When I considered going back to university, I always dreamt about the idea of studying a couple of years in Australia. But I couldn’t do it and I was quite frustrated because I had to limit my trips to the summer and winter holidays. Still, I managed to travel at least 4-5 months a year during those 4 and a half years, both working on cruise ships and backpacking.
In May 2015 I got an email from my university, about a scholarship for a summer program in Seoul. It didn’t include airfare. But still, it was my chance to study abroad, even though it was just for a month. I had some savings and I had won a cash prize in my university for my academic merits.
The application required a good level of English and excellent grades. When they announced me that I was chosen to participate in the program, the University of Seoul (UOS) asked me for some documents such as student certificate and qualifications. Also it was required to register online and choose the subjects I was interested in.
Considering that I was about to spend nearly $ 1,500 in airfare, I also decided to go to Tokyo, which is just a 2 hour flight from Seoul. So I bought tickets from Santiago to Japan’s capital, with a 5 hour lay over in Houston. I flew with United and I have to say that their flight attendants were beyond rude. Then I bought a return ticket by Korean Airlines to Seoul. This time, the service was excellent. At my return to Chile, I stayed a week in Tokyo. I save about $200 compared to the flight with Seoul as a final destination.
After a 25 hour flight, I arrived at night at Incheon, a very modern international airport that has been chosen several times as the best in the world according to surveys conducted by the Airports Council International (ACI).
I was lucky enough to have Jim, a student of UOS, waiting for me. He stayed the whole day greeting and dispatching students coming from all over the world. We got into his truck and we left. It was dark and it was very humid.
First I took 3 subjects in UOS, but then I realized that I would have not enough free time to explore the city, so I decided to go for two: Korean Culture and Society and Exploring Asian Culture. The first subject was in class. We had to read texts, participate in classes, write essays and make a group presentation. The second consisted of trips and visits related to Korean culture.
The quality of Korean education is one of the best in the world, no doubt. It is also very demanding since South Korea it’s a very competitive society. But I think the summer course, which included both foreigners and Koreans, was more flexible. However, despite how friendly were the UOS teachers, excuses were not allowed. Most students met their responsibilities. I was very lucky and had the chance of working with a fantastic group composed of a Canadian, an American, an Australian, a Korean and me, a Chilean. Everybody was punctual and did their job, and we never lost time because we wanted to take the opportunity to explore Seoul.
The other students came from places like Slovenia, Austria, the Netherlands, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Portugal, Fiji, among others. UOS always behaved very well and were attentive to our questions. They gave us a welcome and farewell party with exquisite Asian food.
My Korean Culture and Society professor was Korean, but she moved to Hawaii with her Indian husband. She could easily understand the peculiarities of her own culture and the impact of certain matters, like for example, the excessive worship of the pale skin, the role of Korean women, the importance of saving face and controlling emotions. She was great but her accent was very strong and a little hard to understand. (Contrary to what I believed, few Koreans speak fluent English).
My final essay was about the country’s history through its music which included ancient history, the Japanese invasion, the Korean War until our days, in which K Pop has become the main character, making young people put aside Confucianism own customs.
The Exploring Asian Culture course included a 4-day trip to the island of Jeju, known as the Hawaii of Asia. Korean students could not participate because it was very expensive. It costs US $ 800, but we had to pay just $300, thanks to the agreements with our universities. The trip included staying in a 5 star hotel, typical food, visits to tea plantations, Buddhist temples, a beach, a waterfall, an aquarium and museums, and hiking a couple of mountains.
Furthermore, in Seoul we were taken to the Museum of War, the Gyeongbokgung palace, a beautiful theatre production called “The Story of the Secretary-Bae” and “Nanta Show”, a very popular show. We had to write essays about each of these activities. One of my favourites took place in the “world’s most dangerous border” with North Korea. In Welcome to the DMZ you can read how the visit went.
In general, I must say that the experience in UOS summer school was very positive and enriching. I had class from Monday to Friday from 9 am until noon, so immediately after doing my homework I could go out and explore Seoul, a fascinating city where modernity and technology contrasts with an ancient culture full of secrets to discover. You can take a look to 8 Reasons To Visit Seoul now to find some of them.
The UOS already designed its new leaflet for the 2016 summer school (winter in South America). Several Korean universities are doing these programs, so if you are interested I would suggest you to visit their websites and check the requirements to apply.