by Kamila Nurgalieva (2014-15)
My destination for exchange program was “the land of morning calm”, South Korea. The first thing that I want to say is that the nickname for the country is definitely not reflecting the realities of Korean lifestyle. People start their daily routine long before the sun rises and you can see them rushing here and there from dawn to the night and even throughout the night. This overwhelmingly busy lifestyle of an average Korean was actually one of the things I liked about my experience there. Not the stressful part of it, of course, but the stimulation and motivation that I got from watching them being so active all the time. I was amazed by their skillfulness in time management and their veneration and diligence at work or school or even in their hobbies. Most of Koreans work and study for unimaginably long hours, but they still manage to perform other daily tasks and even have all kinds of hobbies. I tried to copy these traits soon I found myself not just studying and touring as most students on exchange do, but also getting involved in all kinds of activities and just generally devoting time to self-development as many Koreans do. By the end of exchange I improved my Korean speaking ability a whole lot and I also acquired all kinds of new skills and hobbies and these diverse occupations did not affect my grades at all. I believe that Korea has the best environment for self-development with all its competition-culture that underlies the busy lifestyles of Koreans.
Apart from the stimulation for self-development, exchange in Korea has much more to it, especially when cultural experience is concerned. I chose Korea as my destination as I major in Asian Studies and Korean traditional culture always caught my interest and I was hoping to experience certain aspects of it on my exchange. But I did much more than I thought I would. Korea is paying tremendous effort to preserve their culture and in facilitate cultural exchange, so I was able to see, experience, visit and learn much more things that I originally expected. I went on a field trip to a village in a countryside, where the first cooking book written by a woman was released. There we learned how to make traditional Korean wine and kimchi; we also had a chance to try a full course of dishes that were served to aristocrats back in the day, and during our stay there we were living in a traditional Korean house, which is 350 years old! The village was also preserved in the way it used to be and the weekend tour to the countryside turned to be a journey to the past. Also, in Seoul itself, numerous cultural festivals are held and one of the most impressing among those I attended was a festival of Baekje culture (one of Three Kingdoms in Korean history). Upon entering the area where it was held all the visitors were given Baekje style gowns and the modern Korean money were exchanged for coins that we could use at the traditional market. So, the moment I entered the area, I felt like I went almost thousand years back in time! For such a fan of Korean traditional culture it was heaven to be able to attend festivities like these and to experience everything that I only saw in history movies and books. So, for any student looking for cultural storm, Korea is definitely a great choice as a host country for exchange.
Many exchange students actually come to Korea (to Seoul in particular) to experience its legendary night life and I have to say that the Seoul night life is certainly something that you would want to see and experience. Near the place where I lived many university campuses were located, so around 8pm all the students stream out to the streets to eat dinner with friends and have fun, but the interesting part is not them. The most exciting part is the students of arts universities who come out for street performances. They station their instruments and equipment at the wide and long streets of the district and perform all kinds of art throughout the night. You can see everything there: from playing music and dancing to soap-bubble shows and small-scale plays. Everyone goes home at around 5 am, when the subway starts going again and the dynamic nightlife smoothly transitions into no less dynamic workday.
A workday or a study-day in my case is something that I should mentioned as ultimately exchange also involves studying, not only exploring or fun. I found the system in Korean university not much different from that in here, but one thing was pretty startling about it – the grading system. In some classes the grading system is competition-based rather than point or percentage based. So, you can get A+, not because you got certain amount of points, but only if you are in the top 35% of the class. This is very stimulating, I should say. The competition in the class is sometimes so intense that students won’t even answer your questions about the class or share notes to those who missed. Some exchange students found it stressful, but I think that there are many good sides to this system. I am international student in Canada and I came from the country where competition is also highly encouraged, so for me this wasn’t as shocking as for others and actually in Canada I have missed this spirit of competition.
Other things that I should include here I think are the factoids and general information about living in Korea. I found it very convenient to move around as the transportation system is well-devised. Also, everything is very accessible at any time of the day as Korea has a huge network of 24/7 services. It might be quite challenging for those who don’t speak Korean, but even some preliminary knowledge will be enough to “survive” and most of the younger people and even some elderly can speak some English. Overall, I did not experience much difficulty in getting around in Korea. Even finding friends was not that hard despite the widespread belief that Koreans have closed mindset to foreigner due to relative homogeneity.
All in a word, my experience in Korea was more than fantastic and it is hard to fit everything in one article, but one thing that I want to say upon finishing my very abridged story is that exchange was a very right and a very great decision to make. Of course, it was challenging and hard at times, but every struggle or difficulty that I have gone through in studies or adaptation was worth the valuable and unforgettable experience that I got there. Also, now as I returned to my old life in Winnipeg, I can sense the change in myself, I matured, I learned new things and now I am finding ways to apply the new knowledge and experience. Exchange enriched my life in many different ways and to every student considering going on exchange I want to tell: Go for it.
Share Your Experience!
If you have recently returned from an IC Exchange Program and would like to share your photos and experiences, please contact:
IC Student Exchange Office
541 University Centre
Ph: (204) 474-6736