Exchange students head to Korea to find Seoul

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Seoul in Korea is certainly one of the top study abroad destinations in the whole world for anyone interested in high technology and Asia as a market area. Asia Exchange’s partner university HUFS is widely considered as one of the best private universities in Korea, especially so on foreign languages and social sciences.

This semester, we have had two interesting exchange students joining our program at HUFS, Julie and Konho. What makes Julie and Konho differ from most exchange students, is that they actually have roots in Korea, yet have grown up and gotten their education outside of Asia. We wanted to ask these two students about their experience so far, and how has it been coming to study in Korea for someone whose family originates from the country.

First, meet Julie:

Julie grew up in the United States, but has now returned to her family’s origins for an exchange semester at HUFS. Besides ultra-modern cities, South Korea also has diverse nature, and many interesting places for hiking, such as The Daechongbong Peak pictured here.

AE: Hi Julie! We know that you are currently studying at HUFS in Seoul, Korea – but where exactly are you now, while answering this first question?

JULIE: Hi! I am in my dorm at the HUFS campus. I have been pretty busy with some projects this week as this weekend I am participating in the Kimchi Festival at Seoul city hall where I will be doing a performance. I am also going to be doing some voluntary work, teaching English to Korean kids.

AE: Could you tell us a little about your educational background and how you were already connected to Korea?

JULIE: I attend University of California, Irvine (UCI) as a business administration major. At the moment I am a sophomore (2nd year university students in USA are called sophomores.) While in Korea, I am only taking Korean related classes such as Hallyu, Korean thought, Korean society, and Korean literature. My main focus is the Korean class where I spend several hours every day, Monday through Friday, learning the language.

Julie with some of her big Korean family. Julie had not been learning Korean language until starting her exchange in Korea at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

JULIE (continues):Although I was born and raised in America, I am ethnically fully Korean. My dad moved to USA for graduate school, and my mom relocated to America with her family when she was eighteen.My dad is the only one from his family to move to USA, so I have a lot of family in Korea as well.

As my dad is the youngest of the nine children, I have many aunts, uncles and cousins to visit! And that is what I have been mainly doing on my time off studies.The person I wanted to see the most here is my grandma. She is now 93 years old, and I wanted to get to spend time with her before it is too late.Every week, especially during the weekend, I visit my family, which is really nice because I get to spend time with them – and they also pay for my meals and trips.

With my family, I have farmed sweet potatoes and grapes, zip-lined to Nami Island, bungee jumped, went to Busan, attended festivals, went to a toilet museum, got a tour of Sejong palace, and much more. 

Zip-lining to Nami Island? Sounds and looks like a lot of fun!

AE: How would you compare studying in Korea to studying in the States?

JULIE: Studying in Korea feels a bit more relaxed, but that is probably only because I am taking the classes with other foreign students. I am sure that the classes that Korean studentshave to take are harder.

However, It can be sometimes a bit of a challenge to communicate with teachers who don’t always speak English fluently.

Also, Korean schools seem to be smaller and have fewer events, when compared to my home University – and athletics doesn’t seem to so popular in Korean colleges, especially when compared to America.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, finding food may turn out to be not as easy as you would think. Even when something looks like it would be vegan, it probably has anchovy broth in it. Sometimes people may even tell you that the food is vegan or vegetarian, even if it isn’t. So make sure to always ask if the has any meat, chicken, anchovy broth, seafood, eggs, or milk in it. You have to ask from more than one person too, as many Koreans don’t seem to know what vegan or vegetarian food should not have in it.

There are plenty of fun things to do for exchange students in Seoul. If you visit Korea and can’t find Seoul, ask for directions from any of the locals – they are always happy to help.

AE: Who would you recommend exchange in Seoul to, and why?

JULIE: If you want to travel around Asia, getting plane tickets from here is much cheaper!

I’m going to visit Vietnam, China, and Thailand while I am here. If you like staying up late and going out, Seoul is great for that for sure! I also recommend Korean people who cant speak Korean to come and study here. I think that it is important to connect with your roots, heritage, and family.

I am a little sad that it took me this long to really push myself to learn Korean since most of my family can only speak Korean language. I really like it here, and I am sure that I will return to Korea again, but I will mostly just come to visit my family and friends here.

Korea certainly has some Asian oddities that many people who grew up outside Asia will find hilarious. Here’s Julie visiting a local cafe with some friends. (We are not sure if the purpose of the hats is to make customers look like cupcakes but this scene surely looks like something you’d find only in Asia.)

And now, let’s hear from Konho!

AE: Hi Konho! How are you and what is happening in Korea this week?

