“The Asia Exchange-family is what i miss the most!”
It has been one month now since I left South Korea after my study abroad experience at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Spring 2020. I realize that I am missing weird things: The noisy advertising buses, the bowing culture, having Kimchi with every single meal… but one of the things I miss the most is chatting with my Asia Exchange-family!
At the beginning of the semester, when we all first joined the Facebook group, which then lead to one WhatsApp group and a thousand sub-groups, we were around 150 people. Not all of us were able to complete their semester abroad in the end due to Corona, travel bans and other restrictions, but we all kept in touch throughout the semester and shared our experience with those who could not go! To us, those people, first just random phone numbers, then names on a smartphone screen, became an essential part of our study abroad experience.
Three platforms, three ways to meet other students
No matter if it was Facebook, WhatsApp or KakaoTalk: You were always bound to meet new people and learn more about other student’s experience of their study abroad semester! After a few weeks of networking, I ended up with a ridiculously high number of subgroups on what’s app, including a Cat café group chat, a K-pop group chat and a Globeedorm group chat. It is a good idea to connect with people who speak the same language, share similar interests, and/or live in the same dormitory as you, so that you can help each other organizing your arrival and planning meet-ups together.
A rollercoaster ride of emotions: History of group names
We unfortunately could not find the screenshots from the group names, but the screenshot below offers good insights into the development of things throughout the weeks prior to the start of the semester in March 2020.
We went from being super excited with “Party 2020”, to a less enthusiastic “Chaos HUFS” right before course registration, and to a devasted “The sinking ship” when our flights got cancelled and governments or universities in our home countries denied some of us the further participation in the study program. We helped each other to obtain new flight tickets and tried to reason with the universities during our “HUFS-There is hope”-time and then, as most of us were able to sort things out, moved on to a relieved “HUFS- At least we go” and finally, we ended up at a bright “HUFS- Be positive”.
The history of group names mirrors the different stages we all went through: from joy over panic and devastation to thankfulness. Yes, We had to go through all of these emotional ups and downs, but we went through them together!
Your personal 24h call center- the AE family: Your friend and advisor
I think this is one of the most crucial points: Asia Exchange always nearly immediately got back to us if we had any questions, our contact persons were helpful, caring and kind and made us feel like we were part of a big, international family. But whenever we had more… personal questions like what clothes to take or we wanted to exchange tips on the visa application process in our specific country, it was so amazing to have fellow students in the same situation, dealing with the same questions and seeking help from other. There was always one who knew the answer or would forward us a link (that’s how I found my sim card company, that’s how I bought concert tickets, that’s how I found the vast majority of coffee shops and restaurants). As we were all in the same boat, we tried to help each other as much as possible which brought us just closer.
From chat conversations and WhatsApp calls to the first “rendez-vous” face-to-face
For me personally, the most memorable encounter was with my roommate. Lisa and I had been chatting and talking on What’s app before, but I did not recognize her when we first met in person. She took it upon herself to pick me up and then, I did not even know it was her when she greeted me (I am still sorry, Lisa!).
It was incredibly interesting to meet my German girls in real life when we met up for dinner. And it was great to meet some of the French students I had been chatting with during our Asia Exchange dinner. Harri Suominen invited all students for dinner, so we got to meet him, all applicants and spend a nice evening out together.
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That one time, us Asia Exchange students met up at a game bar. I never knew how much fun one can have while playing dance arcade machine! So, what I learnt is that: Nr. 1, no one does not not look like a crazy jumping monkey while playing it and Nr. 2, no one cares that they look like one because it is just so much fun! It is beautiful if you have someone who is just as eager as you to explore the city (and its culinary, of course) and learn more about country and culture.
Teamwork makes the dream work
We had to face countless challenges. First, start of the semester was postponed twice, due to the increasing risk of COVID-19. Then, flight companies cancelled flights. Suddenly, some of us stood there with invalid flight tickets, so all that resulted in a lot of re-scheduling and a newly buying of flight tickets. We tried to help each other out, sharing information on airlines that still flew to Korea and available flights with affordable tickets. When we were informed that the orientation weekend was cancelled, we decided to just host our own welcome party. During the 1st registration period, we tried to help each other out and personally contacted people on the waiting list, when we dropped a course of a full course program (thank you, Lisa!), so that we could assure that our friend got the free spot. We stayed awake until 2 am and sent each other encouraging messages. No matter what, we tried to work to together to support one and another and to make spring 2020 the study abroad semester of our lives.
I would describe the bounding process with fellow students as an organic process you unconsciously undergo, once away from friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved and receiving support from other students makes every challenge manageable.
The Asia Exchange family was one of the best parts of my study abroad experience and I sincerely hope that I will keep in touch with everyone and that maybe, one day, we will meet each other in Korea again.
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 intern and former Seoul student Yvonne!