1. Korea is a great place for an Exchange studnet
Korea, known generally for K-pop, the food and the amazing skincare products – is a pretty fantastic country to be in. I have been here now for just around a month, and I can already say that I could be here for longer. From the first few weeks of navigating the well-knit public transportation system (make sure you use a Korean map app like Naver Map or Kakao Map), being able to always find someplace open to satisfy your ice-cream cravings, and also finding that your wallet doesn’t suffer as much when you grab delicious, and quick food (coffee and cakes though are pretty expensive). You will find that there’s always something fun to do, and that you may be coming home late every day since everything is pretty much open until midnight throughout the week. I am really glad that Korea was the place I decided to come to after all that deliberation and research
2. Yonsei university usually has a large intake of exchange students
This year, during orientation they said that Yonsei has around 1000 exchange/international student in this intake of Autumn semester. Around campus and in class you will not only find many fellow exchange students to make friends with but also find that there are so many societies for exchange students (around 4-5 different societies) to network and socialise not only with exchange students but also the local students here at Yonsei. They have a responsive and friendly team at the global affairs office, a beautiful campus filled with convenience stores and cafeterias – and also 2 bank branches in campus for students and staff. The facilities and culture here is something really worth experiencing, as student life on Yonsei comes with lots of perks. One cool thing to note also is that your Student ID can be used as a debit card as well.
3. Attendance is important
On the syllabus, attendance usually takes up 5-10% of your mark – meaning if you were to miss 2 lessons or so, you will have to talk to your professor about your lack of attendance. I recommend making the effort to show up to every class prepared, especially as Professors like to engage in discussions quite a lot of the time about the material, making the classes like a mix of lecture and tutorial style. But this tends to vary quite a bit with the lecturers too.
4. Join some societies
As I mentioned earlier, there are heaps of societies available! I think the Mentors club is a big one for exchange students but there are at least 4 other ones about global networking and making friends. One thing to note is that you might find that many societies have an interview or auditioning process especially if they are pretty popular and get many applicants. I personally tried out for busking societies (and I took my ukulele with me to Korea for this haha) and got in! Another thing to note is that the fees for the societies are much higher than they are at UTS, ranging from 20000 to 50000won which is like 20-50 dollars. Additionally there is an MT or Membership training which is a weekend getaway to bond and get to know fellow members from the society, which is quite a unique experience to the Korean University life, so I would like to recommend trying it out – especially if you haven’t yet been so active in societies back in UTS.
5. Be sensible with money
Everything in Korea may seem pretty cheap, and honestly a lot of things are. However, with the exchange rate from AUD to KRW you may underestimate your spending… as I have in the first few weeks here. My recommendation, as mentioned many times before already is to explore your options with banks offering global currency cards and accounts. Korea is very friendly to card payments but will have a few things which only accept cash – e.g. public transportation card recharging (I recommend having cash to spare for this reason). So I use my card on most occasions, which saves me from the ATM withdrawal fees and bad exchange rates. I recommend budgeting, doing a lot of research and looking into all your options before making decisions. For example, with housing, dormitories are convenient as you won’t spend too much on transport, but they come with some T&Cs that people might not necessarily anticipate as an exchange student looking for a certain freedom/independence. I have heard that a few people have already been kicked out of the dorms for breaking the rules, and you don’t want to end up as one of them. Also a friend of mine had to find a new place to live a month into her stay in Korea because she realised that the apartment she had already paid 2 months for wasn’t the best option for her. Look into contracts, be thorough with inspections and most importantly know what your priorities are because there will be mistakes but you don’t want to make them too costly if you can help it.
6. Plan ahead for the holidays
The semester here doesn’t have mid-sem breaks, so you’ll have to plan your travels/adventures wisely. If you come to Korea for the second semester (spring for Aus and autumn in Korea), there will be a nice long break called Chuseok, which is a massive holiday celebrating the harvest moon and a time for everyone to spend with family. Going to a different city at the time is going to be quite challenging unless you plan ahead because there will be many people travelling home to their families and tickets will be sold out closer to the date. But it will be a few days of freedom that is rare to come by! So make sure you make the most of it. The public holidays are few and far between too, so I just recommend planning so that you can make each of those precious days count. Also keep your eyes on the radar for some events, ceremonies and festivals that might be going on around this time. For example, all the traditional palaces will be open for visitors during the Chuseok holiday for free!
7. Learn some Korean
Although there are lots of signs in English and many people do speak some English, learning some Korean will go a long way for your stay here in Korea. The Korean written language is extremely easy to learn, you’ll be able to read and write in 15 minutes although you won’t exactly know what anything means. Basic Korean classes are offered at Yonsei, but there are also some language apps which can teach you some basic phrases. You’ll find that especially older ladies and gentlemen really appreciate it when you can say hello and thank you in Korean. Your local friends will be able to help you out with this endeavour.
8. Take good care of your paperwork and courses
The Alien Registration Card is going to be a bit of a pain, but it’s necessary for all staying in Korea for over 90 days, and for people with the student visa, they should have this ARC card before leaving the country too. Yonsei gave us 2 days to be able to do this application at school this semester which was really helpful, BUT make sure that you have all your paperwork and passport photo well organised as the lines are super long (at least 1hr) and being sent home or sent to the back of the line won’t be so fun at all.
Something also different in Yonsei from UTS is that the first week is a trial period for courses, where you can attend classes (even if you didn’t sign up for it) to try it out and get a better idea. If you are tossing up between a few courses, (esp for direct equivalents) check that they can be approved at UTS first, then try out the courses to make your final decision at the course add/drop period. But of course, make sure you enrol properly using the mileage system when signing up for the courses. I would like to recommend that you read that handbook sent by email properly.
9. This experience is up to you, take initiative!
Finally, the exchange experience is all up to you. Getting out of your comfort zone, taking initiative to say hi or look into your interests is a key way to make most of your experience here. Do your own fair share of homework to make a good list of things you want to do and places you want to go, but at the same time be responsible enough to manage your classes and homework as well. Just make this experience yours to cherish, and make the most out of.
Bachelor of Medical Science
Australian Government New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant recipient.
For more information about the UTS Global Exchange program please visit: www.global-exchange.uts.edu.au