There’s no better way to gain life experiences that will stay with you forever then studying in another country.

Student at Korean Food Market
Tia Darrington
Undergraduate Student
BA East Asian Studies
Tia is studying on our BA East Asian Studies programme and applied for a year abroad through the University Global Opportunities programme. She was successful in securing a place at Seoul National University.

Where did you spend your year abroad?

I spent my year abroad in South Korea at Seoul National University (SNU), September 2020 – June 2021.

Why did you decide to apply to the year abroad programme?

After years of having an interest in Asia, most specifically Korea, alongside studying East Asian Studies at University, I decided to apply for the year abroad programme to put to use everything I’ve learnt over the years at Sheffield. It’s amazing to study the country from afar, however actually being in the country that we study about so intensely makes everything easier to understand and appreciate. Immersing myself into the daily culture physically instead of reading about it online was the main reason to apply, to allow myself to gain life experiences in a country so different to my own.

How different was the teaching and course structure compared to at Sheffield?

Although South Korea is completely different to England and Sheffield, I would not say the teaching and course structure was massively different. South Korea is known to have an intense education system far greater than what we are used to in England, however comparing SNU to Sheffield, things was relatively the same. Mid-terms, essays, final exams, weekly readings were all the same as Sheffield. Of course, just like Sheffield, the weekly amount of readings or independent study for each module differs, however it isn’t massively overwhelming. Having studied East Asian Studies, there are modules at SNU that link in and continue what we have studied at Sheffield, however learning about the culture and history whilst also being in the country to experience these, makes everything much better.

Student at a temple in Korea

What subjects were you able to study whilst on your year abroad?

As previously mentioned, there are modules that link in with what we study at the School of East Asian studies in Sheffield. In first semester, I studied 5 modules including Korean history, Korean language and culture, two Koreas (North and South), technology development in Korea, alongside nutrition throughout the lifecycle just to experience a different department and break things up a little. Second semester, I studied contemporary Korean society and continuing Korean history alongside taking a module at the Korean language Institute. SNU have a Language School that allows students to take Korean classes in a range of different ways to best suit your schedule, Regular morning/afternoon classes everyday or 15 week intense classes are the most common ones to take. Although you can take Korean language classes at SNU regularly, the SNU LEI classes are more advanced and allow you to pick up Korean more intensely and faster to ensure you can live more comfortably. (Although you can survive in Korea without knowing Korea, I would 100% look into taking Korean classes to, once again, fully immerge and appreciate all things Korean)

How would you describe student life in in your host city?

Although Korean students are known to study very strictly, they still know how to have fun and relax when they are not preparing for any exams. Korea is a country that is bright and lively, there are many places for students can study that are aesthetically pleasing and unique. Covid-19 was an issue that changed my year abroad slightly to other years. Usually, Korea and SNU hold events for students to ensure they have an amazing time, with orientations, music and food festivals, varsity and a range of other events that ensure you’re able to meet thousands of people, Korean and other exchange students, that would be friends for life. Although during my year abroad Covid-19 reduced these events, student life in Korea is still incredibly fun.

Was there a lot to see and do outside of studying?

Korea is a country that never sleeps. Things are open 24/7, attractions and food are incredibly cheap and there are places for everyone to visit. If one likes playing video games or karaoke, PC bangs and Karaoke rooms offer places for people to play almost any game or sing any song you could possibly think of, alongside offering food and drinks to ensure you’re comfortable whilst gaming or singing your heart out. Korea is full of mountains for people who like hiking, with a view that makes the hike worthwhile such as Bukhansan. Temples or palaces such as Changgyeonggung for people to see how Korea was many years ago, linking with what we learn during our History classes at Sheffield, also offering a place to feel peaceful. Beaches such as Haeundae, food streets such as Gwangjang Market, hot spots such as Hongdae and Itaewon for amazing shopping experiences and street performances. Theme parks such as Everland, Lotte World, Caribbean Bay for thrill seekers to ride the best rides. Korea is a country that has the old mixed in with the new, and offers for everyone.

View from Seoul Hiking

Did you get the chance to do any traveling whilst you were there?

Due to Covid-19, it was a little hard to travel, however I have been to Korea before and travelled previous years. Places like Jeju are incredibly easy to access, with a short 1-2 hour flight that is unbelievably cheap that it’s somewhere you have to go. Busan is another place that is common for people to travel to, with amazing beaches and food that differ from the scenery and offers in Seoul, it’s a nice place to take a break from the city life and live near the beach for a few days. As Korea have nearby neighbours such as Japan, it is common for students to travel to Japan during the holidays. Being so close, transport to places such as Japan are again, on the cheap side, so students are able to take a break from Korea and experience their neighbours which have a whole different society and culture despite being so close to each other. The transportation within Seoul is one of the best in the world, with high speed trains that run effectively, travelling around Korea is a very easy thing to do and highly recommended, especially since different cities in Korea offer different things to do, see and eat.

What skills do you feel you gained from doing the study abroad year?

Due to Korea being such a different country to England, the skills you learn during the year abroad are life-changing ones. Not only will you become more open-minded, you’ll also gain confidence that you never thought you’d have. Throwing yourself into a culture and language different to your own allows you to have more trust in yourself, encourages you to do things that you wouldn’t have usually done. Of course, being more independent is a comment that is most common to give. Being thousands of miles away from your friends and family, you’re forced to do things that you may have usually relied on your family to do, such as creating a bank account or finding accommodation and paying bills (at least I relied on my family for this before the year abroad). Moving to and living alone in a foreign country at a young age will give you the confidence to achieve anything else you set out in life to do. If you can survive a year abroad alone, then you can survive anything.

Do you have any advice for future/current student thinking of applying for the programme?

Just do it. Of course, it’s scary to move to a country so different to your own and everything you’re used to, but it’s an opportunity that not many people get to do. The world is a big place with many adventures and things to do, experience and learn. There’s no better way to gain life experiences that will stay with you forever then studying in another country. Not only is it like a massive holiday but you truly get a sense of the country by living there and becoming friends with native people. You learn things you never knew from the classroom in Sheffield or independent studying, you get to put the years of studying and watching the country through books or a computer screens into reality, right in front of your eyes. There’s so many resources and people that will ensure you feel safe and welcomed into the country, any worries or issues that occur, there will be people to aid you no matter the size or situation.

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