Exchange Program in Daegu: Understanding South Korea from a Different Angle

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What do you think about when you hear “South Korea”? Is it k-pop, k-drama, skin care, or Seoul? Have you ever wondered what life is like in South Korea outside of the glitz and glam of Seoul and the entertainment industry? Here, our Contributor, Vania Gunawan, shares her experience living in Daegu, South Korea, as an exchange student.

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When I was in high school, one of my dreams was to study overseas. When I got accepted at the University of Indonesia (UI) and heard about exchange opportunities, I made a commitment that I should give it a try. I often went to the international office to find out more about the opportunities, even registered myself as a member of the UI buddy club, a student organization under UI’s International Office. Below is my journey on how I started with the admission process, the academic environment, and the opportunities that I gained during my stay at Kyungpook National University (KNU), Daegu, South Korea.

Admission Process

Generally speaking, UI has many international partners in which you can go for an exchange program, but only a few provide full scholarship. Most universities that provide scholarship came from Japan and South Korea. For Japan, you need to register for a 1-year exchange program due to a different timeline of the semester. Finally, I decided to choose South Korea since initially I only planned for a 1-semester exchange program, so I can still graduate within four years.

My journey to get a scholarship was not smooth as what people thought. I needed to retake TOEFL since they increased the standard. I also faced rejection during the first attempt. Although not many students were aware of the opportunity, the slot was actually limited to only 2 people per university. Therefore, I kept trying and succeeded on my second attempt.

I passed the selection from UI but that didn’t necessarily mean that I got the scholarship. I needed to contact the respective university separately and register for the Global Korean Scholarship. To be eligible for the scholarship, you need to have a GPA of 80% from the maximum GPA. If you meet the requirement, they will ask your university to recommend you for a scholarship. The process is very simple and once your application is granted, they will cover all the costs including your airfare, insurance, and monthly stipend of KRW 800,000 (around IDR 9,500,000). It was a very good scholarship amount and even enough for you to travel, especially when you were staying in Daegu where the living cost is cheaper than Seoul.

Internship opportunities and Academic Environment

KNU is a top public university in the Gyeongbuk Area (Southern part of South Korea). What made the KNU exchange program distinct from other universities was that they offer an internship program during your exchange and partnering with government, private companies, and local community centers. I chose to do an internship at The Style Guesthouse. The Style not solely a guesthouse, but it has other functions as a local community center that encourages local Daegu People to get to know more about foreign culture and learn English. My job there was teaching Basic English for local children in that area and also preparing some cultural activities. The job is quite challenging since the children didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Korean, so I needed to learn as much basic Korean as I can to communicate with them. Besides, every month they held cultural party nights with different themes, and we needed to work together with other foreign interns to prepare the party.

With fellow interns
With fellow interns

In terms of academics, I choose three courses offered in English and two of them was lectured by foreign professors.  Top universities in Korea tends to hire few foreign professors to provide students with an international academic environment and encourage students to be more confident in speaking English. I had never expected this before, but it was a good opportunity for me as well. Apart from that, I took Korean basic skills to improve my Korean language. It is very important to understand Korean language since in Daegu very few people can speak English. Young people tend to be very shy when you ask them in English.

Living in Daegu

Living in Daegu offered me an opportunity to experience a more traditional side of South Korea. Before studying in Daegu, I had been in Seoul for a conference and it was a very dynamic, modern and busy city. However, in Daegu, you can only find one downtown area in which all business and shopping centers are located. Everything is centralized and very organized. People in Daegu is still very shy towards foreigner and sometimes we need to be more proactive to approach them first.

Since there are limited numbers of foreigners, Daegu local government sponsors an event that facilitates foreigners to explore Daegu city for free or sometimes made a weekly event with a different theme to introduce more about Daegu and Korean culture. My friend who studied in Seoul didn’t experience the same thing since Seoul is already packed with foreigners. Besides, some of my friends were wondering whether I would get bored since Daegu is smaller compare to Seoul. But in fact, it offered me many chances to embrace myself with local culture, build a relationship with the local community through my internship and strong friendship with fellow exchange students.

A visit to the DMZ
A visit to the DMZ

Four months in Daegu as the only exchange student from Indonesia made me go beyond my comfort zone, be more proactive to approach other students and for sure be more independent and embraced cultural differences. After all, it was a life-changing experience to be a better version of myself.

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Photos provided by the author

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Vania Gunawan
Vania graduated from University of Indonesia with Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in International Relations. After finishing her Mandarin program in Peking University, she worked in one of the largest online retailers in China, JD.com. Initially, she worked in Beijing headquarter before being transferred to Indonesia. She is highly interested in education, social empowerment, innovation, and international affairs. Coming from international relations background, she has tremendous passion in technology and innovation, particularly on the way they changed how people lived. She enjoyed travel and meeting new people from different cultures. She can be reached at gunawanvania@gmail.com