Discovering South Korea

By Aino Yrjänä, doing her exchange period at Konkuk University in Seoul

Itaewon, my home neighborhood, view from my bus stop

It has been now a bit over two months since I departured from Finland. It feels surreal. Another two months and it's time for my final reports. I have been attending classes now a bit over a month and it's been very interesting for me. It is totally different from Finnish educational system with its pros and cons, of course. I have been generally happy with my studies. I have gained more academic knowledge under Communication Design than I could hope in the beginning of my semester. This was one of my learning goal. I have learned a lot from other students of my major (and from others in general) by observing and getting to know them.
180 exchange students of Konkuk University fall semester

I have been also eager to learn Korean language, one of my main learning goals as well. Hangul (Korean alphabet) is definitely learnable, but you need to do your own extra work on it on your free time, maybe with the help of Korean friends. Last week we have mid-terms, I will see how I have been developing. This is one more good reason to go out to streets, cafes and restaurants to practice my basis of Korean language. I have noticed that I learn the best way by doing or repeating what I want to learn. Independent studying and connections with Korean students have been vital to me to learn Hangul.
Spot Aino from the subway crowd

My learning goal towards Target Country was to get to know Korean culture and society has been developing very well beside my academical goals. I have been lucky to travel in many different cities of South Korea. I have also attended different events and festivals around the country for locals and foreigners. By meeting new people, I have been enlightened almost every day. It's been very awarding to spend my time here.
On top of a peak of Mt. Bukhansan. Behind tiny, tiny Seoul.

I'm living off-campus with two Korean women so I get to be part of the local culture during most of my stay here. I have been introduced to Korean cuisine and its traditions, tea culture and Korean spiritual traditions among many other things. I have learned a lot with my roommates. We have our differences but I feel grateful to learn new things every day. I live in an area where's lot of immigrants living called Itaewon district, but in my neighborhood of nearby blocks lives only Koreans – mainly elderly people. I guess I could ramble many pages about Korean grandmothers. I am forever fearing and respecting them, tough ladies. If they open their home and heart to you, you will learn and gain so much understanding towards their culture.
Attending Bike & Rhythm Festival in city of Gwangju

I have been blessed to have warm-hearted people around me, locals and exchange students. I experienced minor cultural shock when I arrived, which still rises its head sometimes, but I assume it is because I have never been in any Asian country before. To me it's weird that people really stare at you most of the time. They won't look away even though you would look back. Maybe only when you make funny faces.. Some people also have touched me without asking my permission or without approaching me beforehand. I also feel sometimes like a celebrity by having so many pictures taking with or without my knowledge. Having fair looks can be nice here, you definitely get the extra attention, but when you have a bad day or it's just getting old, you really should stop for a minute – breathe – and try to remember all the good things about your target country and try to put things into perspective. Humor also gets you through a lot of things. Life is not that bad after all, you know!
Autumn finally arriving to Konkuk University

I truly think every single person on Earth should go to live for awhile in completely opposite culture of their native culture. It will open your eyes, gain some gratitude and compassion to others and most importantly gain some understanding towards other people - what in my opinion we mostly need more in this world. Even though my journey to South Korea is mainly academic, I feel strongly that it's also very spiritual journey to me.

I highly recommend people go to exchange or have their internship abroad if they have the opportunity!

Best wishes,
x Aino
The author is a student of our International Media Programme
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