2017/12/26

As an exchange student in Korea

What is it like to be an exchange student in Korea? Well, like you could probably see from the title, I am here to tell you what it is like and a few tips to make your exchange semester/year in Korea easier!

People stare, a lot.

For me this took a long time to get used to. People stare. They actually stare a lot. Especially the older people. But after I visited Shanghai I realized that in Korea they really don't stare as badly as in Shanghai.

If you're not really that into K-pop or K-dramas you might sometimes feel a bit like an outsider with the other exchange students.

At the beginning of my semester this is how I felt. A lot of people kind of knew each other already because they had created fan chats on kakaotalk, outside of the exchange student groups. But you don't have to worry, you will find your people eventually. But be prepared that a lot of people ask you questions like "Do you like BTS?" or "What's your favorite group?". I do watch korean dramas and listen to korean pop sometimes, but I'm not that big of a fan. Or more like I wasn't that big of a fan. Now due to curiosity I have kind of turned into ARMY (BTS fans) trash and I also started liking a lot of different groups after seeing them perform live.

Try to learn the hangul before going

I really wished in the beginning of my exchange that I would know the hangul, "korean alphabet", because it would have helped a little with everyday things. Besides hangul, I recommed learning the basics like "Hello","Thank you", "Goodbye". One of the resources I used when learning hangul was Korean Wiki Project. Of course I also learned quite a lot through my elementary korean, but lots of the time I didn't really listen during the classes.

Be prepared that you will be hanging out with mostly international students - unless you speak Korean

 A lot of exchange students I know didn't really get the change to meet that many Koreans, which meant that they usually hung out with other exchange students or international student. In our university we have e- and f-lounges, which are lounges for korean students to learn english and french. And that's how the native english speakers and native french speakers often made korean friends. For other's you either had to get to know the people in your classes or get to know korean through connections.

It's okay to feel homesick 

I had hard time accepting that I was homesick. After all, I was in one of the biggest journeys of my lifetime, why would I want to be somewhere else? But as soon as you accept that you're feeling homesick, the faster you will start feeling better. I promise that even though it feels awful in the beginning, it will get better.

Try to do something new every week

This is something that I really regret not doing. Usually I would just stick to the same daily routines and eventually it would have gotten boring. I definitely advise you to at least try to do something new everyday. Even if it's something small like going to the library for the first time, or eating something you have never eaten before.

You will probably gain some weight

Oh the harsh truth. You will eat a lot of new foods and you will probably snack quite a lot as well. And that means that you will probably gain some weight. And that is completely okay and normal and it happens to almost every single exchange student.

Remember to study 

I know, you've come to Korea to see the culture and to experience new things. But the thing is, that studying is actually big part of korean culture. A lot of times during exam periods I would see students staying in the library until the morning. They would take some naps at the library, get some food from the library's convenience store (who would have believed that there's a convenience store inside the library??) and just continue their studies. But I'd rather not recommend going that extreme. Just do as much as your home university requires you to do. In my case they only wanted me to pass my courses and they didn't really care about my grades that much.

When you go home everything is still probably the same, but you're not

Sometimes it will probably be hard to understand that even though you're gone, people home will just continue their lifes normally. And when you get back you would expect that things have changed as drastically as you have. But the harsh truth is, that most probably everything is just the same as it was when you left. It might be hard to accept at first that you now kind of have to return to the same old life you had before you went to Korea and probably no one around you won't really understand, because they have not been through the same things as you have gone through during your exchange in Korea. And they might not understand why you keep talking about your experiences there over and over again, but you can still message the friends you made during your exchange. Or if you're lucky enough, you can meet with them and talk about your experiences together and think about the good old days when you still were exchange students in Korea.
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