The Best and Most Eye-Opening Summer of My Whole Life Past Review

By (Philosophy., Brandeis University) - abroad from 07/28/2012 to 08/12/2012 with

Yonsei University: Seoul - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Studying in Seoul, ironically, made me thankful that I was not raised in such a society. I love being there as a foreigner, but would not choose to grow up having to conform to such rigid standards and expectations. I know that seems rather morbid to say, but beyond that I experienced a different type of education, met new people, and experienced a society that has given me a new outlook I'm excited to apply. Visiting Seoul was literally the best experience I've had because being abroad anywhere, not just in Korea, liberates you from cultural rules and obligations, which gives you an invaluable opportunity to reexamine and reinvent yourself and your values.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administration was very patient and helpful both via e-mail and in person.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The housing was kept very clean, and each room has its own air conditioner and heated floor, which was amazing!

* Food:

The food was fantastic, though expensive, especially at locations that were chains rather than exclusive to Yonsei. If you're vegetarian and picky, it also might be difficult for you to find food you liked. I prefer Asian food am not picky at all, so I was happy eating rice packs and instant noodles with the occasional off-campus restaurant visit. There's an enormous grocery store a short walk away, though, which I would have frequented had I found out about it more than two weeks before I had to leave.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

There is a Seoul that foreigners experience, and a Seoul experienced by Koreans -- understandably, some Koreans resent that foreigners often receive special treatment. You will inevitably be stared at, especially by older people because they're much more accustomed to complete homogeneity and, in some cases, want to preserve it. Not all, though; many are looks of curiosity, and some people might try to talk with you. Regardless of generation, though, there's still a wall (based on the idea of "Korean-ness," that's often unspoken-of, but still there) between foreigners and Koreans that can be difficult to penetrate, especially if there's a language barrier. That said, the wall is slowly breaking down as this generation tries to interact more with other countries and places more value on diversity. The separation beyond the language barrier probably won't affect your daily life much at all, but you will always stand out as a foreigner. I'd say that the best of it is that people are excited and interested to talk to you, simply because you're foreign, even more so if you aren't Asian, so, even with the language barrier you will probably be approached by interesting people and make a few friends. The worst is probably the negative attitude some Koreans will always have toward foreigners, which in my experience was manifested through glares but nothing more, which is unsettling at first but negligible once you get used to it.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I had to take a TB test to get into my dorm. The hospital itself is a massive complex and the one time I tried to find a doctor there for neck pain, I wasn't able to find the right building. But from what I understand, there is a fee of 100,000 won (about $100) that you have to have to pay regardless of whether you are insured or not. However, there's a pharmacy and two people I've spoken to there speak English and have given me medicine that worked well. Though if you're uncomfortable pointing to what hurts and saying a few key words, to get the medicine you need, you might want to go to the doctor anyway.

* Safety:

I felt that the area of Seoul I stayed in (Sinchon) was very safe, and Hongdae, where I spent a lot of time because it's popular with college students, is often crowded throughout the night and into the early morning. I found it invaluable, though, to travel with someone who was comfortable with using the subway system, which closes at 12:30 most days but if you're lost, as long as you transfer to the Green Line with time to spare, you can always get back to Yonsei safely. Otherwise, I heard that taxi drivers can take advantage of (by charging more than they owe) and even be dangerous for people travelling alone at night. I only did so once with a foreign friend but had no problems at all, and the driver knew English. Most of the crime that occurs in Seoul is white-collar -- violent crimes are relatively rare. I never had an experience where I felt unsafe.

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)

My parents provided minimal financial assistance, but I was able to live on just over $1000 for six weeks comfortably. Things in Korea are relatively cheap, which was fabulous because I had enough money to go clubbing and eat out a few times a week. I couldn't afford to go on the field trip or any of the other extracurricular trips they offered, which I really regret, but I was definitely able to enjoy Seoul regardless.

* Was housing included in your program cost? Yes
* Was food included in your program cost? No
Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? It varied weekly, but I would say perhaps $40 on food, and $60 shopping and clubbing.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? My recommendation is that in Seoul, you don't spend your money in expensive districts like Gangnam except on special occasions, because, in the case of clothing shopping for example, you can get very similar items for much cheaper in areas like Hongdae or Sinchon. Korea offers a lot of fantastic things to do and see, many of which are very low-cost. Spending on those is much wiser than going to a $30 club for a few nights.


* 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

In the case of Korean, the tight bond between Koreans and still-negative attitude toward foreigners kind of got in the way of my learning experience. Until the last few semesters offered, Yonsei Korean teaches you how to speak in very high levels of formality that are only used to speak with, for instance, teachers and people who are significantly older/socially superior to you (I know this only through my independent study before I came; these concepts were never thoroughly addressed in class). Regardless, we did not learn to speak at a register that is used in everyday conversation. This is again due (in part) to what may or may not be a subconscious effort on Korea's part to keep complete fluency available to Koreans only. In the context of Koreans' general outlook on themselves vs. the rest of the world, this is understandable, but a very unfortunate obstacle.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
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? With Korean, I recommend that anyone who visits at least familiarize him/herself with the alphabet, which is the easiest in the world as it was created so that illiterate people could easily learn to read. Knowing the alphabet is especially helpful in reading signs for destinations you're looking for, most of which are in Korean and English, but some of which are not.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

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

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
  • Host Family
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?
  • Being in the center of a city
  • Taking Korean Studies
* What could be improved?
  • Employing teachers who are 100% fluent in English
  • Teaching useful Korean
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew that the language barrier also represented a cultural separation. Had I known that, I would have made much more of an effort to learn as much Korean as possible before I left.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Intro to Korean Studies

Course Department: Korean Studies
Instructor: Steven Capener
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This was my favorite class out of the three that I took because it offered an unbiased perspective on Korean culture through literature. My professor, who is from the United States but has been in Korea for over 20 years, has himself been thoroughly integrated into Korean culture -- a difficult task for a foreigner, as we learned when we discussed the group-oriented, exclusive nature of Korean society. I loved this class because it was one whose subject matter I could apply simply by walking outside and observing people. His class enlightened me to cultural patterns that I would have looked upon with confusion rather than understanding, and calmed a lot of the anxiety I had about being a foreigner in such a homogeneous country. This class also made it much easier for me to articulate the cultural differences between Korea and the U.S. to my friends and family when I got home!
Credit Transfer Issues: I'm actually not getting credit for this course, though I thought it was by far the most valuable.