Despite my previous worries of not being able to get around Seoul with my extremely limited Korean, I was able to make it through the duration of the program just fine. There were a few apps that I constantly used to make the trip smoother. Papago (the Korean version of Google Translate) was extremely helpful when I wanted to ask complex questions and also had a tool that allowed me to translate directly from pictures. If I ever needed to get a taxi, KakaoT (basically Uber but for taxis) allowed me to input my desired location without needing to describe the place in Korean to the taxi driver. Having a few key phrases such as “How much is this?” “One, please” and “Thank you” were extremely helpful when I went out to eat. Obviously, not knowing Korean is not the best if you plan to do a semester-long study abroad program, but for the purposes of my shorter stay, it was fine.
Perhaps one of the most shocking things that I discovered on this trip was how useful my Chinese skills would be. On more than one occasion, I found myself communicating in Chinese to restaurant owners and shopkeepers. I’m not sure if these people were Chinese people living in Korea, Korean-Chinese, or just Koreans who spoke Chinese, but all of them spoke with a standard Chinese accent, which, in my opinion, is quite hard to replicate, especially for non-native speakers.
Over the last month, I was able to take classes in subjects that were completely unrelated to my major and career goals. One of the classes, Contemporary Art and Politics in East Asia turned out to be more of a contemporary art class. If I had known this was the case, I would have never taken this course. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the content and developed a genuine interest in this subject. Just being in Korea, learning about its history, and enjoying the culture has definitely developed my interest in East Asian Studies. I definitely want to take more classes and potentially pursue a certificate in this area.
My biggest piece of advice for studying abroad would be this: don’t be afraid to do things by yourself. While it is often more fun exploring with others, people may not always have the same interests as you or may not be free when you are. Don’t waste time waiting for someone to do something with you. This also extends to studying abroad in general. I went on this trip with zero aquaitances and expection and returned with new frieinds and memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. In the famous of Nike, JUST DO IT.