Charlotte’s Study Abroad Journey in South Korea: Finding her Passion

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Charlotte Massol (20) is a student from Strasbourg, France, who decided to study abroad in Seoul at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies for two semesters. She is in her second semester abroad as an exchange student majoring in political science and international relations. Find out about Charlotte Massol finding her passion, her greatest learnings and travel experience in South Korea in this interview!

Why did you decide to study abroad for 2 semesters in South Korea?

For my studies it is mandatory to study abroad for 2 semesters. I choose South Korea because I studied a little bit about Korean politics and economics at my home university and thought it was interesting. I also have Korean friends back in France who told me I must visit Seoul. Before coming to South Korea, I wasn’t interested in Korean music, dramas, etc.. I knew a few songs, but it wasn’t why I decided to study here like many others. However, after deciding to study abroad here, I started watching more dramas and listening to more music to learn the language. I’m definitely glad about my decision to study here at HUFS.

I found my passion here, and that makes me really happy. It’s going to have a significant impact on my future.

Charlotte Massol

What were your initial thoughts when you arrived in Korea?

I knew that Koreans have a specific way of eating. On the first day when I arrived here, I had to eat alone. I however still needed to learn how to use chopsticks well, order food, call the waiters, etc. while not trying to offend anyone. That scared me a little bit. What also surprised me was the fact that Koreans eat dinner pretty early. For us in Europe, we eat dinner pretty late, but here they eat dinner around 5:30 PM. For me, that’s considered a snack. I also initially thought many people would speak English well, but that’s not the case. I was really shocked by that.

How did you overcome these challenges?

The answer is pretty basic, but the more you do it, the more you get used to it. I was fortunate to have made Korean friends early because I participated in some events the HUFS’s international office organised. They offered events like a language exchange program, which I joined. I teach French to others there, and in exchange, they teach me Korean. Therefore, I got close to Koreans quickly, which was a plus because they taught me a lot. It helped with my Korean; I learned about the culture, how to get around the city, and many other things. Knowing Korean people who can help you with things is the best way to overcome challenges.

I also recommend using Papago and Naver. Both applications are a must when you come to Korea. Thankfully, the transportation system here is very foreigner-friendly. However these translation apps are very helpful when translating menus and speaking with staff members while shopping.

I also stepped out of my comfort zone a lot. For example I studied a bit of Korean, even though I’m far from fluent, I joined a lot of classes, including dancing classes, which was one of the things I was most excited about when coming here. Back then I didn’t know, that I will find a new passion with dancing.

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Charlotte, 3rd from left, participating in a free cooking class organised by the city of Seoul

What did you do to immerse yourself in the Korean culture?

I was always trying to learn more. The city of Seoul tries to promote its image to foreigners by offering many courses. For example, you can take part in free classes if you post them on your Instagram. I participated in a Korean dance class, a class about visiting a Buddhist temple and a making stamps class. You can do many things for free, which is great. There were also many festivals happening in May, which was also great opportunity for understanding the culture better. Overall I can say many things are targeted toward foreigners to help them understand the culture more.

There is also the international student club by HUFS, which organised a lot of events. With them we for example visited the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Korean Folk Village, a traditional Hanok village near Suwon. There, we tried traditional pottery and writing. We also had an event where we made Korean fish shaped red bean cakes called Bungeoppang. Moreover for the Korean festival Chuseok, we also had an event organised by this club. They did a lot for us and especially in the first semester I tried to go to most of them. I learned a lot about Korean culture through it.

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What were your favoUrite travel moments?

I traveled a lot in Seoul. At first, I came to Korea thinking I would discover a new city every weekend, but since Seoul has so much to offer and there is so much to do, I’ve been in Seoul most of the time. I have yet to finish discovering Seoul, so I haven’t been much outside of it. My favourite moments so far have been those with my friends. We got a map of Seoul and started crossing out some areas. We tried to visit every single neighbourhood, even if it was just for half a day. Usually, we do this on the weekends. Sometimes, we also play bus roulette, hopping on any bus and getting off anywhere. That way, we discover new places we haven’t been to yet.

One area of Seoul that I recommend visiting is Hyewa, which is located in the north part of the city. It’s has become my favourite place Seoul and it’s similar to Hongdae or Seongsu. However what makes it different is, that there are almost no foreigners there. It’s a very beautiful place. My Korean friends actually recommended it to me.

Once again I can say that, having Korean friends is really hhelpful. I wouldn’t have loved my study abroad experience as much as I did, if I didn’t have friends to rely on who showed me around places.
There are always new things; you can never discover Seoul enough. That’s what I think.

I can also recommend visiting Incheon if you want to travel outside of Seoul. It’s a must because there’s a walking island, an amusement park on the beach, and a Chinatown. Another place I also love is Suwon, which is a very beautiful and pretty city. Especially in spring, it’s very flowery. It feels like the best of Seoul combined all in one city.

Another moment I liked was being invited to Chuseok, a Korean festival, by two Korean families of my friends. I ate traditional food, played games, and did other things in one place. At the other friends place, they showed me around Suwon, their hometown. I am very fortunate with the people I met.

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Wearing a traditional dress called Hanbok at the famous Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul

What are things you’ve learned during this experience?

Dancing changed me a lot. It made me more open and changed the way I see myself. My body changed, but I also became more cheerful because it made me happy. I found my passion here, and that makes me really happy. It’s going to have a significant impact on my future.

I have also become much more independent. One of the most significant differences between South Korea and France is that people are at ease doing things alone here, such as going to the cinema or to restaurants, museums, cafes, etc.. I learned that it can be very nice doing things alone and realised that it’s completely normal to enjoy your time alone, even outside your home. It takes a bit of courage and strength, but it is definitely is worth it.

Another thing I’m taking back home with me is friends. I’ve already invited some friends to visit me in France. Being in a country where you don’t know anyone initially makes you highly vulnerable. You become very close with the friends you make because you depend on them. I have grown very close to my friends and I’m happy to take my friendships back home with me.

Will this journey impact you throughout your life?

Definitely, it made me grow as a person in many ways. I got to know amazing people and made great friends, which I will keep with me. I will also compare a lot, for example, my friendships from back home to the ones that I made here. Most importantly, I found my passion here, which is dancing. I will continue with this back home.
I can recommend that students should spend at least a semester abroad, as it completely changes their views on everything. It will definitely also impact my job choice later on.

Nami Island during spring

I can recommend that students should spend at least a semester abroad, as it completely changes their views on everything.

Charlotte Massol

Any advice you want to give to people who come to Korea?

In the beginning, you meet new people and have many things to explore. The palaces, the most famous tourist places, restaurants, and everything. That euphoria lasts one week, but after, it feels more challenging to make friends. Initially, some groups start to disband and go into other friend groups. So, there will always be a few weeks of feeling lost, wanting to go home, and feeling down.

However it’s important to remember that this is temporary. The feeling will pass with time especially when you try to do things alone and try to meet new people. It might last two or three weeks at the longest. After this period, university life improves; you start feeling more comfortable around your classmates, and you begin studying together, eating together, and doing activities together. So, hang out during those few weeks of sadness. It’s intimidating, but enjoying the rest of your time after it is worth it.


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