Something you will never forget

Kevin K.

University:  Chung-Ang University
Study Period: 
Fall semester 2014/2015
Academic Level:  Master
   

Busan 1

Where do you start when you get roughly one page to describe something like a semester abroad in Korea? A country so different to what you are used to and an experience as unbelievably great as this? I hope I can do this trip justice with this little report.

Preparations

I made my decision to go to Korea around a year and started planning my trip around half a year before. I contacted is-link roughly around winter and informed them that I want spend a semester in Fall at Chung-Ang and organizationally they have been with me the whole time. The whole process, including application, course selection and learning agreement was uncomplicated and worked out without any problems. Although there may be times when you feel lost, it’s usually alright and you don’t have to worry about anything (although you will have to be proactive at times). In general, after everything was organized and the University accepted me, I arrived in Hong Kong on the 25th of August and left for Seoul on the 29th. A couple of hours later I arrived at the University, got my student’s ID card and was sitting on my bed in my new room in the dormitory. The semester started on the 1st of September and went until the 19th of December. I then left for Tokyo on the 22nd of December, stayed during the Christmas holidays, and was back home on the 27th.

 

Seizing Opportunities

As Korea is located centrally in Asia, and Seoul has two international airports, I also decided to visit   Hong Kong before   and Tokyo after my stay in Seoul (a short video of Hong Kong’s vista:  https://youtu.be/JWO4p47Oro4. Flights from and to   Seoul in Asia are relatively cheap and you can   get to Shanghai or Beijing and Tokyo in around 1-2 hours. Although Hong   Kong and the Philippines   are 3-4 hours away, flights to these destinations are sometimes even cheaper (everything is   around   100-150€, Tokyo might be a little more expensive but still very affordable). I strongly recommend you   to visit   some of these cities. Especially Tokyo is again something else. This is also very manageable   once you are in Seoul.   Also don’t forget to visit Korea itself. Besides the beautiful mountainous   landscape there are other big cities (Busan and   Deagu, for example) which are still bigger than any   German city, and the subtropical volcanic island of Jeju, which is a   UNESCO world heritage site. You   can also do a “temple stay” and experience life in a Korean Buddhist temple for a   couple of days (the   dormitory usually offers a temple stay for one weekend for free).

 

First Impressions

It’s huge.Seoul 1 And it’s busy. Seoul is incredibly – almost ridiculously – huge. There are around 10 million   people living in the   main city, and about 25 million in the metropolitan area. The city is divided into 25   districts, which again are subdivided   into many neighbourhoods. Every district has its own “downtown”   area and could easily be its own European city. Seoul   has around 40 universities. My home town has   almost 2. There are temples, huge old historic palaces (5 to be exact),   some of the biggest shopping   malls and department stores in Asia and the world. IMAX cinemas everywhere with one   having the   formerly biggest screen in the world. As long as you have not been to Tokyo or in a lesser sense New York   and maybe London, you will never have seen anything like this with regard to size, density, the   amount of people and stuff   that’s happening around you. This leads us to the next point: infrastructure.

 

Seoul’s Amenities

Seoul tries to cope with it’s size by having one of the best (and busiest) subway systems in the world.   You basically can   get to every major hot spot around the city in roughly 20-30 minutes. You pay with a   special metro card, which uses RFID   and NFC for automatic payment. Once you got this card, you   can also use it to pay taxis, buses, pay at vending   machines, and other things. Not only is it always  incredibly clean and cheap (and you can transfer to any other line within   the system for free), but every station and moving train also offers real-time arrival times on big LCD screens, mobile   connectivity, mobile TV signal, and free WiFi. Everything is also written and spoken in English (in addition to Korean, Chinese, and Japanese sometimes), so you don’t have to be afraid to get lost. Other goodies of Seoul include an extensive bus system, public toilets free of chard, and taxis you can pay with credit cards. However, you will be looking for street trash bins a lot, as these are strangely absent in every major Asian city…

 

People

Asian politeness is no myth. At least not in Korea. The kindness and courtesy, you encounter, is great (a nice change from home ;-)). No matter if you are at a restaurant, shopping, on the metro or the streets. Service stays above everything. Water, for example, is always free. In addition, to the occasional coffee, cake, or other kinds of gifts. Something that good old Germany can learn a lot from. Big however: The Korean people, as you will notice quickly, are one of the most homogeneous folk around the planet. Not so much with regard to physique, but in looks and general behaviour. This leads to you being stared a lot at. You will also experience latent racism directed towards you sometimes. This is understandable sometimes, sometimes not so much. You have to experience this for yourself, though, as writing about this topic would blow my page count.

