Why did you choose this program? I chose this program because I wanted to experience a culture that is much different than my own — and I also had an interest in Korean popular culture and music that drew me to want to study abroad in Seoul!
Describe your favorite class(es) abroad. I really enjoyed “International Politics of the Korean Peninsula” as the Professor was extremely engaging and spoke on topics that I was previously unaware about. I knew close to nothing about East Asian politics prior to taking the class, and now I feel like I can grasp the basic structure of the East Asian political landscape. I also really enjoyed taking “Korean (1)” which is the introduction Korean course, as I had no prior knowledge of the Korean language before arriving in Korea. We learned helpful words and phrases that we could use in everyday conversation.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? There were two options: SK Global House, which is on-campus housing for international students; and homestay. I chose to live in SK Global House as I wanted to meet fellow study abroad students and to truly integrate myself in campus life. However, if you really want to immerse yourself in Korean language, I would definitely consider doing homestay.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? Step outside of your comfort zone! You already made the incredible decision to study abroad, and successfully made it to a foreign land after months of planning, why not do some things you wouldn’t be able to do at home? Join a club, try different cuisines, explore your city, meet locals, volunteer, whatever catches your attention. It may seem like you have a lot of time, but it goes by so quickly. So take advantage of it while you can.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? My best memory from my time abroad was probably volunteering with North Korean defector children. Every Tuesday we would visit them at a group home and I had the best time interacting with them, despite the language barrier.
What was your biggest surprise about the location, culture or other aspects of your program? I didn’t realize how much people would just blatantly stare at you or approach you out of nowhere because you’re a foreigner. I knew I was going to a homogenous country, but I did not expect the amount of attention I received. I got used to it eventually though, and even welcomed the questions that some locals would have for me. As long as you’re safe about it, it was always interesting speaking to locals sharing and exchanging cultures and beliefs with one another.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. I definitely had culture shock for a week or so. But the feeling subsided really quickly, as CIEE did a really good job at integrating us into Korean culture. In terms of reverse culture shock, I definitely experienced that more severely! Even writing this about four months after arriving back in the states, I still experience moments where I have to intentionally adjust myself back to American cultural norms (like using one hand to give something to someone as opposed to two in Korea — it’s the little things).
What do you know now that you didn’t know before you went abroad? You will probably get sick. More than once. I came down with such a bad cold that I had to go to the on-campus clinic to get medication. And then I got sick again, and had to go through the same thing. Just don’t be like me and ignore your sickness until it gets really bad. Utilize the healthcare you have, it’s there for a reason.
What do you wish someone had told you before you left? You will feel things you’ve never felt before. This is normal. You are not alone, everyone who studies abroad feels these things. Sometimes they’re good feelings, sometimes they’re not. Just don’t keep these feelings to yourself. In fact, I bonded really well with my study abroad friends because of the rollercoaster of emotions you feel when studying abroad. But all in all, the good feelings by far outweighed the bad, it’s just that sometimes you can get overwhelmed and that’s totally ok! Studying abroad was still the best experience of my life.
What was your greatest challenge? Balancing my priorities. You are studying abroad, make sure you still set aside time for your studies. Eventually, I was able to find my groove with balancing friends, school, homework, travel, extracurriculars, and making sure to contact my family at home (don’t forget this)!
Going abroad vs. staying on campus GO ABROAD! When else in your life will you have the opportunity to go abroad for months at a time while also immersing yourself in the student life of a foreign nation? I don’t know what else there is to say. You will gain so much from the experience.
What fact about your host country do you think people would be surprised to learn? Korea’s soft power has expanded significantly over the past ten years. The Korean Wave (or “Hallyu Wave”), which is essentially the spread of Korean popular culture worldwide, has allowed for Korea to emerge as a influential force in terms of culture and even within the political sphere.
How did you find scholarships for study abroad?
I found scholarships through browsing the Overseas scholarship page! You should be able to find at least a few scholarships that you are eligible to apply for.
Would you recommend other students pursue any specific scholarship opportunities? Yes of course. I would definitely recommend checking out program-specific scholarships and provider scholarships if you are doing a co-sponsored program. Also the Hutton International Experiences Program grant; don’t worry if you aren’t a Hutton Student, you can still apply! Just make sure to check the eligibility requirements.