Ever since learning about study abroad my Freshman year of college I’ve wanted to do it, and in the Fall of ’19 I was able to study abroad in South Korea. It was after I went to a study abroad fair and learned about all my options when I was a junior. I found an affordable program which would allow me to go to South Korea for less than the cost of a semester at my home university. I told myself that I would finally do it; I went through with it and signed up for a semester in Seoul with CIS Abroad.
The advantage of signing up for study abroad through a program like CIS Abroad is that everything is handled. Other students had to worry about the payment deadline for tuition after classes had already started while I had already paid CIS Abroad in the summer. There was a school field trip to Sokcho and Chuncheon through the Office of International Affairs where students could pay a fee to join, but my program had that covered. I needed to stay an extra day in the dorm, where the other students had to pay a fee, my program took care of it. Likewise, they provided a simple to-do list of all your objectives for the program, such as submitting your transcript and other forms.
I bought my plane ticket and submitted to CIS Abroad in mid July immediately after getting my paycheck. I then could not afford my next payment for the program, but they were willing to work with me. Finally come late August, my parents drove me to the airport and dropped me off. I said my goodbyes and got on the plane. Two hours from San Antonio to Dallas, and fourteen hours from Dallas to Seoul. Here is my semester studying abroad in South Korea:
When I arrived at the airport in Incheon, I knew no one in this new country. However I was to find the onsite director and the other CIS Abroad students upon exiting customs. After meeting up with them, I had new friends as well as transportation. Instead of taking the subway, we were driven to university which allowed us to see the country and take in the mountains, the forests, the Han River, and the city of Seoul. I will never forget that feeling: my first time outside the U.S. Unfortunately I had a problem with the bank and could not use my debit card, so I was stuck without money the first day, and slept using my clothes as a blanket and pillow. Sleeping actually wasn’t that hard after a 14 hour flight.
The first thing you’ll do after settling in is meet new people. Not only did I meet many Koreans, but I met students from across the world. I’ve met people from Australia, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Finland, Iceland, Italy, France, Poland, Belarus, Germany, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore.
Sogang University has an organization specifically dedicated to helping foreign students and making them feel welcome in the country: HUG (Hands Up for Gathering). They greeted us at the dorm and helped us move in. One member was even kind enough to buy soap for me when I had no money. HUG is a splendid organization which allows you to make Korean friends through events and field trips. They even assign you a Korean “buddy” with whom you are put in contact before departure.
My Semester in South Korea
While studying abroad it is important to bear in mind that you’re not on vacation. You’ve still got classes. College courses are similar in America. The professors read off the slides during lecture. You’ll have papers, assignments, and exams; I don’t need to tell you what college is like. Attendance is a little different here. Typically when we say attendance is mandatory in America, we mean it counts towards the grade. At Sogang University, if you miss four days of lecture, you’re dropped from the class, albeit I have yet to meet anyone who has had this enforced. My teachers all spoke great English.
Where I went during my Semester in South Korea
Here are some of the places that I visited during my semester in South Korea. I definitely recommend that you check them out too!
- Bukchon Hanok Village: A traditional Korean folk village. HUG took a field trip here and I got to explore the village while sporting hanbok: traditional Korean clothing.
- Gyeongbok Palace: The biggest palace in Seoul. The palace is full of historical significance. Entrance is free if you’re wearing hanbok, otherwise it’s 2,000 Won.
- Namsan Seoul Tower: The tower can be seen throughout Seoul. It rests on a mountain in the center of the city. You can take a cable car to the top or a bus plus a short walk up a steep slope. Sometimes you can even find swordsmen demonstrating their art by cutting bamboo at the tower plaza. CIS held our final dinner here on one of the top floors of the tower. It was a fancy dinner and a beautiful view of Seoul.
- Itaewon: This area is foreigner central. Since Halloween isn’t widely celebrated in Seoul, this is the place to go. The bars and shops have decorated for the occasion, and many enthusiasts dressed in costumes. It is more packed then than any other day in Itaewon, so I found myself walking through an ocean of Koreans and foreigners alike.
- Coex Mall: A huge mall in Gangnam. This mall has its own theatre, library, and aquarium.
- War Memorial Hall: A grand war memorial that looks like the Romans could have built it. You can see many vehicles used in the Korean War outside, such as a giant B-52D Stratofortress, numerous tanks, and a patrol boat you can get on and explore. Inside, there is a museum displaying the history of all war in Korea.
- Noraebangs: Karaoke rooms. With the popularity of K-Pop, it’s no surprise that Koreans love karaoke. You will find noraebangs EVERYWHERE in Seoul. Don’t worry if you can’t sing in Korean. You’ll find no shortage of American songs here.
- Hongdae: Famous bar and shopping district. It is the bar district frequented by college students. If your friends want to go out on a weekend night, they’ll probably go here.
- Namdaemun: The biggest market in Seoul. You can find some good deals here due to competitive prices. This is where I bought souvenirs for my family. It’s so crowded and large that getting lost is a real possible.
- The Han River: The parks by the river are excellent for picnics. HUG took a field trip here. We were supposed to take boats out on the river, but the water was too high. Instead we ate chicken and pizza on the edge of the river, close to the bridge famous for its rainbow fountains. We visited Sevit Island, the place famous for being the “lab” from Avengers: Age of Ultron, although it’s an event center used for weddings in reality.
Check out more things to do in Seoul, South Korea here!
These are a few places I visited outside of Seoul during my program with CIS Abroad.
- Namhae Island: a small and not well known island off the south coast. Great place for swimming and weekend relaxation. I visited a Buddhist temple here and actually got to see people participating in the rituals.
- Chuncheon: a city close to Sokcho. I visited the rail park there. I had a lot of fun pedaling the four-person carts on abandoned train tracks through the mountains.
- Sokcho: a city on the east coast. I hiked around Nakansa Buddhist temple in the mountains. This temple borders the East Sea and has a huge Buddha statue.
While I will miss the friends I’ve made in Seoul, I am excited to go home and spend the holidays with my family. Needless to say, I’ve had a blast. After never having left my country prior to this experience, I am thankful to CIS Abroad for granting me the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world. Studying abroad in South Korea has showed me what a great time traveling abroad can be, this experience will surely pave the road for my future explorations.
A Thank You
I would like to thank my onsite director, Sehoon. From day one, he made so much of an effort to help me. I couldn’t access my funds from the ATMs on campus, so he spent time driving me to numerous ATMs around the city. He was also very responsive when I messaged him. I needed to see a doctor, so he pointed me in the right direction. It’s been so great to have a native of my country of study to always answer my questions. Thank you for sharing different Korean foods with us and introducing me to Korean barbecue. Thanks for all your help and making my study abroad experience go smoothly, Sehoon.
If you are interested in studying abroad in South Korea for a semester, definitely apply!