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My student experience in Seoul
Giulia from Germany studied in Seoul for 2 semesters and shared her insights about her time as an international student in South Korea. She studies linguistics in Düsseldorf. With a focus on languages, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is the perfect place to study abroad.
It almost didn’t happen
Without my brother, I wouldn’t have made it, at least not that semester. He pushed me to apply to Asia Exchange on the last day of the application deadline. 2 months before I left, I would have never guessed being in South Korea or studying a semester abroad. I started learning Korean during the pandemic by coincidence because I loved the sound of the language. The next day, I started learning Hangul (Korean alphabet). I knew about Asia Exchange already, and studying abroad was always a goal of mine.
Looking back at my exchange year, I noticed one thing. Being an international student starts the moment you decide to go abroad. You begin to plan your housing, collect the needed documents, and book the flight. Knowing I would live there for a year, all those things were part of my changing mindset. Of course, I was all excited but also nervous. In contrast, I was nervous because I didn’t know if I would like it. Even though I was interested in Korea before and got a lot of impressions through YouTube, social media, or other people’s travel stories, I knew it would be different.
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You will need help as an international student in South Korea
The first days were a little overwhelming. I didn’t know how to get from A to B or where to buy the pillow for my bed. All those people, impressive buildings, and temples were nothing compared to what I was used to in my hometown in Germany. I felt helpless and letting others help was a little hard because I usually like to figure it out independently. However, I know that getting started would have been much harder without the people around me. As soon as I figured out the metro system Seoul became a smaller city. There is a metro station everywhere you want to go, which made me feel very independent. I loved exploring new sceneries whenever I got out of the train station. The super modern skyscrapers or beautiful traditional Korean houses were impressive.
Different becomes normal
Seoul offers many possibilities to try new things and establish new hobbies. You can take cheap dance classes, sing karaoke all day or get handy and create your rings, chopsticks, perfume, basically everything you can imagine. You might meet people in restaurants or cafes that are nervous to talk to you because of the language difference, so knowing basic sentences in Korean can make a big difference for them and you. Koreans appreciate you putting effort into speaking Korean, and simultaneously the people become closer to you.
Hankuk University, where I studied, is full of international students and professors, so finding new friends is not that difficult. Compared to other universities, the campus is relatively small but right in the middle of Seoul.
Standing out as an international student in South Korea
You will stand out, and people will probably stare at you. In the beginning, that can be imitating, even more if you don’t speak the language. After a bit, I got used to it and didn’t care. Whereas, being denied entry to some clubs or restaurants because you are western or don’t speak Korean sucks. It doesn’t happen often but is a common experience among exchange students. Going out without makeup, hair tied up, in baggy clothes, that’s how I would typically walk around in Germany without any pressure. In Korea, I noticed that the beauty standard affected me more than I expected initially. In the first months, I started wearing more makeup like everyone around me. It took me a bit to get back to wearing what made me comfortable without caring about standards or opinions.
Being an international student in South Korea was the most valuable experience I have had so far, including good and bad experiences. I learned to trust myself and be more independent. Moreover, I met people who I now consider my closest friends. I thought I knew what was expected of me, so the best advice I can give is to not board the plane with expectations but with a lot of curiosity.
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