Exploring Occupational Therapy in Korea: A Journey of Cultural and Professional Growth

My favorite part about being abroad in Korea for an extended period of time has been the ample opportunity for cross cultural exchange. The chance to immerse myself and learn about a new culture was one of the most pressing reasons as to why I chose to come to Korea for the summer. Wherever you’re from in the world, I think it’s very easy to fall into the assumption that what is reality for you is reality for others as well. But since I’ve been here, I’m glad to have challenged these assumptions. I have observed the countless nuances that exist between Korean and American culture that influence how people from these different backgrounds choose to lead their lives. 


Before I came to Korea, I knew I did not want to leave without observing and learning about what my future profession as an occupational therapist would look like in a different country. I wanted to hear about the cultural differences that may or may not exist within my career field, but also I wanted to learn more about international experiences of the leaders and occupational therapist go-getters that I one day hope to be. 

Prior to my departure, I reached out to one of the faculty members within my college who generously connected me to global alumni and occupational therapists who would be willing to give me a glimpse into their personal experiences with our field. After a few weeks spent in Korea, I was ecstatic to hear that two alumni from my alma mater were running Plando Pediatric Center, an occupational therapy practice about 1.5 hours away from Seoul! I jumped at the opportunity to speak with them!


Visiting the center was my first time commuting out of Seoul.. and it was solo. Needless to say, some accidental detours were made, but in the end I arrived at my destination safely! I got to meet two of my sunbaenim (선배님), Yeji and Jisu, my seniors within the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. While neither of us had much time, I was so thankful that both Yeji and Jisu were able to accommodate and welcome me. 

During the tour of the center, I was grateful to hold conversations about exactly what piqued my interests. With Yeji, we talked about the different cultural understandings you need to take into account when treating patients with different backgrounds. With Jisu, the owner of the pediatric center, we talked about the realities, hardships, but also the fruitfulness of running your own business. The three of us talked about our shared alma mater and the insights they gained from studying abroad. We talked about the current state of our profession both in Korea and the US, and people’s perception of the field. We shared what inspired us to pursue occupational therapy in the first place, with all of us expressing gravitating towards the field’s client centered approach and a joint desire to help others.


We spoke for over an hour, and having a conversation with both of them was a mix of exciting and surreal. I was inspired by the young professionals in front of me and the global experiences that have shaped their life and career paths. I met role models who were in the positions I one day want to see myself in. Our time together made me feel as though I could be like them too. 


At the end of our visit, we took a photo together, and did the “Fight On” pose, a symbol of pride that joins together many USC students and alumni across the world. This encounter has so far been one of the highlights of my time here in Korea, and I am looking forward to the next time I see Yeji and Jisu again. 

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