SHREWD Presentation | Autism Among the Han Justin Marsack Presentation

Autism Among the Han
By Justin Marsack

‘Han’ is the conflict that all humans feel within their soul and is a Korean cultural element. Internal conflict happens to everyone,,but can be more exemplified in people with autism. Individuals diagnosed on the spectrum have a diverse set of issues. Problems ranging from an inability to process loud and spontaneous noises or reading facial expressions of other people. Some on the spectrum make few to no friends in their lifetime. Living with autism, or living with someone who has autism, one wouldn’t believe it possible to study abroad. However, with my determination and the scholarships I earned, my study abroad program was completed. Two scholarships, The Benjamin A. Gilman and Freeman-Asia Award, had eased the financial burden of my program. In the beginning, various challenges, ranging from mental to cultural, obstructed my embracement of South Korea. By resolving such conflicts though, my individualism and self-confidence grew, leading me to discover who I am and what I was capable of.

The challenges I faced in South Korea obstructed my embrace of the country. But, I was motivated to achieve my goals and grow as an individual. Sensory and social issues gave me the most trouble wherever I went. The country is heavily urbanized with loud machine noises and bright neon lights everywhere one goes. My ears rang at certain moments of the day by the car honks and street speakers, colorful lights at night disoriented me as I walked around the area. Although my ears and eyes ached, I knew that I had to overcome them to enjoy my experience fully. Earbuds blocked out the noise of city life and deep breaths kept me focused on the task at hand when disoriented. My social skills, although more advanced than some on the spectrum, always made forming friendships difficult. I preferred to stay in my comfort zone and wasn’t great at starting conversation. I assumed that my fellow exchange students were nice people, so I moved forward cautiously to socialize with them better. As time progressed and I spent more time with groups of people, I started to feel part of something bigger than myself. Not only did overcoming these challenges improve my experience abroad, it aided in my growth, and gave me insight on how I will deal with similar situations at school and work in the future.

South Korea provided an opportunity for me to self-reflect and ask myself what possibilities were opened in my future. Throughout my time there, I saw what possibilities and paths had opened up for me. Despite the obstacles, moving out of my comfort zone was necessary to learn more about who I am and how to deal with the world around me. The aid of both The Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship and Freeman-Asia award helped achieve my goals throughout my semester in South Korea. Gilman is offered only to American students seeking to study abroad all over the globe and funded by the Department of Education. Freeman-Asia is available for American students too but in Southeast or East Asian countries and funded by the Institute of International Education. Studying abroad meant taking risks; risks that made me feel uncomfortable and awkward. Despite being uncomfortable, I obtained an irreplaceable experience throughout my time in South Korea by making friends, experiencing the culture, and exploring a different part of the world.

Not only did I learn about South Korea and its language, I learned about myself and strategies that worked for me. Going forward, I want to encourage everyone to study abroad but I especially want to show others with autism that they can do these kind of experiences. Even those on the spectrum can leave with a uniquely positive experience that will propel their futures and look further into their own Han.