Beyond Borders: Tia’s Experience in HUFS’s Full Degree Program – Part II

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Tia Kärnä is a Finnish student (25) who decided to pursue a full degree at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, South Korea in 2022. After finishing her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Finland, she decided to pursue a full bachelor’s degree in International Relations at HUFS. Currently she is in her second-year, second-semester. Find out more about Tia’s full degree experience in this interview!

In Part 1 of our blog, we introduced Tia Kärnä, a 25-year-old Finnish student pursuing a full degree in International Relations at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, South Korea. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Finland and falling in love with South Korea during an exchange at Ewha Womans University, Tia decided to follow her passion for international relations and enrolled at HUFS in 2022. Tia’s journey has been supported by Asia Exchange, which she is an Ambassador for. She has navigated competitive course registration and adapted to the different academic environment of a full degree program.

In Part 2, we’ll dive deeper into Tia’s experiences, challenges, Korean student life and making friends in a foreign country. Join us to learn more about her life in South Korea and gather tips for your own study abroad journey!

WHAT IS THE HIGHLIGHT OF KOREAN STUDENT LIFE?

Korean university festivals are something that students love. They usually occur soon after midterms, and people are eager to experience them when they come to Korea. I have been to some university festivals, but since they started late, I have usually returned home earlier than others. A lot of prominent celebrities and artists perform there. So many students join now that I don’t even try to go to the front line. Moreover, it’s nice to see and experience everyone enjoying the live music from all over the campus.

HUFS has a tiny campus compared to other universities. It might be a little sad for these festivals, but it’s a blessing when it comes to your daily life as a student. If classes are in different buildings, you don’t have to take a bus or run up a hill to get there. That was my experience at my previous university, Ewha. However, to experience bigger festivals, you can always attend those from other universities. Usually, they don’t charge a fee.

I can say that universities in Korea generally focus much more on student life, whereas in Finland, parties are organized by students and are just small gatherings. Here, the universities usually organize these events.

There are also so-called MTs, which means membership training- Those are overnight trips that students organize to get to know each other. Students are usually very excited about those as well. I have yet to participate, but since it involves a lot of partying and staying up late, which I don’t enjoy, I haven’t yet.

Nonetheless, people have a lot of fun there, and if you enjoy drinking, you should try it! 

HOW EASY OR DIFFICULT IS MAKING FRIENDS?

When you have a hobby, you bond over it, giving you a common ground, which makes it easier to make friends. 

Tia Kärna

Making international friends has been very easy because there are a lot of international students at HUFS. Since I am studying international studies mainly in English, many students are foreigners. We share a similar background, so it’s easier to bond.

When it comes to Korean friends, it’s been more challenging to get to know them. Many Koreans are afraid to speak English, but at the same time, I’m scared of speaking Korean. So, the language barrier has been challenging. Therefore, I recommend joining school clubs, because it makes it easier to make Korean friends. I started playing handball this semester. A Swedish girl and I were the only foreigners joining. Since everyone shared the same interests, I made many Korean friends through that. When you have a hobby, you bond over it, giving you a common ground, which makes it easier to make friends. 

You get more used to people leaving when time passes, but it’s still heartbreaking every time.

When it comes to foreign friends, many leave after 1/2 Semester. This makes it challenging to make long-term friends in Korea. You get sad when your friends leave you; however, just like you, many other full-degree students are here. So you don’t have to worry about that. Especially since nowadays, you can easily keep in contact through social media. I now have my friend circle, which I’m very close to in Korea.

What has been your biggest struggle?

Definitely the language barrier. I didn’t experience a culture shock, but more like a language shock. When visiting a doctor or doing bureaucratic things, its’s often a barrier but nothing that you can’t overcome. You learn to get through it somehow. I can recommend learning the basics, since that’s is going to help you with your everyday life. The rest will come with time. People here are very nice, but when you speak Korean it helps a lot more. You could also make friends who speak Korean. They could help you out or just use Papago or Google Translator. In this modern day and age, there are many ways to overcome his language barrier. It should not affect your decision to study abroad.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE SO FAR?

My most memorable moments relate to traveling because I spend most of my time on campus or at home. Whenever I have a free weekend, I go out of Seoul and explore other cities and countries. If you want to travel to different countries, visit Japan for a weekend trip. I’ve been to Gyeongju and Jeju. Both are beautiful places in Korea, which I also highly recommend visiting. Gyeongju is filled with history, from the architecture to everything else. It really made me fall in love with it. I didn’t like history in school, but when it comes to learning history by myself, that’s really enjoyable.

One tip I can give is to choose your classes in a way so that you have a three to four-day weekend. For example, you could take courses from Monday to Thursday and then take short trips to different places.

There are so many places I want to discover and visit, but for that I still have two more years left in Korea. Hopefully I will be able to get many more meaningful and memorably experiences.

DO YOU GET HOMESICK? WHAT DO YOU MISS THE MOST?

It’s such a European thing to say, but I miss bread the most. I once traveled 1 hour to find a German bakery; it was a 2-hour trip in total to get bread. To answer the second question, yes, I do get a little homesick from time to time. I miss my friends and family from back home in Finland. However, I often travel back to Finland. Mostly during every break since they are very long here. There is summer and winter break, each two months long, so you have plenty of time to visit family.

Nonetheless I have to say that Korea is such a welcoming place. That is the main reason why I decided to come here again for a full degree student. It really makes me feel like I have two homes. Now I have my own friend circle here and makes me feel like I’m growing my own roots in this country.

My advice for anyone who wants to study abroad for a full degree is to be brave and just go for it. The chances of you enjoying it way higher then regretting your choice. I have been here for two years now and I can proudly say that I have never regretted my choice.

Find out more about Tia’S experience in Part i of this interview.

Do you also dream about doing a full degree abroad? FIND ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT Full degree Programs here!

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