Have you ever felt like it is time for you to get out there? Or have you ever felt like it is such a waste to spend your 3 months long summer holiday at home doing absolutely nothing?
Today, I would like to tell you that you are not alone because I have been in your position. Last year, I started looking for an opportunity to make my summer break a little bit more interesting, fun, and educating. I was having this urge to go abroad and enrich myself with new interesting experiences until I stumbled across this one program that will give me a chance to spend two weeks in my must-visit country, South Korea.
I decided to challenge my luck and apply to be participant of Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) International Summer School through my university’s international office. It was such an honor to be able to go in behalf of the University of Indonesia as one of 89 participants from around the globe. But first, you might be questioning why did I choose Seoul and why STISS? Let’s talk more about the STISS program itself, shall we?
What is STISS?
Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) International Summer School or STISS is a short term summer program held by SeoulTech. This summer program is specially intended for students enrolled in SeoulTech’s partner universities around the world. STISS is held once a year in the middle of the year, usually around July to August, and last for about two weeks. In these two weeks, you will get a chance to learn basic Korean and experience Korean culture through field trips around Seoul and special lectures such as cooking class, taekwondo class, traditional dance class, and mask painting class. You will not only get a chance to experience the real Korean culture in this very land of Hallyu, but you will also get 2 credits given upon completion. Another benefit in joining this program is that you only need to cover your airfare cost as the other expenses including tuition, dormitory, airport pick up service, field trips, and meals for those two weeks are all covered by SeoulTech. What a good deal, right?
Regardless the humid Seoul’s summer weather and getting lost in a super modern Seoul’s subway system almost every night, my two weeks stay in Seoul during STISS program turned out to be one of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had. I got a chance not only to experience the real Korean culture, but also to make friends with other participants from around the world despite all the intercultural boundaries. Moreover, STISS also has a board of really nice and considerate staffs. Before your arrival in Seoul, each of you will be contacted by your assigned buddy through email. Buddy is student volunteer who will be assigned to help and accompany the participants during their stay in Seoul. I would say that you will not realize the significance of your buddy’s presence until you really get out of the arrival gate in the city where you do not speak the language and have no clue where to go or what to do first. Do not waste your chance to learn Korea and its culture from your buddy because he or she will be glad to let you know how Korea is really like in real life from local’s perspectives.
In this program, you will spend most of your weekdays learning basic Korean from 9 am to 12 pm and after that, you will either have special lectures or go to field trip around Seoul, the capital city of South Korea where the modern skyscrapper and traditional village beautifully collide. Although this program is specially designed for students who are interested in learning Korean, you do not have to worry about things like, “I do not know Korean/Hangul pretty well, what should I do?” because upon your arrival at SeoulTech, you will be asked to fill a form explaining your ability level in Korean whether it is fair, good, or expert so that you will be assigned to the class with students of which capability in Korean is the same as yours. After spending most your weekdays learning Korean in class, you might as well be wondering how do we spend the weekend? Do not worry because STISS will give you a free time during the weekend and this is the chance for you to get to know other students too because each individuals will surprise you with their unexpected life story. I suggest you not to hesitate asking your buddy to show you around the city because locals know best, right?
After all those sleepless nights of watching Korean drama and stuffing my face with all Korean food, I finally got a chance to go to Seoul which has been on my must-visit checklist since I was still in Junior High School. Arriving at the super crowded airport, taking super modern Seoul subway, this city might give you the first impression of individuality and fast paced everything. But, as you move your footsteps a little further, maybe into some small alley in Hongdae or caught up in the excitement of crowds in touristy Myeongdong, you will then realize how alive this city is. Go to the local bar nearby and have some Korean fried chicken and beer or commonly known as 맥주 (maegju) with your friends, sweat those calories off by hiking to the top of Ihwa Mural Village and you will see a lot of beautiful mural on your way to the top. Get youself a bottle of water and wear your most comfortable clothes as it is going to be quite hot and humid during summer. I suggest you not to make loud noises and litter on your way to the top considering that Ihwa Mural Village is surrounded by local neighbourhood. As for you who love to capture the unforgettable moment and love watching Korean dramas, do not forget to bring your camera as well because you will pass a lot of small alley that are often used as a location for drama shooting.
Since I was little, I have always had this thing in my brain telling me that I need to see this world to discover a little bit of me which might be still hiding. During my two weeks stay in Seoul, I always made time to explore the city on my own as I love travelling alone. I travel on my own to learn and to see how capable I am to handle everything on my own. I find getting around the city that I have never been before and I do not speak the language is such a challenge and it has made me grow as a person. Not only you have to overcome the fear of getting lost or the fear of asking locals with the risk that you might have no idea what they are saying, but you will also discover you own self from slightly different perspective. The experience might not last forever, but the lesson will.
As for you who are planning or interested to join summer program this year, here are some tips I have learned from my experience,
- Keep looking for an opportunity!
As most of summer programs will begin around June to August, the open recruitment usually starts around February to April, so make the best out of your free time to stay updated by browsing through your university’s international office website regularly. Most of us might be already busy with our project in school or many essay deadline and usually do not check our university’s international office website that often. This is where you will be losing your first chance as luck does come to those who are keen to work and search for it, right?
- Make yourself stand out in the best way possible!
After finding the desirable summer program, you will need to make time to prepare all the documents required. If you apply through your university’s international office, they will usually do the internal selection from students who have applied to join the program. So, make sure that you are eligible to join and meet the requirements. I suggest you to put your best effort in writing your motivation letter as this part plays a significant role in the whole selection process. Motivation letter is the only thing that differs you from other students as you might have the same TOEFL/IELTS score or someone’s GPA might be higher than yours so this is where you make yourself stand out. Stay true and honest with yourself throughout the writing process.
- Before you leave: The most boring part yet really important. (Paspor, Visa, Certificate of Eligibility, Health Check Up)
After getting selected to join your desirable summer program, you will then get into the boring but one of the most important things to do in your checklist. All the immigration thing will take time but invest your patience in all of that, it will be worth the ride back and forth to the embassy or to the hospital to get your full health check up. If you happen to join the summer program in South Korea, you might need a Certificate of Health (TB) from certain hospitals which are appointed by the Embassy of South Korea as a requirement. Stay updated with the information by regularly checking the Embassy’s website. It will take time so patience is the most important thing here. Keep everything on the same file so that you do not lose anything. I recommend you to always make a copy of each document required just in case something is missing.
- Pay attention to details and enjoy your trip!
Between your summer program schedule, make the best out of it by enjoying your stay to the fullest. Make sure you pay attention to all the little details that will make your stay even more convenient. It could be small things like SIM card or transportation card. If you are going to South Korea, I suggest you to rent or buy a SIM card as that will get you connected to free public WiFi almost everywhere including on the subway! I also recommend you to get yourself a transportation card to get around the city as it makes everything even more convenient.
As I am writing this, I start recalling those beautiful memories. Even though I only stayed in Seoul for such a short period of time, I have to say that to be a part of such a diverse world with different values each people presents was so overwhelming. This program has given us, the participants, a chance to exchange almost about everything from our background story to just simple thoughts on global matter. Going through a lot of sharing session, you might not only learn from other’s experience, but also start to realize how you become even more proud and content of your own cultural heritage than ever before throughout each sharing session. Sharing is gold, everyone.
If you are interested to know more about this program, you might as well check SeoulTech’s website here:
Until next time, Seoul.
Photo provided by author.