Describe the neighborhood where you live, the sights, sounds, and smells and what makes this location unique. Describe a typical day for you or your favorite locations, hot spots, and places for meeting and socializing with new people.
I live towards the end of campus across the street from an adjacent university. It’s still only a ten-minute walk from the main part of campus and far enough that I feel as though I am in my own space that I can happily go back too after a long day. Although the main street can get pretty noisy with all of the cars (and lack of driving etiquette to say the least), I feel very close to many major areas such as Sinchon and Edae where my friends and I typically hang out after class. There are beautiful mountains surrounding the city and so I try to hike every week to get a glimpse of the incredible views from the top of the mountains. I will say, the only smell I haven’t been able to get accustomed too is definitely the gingko trees. Although beautiful in appearance, the beans that fall from these trees tend to have a pretty intense odor that becomes intensified if broken, so whenever I pass by them on my way home, I try and hold my breath (XD).
A typical day for me consists mainly of classes, studying, and sometimes going out with friends. After my morning classes, I will go into town and find a little café and study there, drink coffee, and relax until my afternoon classes start. I find myself there for hours at a time as the environment is very ideal for studying and doing homework. After my afternoon classes, I will typically go out with friends to grab dinner. Sometimes we stay more local, but other times we venture out into other neighborhoods around Seoul just to walk around more and explore. My favorite place I have been too so far has been the Han River, where we got to see the colorful fountain display on the Mapo bridge while sitting beside the water. I also really enjoyed hiking in Naksan park along the city wall where you can get an incredible view of the sunset the higher up you go. In addition, I have been really trying to venture more outside of my comfort zone and I have been doing my best to interact more with local students in order to really engage and learn from them. I have joined a language exchange program off-campus which has allowed me not only to meet local students and talk with them, but meet other foreigners who have lived in Korea longer than me. It’s really fun being able to share stories and cultures with such a diverse group of people and I am really grateful for it. Through this program, I am also able to have a one-on-one tutoring session with a native Korean interpreter where she helps me with speaking and pronunciation whereas in my language class we focus more on reading, grammar, and listening.
What has surprised you most about your experience thus far? In looking back at the goals you set out for yourself at the beginning of your program, tell us how this is going for you?
Honestly, the most surprising part of my experience thus far has to be how much I love being here. I never expected to travel to another country and become so captivated by everything around me that I question where I want to live in the future, as I have always been so sure of myself and the goals I set prior to my departure. Now, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be. I remember really contemplating whether staying for a semester or for the year, but now, I know I made the right choice. There was so much fear and so much nervousness about whether or not I would be able to make a life for myself in another country so far away from home and I thought for sure I would experience major culture shock and homesickness; but, I have yet to experience either one of those things. Thinking back at how different my mentality was before coming here about so many things is crazy to think about since I had never been to South Korea and everything I knew about the country came from the experience of others. The goals I set for myself are definitely more long term, as I wanted to focus on language acquisition more than anything else; however, all of my other goals I set for myself for the semester have already been met. I joined a few clubs on campus, made local friends, and am actively seeking out opportunities on a daily basis to help me improve my Korean. All that’s left for me is to take everything one step further next semester and really push myself into learning as much and experiencing as much as I can while I am here.
Have you identified strategies or aspects of your program or host culture that provide better access and insight into community engagement? Do you have advice for others interested in studying abroad?
Although my program is fairly independent in nature, I have definitely found ways to grow more as an individual and engage more within the community. Whether it be through off-campus events, clubs, or even other community projects, I have really made major strides in connecting more and more with local Koreans in hopes to learn and acquire as much knowledge as possible. My advice for others when deciding to study abroad or not is probably like anyone else’s: DO IT. And if you can, do it for as long as possible as there is a major difference most of the time between students who study for only a semester (or shorter) versus students who commit to an entire year. Find ways to get outside of your comfort zone and package all of your fears, insecurities, and doubts and into a little box. Wait until right before you leave to then open it as you can sit down and take a moment to reflect on all of the emotions that you experienced leading up to your departure. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish and how much you can learn from the world by diving straight into it.