Seoul 2

 

24/7

Seoul is always awake. 24 hours, 7 days a week. There is no “holiday”, no “holy Sunday”, no   “Ladenschlussgesetz”. You   can basically get everything at almost anytime. And also delivered.   Having Mc Donald’s or Pizza Hut delivered to you at   2 am sitting riverside – no problem. You pay with   your credit card and if you don’t speak Korean, a translation service will   usually call you back that   orders for you free of charge. There are also at least two 24/7 convenience stores around every   corner   (which of course you can also use your credit card at).

 

Lovely Soju

This is without judgement, but it is a thing. Korea supposedly has been leading the world’s list of   alcohol consumption   per capita for years. Ahead of Russia and Germany. Living here for a couple of   weeks, you know why. Alcohol is   consumed almost at any opportunity. Preferably Soju, the iconic   national drink made of rice, followed by beer+liquor in   one glass, followed by expensive beer that   doesn’t taste too good. Beer is very expensive by the way, except for the   cheap beer which you don’t really want to drink. It’s possible that encounter one or two passed out people on the way   back to campus (on weekdays). Or you see people in suits sleeping at bus stops, which will probably go back to work  once the awake. It also doesn’t help that there are multiple nightlife districts with bars, pubs and clubs, which are again open for a long time.

Temple Stay

 

It’s safe out here

The next thing you will realize is that criminality does not belong the sort of problems you can   witness in public. I bet   you will actually not see anything slightly criminal during your whole stay. According to statistics Seoul seems to be   one of the safest cities on earth. An example: you want to have that free seat in a Café but you need to go to the toilet. You simply reserve the seat by   placing your smartphone and wallet on that table, and you go to the toilet. Nobody dares to touch   your belongings, ever. This will definitely be something you are going to miss when you come back.

 

Chung-Ang University

The University has two campuses, one in Seoul and one outside of Seoul in Anseong. My campus was the Seoul   campus and I never saw Anseong campus. The Seoul campus is located south of the   Han river in Dongjak-Gu (on of   the aforementioned districts). The campus is also your home when   you choose to stay in the dormitory, which I can   only warmly recommend. The dormitory is cheap (around 1000€ for ~4 months), offers you a lot of free facilities including a cafeteria (which doesn’t offer the best food around town, however…), a laundry room, fitness center, internet access in your room, and more. You can read about it here: http://neweng.cau.ac.kr/04_international/exprogram05.php (the other   pages also offer some valuable info). In general, the   university is well “equipped” and I liked it a lot there. Seoul 4It also feels very different from a German university, for example. There were festivals with live bands on huge stages, a lot of Cafès, three small supermarkets, other shops such as book and cell phone shops, and a 24-hour Mc Donald’s ;-). The only downside is that the whole campus is basically a steep hill, which means that you not   only have to walk a lot, but   walking – especially walking UP – can also become an exhausting sport   quickly. For master students in the economics   field at least, course selection can feel a little limited. Plus as a master student you are only allowed to take three courses (which will lead to 18 ECTS in the end), keep this in mind when planning. The courses I took however, where   mostly great. Professors were very nice and experienced (they usually got a PhD at an US university) and don’t hesitate   to invite you to dinner and go for a drink or two in the evening ;-) (a common thing in Korean culture).

 

Summary

Seoul (and Korea in general) is fantastic. At least in Germany, you will probably find nothing comparable in terms of size,   diversity (culture, fashion, commerce, etc.), the possibilities that go along with that and the simultaneous hilariously low   criminality rate. There is huge amount of things I couldn’t talk about in this little report, but I can assure you that a   semester abroad in Korea will be an unforgettable life-changing experience for you.

It definitely was for me.