For me, one of the most exciting prospects of transferring to university from community college was the chance to do a study abroad. During the first weeks of my first semester a study abroad coordinator came to talk to my class about the benefits of doing an exchange and really put the seed into my head. I wandered into the study abroad office and looked over the many options of the different places in the world UAlbany could send me to. I felt the majority of students end up choosing Europe as their destination, and with that in mind I decided I wanted to go somewhere that was in complete contrast of US culture. I made my decision to apply for the Fall 2010 program to Seoul, South Korea. Although the paperwork seemed overwhelming, the step by step process helped to minimize the stress and besides the international studies office was always there to help with any questions or confusion I had.
Before I knew it, I was on my way across the world on a non-stop 14 hour flight. My host school had sent a guide in my welcome packet outlining the transportation system so I chose not to be picked up from the airport in a group arrangement. I instead ventured out on my own, and arrived at my dorm at 6 in the morning. The campus of Yonsei university was incredibly beautiful with a wonderful contrast between historical and modern architecture as well as impressive technology at every turn, especially the Samsung Library. The exchange students had the majority of their classes in an exclusive building that was connected to the dorm. This brand new dorm, equipped with restaurants (serving western and Korean cuisine), a convenience store, a gym, a nail salon, a travel agency and many other amenities all available without even having to go outside, made it clear the international students were well taken care of!
The first week offered orientations to the culture, language, food and of course parties! Most exchange students arrived a week and a half prior to classes so we all had plenty of time to get settled in and make friends. The school also had many international students associations that organized field trips, events and parties for the entire semester. The first trip was an overnight palace visit with a crazy pig roast, bonfire, games and 1,000 bottle of Soju!! (the traditional alcohol of Korea). The beginning of the semester also coincided with the tradition of Yon-Ko Jeon, the five game championship of soccer, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, rugby between Yonsei and Korea university. With Yonsei taking the championship it was an unbelievable celebration!
Seoul is a huge metropolitan city that never sleeps, endless restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, shopping centers and historical monuments dot the landscape. The Seoul metro and bus lines were incredibly easy to navigate as well as very inexpensive. There was always something to do and we always found time to explore or participate in scheduled events. The professors for reserved exchange student classes were not as demanding as the professors for the regular Yonsei student classes. But, I was happy I was able to experience both and integrate with the regular Korean Yonsei students. It was as important to me to make Korean friends and experience and learn about their culture from them as it was to befriend and learn from my other international exchange friends. Studying abroad expanded my horizons to people and things I never imagined. I was able to make long lasting friendships and travel to other places I never expected to find myself. Everyone always says studying abroad was the best experience of their life and as cliché as that is to hear, once you come back you can’t describe it any other way!