Category Archives: Jeff in South Korea
Here are 10 tips I found useful in my time studying abroad that can be used anywhere, but especially South Korea!
- Research your host country
Before you 100% commit to your study abroad destination choice, do some research on the country, culture, schools, and other things to ensure it is somewhere you truly want to study abroad. With so many great cities around the world, it may be difficult to choose just one! When starting my study abroad journey, I wanted to go to so many places. I recommend considering which places you would want to spend a vacation for a few weeks in, and which you would want to live in for several months. Also, make sure you are going for good reasons that you can learn from. Studying abroad in South Korea for several months just because you may see your favorite k-pop idol or drama star may not be the best idea. I chose South Korea because I’m really interested in the culture, language, history, and many other aspects.
- Packing – No need to pack so much!
Make a list and plan out what you will pack before you start. You definitely do not want to over-pack otherwise you’ll end up with too much stuff and need to throw away items or pay for extra baggage when returning home. Even if you do not plan on buying a lot of items abroad, you will accumulate things throughout the semester and wonder at the end how you got so many new things. When out and about you may see some random neat things or school gear that you’ll purchase along the way. During my semester, I bought several school apparel items, including a letterman jacket! I packed enough clothes that could last around 1-1.5 weeks and was able to fit everything into one 29” suitcase. I bought several new pieces of clothing when shopping with friends around Seoul. Find out what the weather is like in your host country and pack accordingly. Most importantly, pack comfortable shoes! In South Korea, you will walk and use the subway to get everywhere with the occasional taxi ride.
- Search for information about your school
Most if not all study abroad institutions with have information for English-speakers on their website. Usually it can be found on the ‘Office of International Affairs’ page. Google will be your best friend before studying abroad, especially when it comes to South Korea. When I was doing my research I found it wasn’t as easy to find information on studying abroad in South Korea as it was for a destination such as London or Paris. It’s getting better as more students study abroad and post media of their experience abroad, so with some time and effort, you can definitely find blogs and some videos online that will greatly help prepare you for the semester. Some important things to research are the dorms or living arrangements, majors and classes offered, curfew times, location relative to subway, and anything you want to do. When I asked students what they wanted to know prior to their arrival, the number one thing was the dorms: how big they were, what they needed to bring or buy (buy all your dorm needs at Daiso or Home Plus), and what it looked like. Another top thing they wanted to know was how the classrooms were as far as size and setup.
- Search the school website for class information
Registering for classes was perhaps the biggest headache I came across in South Korea because I wasn’t fully prepared for it. They use a different system than I am accustomed to. For Korea University, there are only two week-long periods during which you can register for courses. Furthermore, there were additional restrictions such as registration by grade level, semester specific courses, and a limited amount of international student spots in classes. Every school has a list of majors and courses offered so you can get an idea of what you’re getting into. Afterwards, the school website, your study abroad program, or home international office should have information on courses that are taught in English. I would advise you put in the extra time to look through all the classes and try to make a list of which courses you want to try to enroll in. Another thing that caused many students problems was that Korea seems to predominantly use Internet Explorer as their main browser. Make sure you have it installed on your laptop for school use to avoid any problems during registration. If you have all of these things prepared ahead of time and are ready and waiting for registration time to open, you should be good to go!
- Learn Korean
While there were many students who did not know any Korean before arriving for their study abroad experience, it can only make your experience better if you know the basics of the language before you arrive. Prior to going to Korea, I utilized the months before to learn some Korean on my own when I had spare time and it helped me significantly. It makes ordering food or coffee much easier and when you do, you feel very accomplished! Luckily, many if not most Korean students speak and understand English enough to communicate so don’t fear if you are a beginner. Korea University also has a fantastic program called Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) where each native Korean student is paired with several international students to your buddy for the semester. Many students become very close friends with their buddy and keep in touch even after the semester and program are finished. The KUBA buddies are there to help you with anything, setup KUBA events/activities, practice Korean with, or simply just be your friend. Some helpful and free korean language learning sites that I love are talktomeinkorean.com and howtostudykorean.com
- Make friends!
It can be easy to fall into a routine and only hang out with your friends from your home university or students you meet upon arrival that speak the same language as you. This is great and all but I highly encourage you to talk to and make a lot of friends outside of your immediate social circle. Schools such as Korea University have a large international student base- just in fall 2016 there were around 2,000 international students! This is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about even more the world’s cultures. Plus you never know when you’ll travel to different countries in the future and it’s good to already have some friends there! Within the first week, I had made friends from all over the world who spoke many different languages. It was great hearing the diversity of spoken languages such as Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and many more!
