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'Studying in Korea has been my dream!'

Programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' students share their impressions on mobility period in the Sungkyunkwan University (South Korea).

Maria and Olga are 2nd year students of MA Programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'. They are both currently on Student Mobility in South Korea with Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul. We had the opportunity to talk and ask them about their experiences of being able to travel, study and live abroad through our student mobility program. Maria's sphere of interest is within Korean cyberculture, cybersecurity in East Asian countries and Korean policy towards personal data security. Olga is interested in Korean language, culture, history, and politics.

– Did you ever think it was possible for student mobility during the pandemic? When did you find it out, what did you have to do to get there?

Maria: Firstly, when the summer exchange program was cancelled, I was quite nervous about the Fall Semester programme. Also, the situation was absolutely unpredictable and lots of universities started to decline some of the exchange programmes. I realised that the chance is so small but worth it to try. We got approval from HSE that we could participate in the mobility programme if the host university gives permission, in late June. After that, my friend (and classmate Olga) and I quickly fulfilled the application and bought the tickets. Later, we spent 2 weeks on the self-quarantine, rules for foreigners, in that case, were changing so fastly. You need to be cautious with each document what you have with you to successfully pass all stages of the airport control. It took a really long time, so those who want to try this in the current situation, be ready to spend around 4-5 hours on it.

– What made you decide this destination for student mobility? And how is the experience of studying there compared to HSE?

M: Korea is the most interesting place for me among all East Asian countries. Also, I’m in process of learning the Korean language, therefore, the opportunity to be a part of this program as an exchange student is so valuable for me.

Olga: Studying in Korea has been my dream for a long time, and I simply could not miss such an opportunity provided by HSE. Given the fact that Sungkyunkwan university is one of the most prestigious universities in Korea as well as a desirable study destination for a lot of foreign students, I decided to take my chances and apply to study in SKKU.

– Could you tell us more about the student’s life in Korean university?

O: Unfortunately, due to various coronavirus restrictions imposed in South Korea I could not experience student life in SKKU fully . Student clubs and organizations were not operating, sometimes even access to campus was limited, and some of the classes were conducted online with an online learning platform. Nevertheless, we still were able to enjoy the university’s convenient infrastructure and campus facilities, share the dormitory with international students and meet new people from all over the world. The thing that did not change even during the pandemic is the atmosphere of Korean university life in terms of students’ serious and responsible attitude towards education as you can see libraries and reading rooms packed with people studying – although, no one forgets about social distancing.

– Did you manage to collaborate with Korean professors in finding material for your thesis successfully ? And what was the process of collecting and finding resources at this university like?

M: Considering communication with Korean professors about my master’s thesis I would say that I still have not practised it. However, all the subjects I chose here are partly connected with my research topic. Also, the materials that our professors sent to us are helpful and consisting of pretty enough information and competent resources.

O: I managed to ask for guidance of one of them. He kindly advised me on the possible ways of developing my research topic and on the electronic resources that may prove relevant in gathering necessary data.

– Were you able to travel or made any sightseeing?

M: I have not yet managed to visit many cities here, but I like to live in Seoul, despite its high-speed rhythm and stress, I like to be in the thick of things. And, also, relaxing in Busan, I loved the sea and the fresh air, the atmosphere on the coast. However, in the case of cultural observation, in Seoul, we got acquainted with the National museum, Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), etc. Also, we found some time for the hiking in the surrounded mountains with the most stunning views in my life.

O: Since the study schedule was quite burdensome, my friend and I did not manage to travel a lot. Nevertheless, we visited a number of popular tourist places in Seoul, such as Namsan Tower and Bukhansan National Park; we often went for evening or night strolls around Cheonggyecheon Stream, Myeongdong Shopping Street, and Naksan Park – this one we loved a lot since it is very peaceful in the evening, and we were able to walk along the Seoul Fortress Wall while enjoying the night view of the city. Hiking has become our newfound hobby, and we spent several weekends hiking some of the mountains located within Seoul. We also managed to visit Pusan for New Year’s Eve celebrations and enjoyed picturesque sea views and sunny beaches even despite the weather being chilly and windy.

– What was the most surprising for you in South Korea?

M: That fact that sometimes they still consider foreigners as something unusual. Moreover, they can be confused when you speak Korean with them, even if they understood what you said, they prefer to use English even if they're not fluent speakers.

O: I cannot say I was really surprised at anything since it is not my first time in Korea and even during my first visit it felt like home. If we speak about the peculiarities of study in a Korean university, probably, grading and examination systems may appear somewhat unusual, as well as Korean students’ serious attitude toward work that I have discussed above, but it seems to me that it does not take much time to get used to it.

– How do you think, if the student does not know Korean language, is it possible to apply for mobility programme in South Korea?

O: To my mind, it is possible for a student to apply for an exchange programme in a Korean university even without any Korean language skills. South Korea becomes more and more open for foreign students every year and tries to create a friendly environment including for those not speaking Korean. Still, it is advisable to learn at least some basic phrases before coming to Korea – it will definitely make your life here easier. As for the exchange program candidate selection process criteria, I believe that it is necessary to pay sufficient attention to a motivation letter which should explain why you need to study exactly in a Korean university; also, academic performance obviously plays a significant role here as well.

– How do you think, which opportunities does mobility provide for the MA students? Why should they participate in it?

M: The most important point for the MA students is that the resources what the local universities can get to you are unique and sometimes cannot be found anywhere else. Also, if you are interested in any job in this country, it can be a good chance to dig around and make the right connections what Asians are considering as the most important thing.

O: Mobility programmes provide MA students with various opportunities such as finding an academic supervisor or advisor for one’s master thesis, getting to know a foreign university with a view of getting a PhD and pursuing an academic career there, or even looking for employment. It all depends on the intentions each student has when participating in an exchange programme, as well as his or her ambitions, openness to new challenges, and readiness to grab an opportunity once it appears.

– What are your plans for future? Do you think about making PhD in one of South Korean Universities?

M: I’m planning to finish my master’s degree program successfully in the actual conditions. I’m still thinking about the PhD programme but I prioritize finding a job in the sphere of Business Analytics.

O: I always hesitate to answer questions about my future plans since life changes really quickly and sometimes quite unexpectedly, so I tend not to make far-reaching future plans. However, the idea of continuing my academic career in one of the top Korean universities with a perspective of finding a job there really appeals to me.