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Forcibly silenced

I feel forcibly silenced in South Korea; both literally and figuratively. Literally because I cannot speak Korean. The words run into one another when I am listening. Figuratively, because it is much harder to make relationships. I want to reach out and make connections, but it is nearly impossible to do so if you cannot speak to them. For the first time in a very long time, I feel mute.

I know that only about 10% of communication is verbal, but I did not realize how vital that 10% was until I did not have any verbal prowess at all. Another thing I did not realize until this experience is that our verbal communication and cultural context informs our non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication varies between cultures. It can be challenging to decipher the non-verbal if you are not familiar with the language or the culture that creates that context.

On the steps of Memorial Hall building at Korea University!

Even though I am living in the city, go out of my way to explore on my own and attend classes at Korea University, I know that without knowing Korean, I will only scratch the surface of what this country has to offer.

During my time here, I have been reflecting on the experiences of my parents and other immigrants who had to learn English. I am well aware that English is not easy to learn, but even beside the language component- there is so much lost in translation. There is robust vigor of a person’s personality that can be hard to translate. I feel robotic in a sense because I can only express myself in very simple, mechanical phrases. There is so much depth missing. I have a renewed appreciation and respect for people who are able to make the transition because it is not easy.

I am also working on overcoming this element of vulnerability. My Korean class is bringing back suppressed memories of my early Spanish classes. Normally my memories of learning Spanish are positive but I forgot- until recently- how vulnerable I felt in those early days. I forgot how intimidating it can be to be expected to engage in a language that you cannot speak and barely understand. It is frightening. There is a pressure to perform at a level that is just no accessible to me right now.

My teacher is so nice, but I still feel so vulnerable in her class!

I realize – in a unique way- that I truly know nothing or at most very little. It is difficult to put this feeling in words because I have never felt like I knew everything- in any language. The expectation to know everything is unrealistic, but it is still humbling to realize that a toddler understands their surroundings more than I do at this point. This level of vulnerability is both familiar and foreign. Familiar because I felt it once before. Foreign because I hate it. That’s probably why I blocked it out. I have no idea how to resolve this other than learning the language. I’m sure, like before, as my fluency increases this feeling of vulnerability will evaporate but until then I have to come to terms with this oddly sickening feeling until it doesn’t make me sick anymore.

Nnenna Umelloh

Redefining access to higher education and professional achievement

Achievement Consultant


Nothing particularly scandalous happened! I thought a picture like this would add dramatic effect!

Fake smiles and missed opportunities

The difference between living and being alive is the difference between being the driver or a passenger. Those who are living are empowered to make certain demands from their life like authenticity, joy and progress. Contrarily, those who are simply alive become the accumulation of other people’s choices and conveniences instead of their own.

You probably know at least one person like this. They went to school because everyone told them it was a good idea. They ended in their current job by apparent coincidence rather than any personal interest in what they do every day.

Drivers are the people who are bold enough to make decisions based on personal interests and mindful reflection. They are the ones who seek reward and fulfillment by being true to themselves rather than convenient to other people’s whims.

Taking the backseat is depressing and unnecessary. I know this because normally I am the driver but on the second day of being in South Korea I became a passenger. Surprisingly so, the transition from driver to passenger is a slow and subtle process.

The organization I traveled with had an orientation process on the second day designed to last the entire day. At first, I thought I was having fun and enjoying myself, but as the orientation continued I became more disengaged and uninterested. Before I knew it, I became a puppet simply going through the motions.

By the time I realized all I wanted to do was go to bed, I was miles from home, my feet were swollen, and my spirit was dismayed. I was going through the motions because that is what was expected from me. What I wanted from myself was nonexistent.  I put my own well-being aside to try to fit the expectations of others.

Don’t be fooled! This smile was forced! On the inside, I was beyond exhausted!
I did not take an 11-hr flight to South Korea to become a passenger in my own car. If I was being true to myself, I would have realized that I was dead tired and needed to rest. I would have put myself first and turned in early. Instead I became preoccupied with following a schedule other people set for me, so I became a puppet.

