As a 34-year-old mature student, I came to Korea with a mix of excitement and nervousness. I was eager to experience something new and challenge myself, but I was also unsure of what to expect from the culture and the academic environment. However, my time here has exceeded all my expectations and has been a life-changing experience.
When it comes to my studies, I have found a great balance of challenge and ease at Korea University. The classes are intense, but in a good way, as they push me to expand my knowledge and understanding of the Korean language, which leads me to know more about the culture. I have been impressed by the level of detail and nuance I have learned and the (what feels like) 1000s of new vocabulary I have been exposed to. My confidence in speaking has grown dramatically, and I am now able to communicate somewhat effectively with locals and have basic conversations. These moments will stay with me forever and are a testament to the supportive and challenging learning environment provided by Korea University.
Although I may still freeze during tests and my mind may go blank, I initially struggled to accept this. However, I now understand that the real test of my language abilities is when I am communicating in real time with people. This is where my confidence in speaking has grown, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to use my skills in real-life situations. Aside from the academic benefits of my exchange trip, I have been blown away by the beauty of Korean culture and the kindness of the people. I have had the opportunity to experience the richness of the traditions and learn about the history and values of this amazing country. I have been inspired by the differences to New Zealand, and it has encouraged me to reflect on my own values and the person I want to be.
The array of food in Korea is nothing short of amazing. From street vendors to high-end restaurants, I eat a lot of Korean food at home, but nothing beats the flavours and aromas of traditional Korean cuisine in Korea. People here have a passion for food, and it shows in the meticulous preparation and presentation of each dish. I have tried many new foods that I would never have tried at home, and I have loved every bite.
One other thing that has inspired me the most during my time in Korea is the elderly. They are often out and about, walking, exercising, and hiking, which is a testament to their commitment to staying active and healthy. Seoul does a great job at providing FREE facilities for people that promote a healthy lifestyle and mobility. For example, my husband and I were working out at a free outdoor gym on the top of the mountain behind our house. An older Korean man came to the calisthenic bars. He started using his body weight to do pull-ups easily, swinging around into a handstand before continuing to his next destination. This was just one of many examples where we realised how strong even elderly Koreans are. The free facilities they have here are incredible, and it’s inspiring to see so many elderly out and about, staying active and healthy.
In conclusion, an exchange trip is so much more than just grades. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, challenge your thoughts, and enrich your life. I have been grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn and grow during my time in Korea. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is seeking adventure, growth, and a chance to learn in a unique and exciting environment. I am so thankful for my time in Korea and the experiences that I have had here. I will cherish the memories and lessons I have learned for years to come and hope my story can inspire others to take the leap and immerse themselves in a new culture. Whether you are a student, a traveller, or simply seeking a change, you will not regret exploring a new culture.