KONHO: Hi Asia Exchange! I am fine, thank you! Unfortunately it has gotten a little chilly this week, and it’s only 2 degrees Celsius outside today. This weekend I am going to fly to Jejudo. It is Korea’s biggest island with an inactive volcano and beautiful nature. The weather forecast is saying the temperature will go up to 19 degrees Celcius again this weekend, so I am really hoping to get to spend some warm sunny days and enjoy the nature.

Konho grew up in Germany, and is now doing an exchange semester in Seoul.

AE: Wow, winter is coming! How has the weather been since September?

KONHO: I arrived to Seoul on August 22nd, and the first five weeks were almost too hot; it was around 33 degrees Celsius nearly every day. I was sweating all the time, but now that it’s getting colder, I would like to have this hot weather back.

I heard from my friends in Germany that the winter has already arrived there and they were jealous at me because I have still been able to go out in shorts until this week.

Fall time in Korea is often so warm that you can wear your shorts, even well after the sun has set, and hiking up a hill close to a city will reward you with a crazy view of the skyline. What a great way to make your friends back in freezing cold Europe a little jealous!

AE: So it was super summery in the beginning of the semester. You live and study in Germany but have some roots in Korea, right? Could you tell us a little about your background and what made you come to Korea for exchange semester?

KONHO: Well, I was born in Germany because my father (who is Korean) worked there as a professor. Except three short years in Korea, I have spent my whole life in Europe and I really like it. There were several reasons for me to come and study in Korea.

Firstly, I wanted to learn more about the Korean culture and understand the Korean way of life. The best way to understand culture, in my opinion, is to live like a local, and not like a tourist. Secondly, I wanted to improve my languages, Korean and English. Also the opportunity to get to see my family was a huge reason – my whole family lives in Korea.

To be honest, this is the first time that I’ve come to realize how beautiful the country really is. When I was here for holidays before, I didn’t want to stay for longer than a month. Now, I’m sad that the time is going so fast.

Getting to stay in Korea for a little bit longer with his exchange studies, Konho has finally started to see the beauty of the country that he had missed on his previous visits.

AE: How would you compare student life in Korea to that in Germany?

KONHO: There’s a different grading system in Korean universities, which makes the life harder for Korean students. Only a small percentage can get an A, B and so on…. The classes are smaller than in Germany so there is more direct discussion.

As in Korea we also have mid-term exams, I feel like I should actually be studying hard for the whole duration of the course, not just for the final exam like I would in Germany. Because of the grading system, you can feel and see some competition between the students, which might be pushing some of the students to study harder.

History and modern architecture are both visible in Korea, which is one of the reasons the country is such an interesting destination for tourism.

AE: How about the campus life? Is there a lot to do there?

KONHO: There is an international office who help us students with any needs and questions. As soon as our exchange program started, we all got an “atti”, which is a Korean student responsible for a few foreign students.

The international student organization for foreigners is great as they plan a lot of activities, trips and adventures for us, and it is also a good opportunity to get to know Korean people and other students from all over the world. There’s also a buddy program you can apply to. I met a great tandem partner through the buddy program!

Generally, the atmosphere at the campus is friendly. You won’t ever get bored or lost. And last but not least, good food is a major part of the Korean culture. The cafeteria is cheap and there are different meals every day.

AE: Mmmm.. Food… Are you going back to Germany after the semester, and what are your long-term plans? Could you see yourself returning to Asia permanently one day?

KONHO: I will return to Germany in March after traveling through Asia. My best friend who is now studying abroad in Finland, and a Mexican friend who I met at HUFS will join me. We hope to spend an unforgettable time backpacking in Asian countries.

It’s really hard for me to say whether I will be living here or in Germany. I really like Korea but I feel like home in Germany as well.

The cities in South Korea are ultra-modern. This is a stunning view of Incheon, as captured from a tower.

AE: Good to think of these questions sometimes hey! Last one! What would you say to someone thinking about doing a semester in Korea? Why should one go to HUFS with Asia Exchange?

KONHO: I would recommend doing a semester in Korea to broaden your horizon! I don’t regret anything about coming here. You will gain some great experiences and meet amazing people. Especially the mix of old traditional culture and the newest technology is very fascinating.

Asia Exchange helped me a lot organizing things and making it easier to go on an exchange to Korea. It was a lot easier with the help from Asia Exchange, and they also go along with us during the semester with some tips and recommendations.

If you are a frenchman in Seoul, get bored, and start missing your home country terribly (which can sometimes happen due to a culture shock when adjusting to a new country) you can always visit Petite France in Gapyeong like Konho and his buddy group did here.

Asia Exchange thanks Julie and Konho for sharing their thoughts about studying in Korea, and wishes them all the best! If you too would be interested to study in Seoul, please click here to read more and apply for the program.

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