Joan Karstrom ’23 is a Business Administration and Computer Science double major. She completed an internship and semester abroad in South Korea in 2022. Joan is a recipient of the Freeman-ASIA Scholarship to study abroad.
It took me over two years to go abroad. Not because I couldn’t decide where to go but because of COVID-19 and the restrictions not allowing me to travel. I applied in the Fall of 2019 to study abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, in the Fall of 2020. This particular university I applied through Chapman and then through an exchange consortium called ISEP to be able to attend Yonsei.
I had my sights set on this school even before attending Chapman and did every little thing necessary to go. As it was not direct through Chapman, I had to be accepted by ISEP, and the school I had chosen was very competitive. In the months leading up to this, I had filled out visa applications, chosen classes, and even started to make a list of things to visit and explore. But before I could leave, I got the email that Chapman and Yonsei had made the difficult decision to cancel the study abroad for fall 2020. This decision, though, did not deter me. Instead of canceling my study abroad like a lot of my other friends did, I decided to defer my study abroad for one semester. With all the circumstances, I ended up deferring for three more semesters after that.
When I started planning my study abroad experience, there were no summer courses offered in South Korea. But by the time I was about to leave, there was a new internship program offered, which I took part in. Leaving in May, I spent eight weeks working at a tech startup in Seoul. This helped increase my understanding of how life works in another country. I learned how to be confident in public transportation and how to find not just tourist spots. By the time school came along, I did not have to battle culture shock and had more time to focus on classes.
While at Yonsei, I took 12 credits of classes but only three classes. I took History of East Asia and Understanding Digital Media, which were both each 3 hours a week. Since Covid restrictions are active at Yonsei and across the country, my classes met online once a week and in person once a week. However, many people had classes entirely in person.
The history class I took was one of the most intriguing classes I have ever taken in college. As this part of history is not usually taught in school curriculum, I was learning many things for the first time and how they shaped how many countries work today. My digital media class was also very fascinating to have discussions about. Korea has some of the most advanced technology in the world, and with the wave of K-pop and K-dramas hitting the international stage, the amount of content that Korea is producing is off the chart. In this class, we talked about how other countries take these things and what helps them shape their response to this type of media. These were just some of the classes catered to international students meant to promote Korean cultural learning while abroad.
One of the main reasons I went to Korea was to study Korean! There were two types of Korean language courses at Yonsei. One class was equivalent to a regular college language course offered by the Global College. The class I took was the intensive Korean Course which was offered by the Korean Institute at Yonsei. The course was three times a week for 2 hours. I took the second level of the class, which was taught entirely in Korean. This was my first ever Korean language class that I took and was my favorite class I took while abroad. I had ten other classmates, which allowed me more one-on-one opportunities with my professor.
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What makes Korea so unique is the way they preserve history and integrate it into the present. In the bustling city of Seoul, you can find traditional palaces where Kings and Queens used to live in ancient times. Wearing a traditional hanbok and learning how to write on scrolls were some of my favorite memories. Even the jingle for the Subway systems has a traditional feel to it.
It was so easy to get around Korea, thanks to their transportation systems. Not only Seoul but Busan (the biggest port in Korea), Gyeongju (home of royal burial mounds), and Daegu (the fashion capital of Korea) were other cities that I visited, and enjoyed the local specialties. Riding the KTX high-speed train, I could get from the northern part of Korea all the way to the southern tip in two and a half hours. I was also able to visit the island of Jeju, the most popular vacation spot.
Yonsei University is not only one of the top schools in Korea, but it is also in a great place. Located in Sinchon, right outside of campus has one of the busiest and trendiest places to go. Everywhere you go, you can find specialty cafes, for example, a Snoopy Cafe from the Peanuts show, a painting cafe where you pay for a drink and get to sit and paint on a canvas wearing a beret and smock, and even a 2D cafe that looks straight out of a sketchbook. If I wanted a slower-paced activity, I went to a PC Cafe where I was able to play any video game on a computer with super fast wifi. Although I was there to game, many people took advantage of the super-fast wifi to buy concert tickets.
Fashion from all over the world is influenced by Korean street wear. There was not one time I saw someone outside wearing sweatpants or basketball shorts. The clothes there were very affordable and super trendy! In Hongdae and Myeongdong, there are hundreds of small shops to buy jewelry, dresses, and anything you could think of. Not just the small boutiques but many of the big brands like Nike and North Face have exclusive items that are not sold anywhere else and, in my opinion, are some of the most incredible stuff I have seen.
The entire time I was abroad, South Korea had a mask mandate enforced indoors, which made it challenging to communicate on top of the language barrier. The campus had a record-high number of study abroad students at Yonsei because of the amount of time off with the restricted travel, but that did not stop me from enjoying it. After being abroad for eight months, I can confidently say that it was well worth the wait. My language skills improved, my fashion improved, and I made some of the best memories in my 22 years of life.