Monday, October 15, 2012

Sydni's Story: Studying Abroad in Seoul, Korea

(From Top, Left to Right) 
1. A panoramic view of Seoul from Sydni's window
2. Sydni Porter - GWU Junior
3. A Sea of Crimson - Korea University
4. An opposing sea of blue - Yonsei University

Name: Sydni Porter
Grade: Junior, Class of 2014
Major: Asian Studies / Minor: Korean Language and Culture
Hometown: Hinesville, Georgia
Location of Study Abroad: Korea University (Seoul, Korea)

What was your level of Korean before going abroad, and what courses are you taking now at Korea University?
I had finished intermediate II at GWU, and at Korea University, I am enrolled in 1) intermediate Korean I; 2) Beginners Korean Speaking II; 3) Morphology; 4) Environmental Meteorology; and 4) Mass Media and Popular Culture in Korea. 

What is it like to attend Korea University?
There is a lot of school spirit at KU and at Yonsei. The two schools are rivals, and every year there are the GoYon games between the two where they compete in several sports (see picture above). 

Have you experienced any cultural/language barrier issues?
I haven’t experienced too many cultural issues. I've been wanting to go to Korea since the 10th grade, so I've done a lot of research on my own and have learned a lot from my GW classes, so I felt pretty prepared. One thing I wish I had known - well I had heard of it before but completely forgot - was about the squat toilets. Most public toilets are squat toilets, which are essentially holes in the floor that you have to squat over and pee into (but like a western toilet, they are also made of ceramic and have handles to flush). It came as a bit of a shock the first time I asked to use the restroom. 

What are some fun things you have done thus far?

1. Visited the War Memorial
2. Toured traditional Korean village
3. Attended the Korea vs Yonsei (GoYon) games
4. Traveled Hongdae and Gangnam
5. Checked out the US Military Base, Yongsan
6. Learning about issues like 
homosexuality in the Korean film industry in my Mass Media and Popular Culture in Korea class.

Please share a memorable moment from your study abroad experience:
My most memorable moment was definitely the GoYon games. There was a sea of red against a sea of blue, all yelling out cheers as they “watched” the soccer game. The cheers are each coordinated to a corresponding song and led by cheering officials. GWU pales in comparison to the school spirit here. The vibe is tremendous, and even though the two sides are rivals, it’s not uncommon to hop over to the sea of blue (Yonsei) and learn their cheers too. Even after the games, the two schools take to the streets of KU or Yonsei and cheer all night long. 

Any advice for those studying Korean right now and considering studying abroad in Korea?
The biggest thing I have noticed from observing other study abroad students is making sure that you can respect Korean culture and appreciate the distinct flavors of Korean cuisine. Yes there are Western eateries, but usually these options don't even taste like real Western food, are too expensive, and more difficult to find. Besides, Korean food is very good for you (minus the salt content). As for respecting the culture, Korean people hold a deep sense of respect for the elderly and those above you in status. I have found the people of Korea to be well behaved no matter what situation, and there is a lot of modesty and stylishness in how they dress (much more so for women). Most of all, make sure you visit as many places as you can; make a plan for each weekend. Keep in mind that businesses in Korea are stacked on top of each other, so it is easy to miss out on some interesting restaurants and bars if you don't pay attention.

Would you say that Korea is still a developing country?
Before I came to Korea, I had to call my bank for some technical things and mentioned to the banker that I was going to Korea to study abroad. As we continued our dialogue, the banker said to me, “Maybe you can get a job while you are there, pulling one of those carts that people sit on. I heard they call those taxis there.” Needless to say, his words made me 38 hot! Obviously, he has never been to Korea or cared to learn about this thriving country. (For the record, all the taxis I have ridden in have been very nice. You can even pay with your subway card, which is more high-tech than the United States.)

It confuses me that South Korea is considered a lesser developed country, often mistakenly paired along with Africa and most other southern hemisphere countries. There are many things in Seoul that surpass anything in the United States: the subway system, while a bit complicated, stretches farther than the DC Metro, and the platforms are considerably brighter and better-maintained than the DC metro and NY subway. Seoul is a leader in technology, and in terms of cell phone variety and capabilities, Korea beats the U.S. by a long run. Koreans also receive free healthcare, and the city is steeped in mix of tradition and westernization. Right by my dorm is a large Buddhist temple, and I have seen the monks using the subway and texting on their cells. I can foresee South Korea playing an even larger role in worldwide politics, especially in retaliation to the ever looming “threat” of a North Korean attack. This fast-paced city is full of national pride and a palpable drive for success. The mood is quite contagious, and I cannot help but look forward to my own future with similar anticipation and excitement. 


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