Quick summary: Rita Faria is an amazing Portuguese student from Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics who decided to take a semester abroad during her bachelor degree in South Korea! Throughout this interview Rita shares her Korea University exchange experience (as well as some pretty awesome pictures).
Related: Erasmus experience in Pisa, Italy!
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
After visiting Shanghai in 2011, I instantly and unexpectedly fell in love with Asia. And this first and startling experience in China was the reason I decided to study in an Asian country. After some research and shared experiences, I picked Seoul as my exchange destination and applied to Korea University.
Apart from being eager to travel, I’ve always believed going out of my comfort zone and engaging in challenging international experiences would make me grow and improve myself. Besides, I do consider important for our generation to understand the global environment in which we’re living today. Thus, studying abroad was definitely a must for me.
When did you get to South Korea and how long were you there?
I arrived in Seoul in August 2014 and stayed until December of the same year.
After being there for a while, have your first impressions changed? How?
When you move to a completely different country on the other side of the world, the cultural shock tends to be big. In Seoul, everything is different: the people and how they behave, the language, the food. Everything seemed really bizarre at first, which made me feel uncomfortable. Though, I knew feeling homesick was normal, and that eventually it would go away.
And that’s exactly what happened. The first week was tough, but the friends I made throughout time, and that eventually became my family overseas, helped me overcome that wistful feeling. Today, it is my favourite place in the world and I miss it every day. Once you get used to the cultural differences and embrace this entire new way of living, the city that felt unfamiliar at first will gradually start to feel like home.
What are the most positive things you have experienced there? And the most negative ones?
Meeting interesting people, making friends from all over the world, travelling and learning from amazing professionals are positive aspects I can easily highlight from my experience. Nonetheless, being away from home and the people you love, and adapting to a new culture can be challenging. Overcoming the difficulties, though, is necessary and will eventually make you grow.
I had the opportunity to learn from captivating and incredible professionals. Because I intend to pursue a career in Marketing, I took as many marketing-related courses as possible. Some of my favourite were Product and Brand Management and Consumer Behavior, taught by two illustrious professors. The teaching environment at KU is very diverse and I had teachers of all sorts of nationalities. Besides, the campus was impressive. It was huge and had literally everything in it, from restaurants and cafés to a cinema and a barbershop.
Moreover, I think the academic environment was what impressed me the most. Just walking around showing off the Tiger, the university logo, was a reason to feel proud. And everyone cultivated this amazing academic spirit. There are a lot of academic-related activities, as the KoYon Games, which is basically a sports tournament between KU and Yonsei University. The Games exist for years and the Alumni still watch them and participate in the celebrations. Even if you’re not a full-time student there, you will eventually get into the spirit of it.
What about Korean people? Have you got along with them easily? Many cultural barriers?
How you get along with Koreans really depends on how receptive they are. Some will smile at you in the subway; will reach out to you in the street just to offer you food; will kindly try to know where you’re from and know you better. In rare occasions, some Koreans will treat you differently because you’re a foreigner and they’re not used to outsiders.
For instance, before arriving there, all exchange students are allocated to a KUBA group. KUBA stands for Korea University Buddy Assistant and is composed by students that make sure you have the best experience possible in Korea. We had weekly lunches and dinners and scheduled weekend activities with them. Bonding with them was easy and fun. We always had a blast. However, it wasn’t always this easy with classmates. Koreans are sweet, helpful and thoughtful, but they’re very shy and their English is not always good. Nevertheless, they’re the kindest and I could not have felt more welcome. Their enthusiasm and joy are simply contagious.
Did you enjoy your social life here in South Korea? Which kind of activities did you like to do in your spare time?
Korea has so many things to keep you busy it’s unbelievable. I engaged in many outdoor activities, such as hiking and music and arts festivals. Also, I travelled a lot and visit the most incredible places with breath-taking landscapes. Korea has a very dynamic nightlife and evening gatherings for dinner or drinks are very common. In Anam, where I lived, we used to go out for chicken and beer and ended up in a bar having soju, the popular Korean drink.
Furthermore, there were several traditional and interesting markets where you could get all sorts of goods. Shopping malls are modern and known for selling trendy and distinctive clothing items. Even if buying something is not in your plans, the markets and malls are worth visiting.
Would you like to come back? What do you miss the most?
I often think about going back and I know I will someday. Korea means a lot to me and is a country that gave me the most wonderful memories. I miss the people and the food, as well as my life there. I always say that I’d love to bring all my friends from all over the globe and gather there one more time. Maybe one day!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about going to study in South Korea?
If you enjoyed this article you most certainly are going to enjoy to know what is a Tunisian student’s view of Portugal!
DISCLAIMER: The articles featured on our platform were prepared or accomplished by students in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of UDUNI. UDUNI does not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in these articles. It is part of our mission to empower students, by providing them access to real testimonials and opinions, and we believe that is the reason why some of our articles may not please everyone.