Unlike Europe or US, Korea might not be the most popular choice for exchange studies. A lot of my friends asked me why I chose a country which can be explored in less than 2 weeks. They were completely wrong. There are a lot of things to do in Korea, from going to touristy places (Nami or Jeju Island), palaces and gardens to street foods, traditional learning experiences (eg. kimchi-making), village stay and even the North Korea border tour (DMZ)! While Europe is famous for city-hopping and the iconic structures, Korea is better when it comes to FOOD, nature and traditional experiences which are exactly my reasons to go for exchange.
I did my exchange program in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS). I also have friends who went to Seoul National University (SNU), Yonsei, Sogang and Korea University. The university life in Korea is somewhat similar to Singapore’s (or at least to SMU) but with a lot more night life activities. They have similar characteristics like project-based curriculum, class participation, and 3-hours of lecture.
BUT, the students there are definitely a lot more hardworking! While SMU students always complain on how heavy it is for us to handle 4 to 5 CUs every semester, students in Korea are required to take 7-8 CUs per term, inclusive of final exam and group project for every course. I once asked one of my Korean friends why Korean students always take grades very seriously. She told me that they’ve always been being told to have the mindset of “grades decide your future” since they are young. It is hard for them to get a job if they are not from the top 3 universities (SKY: Seoul, Korea, Yonsei) or if they do not have good GPA from other universities.
The Ultimate Question
The ultimate question a.k.a the one question that almost everyone asked me is: “do u get to meet a lot of korean idols or actors?” Well, it depends on your luck and effort. I am not an avid K-pop fan so I didn’t put any effort at all to meet K-POP idols. I do have friends who met a lot of idols (eg. EXO, Kim Soo Hyun, SNSD, girl’s day, etc). What they did usually was to follow the fan cafe of each group or idol to know where and when the idols are going (sometimes you’ll need to be able to read Korean though). They even went all the way to airport, which is 1 hour away from Seoul just to wait for the idols to come.
Despite the zero effort, I did accidentally meet some actresses when I was roaming around in Gangnam and it was pure luck. Don’t worry, as far as I know, almost everyone who went to Korea for exchange got to meet K-pop idols at least once (hint: usually you can find them in Gangnam-Apgujeong area or Myeongdong).
Best experience : Village stay
Other than trying the live octopus (Korean: Nakji), one thing that I have always wanted to experience in Korea is village stay (Thanks to all the Korean variety shows)! I really wanted to try the traditional house, sleeping on the floor, catching fish, and trying the Korean village traditional food. After countless research, my friends and I finally managed to find a suitable village tour experience in Donggak village (Gangwon-do) for the eight of us. It was indeed a one-of-a-kind experience. We got to do a lot of things that can’t be found in other tourist places: bare-handed fishing, sky-jumping, night-life watching and caving adventure with three minutes of total darkness experience!!
- Korean MRT card/ez-link is called T-money. You can purchase it from almost all convenience stores for ₩2,500.
- Foreigner-friendly phone/SIM card : EG sim card (available in convenience stores as well). Don’t forget to ask for wi-fi setup to enjoy free wi-fi on MRT!
- Always plan ahead to avoid any regrets! List down ALL the places that you want to visit and always research on when is the best season to visit them. Some places are even closed during certain season.
Photo courtesy of the author.
 SMU uses CU to indicate the weight of each module that student has to take. Most modules contain 1 CU and only a few modules offer 0.5 CU. To achieve full undergraduate bachelor title, SMU students have to clear 38 CUs within 4 years.