Going Solo in Korea

2013-09-02 18.12.52 (fcp1)

Thousands of people move around me speaking a language I don’t recognise as they make their way to the multiple escalators going in every direction. Chandelier-style lights drape down from the ceiling, distracting me from the gigantic flight display boards as I try to find out where I am. This is Incheon International Airport in Seoul and I’m lost and alone.

Before I went on my travels, I remember a lot of people telling me I was crazy. A young female travelling alone in a foreign country just screams trouble. However, anyone who knows me very well can describe me in one word: independent. Growing up I was never one to follow the crowd. This adventure initially was just another challenge to separate myself from everyone else.

There were several reasons why I can understand that my family and friends were a little concerned about me going to Korea. Firstly I’d never been overseas, not even off the mainland.

Secondly, I had no idea how to speak Korean. I have some knowledge of Asian languages, but no confidence to pick up a conversation in any of them. I spent the earlier part of my childhood in the suburbs of Sydney where Mandarin classes were compulsory. I had studied Japanese in high school and my first year of university which has brought me to a basic elementary level. The only way I knew any words in Korean was from listening to K-Pop and watching K-Dramas for the last 2 years.

And lastly, I have the terrible affliction of being a magnet for all trouble, accidents and unfortunate incidents. Mysterious illnesses, multiple cuts and bruises, and losing my belongings don’t even begin to describe my bad luck.

Despite all these factors, I still remained determined to follow my dream to study in an Asian country. So why Korea? Initially, I was deciding between Japan and Korea. Because I already had a basic understanding of the Japanese language, this probably would have been the easier route. But, of course, I choose the road far less travelled. I settled on doing my exchange semester at Korea University (고려대학교) for two particular reasons. First, I already had met an exchange student from there who was studying at my university in Australia, and second, Korea University has a very impressive Media School and international student buddy system (KUBA). In my mind, it was a no-brainer.

— KUBA Fall Semester 2013
KUBA Fall Semester 2013

Once I had made the decision everything else just fell into place. Earning enough money, getting a passport, find a leaser for my apartment, etc. By the time it came to August 24th 2013, I was all set and ready to go. Granted my first night did not go as I had planned – getting lost in the airport was definitely not a great start. Luckily, I found the team from KUBA who was there to pick me up and my adventure officially began.

For those who decide to study in Korea, I highly recommend Korea University. You can go for their summer program, a semester, or year exchange. Now, this isn’t me just being my biased. Korea University is one of the top institutions in Korea. Even domestic students need to study hard to get accepted. But, it isn’t all study and no play.

I attended during the fall semester (September-December) and there are so many things happening every day. One particular event is the KoYeon Games. This is an annual sporting event between Korea University and Yonsei University. I don’t think I have been in such a high, crazy atmosphere in my entire life. Everyone is up and cheering for every sport. We even had a Cheering Orientation two weeks beforehand to learn all the cheers and moves!

KoYeon Ice Hockey Game             KoYeon Games at Jamsil Baseball Stadium

— Cheering for Korea University at the KoYeon Games in ice hockey and baseball

But the best thing about attending the Fall semester for me was experiencing snow for the first time. I had never been the snowfields at home growing up, our holidays always consisted of beaches and travelling up to the Gold Coast. So experiencing sub-zero temperatures and snowfall was amazing for me. It was like being a child again. My German roommate laughed in amazement at me for being so excited about it. In saying that, I am jealous of all my friends that are still in Korea experiencing the Spring season. I probably receive a picture or video once a week of the cherry blossoms.

Studying in Korea was amazing. I broadened my sense of global community and awareness and experienced a culture that was completely different from my own. However, it made my life back in Australia seem plain and boring. If I didn’t have any major University commitments and money wasn’t a problem, I would be on the next plane to Seoul in a heartbeat. But I have the feeling that I will be back there someday. Maybe in a year. Maybe in five years. Who really knows what will happen in the future? If you had come up to me when I was in high school and told me that one day I would go live and study in Korea, I wouldn’t have believed you.

That decision to go to Korea has opened up a whole new world for me. I have been a part of promoting study exchange programs in Asia at my university. It has allowed me to branch into new fields in my career path as a journalist. It has also made me a more confident and outgoing person than what I once was before I left Australia. I guess you could say that I am well and truly riding the Korean Wave.

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Elise Stevenson

Korea Country Coordinator
Elise is currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Journalism at Griffith University and based on the Gold Coast. She has undertaken a semester exchange in Seoul where she attended Korea University. Elise has a personal blog and YouTube channel where she discusses her experiences in Korea. She is also improving her Korean language skills.

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