- Go out of your comfort zone -Say yes and try new things!
You are in a new place and might not know even a single person there. Time to get out of your comfort zone that you are used to and try new/different things! There will be plenty of things to do and students doing many different activities. While you don’t necessarily have to do every activity that comes up, you shouldn’t hide in your dorm! A new country will have a different culture than you’re accustomed to and could be very enjoyable. Now is the perfect time to live a different lifestyle and learn not only about a new culture, but you can learn a lot about yourself as well. Maybe you’ll pick up new skills or find a new hobby that you love. You’ll never know if you don’t try! South Korea has so much to offer from gaming and sports, to language cafes, to hiking or exploring beaches in Jeju. There have been many occasions where I’ve felt tired, lazy, or not really interested in something. But I push myself to go and afterwards I’m usually glad I went as it was so much fun.
- Do not neglect your studies
While being abroad and experiencing new things with new friends, you’ll be having an abundance of fun, however you must not neglect your studies. It’s important to do well not only to uphold the standards of your host university, but also to ensure you are still on track at your home university. It would be terrible to have graduation delayed or financial aid removed because you had too much fun and didn’t work on your studies. It may not seem like it, but if you plan well and study hard, you will always have time for fun and exploring the city. Since Seoul is very connected with the subway system, you can get to so many places in a short amount of time so there isn’t a need to worry about accounting for extensive travel time. The key is utilizing your time well and making sure you have your priorities in order! In Korea, students take their studies very seriously and study hard to get into some of the top universities. They also make plenty of time for fun, so it’s a work hard, play hard life.
- Record videos, take pictures or write!
Not everyone is a natural when it comes to recording a vlog, taking nice photos, or writing. However, you should still make an effort to do one or all of those things while you are abroad. Whether you are an aspiring YouTube creator, and want to make vlogs abroad, or simply want to share with friends and family back home, documenting your experience in some form of media is great to have and will be even better down the road. The key thing is to not be afraid or hesitant to start. Many students aren’t used to recording vlogs, taking pictures, or writing down their thoughts or daily recap. This is okay! Everyone must start somewhere and you will only get better with practice. I’ve seen students who are shy or hesitant to whip out the camera and record or ask someone to take a picture of themselves and they regret it later on. This is also a great chance to get creative with your media and who knows, maybe you’ll create the next great YouTube or photo idea that will take the internet by storm!
- Embrace and adapt to the cultural differences.
You are in a new country with a different culture. The best thing to do is observe and adapt to try and fit in. The worst thing to do is to expect the people in your host country to change and adapt to you! South Korea will be quite different from what you’re accustomed to. They speak a different language, live a different lifestyle, and eat different foods that you are used to. It can be difficult to make the change from your home culture but if you give it a chance and really make an effort, you find a new appreciation for things you’re used to at home and find out more about yourself. You also may enjoy some of the new cultural things you learn from South Korea that you wish you had back home. Like karaoke rooms with friends and 24 hour Korean barbecue places!
One of the best things about traveling and being in a foreign country is trying out new foods! Foods from around the world have become a big part of travel these days with unique cuisines or cultures around the world, and South Korea is quite unique itself. When one thinks of food from South Korea, the first thing that may come to mind is Korean barbecue or kimchi however there is so much more!
I’ve been studying abroad in South Korea for nearly 6 months now and have become accustomed to the cuisine here. Korean barbecue is perhaps the most common dish you’ll find served in Korea, among the popular dishes of samgyeopsal (pork) or bulgogi (marinated beef), and other types and cuts of meat available. Other very common meals are fried chicken which is often paired with beer, seafood of all sorts (which is very fresh because of location), and rice bowl type restaurants in which you get rice with a type of meat and some vegetables. While you are sure to run into these types of foods everywhere you turn, you can surely find just about any type of cuisine you are looking for especially if you visit Itaewon which is known for being the area with the most foreigners.
I enjoy seafood however, I usually stick to cooked dishes and a limited selection of common seafood such as crab, salmon, fish and shrimp. Since South Korea is right next to the ocean, the seafood is as fresh and diverse as you can get at the Noryangjin fish market. One thing I never thought I would try is live octopus. It is a very unusual and traditional dish in South Korea where tentacles are served still squirming on the plate. You dip it in a spicy type of oil and then eat it! The live octopus tasted pretty good actually, however the experience of having it squirming and stick to your mouth was really intense for me.
