As the last member of my group of friends from university I finally made it abroad last week. It took me a good 14 hours from Stuttgart over London to now be about 8.500km away from Regensburg.
I will be spending the next four months in South Korea’s capital: Seoul! With over 10 million people living only in the urban core alone, Seoul is the 14th largest city in the world, embedded in the second largest metropolitan region worldwide – with just about 26 million inhabitants.
After downloading Korea’s KakaoTalk messenger, buying a T-money card for public transportation, and purchasing a Korean sim card, I’m ready for everyday life in Seoul! Since it’s still winter it’s still pretty cold outside, and spring only comes out and shows itself every now and then – so until further notice coat, scarf, and boots are needed to explore the city.
After four weeks of having time off from school, and after growing accustomed to my new home and trying all sorts of new things during the first few days in Korea, classes have started again. For one semester I will be an exchange student at Soongsil University, taking classes such as Politics, Society, and Culture of North Korea, Consumer Behavior, and Global Political Economy – a colorful mix of political, economic, and cultural courses. At the same time I want to improve my Korean skills, after taking a language course last semester on Germany (안녕하세요? 김치, 감사합니다! 독일 대사관이 어디에 있습니카? – or something like that).
Even after just the first day of class I can say that studying at Soongsil and everyday life on campus is much different than at my home university in Regensburg.
Since all school buildings, including the dormitory and sports facilities, are located on the densely built campus, it is full of life and buzzing activity during the week, especially during breaks in between classes. This morning, the campus seemed to awake from its summer break slumber, when all 15.000 students arrived at the same time. When I was on my way to my first class this morning at eight thirty, K-Pop music was already playing from speakers located throughout the entire campus. On the main square in front of the student union, school clubs had set up their booths to advertise, with members dancing, playing instruments, and distributing pamphlets to convince people to join. I spontaneously signed up for Soongsil’s wine tasting club. The club meets one evening a week to taste and talk about different wines and to have pleasant conversation (at this point I have to explain that wine is generally much more expensive at the supermarket than in Germany, with a bottle starting at around 8 Euros – which is why this club is an excellent opportunity to still enjoy one or two lovely sips. And of course to get to know Koreans and practice speaking Korean – please don’t judge).
Classes are also held differently than in Germany. To begin with, professors insist on keeping general attendance in all classes. If one is absent too many times in the course of the semester, one automatically fails the class. It depends on the professor as to how many absences can be received; however, in some cases repeated tardiness can be enough to be marked as absent (this stands in stark contrast to university in Germany, where professors usually have a do-as-you-wish-but-if-you-fail-the-exam-it’s-your-fault kind of attitute).
In addition, many different grades count towards the final grade. Attendance, in-class participation, (pop) quizzes, presentations, and homework count into the final grade just like the two exams per semester do. These are all taken during midterm and finals week, respectively, so that the semester ends after exactly 16 weeks.
Last week I moved into the on-campus dorm, which provides enough story material for an entire blogpost. And on that note I’ll stop right here for now with the reporting and let this be a first introduction to student life at Soongsil University.
P.S.: The food in Korea is amazing – but also deserves a dedicated blogpost at a later point. 안녕히 가세요!