That day was filled with fake smiles and missed opportunities…..missed opportunities to be true to myself.

Do you feel like you are a back seat driver and need help taking the reins? I promise you making the transition to the front seat is a worthwhile endeavor and I can help you do it! Please reach out to at

Nnenna Umelloh

Redefining access to higher education and professional achievement

Achievement Consultant

I never want to fake being this happy again. 

Here lies the unsolicited advice from a woman trapped in Vancouver, Canada

Flight path to Vancouver, Canada for the layover
I was supposed to have a two hour layover in Vancouver, Canada from Dallas before starting an 11-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea. Instead, my flight out of Dallas was delayed by at least two hours before we were able to fly out. By the time we got out of Dallas, I missed the  connecting flight to Seoul. Everyone who missed their flight had to spend the night in Vancouver and leave the next morning.

I know this sounds like a huge hassle but the experience was amazing.

Air Canada paid for me to stay in a nice hotel near the airport and provided a meal voucher as well. What was originally supposed to be a two hour layover in Vancouver turned into a free vacation night in Vancouver, Canada.

Air Canada employees waiting for us at the airport to help us get to the hotel
Making the most of opportunities and hardships has a lot to do with attitude and perspective. There were many passengers who were understandably upset that their plans were interrupted. At the same time, when ample resources are provided to make your stay pleasant, then staying in a bad mood is a choice. The airline went out of its way to print new boarding passes for all the passengers who missed their flight. A free room was provided in a 4-star hotel with food included. In addition, there was a complimentary shuttle service to commute from the airport to the hotel. Furthermore, the airport is in the city and the public transportation system is self-explanatory. There are more than enough resources to make the most of the situation. Fortunately, the same mentality can be applied in an academic or professional setting.

Air Canada hooked me up with a really nice room!
By no means do I mean to dismiss or belittle the challenges that people face. Those challenges are real. I am simply suggesting that they are not insurmountable and a part of overcoming those challenges include shifting perspectives and changing attitudes. However, it goes beyond simply having a good attitude. You have to look, actively look, for a reason to be happy despite the situation. That means looking for opportunities that can serve you.

I made a friend during the layover! We were did an escape room together! It was fun!
For example, there are many international students at the University of Houston who are ineligible to work legally in the United States. This can make finding an internship very difficult. Most students, for good reason, are discouraged. What is important to remember in this situation is why you want that internship or job opportunity. It goes further than just getting a paycheck (even though paychecks are important).  An internship is about acquiring relevant experience in the field  or desired industry to jump start your career. A traditional internship with an oil and gas company, one of the big 4 accounting firms, or a tech company may not be feasible or realistic so it is important to broaden your horizons.

We learned that we are not that good at puzzles but we had fun!
Ask yourself, what can I do to  develop myself as a professional? There are many opportunities to do just that on college campuses. For instance, taking a leadership position in student government or taking an unpaid or stipend-based internship with a nonprofit can give you valuable work experience and build your network.

If you need to supplement your income, look into campus jobs or freelance work for special skills on sites like Fiverr. If all else fails, take the initiative to create work for yourself. Show tenacity by creating your own programming language, or building a game or becoming a certified translator or any other activity that shows your skills and talents. The point is to find ways to develop yourself and gain relevant work experience  to show potential recruiters that you are adaptable, creative and persistent.

Things did not work out exactly as I planned and there was some inconveniences involved, but on the other hand I had a chance to explore a city I probably would have never visited otherwise on someone else’s dime. I also made friendships that would not have existed without this inconvenience. I’m not saying it’s easy shifting perspective and finding or flat out making opportunities for yourself but it is definitely worth it.

I will admit that changing perspectives and finding new opportunities in unexpected places is not always intuitive. Luckily for you, I have a knack for that type of work. If you need help finding those type of opportunities, do not hesitate to reach out!

Nnenna Umelloh

Redefining access to higher education and professional achievement

Achievement Consultant

We never would have met if we did not get laid over in Vancouver, Canada!