Studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea was an amazing opportunity that I don’t think that I will ever have again. I studied for 6 weeks, and chose my program because of that length abroad: not too short, but not a full summer either. While I was explicitly in Seoul for academics (definitely take a Korean cinema course if you need to take an Arts-related class), the experience of living among a different culture and learning how they live was undoubtedly more valuable. Overall, daily life is daily life. Koreans work, study, eat, shop, and more just like Americans, but seeing the little differences in how everything is done makes you realize that the methods and systems you grew up with are not a default, and probably not even the best way to do things.
For example, what stood out to me the most was how different (but better) restaurants are. First of all, because of mixed modes of transportation being available, lots of small, local restaurants can exist because they don’t have to pay to build parking. Since these are small restaurants, there is limited staff to save on labor costs, but at the same time a lot of staff isn’t even needed because the service provided is very hands-off. The only interaction you need with the staff is to order items and pay, and at a lot of places, both those things are taken care of by a self-service kiosk. Everything else you might need – water, cups, utensils, sauces – are at the table. This allows you to eat unbothered without a waitress bugging you every few minutes, which I wasn’t fully able to appreciate because I didn’t have my friends from home to eat with, but it was amazing nonetheless.
Going back to the topic of mixed modes of transportation, Seoul has an incredible network of buses, railways, and walkable areas. This allowed me to travel to all corners of the city, and even the country without a car, giving me the opportunity to see countless amazing places. I went to mountains, museums, performances, and parks (oh, Seoul, your countless parks are indescribably peaceful), and it was all connected by public transportation. Americans hate the idea of public transit, but it is probably because they never experienced a well planned and connected system.
This expansion of ideas is why study abroad is important, we can learn from others and escape our limited mindsets. If you are on the edge of deciding whether to go or not, go. Seize the chance to live abroad. You never know how your experience can impact your thinking, which can come back to improve your life and the lives of others in your community. I’m not entirely sure how my trip will impact my intended career as a physical therapist, but if I had to answer now, I would say it would be in polite service, cultural understanding, and always trying to speak someone else language (even the very slightest) because the connection that comes through communication and hearing your own language cannot be underestimated.
If I had to add any other advice, find out what apps the locals use. This was especially important in my case because Google Maps barely works in Korea, and when meeting new people, they would always ask if I had a social app called KakaoTalk. Luckily, I saw an Instagram post before my trip with all the recommended apps to use in Korea, so I was set, but some students were unprepared. So, just don’t assume that what apps you use work everywhere and are used by everyone.
Overall, my summer in Korea was probably my best summer ever. I gained lots of cultural, travel, and life experience, and learned how to be more spontaneous. I’d love to go back one day, whether it be for work or vacation, but especially because I met some friends that live in Korea, and I would love to reconnect in the future.
Eric Niedzielski (BS Exercise Science) spent the Summer 2023 semester studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea through USAC. Eric had the following to say about studying abroad, “Go out and do something new everyday. This might be a day trip to a different city, or seeing multiple sights in an evening, but you won’t have that much energy all the time. When you are tired or busy, go to a park nearby or just go to a new restaurant. This will help you confident you are making the most of your time, but not leave you exhausted.”
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