The adventure and excitement of a foreign language and culture without the stress. Past Review

By (Economics, University of Idaho) for

USAC Korea: Yonsei University in Seoul - Korean and East Asian Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I liked it. It made me a better person. I'm not sure what else I can say. The only way to know what it's like is to just do it. So do it.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I was at Yonsei University and a vast number of their regular classes are taught in English (to give the resident Korean students an opportunity to practice and improve their English). This is in addition to the Underwood International College, UIC, which is specifically for foreign students where all classes are taught in English. There was no problem at all finding classes to fulfill graduation requirements. Doing a year long exchange did not increase the time I took to complete my degree. Yonsei is the number two university in Korea, so all the professors were knowledgeable experts in their fields. I enjoyed my professors and classes a lot and felt like I learned a lot. The English taught classes tend to be a little watered down compared to their Korean taught counterparts - the Korean students are being taught in what is for them a very foreign language. This was really nice for me because it meant the academic load was light and relatively stress free, especially compared to the massive work my Korean friends were forced to do in their Korean taught classes. Don't worry about the grades you'll get. As long as you put in at least a minimal amount of work, you'll get at least a B. When registering for classes, it's almost impossible to get into your first choice. Last semester, I logged onto the online registration system 2 minutes after registration opened and 3 out of my 4 classes were already full. Don't worry about this though. The professors tend to be very sympathetic to foreign students and most will manually add you to their class if you ask nicely. My only complaints are that the professors tend to be inaccessible outside of class and the Korean language classes were not good. Unless you have some very good reasons to want to learn Korean I don't recommend studying Korean. I know, that sounds weird not studying Korean in Korea, but the language is incredibly difficult to learn (I didn't get much beyond "hello" and "thank you" after an entire semester) and it's easy to navigate and live in Seoul with only a minimum of Korean (I've met people who've lived here for years without learning any Korean).

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The guy in charge of international studies, Mr. We, is really nice and eager to help with any problems you might be having. There are three student clubs on campus specifically to help foreign students with any problems they may have in Korea, and all three of these clubs organize activities, parties, and sight-seeing field trips for exchange students. All in all, you couldn't ask for more support from the University.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The dorms were clean, well maintained, and full of non-Korean speaking students. The only dorm available to foreigners is specifically for foreigners. It's fairly close to everything you need, but you won't find many people to practice your Korean with.

* Food:

If you don't like rice, spicy food, or kim'chi, you may want to consider going to a different country. If, like me, you love Korean food, then you will find it cheap and in abundance everywhere you go. No meal plan is included, but there are cheap restaurants and student dining halls all over. These places serve mostly just Korean food. Western food is also very easy to find but tends to be a bit expensive.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I did so much in Korea and met so many people that I can't enumerate it all. There were field trips or cultural events organized almost every weekend of this last semester. Booze is super cheap and the Korean and other foreign students were all a blast to hang out with. If you are open and friendly, you will have an amazing time.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I never got sick or injured, so I don't know how the health care system is, but Korea has a top-notch modern health care system, and one of the top hospitals in the country is on campus. In terms of safety, there's almost no violent crime anywhere in Korea. I never felt threatened anywhere I went. Korea has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the world, so you'll see lots and lots of drunk people and probably end up being one of them quite often. Korean drivers are ka-ray-zee, so watch out for them.

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
Language acquisition improvement?

Korea makes it as easy as possible for non-Korean speakers to live and function in Korea. All official signs are in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese as are things like subway announcements. They also offer free translation services via cell phone. While most older Koreans don't speak any English, most younger ones know at least enough to transmit basic information. You can always find someone with enough English to help you if you need help. And the university is full of students eager to practice their English with you. It's possible to go days without hearing any Korean at all. On the other hand, if you do know some Korean, Koreans are super excited and eager to help you learn more. Everyone - students, shopkeepers, bank clerks, etc. - is incredibly patient and encouraging while you struggle through whatever it is you're trying to say. And they are all more than eager to try and answer any questions you may have about the language. But keep in mind that Korean is incredibly difficult for native English speakers to learn. It's on the US State Department's list of the top 6 most difficult languages to learn. In addition, the Korean language courses offered at Yonsei were, in my opinion, absolutely horrible, and many of the other foreign students agreed with me. Finally, you just don't need Korean to have a good time in Korea. If you're coming to Korea for a foreign country experience and not as part of a larger goal/plan to learn Korean and Korean culture, I would strongly dissuade you from taking Korean language classes. It's a huge amount of work with very little payoff. Basic structures and vocabulary are so complicated that after a semester most students can't say much beyond the basic phrases we memorized the first week of class. This includes people like me who were studying a ton outside of class. If I had to do it over again, I would have just studied some basic conversation phrases and skipped the whole intensive language course. You don't need to know much Korean to enjoy the country and the culture, and it was a huge amount of time and work, and in the end, I don't feel like I learned very much.

If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? If you want to explore a new and interesting part of the world but you're worried about language and cultural barriers and graduating on time, come to Yonsei University. It's easy to find the classes you need to fulfill your graduation requirements back home. The school provides so much support that it's almost impossible to fail. And you can still enjoy Korea and its culture without knowing more than a few basic phrases in Korean.