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My student experience in Seoul, South Korea
Florentine is studying leisure and tourism management in Stralsund, a small town in northern Germany. She spent the winter semester of 2021 in South Korea. “Since I grew up in a small village and am now studying in a rather small town, I really wanted to move to a big city for my semester abroad.” Lively, fast, and colorful. If that’s your criteria, then the capital of South Korea, Seoul, is the right destination for you. Read on to hear more about her personal exchange student experience in Seoul!
Application process and preparation for the stay abroad
If you want to go to Asia, you need a lot of papers, the right visa, etc. I found out about Asia Exchange through my university’s mailing list. Additionally, I have heard about their services from a fellow student. Asia Exchange helps students to realize their study abroad plans in Asia. They organize the contact with the host university, help you to choose the right visa, and everything else you need to prepare! So, I applied to Hankuk University of Foreign Studies via Asia Exchange.
My exchange student experience at HUFS
My host university was the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Because of Corona, we mostly had online lectures. Nevertheless, the lectures were very exciting. My personal favorites were: “Understanding Culture”, “Business, Society and Ethics” and “Marketing Management”. I also took a Korean language course, which could even take place offline on campus. In general, the course selection was a bit difficult. It was much more competitive than expected. That’s why I recommend looking for ALL possible courses in advance and specifying them, even if you would actually rather take other courses.
In general, the university was easy to reach from my accommodation with a bus ride of about 20 minutes. The public transport network in Seoul is very well developed and also very foreigner-friendly, especially if you use Navermaps or Kakaomaps (the Korean versions of Google Maps).
Click here to read more about Korean Language Courses in South Korea!
Apartment search & accommodation in Seoul
During my time in South Korea, I lived in an international flatshare with 5 other women in the district of Dongdaemun. The landlord, “Borderless House Seoul”, also looks after similar shared flats in Japan and Taiwan. The Borderless House concept is low-cost, multicultural living in shared flats made up of 50% locals and 50% foreigners from all over the world. They also offer various events and programs for the tenants, e.g. a more temporary house swap with tenants from other Borderless houses in other countries. Unfortunately, not during the pandemic.
It was definitely one of the best decisions, especially during the pandemic, to move into a flatshare like this. It made my exchange student experience so valuable! Not only did I connect directly, but I was also able to improve my Korean on a daily basis. In addition, my Chinese-Korean roommate and I gave each other individual Spanish and Korean lessons from time to time. My roommates have become really good friends, with whom I now share many of my fond memories in Korea.
Everyday life, free time, environment
In general, I liked to spend my free time in one of the incredibly many cute cafés, be it to study or to chat. Since there are so many, each cafe tries to have some unique aspects. In Dongdaemun, for example, there is a nice café on a smaller hill, from where you have an amazing view of the city. In another, you could try using an easel and paintbrush, or you could pet a few puppies, kittens, or even sheep (!) while drinking your coffee or tea. Most animal cafés are daycare centers where the owners pick up their animals in the evening. Most Koreans often have to work until late at night.
Apart from going to the café, I signed up with a friend at a dance studio nearby. I was able to work out there three times a week. Every week we learned a new K-pop choreography. This was a super fun experience. I would even call registering there my second best decision because that’s how I found a new hobby, dancing! Even though the dance teacher I had hardly spoken any English, we somehow managed to understand each other. In general, the people were always very nice and helpful. One of the best exchange student experiences was a trip to the hometown of one of my Korean roommates. The city of Wonju is located just outside of Seoul in the mountains. It is particularly beautiful in autumn due to the discoloration of the leaves.
This brings me to the next point: language. Since school focuses on reading and writing English, many Koreans find it difficult to express themselves in English. Especially the elderly, taxi drivers, or in small, traditional restaurants, you often only get along with Korean. So knowing the language a little helps immensely. However, at least the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) can be learned quickly. If you want to learn the language properly, it helps to look for a language partner. The university offers programs for language exchange or just to get to know new people. Apart from that, every foreign student has to participate in the ATTI program. The assigned ATTI’s are Korean students who are available to give advice and support during the semester.
Student experience in Korea during the pandemic
South Korea takes Corona very seriously. Masks are consistently worn by the population, even outside. Despite the fact that the vaccination could only really start in the summer of 2021, by autumn already approx. 80% of the population were vaccinated. To enter any facility, be it a supermarket or restaurant, you had to provide your data for tracing in the event of a Corona outbreak (telephone number, district, sometimes name, and time). This was possible with the help of a QR code. You simply create it with the messenger app “KakaoTalk” or “Naver”.
Those who had only received their vaccination in Korea could also deposit their vaccination certificate in this way. In my case, the yellow vaccination book was accepted in most shops, but it ultimately depended on the shopkeepers whether they accepted it or not, since vaccination is documented differently in Korea. Later I was able to have my German vaccination officially recognized again.
You might also be interested in “8 tips you must know when studying in Korea“
I really enjoyed my exchange student experience in Korea, despite Corona. Regardless of some difficulties, I don’t regret coming here a bit. I was not only able to gain useful and exciting knowledge in my courses but also valuable memories. And I can recommend a semester abroad to anyone who wants to get to know Korean culture!
Read more: Study abroad at Hanyang University
Do you want to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea? Find out more information here!
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.