Carmen - Korea University

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I really enjoyed the varied courses I took at Korea University. The Professors generally delivered engaging lectures and smaller class sizes meant a more intimate study experience. I took: Advanced Korean I (Language), Contemporary Korean Society (International Studies), Korean Drawing (Art and Design), Korean Film History (Media) and Career Counselling (Education).

My study experiences were so diverse – I did everything from visit world-class art exhibitions to debate contemporary issues in Korean during my classes. If you have electives, I recommend trying to find some of the more interesting subjects that you wouldn’t be able to take in Australia!

The main challenges I had were navigating the sign-on system and registering for classes in the first few weeks. Get as familiar as you can with their version of mySI-net and ask your buddy or other exchange students for help when needed. 

Also, if you are coming to study Korean language check what levels will be on offer during your semester because options alternate between Spring and Fall (I wanted Level 4 but they only had levels 3 or 5).

Personal experience

The incredible friends I made, both Korean and international, really made my experience what it was. The buddy program KU provides (KUBA) organises heaps of group events where you make friends and get to explore at the same time.

I also did some AMAZING hikes! South Korea is actually 70% mountainous so I highly recommend checking out the mountains around Seoul, which are all accessible by subway or bus. If you google a mountain name, chances are someone has written directions on how to get there in English. My favourites were Bukhansan, Yongmasan and Seoraksan. Make sure you get Korean pancakes (부침개) and maggeoli after a hike – it’s tradition!

Accommodation

I lived off-campus in a hasukjib (하숙집) which was great because I got to experience a style of student accommodation unique to Korea that included home-cooked breakfasts and dinners! It was also way cheaper than the dorms and much closer to campus. I had a single room (pretty small) and shared bathroom, but there were a lot of different room styles for different prices in my block. If you are open to experiencing a more local style of student living I highly recommend going for a hasuk!

Finding a hasuk can be tricky if you're not local, so I recommend getting a Korean friend to help you. My KUBA buddy showed me our university's online portal where student housing is advertised (in Korean). If you want more information on hasuks or how I found mine, feel free to get in touch.

Budget

On the one hand, many living costs in Korea are cheaper than Australia, but on the other hand it is really easy to spend money… Here’s a rough breakdown of my spending:

Rent: 390,000 won per month including breakfast and dinner daily. This was definitely one of the cheapest deals around, the average was more like 450,000.

Food: You can get super cheap meals from the school cafeteria or cheap restaurants for 3-5000 won, but other places are usually 6000 plus. I only had to buy one meal a day which saved me a lot of money, however I did end up spending a lot on food/drinks when going out with university friends at night (you will be invited to a lot of dinner and drinking sessions with the buddy program).

Transport: the subway system in Seoul is efficient and relatively cheap so I only spent around 10-20,000 per week.

Travel: this is definitely where a lot of my money went! There are so many places to see in Seoul alone, but I seriously recommend making trips to at least Jeju Island and Seoraksan if you can (check Google images to see why!)

Budget: I would say you should aim for $6000-10,000 AUD. You can definitely live quite cheaply in Korea if you're willing to survive off kimbab for four months, but it is almost inevitable that you will end up wanting to eat and drink your way through Korea's diverse range of culinary offerings!

Professional development and employability

During my exchange I grew in so many different areas. I became more adaptable, spontaneous and independent, not to mention my Korean level improved markedly. I now have a much more comprehensive understanding of Korean society and culture, which will prove invaluable when pursuing opportunities related to Korea in the future.

Highlight

Jeju island and Ipselenti (the school festival) were two standouts, but rather than describe the many amazing experiences I had, you can watch my highlights on Youtube.

Top tips

  1. Start researching the places you want to visit before you leave so that you can organise trips pretty much as soon as you arrive and go travelling before assessment gets heavy!
  2. Make the effort to create friendships with local students - Korean students (outside the buddy program) were often shy at first, but if you make the effort to say hello first and introduce yourself they will usually be excited to make a foreign friend! I also joined the running club at KU where I met a super relaxed (but fit) group of local students. Joining a student club (동아리) is a must in my opinion, although be warned not all groups accept foreign students to due communication concerns.
  3. EAT ALL THE BINGSOO YOU CAN!