The food I will miss the most when I return to the U.S. is gimbap. Gimbap is a simple, quick food which looks similar to sushi. It is usually some type of meat, tuna, or vegetables stuffed in rice and then rolled in a seaweed wrap. This quick food is nothing extravagant however the reason I will miss it is because of how easily available it is and it is quite healthy! At home in the U.S., if I wanted a quick bite to eat I usually resorted to fast food or heating up leftovers. With gimbap, I can usually find it fresh at any convenience store or one of the many food stalls or restaurants. It is easy to grab and go, or even take home. The best part is a roll of about 8-10 pieces costs around $1.20 USD!
I grew up in the United States and with a diverse population, so I have become accustomed to having a great variety of food available. I’ve also noticed that so many people including myself live busy lives in which they don’t have time to really enjoy a meal. There are so many times where I found myself grabbing a quick bite to eat and taking it home, or eating fast food in the car while on my way somewhere. In South Korea this is quite different. Eating in Korea is more of a social event and I see a lot less people eating alone. Usually friends or co-workers set up meeting times for lunch or dinner. Another difference is sharing food at the table! In the U.S. when I go out to eat with friends, everyone usually orders their own meals and sometimes we share an appetizer. In Korea, everyone agrees on a type of meat or food and places a large order that everyone shares straight from the pan it was cooked in! For instance, a restaurant I often go to with friends is a kind of fried rice place. You sit at a table with a large grill and pan in the middle and then choose a type of meat and any vegetables you want. They bring a large bowl of rice, vegetables, and meat, then cook it in the pan in front of you. When it is cooked, everyone takes from the pan onto their small plate.
Food in South Korea is unique with all it has to offer, and quite inexpensive as well. I believe my meals average anywhere between $2-6 and they are always delicious and filling. When I return to the U.S., I will definitely try to incorporate some of the food cultures I’ve learned into my lifestyle at home.
The first week of school at Korea University had just finished and all of the international students seemed to have survived the class registration chaos and started settling in. A message is posted in the Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) Facebook group by one of the leaders, Jihyun. “Our first official event as KUBA will be an amazing cheering orientation on Friday!” she wrote. “Through this cheering orientation the Young Tigers (official cheer team) will teach us the cheers, songs and dances for the KoYon games!” At first glance many were quite confused as we were thrown off by the word “cheering.” Why would anyone need to teach us how to cheer or root for our team? We had no idea for what was in store, as it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. At 5 pm, half of the KUBA groups met in a small auditorium while the other half met at 7 pm. Everything seemed normal as we took our seats and listened to the start of the presentation. Minutes later we found ourselves up and about dancing, singing, and sweating with the cheering. The schools have around 20 or more songs which were a range from traditional, nationalistic, patriotic, or simply poking fun at our rival university, Yonsei University. Around two hours later we finished the cheering orientation. Everyone was dripping with sweat and exhausted from what seemed to be the hardest workout any of us had ever done. No one seemed to mind though as there were huge smiles all around and many still humming or singing the cheering songs long after it was over.
Now the reason for all of this cheering was to prepare us for the Korea-Yonsei Games (KoYon Jeon). The KoYon games are a friendly rivalry sports competition between two of South Korea’s most prestigious universities- Korea University (KU) and Yonsei University- held annually in the fall. The games take place over two days and the schools compete in 5 sports: baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. Thousands of students fill the stadiums from both universities and cheer for around 6-8 hours at the games.
Two weeks fly by and the KoYon games were upon us. Friday is the first day of the games with baseball, basketball, and ice hockey on deck. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend basketball and ice hockey as tickets were given out based on a raffle. I decided to attend day 2 (Saturday) as no tickets were required. Each of the 8 KUBA groups met at the subway station near campus at different times between 7-8am. Once we arrived, we finally found the entrance we needed to enter through and waited for around two more hours. After the long wait, they finally let us in and handed each person a booklet with cheer song lyrics, a bottle of water, and a bread-like pastry. As we were entering we could already hear the Korean students who entered the stadium before us and then bam, fireworks shot off behind the stadium and the students erupted in cheer. Coming up the stairs was quite a sight to see. The entire stadium was packed with students split into two with KU crimson red on one side and Yonsei royal blue on the other. KU began cheering songs with the cheering team leading the way on a stage at field level while Yonsei does the same on the other half of the stadium with theirs. We quickly found a spot in the standing areas behind the seated sections. This worked out better as we had plenty of room to cheer and no one who had seats used them through the entirety of the rugby and soccer matches which went from 10am to 4pm.
