Spring 2022 was the first year I had ever studied abroad. Since COVID-19 deprived me of going earlier, it also troubled my experience just a little bit. I remember getting off the plane at the Incheon airport and being rushed into a line to make sure I quarantine and had the correct documentation. My first 5 hours in South Korea were being stuck in the airport and just sitting there listening to people go through their quarantine checks (in Korean of course) and not understanding anything. Though I had started to learn Korean and could speak a little and communicate, I realized then that I would definitely have to learn more. Other than the quarantine fiasco, South Korea was extremely nice to me!
I studied in Seoul at Sogang University which is centered around the busiest places in Seoul, so it was really interesting to be in such a big city. The transportation system is absolutely amazing, for less than a dollar you can get from one end of Seoul all the way to Gangnam (that’s at least a 1-hour ride), the only thing to be wary about is making sure you get on the right bus and subway, or else you might end up going another way (I learned the hard way my first time out).
Since Sogang is right in the center of everything, going to Hongdae and Sinchon was easy. Sinchon is a 12-minute walk from Sogang University and provides lots of inexpensive meals, shops, and karaoke. With three universities around Sinchon, Sinchon is known for its overwhelming student population hence why things are cheaper there. There are many bars and restaurants for students to get cheap drinks and sides, I do recommend trying out flavored makgeolli (rice wine) and Jon (Korean pancakes) it is truly amazing!
From Sinchon you can take a bus to Hongdae which is the fashion/nightlife district of Seoul. During the day, Hongdae is bustling with people due to the inexpensive clothing stores (and somewhat high-end clothing stores), coffee shops, restaurants, photo booths, and busking performances, but at night Hongdae’s colors shine. With multiple neon signs everywhere, Hongdae starts its nightlife around 7 or 8 pm when restaurants become bars and clubs being to open at 10 pm. The club streets are sprawled with so many people having a fun time. I remember my first time out clubbing (for the experience of course) and people were so fun to talk to whether it was in Korean or English (or sometimes through a translator app) because everyone just carries this “let’s just have fun and forget about stress by drinking” vibe during the night. Just from one night of clubbing, I ended up with a few new Korean friends who I still talk to today!
As the months went on, new events popped up, by the end of March I went to Dongdaemun Park which is an area filled with Korean culture and exhibits from different artists. The time I went there was a Gucci exhibit (most exhibits stay for about 1-2 months) and it was beautiful! In April (Cherry blossom month), many palaces like the Gongbokgung have an increase in tourism due to the beautiful cherry blossoms that guard the palaces, many Koreans and non-Koreans take part in wearing hanboks and enjoying the walk around the palace with their friends, family, and loved ones. At the end of the month and nearing May, is when Buddha’s birthday and the Lotus Festival take place. I traveled to the Jogyesa temple in order to see this beautiful festival come to light. Jogyesa is located in Insadong which is a traditional Korean place, many signs and shops do not have English translations so learning some words and the alphabet really helps out (or have a Korean friend)! Seonyudo Park tends to be overshadowed by Youido and Bamseom Island, but I found it beautiful and quiet. It’s on the other side of the Han river so about 40 minutes from my university (by bus) and it’s a nice walk. You get to be surrounded by nature and small streams, they also have a small cafe where you can see across the river (it’s beautiful).
Traveling outside of Seoul was a little bit hard for me since I had a face-to-face class, but the one week I did not have it, I went to Busan and Daegu! Busan has a lot to offer especially since it is being re-urbanized for the World Expo in 2030. For just fun places, I went to Gamcheon Culture Village which is known for its colorful houses cliff, small local souvenir shops, and small restaurants, Lotte World Busan (it just opened in May), and Haeundae beach (it was really clean). Busan also offers a lot of beautiful temples like Haedong Yonggungsa which is based on a cliff and is absolutely beautiful and worth the thirty-minute uphill walk (when I say I was tired, I was TIRED), and Beomosa which is situated in the mountain and boasts a small 10-minute uphill walk. Taejongdae is a beautiful park where you can see Japan (on a good day), go to Taejongdaesa (a temple), and learn about certain features in Taejongdae that were marked by famous Korean stories.
Being in South Korea was an exchange I am glad I got to experience. Learning a language in real-time, seeing places I had only seen in pictures before, and making new friends I hope to cherish for a long time. Everything was absolutely exceptional and I hope to experience it again!
Tej Cherian (BS Sociology) spent Spring 2022 studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea through CIS Abroad. Tej had the following to say about studying abroad, “Learning the basics of the native language is beneficial. English is prevalent in most places but knowing a bit of the native language shocks natives (in a good way!). Plus learning the native language makes it more likely for others to communicate with you!”
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