How is it like to study abroad in Seoul during the covid-19 pandemic?
Julia is one of our students that is studying abroad in Seoul during the COVID-19 pandemic. She studies Social Sciences back home in Germany and is doing her second semester abroad with us. She decided to do a semester abroad in Seoul in February, even though things were already getting more serious regarding the pandemic. During her stay in South Korea she saw the pandemic develop in Seoul, but despite the difficult situation Julia chose not to go back home to Germany.
What made you choose to go to Seoul during the COVID-19 pandemic?
For my studies back home it’s mandatory to make a semester abroad. Back in February, there wasn’t any panic around COVID-19 in Germany yet. I was aware of the fact that it was happening in the world and that it was getting serious in Korea. But I decided to go anyway because Hankuk University didn’t tell us not to come and so didn’t Asia Exchange. I figured, if it was really dangerous to go, they would’ve told us. When I arrived in Seoul the orientation got canceled and we were free for the first two weeks. We decided to travel around as much as we could because we weren’t sure if we would have to go back to our home countries. After those two weeks, the university told us we could start the semester online and so we did. I knew if things would get really bad, I would always be able to go back home.
What made you decide to stay in Seoul for a second semester?
I enjoy the way of teaching even though the classes were online. Also, the situation was worse in Germany compared to South Korea. I felt safe staying here and I had no feeling of panic to go back home.
How was it for you to see the pandemic develop from Seoul?
When I just arrived in South-Korea, the situation in Europe was calm. at first, Seoul was like a ghost town. The streets were empty everywhere and I felt a bit scared in the beginning. I knew a city like Seoul is usually very crowded, so to see it like that was strange to experience. I didn’t know what to do during the day, because lots of things were closed and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my semester like I hoped I would. Traveling within South-Korea was luckily still possible, so we took advantage of the fact that it was very cheap and we were trying to see as much as possible. Throughout the pandemic, I noticed that the people in South-Korea were very helpful. One time I forgot my mask on the subway and someone else gave me a spare mask. It became a habit for people here to always bring an extra mask with you in case someone else forgets one. This gave me a very safe and calm feeling, knowing that the people around me were very helpful. Especially because I’m so far away from home.
Did you ever have any thoughts of going back home to Germany?
In the beginning, I was mostly scared that I might have to go home because of the then-current situation in South-Korea. It was a new situation for everyone. The students, the university, and Asia exchange. No one knew what was gonna happen and what would be possible during our semester abroad. I realized that it’s something you can’t control yourself, you can’t only think about your health, you have to think about others too. Besides that, I am very happy I decided to stay here and do another semester.
What are your thoughts about how Korea handled the pandemic?
In the beginning, it took them some time to know how to handle the situation, but I think every country must’ve experienced that. At the moment they have everything under control. We have to wear our masks everywhere we go and they check for your temperature whenever you enter a building. If you don’t wear a mask they will give you an expensive, so everyone follows the rules. I feel like they’re doing a very good job, that’s also the reason why I’m still here at the moment.
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How is the situation in Seoul right now?
At the moment you can hardly notice it. Everyone is used to this way of living. It’s the ‘new normal’, where everyone wears a mask and keeps the health restrictions into consideration. The streets are getting crowded again, even the street artists are back again which gives a nice ambiance when walking downtown. If they’ll notice an increase in cases, we’re prepared for a two-week lockdown. This means that the stores are open for a certain time and you can only deliver your food, also social distancing is applied and there will be no clubs and bars open. You can still get out of the house throughout the whole day. The university is going to start giving offline classes under strict conditions for some of the courses, which I’m super excited for. A maximum of fifteen students will be allowed in the class, but they created a system so that everyone will be able to join the course at a different time.
What are your thoughts about the online course set up?
It was hard to get used to in the beginning, I had some difficulties keeping good time management for myself. Some of the classes weren’t live when the pandemic just started, because the university didn’t have enough time to set everything up. Now, during the second semester, everything is very well organized. All my courses are live and they improved a lot with their way of teaching online. I think the university just needed some time to find a good way of pursuing the semester online. I enjoy all the classes and find lots of them very interesting. I’ve noticed that the students and teachers are on the same level because this situation is new for everyone, which gives me a feeling of community. Whenever there was news regarding the pandemic or the online course set up, they would only tell us about it if they were 100% sure. So we knew we could rely on the information that the university gave us.
Do you feel that Asia Exchange was approachable for you during the development of the pandemic?
It was an overwhelming situation for everyone in the beginning, but they still gave us a weekly update about what the current situation was. They always replied fast to our messages and that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this and that I could always approach them if something was wrong.
Do you have any tips you would want to give to other students that might want to go to Korea or any other destination during this pandemic?
My advice for other students is that they should go if they have the chance to. I think that it’s a great experience for everyone. Especially because you get the chance to experience a country in such a different way and I also feel that being in a foreign country during the pandemic will bring you a closer connection with the locals. Of course, you have to consider the restrictions, but as long as you’re allowed to enter a country, I would advise other students to take this opportunity.
What is your favorite activity to do, during the covid-19 restrictions?
The big Han river that goes through Seoul is an amazing spot to go. You can have a picnic there and spend time in the fresh air. We can even take our masks off if we’re far away from other people in the park. The colors are beautiful at the moment because it’s autumn and you can go for a walk to enjoy the environment.
What do you like the most about Korean culture?
I like the fact that even though a lot of countries tend to panic during the pandemic, Korea stayed very calm. They don’t complain about the restrictions and just follow them, there was a protest that I saw earlier today but it only consisted of 4 people. Everyone helps each other and realizes we’re all in this together, which gives me a safe feeling. This tells me a lot about their culture. When I’m studying in a cafe, I can leave my laptop there, go for lunch, come back and my laptop will still be there. People here are very genuine and honest in my opinion. I can recommend coming here to everyone.
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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.
This article was written by our marketing inter Nadia!