It was quite surprising really, the cheering songs never stopped. It was one song after another. With our arms on each other’s shoulders we swayed to some songs, jumped or dipped our heads up and down to other songs, and screamed out what little lyrics we actually remembered. It sure was something seeing students from different parts of the world all joined together in this stadium like two huge families. All laughing, singing, dancing without a care in the world. Most of the games throughout the weekend were extremely close considering Korea University has won the KoYon games for the past 4 years. KU won baseball while ice hockey and basketball ended in a draw. With those scores we would only need to win one in order to win the overall KoYon games score. The rugby game as with the other sports was very close however KU ended up losing by 2 points. Now the stage was set, only soccer left and the winner would be crowned KoYon games victor. Talk about intense! The soccer game started. The cheering continued. This time however, everyone was paying close attention to the soccer game while cheering. Yonsei scored first and we could hear them singing their cheers over ours. Things looked grim for KU as the first half ended 1-0 in favor of Yonsei. The 2nd half started and KU students got really into the game along with cheering. Every scoring opportunity was “ooh” and “aah” all around us. Finally it happened, KU scored a goal and we were back to even. The entire crimson red erupted and burst into the victory song that is played whenever KU scores in a sport. Another goal by KU and now the students can taste victory. Just 15 more minutes to hang on. This was perhaps the longest 15 minutes ever. Yonsei kicked it into overdrive and had scoring chances one after another. The time ticked down slowly and it looked as if Yonsei was about to break through until a misstep and KU took advantage with goal number 3. KU was victorious!
The two days of sports games and cheering was over now but the KoYon weekend was not. It is tradition that after the KoYon games, all students from both universities will go to one of the home towns and have a celebration full of food, events, live music, and many other activities. The group leads instructed us that we would take the subway back to Anam (the town where KU is located) and the after party would commence fairly soon. It took about 3 subway trains to get everyone back to Anam but we managed to do so quite quickly despite that many students. I’ll never forget the moment when we arrived back at Anam station. I exited the train and looked up to see the entire platform and stairs leading out of the subway was a sea of students in their crimson red or royal blue shirts. It was a really magical moment to see the rival universities all next to each other sharing in the same excitement for the upcoming night full of fun and memories together. Once out of the subway we saw that one of the main streets with many shops and restaurants is closed off to the public. There was one stage at the start of the street and another stage at the far end about 10 blocks down. Once everyone made their way to the street, there had to have been maybe 10,000 or more students packed in the streets. At times it was difficult to get by because there was so many people. During the beginning of the after party all the students play the “train game,” which is when 10 students form a line, or train, and you go to different restaurants doing chants or songs to try and get free food. It was such a fun and unique experience to participate in the train game. Our train lead was a KUBA leader and shouted out a chant in Korean which we echoed. After a few stops with the train we all split off to do different things.
A friend and I made our way to the far end of the street to the second stage where they started doing short, fun dance competitions with randomly selected students in the crowd. These were fun to watch as there were some really good dancers and some just up there having fun. This however turned into playing cheering songs from both universities. This was perhaps one of my favorite moments of being a student at Korea University so far. To our surprise many students knew the cheering songs for both schools. We jumped into one of the cheering circles and it was such a great moment. I looked around the circle and saw students who didn’t know one another, students from rival universities, students with a language barrier, and students of varying ages, race and gender. None of that mattered as everyone was joined up arm in arm singing the songs, dancing around and having an absolute blast. We ended up loving the cheering so much that we participated in it for about the last 3 hours of the night. Needless to say, it was extremely tiring and I don’t think I’ve put my body through that kind of workout ever. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the stages packed up and restaurants closed. We said goodbye to our new friends from both KU and Yonsei and made our way back to the dorms. At my home university, I don’t live on campus so I am usually only there when I have classes. Because of this and working at the same time, I’ve had a hard time becoming really involved or having a lot of school spirit. That all changed after the KoYon games. I feel a sense of belonging and this is my new home. I’m a Korea University Tiger forever. I’ve done many exciting things in my life and ventured to many places around the world however the KoYon games and after celebration might just top them all.