An "Academic" Vacation Past Review

By (HISTORY., Brandeis University) - abroad from 08/16/2013 to 12/22/2013 with

CIEE: Seoul - Arts and Sciences

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I think my time abroad could be described as a "vacation" that I needed. It gave me time away from others (family and friends) to understand myself and to see where I stand at this moment in life. I gained a lot from one semester abroad and there were multiple times where I contemplated staying a bit longer. Of course, there are things I wish I could have done but I am also grateful for the things I did do. I learned an entirely new language, and it's very surprising how much I learned within the matter of four months. While I won't say that I am fluent in the language, there is significant progress. Also, it was great living in a metropolitan city and interacting with it on a daily basis. I have Boston near my home university, but it's very different being IN the city. There was always something new to discover whether it's the local food or the public transportation.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I found the academics at Yonsei University to be less challenging than what I had expected. I found some of my classes to be unorganized, and I experienced frustration and confusion because of the language barrier. I found the most fulfilling classes to be the mandatory Korean Language course and the Asian-American Cultural Politics & Literature course at the Underwood International College. The KLI course was intense, but the small classes helped to build a nice community among the students and form a bond with the teacher. However, the teachers there are not fluent in English so there may be some issues in understanding concepts or asking questions. Also, I recommend students to take courses through the UIC if students are interested in a more English-friendly, intellectual environment at Yonsei.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The members of the CIEE Office are absolutely friendly and amazing. They encourage everyone to find their own adventure in Seoul and sometimes, they bring students along to the events organized outside of CIEE. The CIEE Office offers a lot of programs and events, and I encourage everyone to try them. I signed up for the Seoulmate program, where I was placed in a small group and matched with a Korean student. My "Seoulmate" was a valuable resource, and we remain as friends even after the program was over. Other than planning for events/programs for CIEE students, the members of the CIEE Office offer tutoring for students in Korean. Also, it's good to stay up to date with the emails that the office sends. They update students on interesting events happening around Seoul and Yonsei University. For example, it was because of the CIEE Office that I was able to attend a conference at Yonsei University where Vice President Joe Biden spoke.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

There are two international dorms, but CIEE students are placed into SK Global House. I would say that the dorm has a lot of amenities (personal bathroom, air conditioning, heated floors), but it does feel uncomfortable to live times. I lived in a double and yet, it felt like a large single so things became very cramped and claustrophobic for two people. Also, the dorm has a strict penalty system and rules. If you are accustomed to living on a Co-Ed dorm, you will feel very confused with the strict gender separation. People of the opposite sex are not allowed to enter your rooms or remain on your floor past 10 PM. Also, there is a point penalty system that is detailed in the handbook you receive when you arrive at the dorm. The penalty system gets very frustrating, such as point deductions for losing your card or not cleaning your room.

* Food:

The food at Yonsei University and around the university are AMAZING and CHEAP. First off, I would highly recommend students make the trek to the Student Union Building for lunch rather than in the SK Global House simply because the same food is much cheaper at the Student Union Building. There, most meals range between $3 to $6 and the food is prepared for you once you make your order. Also, there is a lot of variety when it comes to the food. Outside of Yonsei University, you have two great neighborhoods (Sinchon and Edae) for practically everything. Sinchon does have a lot of BBQ places and bars, but both neighborhoods usually have great, small restaurants that offer food at reasonable prices. The food is great in South Korea, and the only downside I can think of is that most places (aside from the bars/clubs and BBQ places) close by 10ish.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I think it can be difficult to connect with the local culture, especially with the limited Korean. At Yonsei University, it definitely felt more difficult to interact with the students because I couldn't speak Korean. Clubs try to be inclusive, but they are cautious about including students who can't speak Korean when the members of a club may not all speak or understand English. Students through the CIEE program do find ways to interact with the local culture. I do recall some students building friendships with local Koreans through Church. Personally, I do find that students who are familiar with foreign cultures are more willing to interact with international students. I made friends with local Koreans, especially those who have spend a significant period of time abroad. Outside of Yonsei University, locals can be very friendly and they do recognize when you are making the effort to speak Korean. I found that they tend to get very excited when they find out that you're American or that you're a student at Yonsei University. It's always better to hold a conversation with a local Korean in their language because you will have a more fulfilling conversation and you will interact more with the local culture.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

During the CIEE Orientation, we went to Severance Hospital to get a debriefing about health issues that we might encounter. Severance Hospital is right on the campus so if you do get really sick, it is a convenient place to go. There is a Health Center at the Student Union Building, but I never went there so I can't give any details on that. Also, there are several pharmacies in the area but they don't sell the medications that we may be accustomed to. However, medicine does seem to be extremely cheap. I recommend going to these pharmacies with a friend who speaks Korean because most of the pharmacists speak limited English.

* Safety:

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
How many hours per day did you use the language?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The Food
  • The CIEE Administration
  • The City (Seoul)
* What could be improved?
  • Housing
  • Academics
  • Weather
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew more about how the academic system functioned, and the quality of the courses abroad. Also, I wish I was more aware of the weather because I didn't realize how short the fall season "felt."

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!