(A few months ago I wrote an article I for my university magazine about studying abroad. With only 6 weeks left before I fly back to the UK I feel more than ever the pressing of time. The following blog post is a slightly edited and shortened version of that article where I look back at my year abroad so far and question the pros and cons of studying abroad. I hope you enjoy it~)
When you mention that you’re considering a study abroad during your degree, people usually assume it’ll be somewhere in Europe or, if you’re feeling adventurous, America. So I guess it comes as a big shock to some when you say that you want to go to Asia. Forget study abroad only being for language students or to places in Europe; A study abroad is for anyone to anywhere.
Besides Gangnam Style and Kpop, South Korea is an amazing place that is rich in history as well as impressive technology that arguably surpasses ours. Its pretty amazing to see 400 year old shrines and palaces next to 20ft skyscrapers. The cultural mishmash of old and new in the capital city Seoul, means there is literally something that will appeal to everyone. Settling in has been much easier than I initially expected. I remember being so nervous on the plane, it was the longest flight I had ever taken by a good 3 hours and the first time I’d flown alone, without family or friends besides me. I didn’t really experience much of a culture shock when I arrived but it was still strange at first to be in such a different country with different customs. Seoul is home to over 20 million people so to go from little old Egham to a university in a mega city was a little overwhelming. It always bustling with people and life here is very fast paced. Things stay open until 11pm (no campus shutdown on Saturdays) and people are generally very nice a hospitable. Cultural faux-pas obviously occur, but in my experience people have always been very understanding and don’t get offended at my lack of knowledge in Korean culture. Learning about a culture different to ours is one of the most interesting things about studying abroad as I feel it gives you a slightly wider perspective on the world and all the people living in it. I have so much respect for foreign students who choose to do their whole degrees abroad because being able to speak the language isn’t enough to fully fit into a culture and it is an upward struggle.
I currently study at Korea University in Seoul and have temporarily said goodbye to Shakespeare and poetry and turned my hand to Media and Journalism with additional Korean language lessons. Because I am still attending university full time, studying is very much still the biggest part of my life. Just like England we have exams (lots of exams), my lessons are all taught in English (apart from Korean), lecturers can be pretty strict and students are generally hardworking because of this. But even normal university life in Seoul isn’t the norm of UK uni life and everyday I’m learning and experiencing new things. In a country where there still isn’t a lot of foreigners, making friends is so important to adjusting well and not feeling isolated. The great part of experiencing another country as a student is the support base you get from the university you’re visiting. One of things that I have really enjoyed here is Korea University’s sporting events. They take sports very seriously here and the whole university learns songs and actions to cheer on the teams throughout the matches; it’s even showed on tv! Socialising is a big part of university here and I go out for dinner or drinking most nights. As well as this I met loads of other exchange students and lots of full time students who helped us feel welcome, part of the university, and a little less segregated from the rest of the students.
The biggest part of studying abroad in a non-English speaking country is probably the chance to study a new language. I’ve been very lucky that Korea University makes it mandatory that it’s students take classes in English, which means I’ve met many people that can easily converse with me. However outside the lecture theatre it’s a different story, and being able to speak basic Korean is a must; some people simply cannot speak English and no amount of speaking slowly whilst miming will change that. Korean, though one of the most difficult languages to learn, is definitely more interesting than the French you did at secondary school and because you’re learning the language whilst living in the same country; Studying is instantly rewarded with knowledge on how to live and survive.
So, if you’re thinking of studying abroad I would highly recommend it! You may have to work hard to get some money, and stretch your language skills a bit, but the pros outweigh the cons. My time so far has been pretty amazing and I am extremely excited for what my final weeks in Korea have in store for me. I’ve studied a new subject, tried food I never thought I’d eat in a million years and met some of the dearest people in the world. Whether it has been big sporting events and going away on trips with my friends or little things like staying out all night and wandering around Seoul to find breakfast at 1pm, the past 9 months have been unforgettable. Whilst I may seem crazy for wanting to extend my university studies for another year (I have to go back to the UK and complete 3rd year), this additional year has quite possibly been one of the best things I’ve ever done with my life, even if it doesn’t get me a job.
Thanks for reading~
Thanks for reading~