and walked around the streets, dazed at the events that just transpired, I decided to submerge myself in the sea of cute shops all around me. As I perused, I started to realize… wait… but what if I like this change more?  

A headshot of me and my flute in front of a pale gradient blue backdrop.
My hair straightener hasn’t been touched since.

Change #2: My relationship with performing

Being abroad has given me a lot of physical and mental space away from Oberlin. There are things that I miss about Oberlin, of course. But in my time away, I realized that the biggest culprit behind making my first two years at Oberlin so difficult was… myself! Beginning at Oberlin, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in performance; however, I wanted to do so while simultaneously not believing in myself. A past blog from my second semester read this:

“Annoyingly, failure is what a lot of learning encompasses… This isn’t to say you will fail all the time–success does happen–but the faster you realize that your time at Oberlin will be spent in a transient period of your career, the more you will be able to get out of it.” – Ben, April 2021

While I don’t disagree with this idea now, I think there is some nuance worth unpacking. Sure, in the grand scheme of one’s career, it is likely their best work will not come from their undergraduate years. But that does not mean the output from this time is not artistically and musically valuable. You can still have something to say even if your voice is still developing. 

Myself and my accompanist performing in the main concert hall at Hanyang University.
Class recital performance.  
Photo credit: 허진

Knowing this, the way I see performing has changed. Performing is not the place to prove my worth. How I perform on any given day does not encompass who I am as an individual or as an artist. Performing is a connective bridge between music–the universal language–and people. If you allow it, performing can be freedom.

To some degree, there has been a language barrier between me and my fellow music students here at my university in Seoul. But the thing that has connected us most to each other is music. Seeing my peers perform, performing myself–there was a bond that strengthened from sharing music with one another. When all else fails, music speaks. 

A French horn ensemble performing in the main concert hall at Hanyang University.
Brass chamber concert performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Change #3: My confidence

It is a bit difficult for me to find the words to describe this change. Confidence has been something that I have struggled with for a long time. The entire process of studying abroad–it has perhaps been the most challenging undertaking I’ve embarked on. Starting all the way from the applications to actually being in Seoul now, I am not going to pretend like any of it came easily. Despite all of the challenges, all of the setbacks, all of the homesickness, all of the self-doubt, each day has been a blessing.

I am thankful for the challenges; without them I would not be able to appreciate when things just flow. I am thankful for the setbacks; without them I would not be able to embrace what it feels like to have a breakthrough. I am thankful for the homesickness; without it I would have taken for granted how beautiful it is to have a place to call home. And, yes, I am thankful for the self-doubt, too; without it I would not have realized how far I’ve come (and, admittedly, still have left to go). 

Myself with a Hanyang University jacket posed in front of a sign that reads, "The Best for a Better World"
Thankful. 

During my time in Seoul, a friend from Oberlin said something to me that I will never forget:

“The future has no bearing on today’s confidence.” 

There are many unanswered questions about where I will go in the coming months and years. That uncertainty used to scare me. To protect myself, I carried a lot of trepidation regarding what I believed I could achieve. Now, I see that this self-imposed limit did not help me the way I thought it did, and I hope to turn a new leaf. It won’t be easy, but I have a feeling that means it's exactly what I should be doing. 

 

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