Over the past year and a half, I have been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to travel and see many parts of Asia.

I have always been drawn to travel and the idea of immersion and interaction with other cultures, but prior to having traveled to Asia, I did not know what to expect. When I first learned I would be going to Asia I was enthusiastic, but at the same time, nervous.

From what I had seen on TV, I was expecting large crowds and congested traffic and yes, that is true, but there is so much more. Asia is chaotic, but it’s a beautiful chaos. The smells of hundreds of different foods mesh with the sounds of car and bike horns, the bright neon lights of restaurants and glimpses of temples reminding you of an ancient history and culture. To me this is Asia, and this is what I love about it.

However, amid all of the chaos it is easy to feel lost, overwhelmed and confused. I am an outsider. I don’t know the language, I don’t look like everyone else, and the culture and social norms are all new to me. This can be terrifying, but on a trip to South Korea, something happened that gave me comfort and hope.

I traveled to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, for the first time in March 2016. Seoul is massive, with a population of about 10 million people. It is an ultra-modern capital that still tries to hold onto its rich history. Buddhist temples sit in the shadows of massive contemporary buildings. Between these buildings are seemingly thousands of alleys packed with endless restaurants and shops. Wanting to experience all of this, I ventured out on my first day and decided to take the subway.

I got on the train and took my seat. Not wanting to miss my stop, I would get up periodically and compare the map I had on my phone to the map inside the train. At one point I thought I had missed my stop or had gotten on the wrong train.

I must have had a look of frustration on my face because as I went back to my seat an elderly gentleman signaled to me with his hand to come over. I walked over to him and he pointed up at the map I was looking at, so I assumed he wanted to know where I was going. I told him in English I was trying to get to a certain neighborhood. He shook his head indicating he didn’t know English, so I pointed to the destination on my phone. This time he shook his head in affirmation and motioned for me to take the seat next to him.

Two stops later he got up and indicated he wanted me to follow him. I followed him throughout the subway station until we got to another platform. We went to another map and he showed me my final destination on the map and I could see he had taken me to the platform where I had to make my transfer. He stepped back from the map, shook my hand, smiled and was gone.

This is a very simple story, but the amount of kindness he showed me still is overwhelming. He had no reason to help me. He knew we probably didn’t speak the same language, yet it didn’t matter to him. This instance still gives me comfort when I travel, comfort in knowing there are people out there willing to help others. It also has given me inspiration to help others in my own country. Language can be a barrier, but kindness is universally understood.

Will Reynolds is an international admission counselor at Trine University. He can be reached by email at reynoldsw@trine.edu.

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