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What It’s Like to Be an Exchange Student in Korea

I remember the day I found out I was accepted as an exchange student in Korea. It was a dream come true! But what does it actually mean to be an exchange student? What is life like for those who live and study here? Read on to find out all about my experience as an exchange student, from the moment I received the acceptance letter until now. The waiting period for an exchange student can be a long one. After I received the acceptance letter, there was another two months to wait until orientation and then yet another month before my actual departure date in early January. During that time, I had no clue what Korea would be like or how much it would change me as a person; all we knew were some very vague generalities about things such as Korean education and politics (which turned out to actually make everything even more confusing). The only way you learn is by living life here yourself!

Let’s start with school: As an international student at Yonsei University, which hosts many students from other countries every year, classes are taught mostly in English. This makes it easy when your native language is not Korean! However, for my major subjects (Korean language and literature), I have to take classes that are conducted in Korean. This was definitely a challenge at first, but it has slowly started to pay off as my Korean skills have improved. In addition, the workload is heavier than what I’m used to back home; even though the classes might be shorter, there is usually more homework assigned. The plus side is that most of the professors are very passionate about their work and want to see you do well, so they are always willing to help out with any questions or problems you may have.

One thing that surprised me when I first got here was how friendly Koreans are towards foreigners – people will often start up conversations with you on the street or in the subway, even though they don’t speak any English. Of course I can say this is because of cultural differences and how Koreans are more reserved than people from other countries, but it’s also nice to have someone to talk to when you first arrive!

The culture here has definitely influenced me as well: As an exchange student, you’re constantly meeting new people – both friends your age who share your interests and lifelong buddies that will be with you for good. There are so many opportunities here where foreigners just come together by chance; one example would be the weekly gatherings of all the exchange students in Seoul. These events are always a lot of fun, as they provide a chance to meet new people, make friends and learn about other cultures. From these experiences, I’ve learned to be more open-minded and tolerant towards others, no matter what their cultural background may be.

In addition to that, I’ve also been able to try a lot of new things here – from going on a school trip all the way up north for several days and hiking in Bukhansan National Park (during which we got lost and never found our destination) to doing yoga at midnight right next to Han River.

All these experiences make me feel like an entirely different person! Coming as an exchange student was definitely one of the best decisions ever made, even if it seems daunting now because you have no idea what life is really like over here. In short: just go with it! You won’t regret your decision as long as you’re open-minded enough for this amazing adventure into Korea’s culture and history.

There are so many things I’ll miss about Korea – the delicious food, the lively nightlife, and of course all the amazing friends I’ve made here. It’s hard to say goodbye when you’ve grown so attached to a place in such a short amount of time! But at the same time, I can’t wait to go back home and tell everyone all about my experiences here; it’s definitely something that needs to be shared. The only thing I would warn future exchange students about is that it can be daunting at first – you have no idea what life is really like here until you actually come and live it yourself! But overall, it’s an incredible experience that I would recommend to anyone interested. So if you’re reading this and considering doing an exchange semester in Korea (or any other country for that matter), just go for it – you won’t regret it!

The content is based on the experiences and stories of Katlyn. You can share your own Korea-related experiences, thoughts, and sentiments in any field or category you want. Connect with Sense of K and Inspire others by submitting your stories to hello@senseofk.com. 

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