Studying at SNU: Korea through the Eyes of a Korean American June 07, 2022

By (Economics, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Wellesley College) - abroad from 09/01/2021 to 06/15/2022 with

Seoul National University: Seoul - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Going from a space where I'm inherently viewed as 'other' to one where I look and am treated no different from your standard Korean citizen was such a mind-boggling experience. On the one hand, my ethnic background allows me to uniquely access Korean culture and be supported through my time here in ways I am almost positive other non-Korean students were not; I was welcomed into spaces by my 언니들 and 오빠들, I was respected, and I was treated as if I had a place here. More than that, I was *wanted* here and praised for "coming back home"--that is, coming back to Korea. For the first time, I got a taste of what it was like living in a society that was made for me and that treated me well. On the other hand, I was living in a society that was still socially conservative, and for this reason I grow more more frustrated by the day. As part of the racial majority, I am disappointed with the blatant xenophobia and racism that permeates Korean society to this day. I am disappointed with people's reactions to feminism, women's rights, and bodily autonomy. I am disappointed with how slowly today's society seems to be moving, but I am hopeful for its future as signaled by the younger generation. Being in Korea has been a profoundly moving and informative experience, one I would never trade for the world. I feel as if I have learned so much in the year I have been here and I will carry this experience with me as I move forward in life.

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.

Academically *very* rigorous (especially compared to other universities in Seoul), but institutional support was somewhat lacking. A great program for those who are highly self-motivated and are able to work independent of the institution's resources, but not exactly ideal for those who require access to student welfare programs or supportive programming. At the individual level, professors can vary in how understanding and flexible they are.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Information was conveyed from the Office of International Affairs to exchange students in an incredibly delayed manner, making navigating the country and academic spaces a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Overall, a rather messy affair.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Prices are high if you live anywhere except the on-campus dorms--and getting those isn't even guaranteed. That being said, the location in my opinion more than makes up for the inconvenience, as it allows you to go around the city more.

* Food:

Food was perfect, immaculate, and cheap (with some exceptions, obviously). That being said, navigating food options for those with health conditions (Celiac's, lactose intolerance, etc.) or specific diets (particularly vegan) can be quite the challenge if you don't speak Korean! On top of that, many people are simply unaware of what things like "gluten-free" really entail, so eating can be quite the risk...

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

As a Korean American, integrating into Korean culture was not that difficult--I can't quite speak to the experience for non-Koreans, though...

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The NHIS is much more affordable and effective than U.S. health insurance, so I have no complaints.

* Safety:

Many people have a false illusion that 'Korea is so safe', or perhaps they fool themselves into thinking nothing bad can happen to them, but I must stress: Korea is not as safe as you think. While it is indisputable that Korea statistically has fewer serious crimes, it is still not the place for you to let your guard down--ESPECIALLY for women.

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

I would choose this program again simply because (1) I have no interest in going anywhere else, (2) I don't have the linguistic capabilities to go anywhere else, and (3) living in a space where I am part of the racial majority for once was such an interesting and eye-opening experience that I wouldn't trade it for anything. I feel as if I've gained the perspective to more critically analyze my own home country, and to me that is invaluable.


* 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)

You can certainly pinch your pennies and make do, but Seoul in particular is NOT a cheap place anymore.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $60-80
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Do not eat out all the time! It will add up!


* 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

Simply by virtue of being here and looking Korean (because I am indeed Korean), I was speaking Korean in almost every space outside of my specifically English-language-based classes.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Advanced-Intermediate
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Don't be afraid to talk. No one here will truly judge you for having poor Korean skills, especially the students, and if anything they will be endeared by your efforts.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Exchange

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • N/A
* 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?
  • Socialization
  • Food
  • Foreign language practice
* What could be improved?
  • Communication
  • Student support programs
  • Funding
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Budget more for this trip than you think you need.

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!