And just like that, my exchange semester at Ewha Womans University has come to a close.
Despite two weeks of quarantine upon my entry to South Korea due to Delta and an early departure back to the States because of the increasingly severe Omicron situation, the COVID variant sandwich that plagued this semester didn’t stand a chance at ruining one of the most impactful experiences of my life.
Looking back on my academic experience, I’m honestly so shocked at how much my Korean language skills could improve in just one semester— the daily, three-hour long, 8 am classes definitely paid off. Shortly after my return to the States, I received my score on the November TOPIK and luckily scored a 4, meaning that I am now considered fluent enough to take college courses fully in Korean. Ewha’s Korean language program has opened so many doors for me, such as grad school or working in Korea, and I can’t wait to continue learning Korean in the future.
Before my stay, I was wondering how my experience with an external summer semester program and a semester-long Temple exchange program would compare to each other. While both programs were fantastic and so much fun, there are a few key differences that I would want to know before making my choice if I had only had the opportunity to experience one.
Although I had the opportunity to study in Korea for a summer semester in the past, staying for five months allowed me to see more of the country and even make multiple trips back to my favorite spots instead of feeling pressured to do something different every weekend, or cram all of my adventures after class on weekdays. For anyone wanting to experience daily life and adjust to a more “normal” semester routine, I would recommend looking into a semester or full-year exchange program.
For starters, a semester exchange program lets you interact with regularly matriculated students at your university, because you are taking classes during the standard school schedule. Many of my classes at Ewha were majority Korean students, which allowed me to make lots of friends to practice Korean with. Beyond language exchange, I got to really immerse myself in Korean college culture through the Peace Buddies program, as my Peace Buddy was a huge help during my adjustment period. When I went to Yonsei University’s International Summer School through an external program, all of the classes are mostly only taken by students who are studying abroad, so you don’t really feel like you get to integrate onto campus like a regular student. This has its pros and cons depending on what you’re looking for out of your program
Secondly, language acquisition and practice opportunities are pretty different between the two programs. At Ewha, I had more time and more opportunities to speak Korean because I was fully integrated into campus life. The intensive Korean language program was also a huge help. One of my frustrations with my summer program originally was that I felt like I didn’t improve my Korean very much because I only had the opportunity to hang out with other American students. However, for students who want to experience Korea with minimal Korean language knowledge, an international summer school program like the one at Yonsei might be a great option.
Overall, I feel like I’ve grown so much by getting out of my comfort zone and really immersing myself in Korean language. While I entered this semester with a lot of anxiety surrounding graduating and ending my time as a college student, I’m now more excited than ever so see what the future has in store for me. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad my senior year of college— especially in the middle of a global pandemic.