The opportunity to study abroad as a first generation student was a surreal moment that truly went beyond everything I would have ever imagined. I studied in Seoul, South Korea at Korea University where I was able to experience the beauty of the summer season while meeting people from all over the globe. I was able to learn more about Korea and myself as an individual through my program. Prior to my departure, I tried to fully prepare myself for Korea- at least that was my plan. I realized that once I was in Korea there were so many things that I would experience that I could not prepare myself for. There were aspects such as the language, navigating the city, and cultural experiences that I learned day by day living in Seoul. Although new and challenging, I enjoyed getting to learn skills that I had never experienced before.
My first night in Seoul, I stayed at an Airbnb in Gangnam- an area known to be very fast-paced. As someone who grew up in a rural city, witnessing the fast night life of Gangnam was a dreamlike moment that is still engraved in my mind. The vibrant lights, sounds of busy traffic, and flashy billboards and signs was a sight to see and a memorable first night in Korea. There on, there were many things that I would have to overcome to accustom myself to life in Seoul. From learning the transit system to trying to order food in Korean, I had to tackle these challenges as I quickly transitioned into a way of life vastly different than what I was used to.
I loved my time studying at KU, which was a global hub for international students. Through my program, I met people who I never thought would become an integral part of my life. Though short in length, the program fostered new relationships and lessons that will forever be ingrained into the person that I am. The program brought together people from globally different perspectives and sparked curiosity in me as I learned about different ways of living. As a business student in another country, I was exposed to the cultural differences in marketing strategies compared to the states. My business professor captured how Korean business is highly influenced by the culture and societal norms, and I was able to see a cultural difference in business practices along with the collectivistic culture within Seoul. My program also encouraged cultural immersion through activities such as traveling to a Korean folk village as well as visiting the popular Lotte amusement park. Mainly, I found the cooking class to be the most memorable as I got to learn more about traditional Korean cooking and how they use certain ingredients in their dishes.
Dorm life was also a new experience for me, and I had the opportunity to share a room with my Thai roommate who taught me so much about her life in Thailand. Outside of studying, I was able to make the most of my short trip by exploring Seoul in my free time. Coming from a car-focused city to a walkable city like Seoul was an experience I found joy in. Convenience stores and delicious restaurants were only a couple minutes away from my university’s campus. Even just walking around small pathways and finding hidden cute cafes and trending bakeries was an experience I looked forward to everyday. The neighborhood where my university was located at had so many fun activities. There were countless karaoke rooms, arcades, and phot booths near campus that I could walk to during my free time.
Life in Seoul was far different than what I had ever experienced living in my rural city. Once thing I found amazing was the transit system in Korea- which gave access to affordable, fast, and convenient transportation to surrounding neighborhoods. Some of my favorite neighborhoods that I visited were Hongdae and Myeongdong as they were bright and lively. Hongdae is known for its youthful and creative atmosphere captured in the many clothing and jewelry stalls where local artists would sell their handcraft pieces. The district was also an area where talented young artists would perform on the bustling streets. Seeing performances with instruments, dance, and music was incredible and was one of the highlights of Hongdae. In addition to this, Myeongdong became one of my favorite districts especially for someone who likes trying new foods. The area amazed me by the array of street food vendors who sold dishes for every taste bud. There were savory dishes such as tteokbookki, kimbap, and bulgogi as well as desserts such as hotteok, hodugwaja, and bingsu. Beyond my food adventures I also explored the cultural aspects that Myeongdong had to offer. I was able to visit many traditional Korean tea houses, art exhibitions, and vintage clothing shops within the area. During the last week of my trip, I also visited Namsan Seoul Tower which is a sight to see in Myeondgong. From this iconic landmark, I took in the breathtaking panoramic view of Seoul and the cityscape. Though this was one of the last places I visited in Seoul, it was definitely my favorite spot.
My short six week trip fostered many lessons and emotions that that have made an impact on my view of the world and of myself. By the end of my journey, I was confident in my abilities to travel anywhere, and I gained the ability to see the world through a new pair of eyes. Upon returning back to the states, I realized how much I grew as a person, and how I was able to adapt to new situations, learn from my mistakes, and go out and explore unfamiliar places. With this new passion for travel, I hope to explore other countries in the near future!
Alice Goonetilleke (BS Marketing) spent the Summer 2023 semester studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea through a direct enroll at Korea University. Alice had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying abroad helped cultivate my global experiences, knowledge, and connections with others. My experience abroad was unlike any other, and by the end of it I gained memories that will stick with me for a lifetime.”
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