Two months ago I arrived in Seoul and I have two more months left there. As it’s currently exams week and there are no activities (neither with the buddy programm nor are there any current festivals in Seoul) I decided to use the spare time to write a first résumé.
First of all, I want to emphasize the limitations of the experiences I made and therefore my biased view which is mainly based on
- my background as an exchange student which offers a lot of advantages (as far as I know the buddy program is only introduced to foreigners),
- my stay at the Korea University, one of the top universities in the country,
- my major in Information System,
- my stay in the university district (Dongdaemun) in Seoul,
- my origin from Germany and therefore its cultural influence on me.
There are nearly infinite other parameters that play a role (e. g. personal experience in life in general), but the ones above are somehow the easiest to validate (although culture is sometimes hard to isolate).
To conclude, I can only tell about my experiences in these settings. In other words, I have no personal experiences towards
- the study life of domestic students,
- the settings and environment of other universities in Korea (and particular in Seoul),
- the quality, effort and grades of other studies,
- life in other cities and other districts,
- the perception of exchange students from other countries.
However, during my conversations with other people, especially exchange students, I received the following impressions:
- At least the young koreans like to enjoy life in a similar way to westerners, especially with their food and (sometimes even excessive) drinking sessions. In general I consider them to be more polite and even maybe more interested in people than, for example, germans. Also, they seem to trust each other more.
- Some of the european exchange students mentioned that they feel more safe than in their home country, especially regarding going out in the night and leaving bags unattended.
- In general, koreans seem to be interested in foreigners and often ask why they came to Korea. However, this might result from a low foreign population in general.
Here, the OECD defines foreign population the following way:
The foreign population consists of people who still have the nationality of their home country. It may include people born in the host country. The difference across countries between the size of the foreign-born population and that of the foreign population depends on the rules governing the acquisition of citizenship in each country. This indicator is measured as a percentage of population.
With regard to this definition, Korea had 2 % of foreign population in 2013.
According to this graph, Japan has even a slightly lesser foreign population, but this result can be distorted by country-specific regulations. Nevertheless, the dimension should be the same.
- Most of the foreigners seem to be westerners. In this group the U.S.-americans dominate, especially those with a military background. As a result, there seem to be more blacks than people from the orient in Korea.
- In general, the working morale among the koreans is very high. Most shops are opened until the very late evening and on saturdays as well as on sundays. Public places near the university are filled with students at nearly anytime, apart from the early morning.
- Koreans are very socially active and often work in groups with a high in-group solidarity. They’re eager to help which so no one gets in trouble; this seems to be a part of the traditional korean culture that includes “face-saving” (which is actually much more complex).
- In previous posts I already mentioned the very efficient infrastructure, especially their working metro system and many open wifis, but this also applies to working – for example, usually when a class ends all persons leave fast and as there’s usually no litter left you can’t say if anyone has even been in there.
- One major obstacle is still that out of the university area many koreans don’t speak any english. It seems like the gap between “no speaking at all” and “fluently speaking” is quite high with only little share in between. Fortunately, you can ask passengers for help and they seem to be usually willing to assist.
- To some degree they copy culture from westerners, but enrich it with their own unique style. Most korean TV shows are somehow adaptions from western templates, but there are only few TV channels with foreign productions. While K-pop is unique, e. g. clubs often play electronic music that doesn’t sound different from western styles, at least for me.
What is going to happen
After the exams period the buddy programs will continue as before. I discovered VisitKorea last week and noted some of the presented events in Seoul down in hope of having resources to participate in them. Unfortunately, at the same time the effort for the studies have lately grown remarkabely, so I also need to figure it out how I can combat personal inefficiencies to accomodate the number of things.
Featured Image – By Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons