Anzhelika Bobryshova on Academic Mobility in University of South Korea, Travelling Around the Country and Impressions of the Capital
This year Anzhelika Bobryshova, the student of the Bachelor’s programme 'Asian and African Studies', has gone to Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea to participate in the academic mobility programme. She has been working towards this trip for many years. We found out what was memorable about this trip for Anzhelika and what places she recommended visiting.
The decision to go
I became keen on Korean TV series and music as a teenager. With the years, my interest in Korean culture went much deeper. At that time, I started thinking about the possibility of combining my interest in the country and future profession—this is how I decided to apply for 'Asian and African Studies'.
While choosing the university, I paid attention to an opportunity to go to South Korea in the framework of an academic mobility programme. I wanted to see the country, the culture of which I am studying, with my own eyes. HSE University-St Petersburg offered such an opportunity, that is why I have chosen it.
My education was consistent: when I was a first-year student, I chose Korean Studies as an educational track. For three years, I had been studying well and doing my best to achieve my goal. Thanks to that, I took a high place in the student rating. I think it was important when I applied to the academic mobility. In addition, I had language certificates in Korean. Perhaps, it has also played a role, as some universities believe that a student should have a basic knowledge of the language.
You can submit the documents only once. If the package of documents is not full, you will not be able to go. That is why before you submit, you should check if all the documents are ready and correctly filled.
It seems to me that all the difficulties were connected with the pandemic. Upon coming to a foreign country, I had to be quarantined. I was lucky—at that time, the quarantine lasted for seven days, not two weeks. Also, I was vaccinated with Pfizer twice. In addition, in Korea you have to wear a mask even outside—it was hard for both breathing and skin.
Who helped to adjust
At the university, we had buddies—these are students who help the foreigners to adjust. Besides, the International Office of the host university helped us a lot. The workers held a meeting at the beginning of the year, where they told us about the educational process and upcoming events.
But the foreign students, who I communicated with, contributed to the adjustment most of all. Luckily, my neighbour was a girl who had come to the same university for a year within an academic mobility programme. When I arrived, she had already been here for a semester, so I learnt a lot about the educational process from her.
The fourth year of studies
We study for five years on the programme. Fourth-year students select most of the courses themselves. It helps us to get credits during the exchange programmes easier.
I was planning to participate in the academic mobility programme during the second semester. So I chose the courses in the way which would let me complete most of them in the first six months and free up time for travelling around the country. That is what really happened—at the Korean university I studied only the Language and Economics.
Knowledge of the Korean language
Before the classes started, we had taken a language proficiency test at the host university. As a result, I was assigned to the advanced group in Korean. My language proficiency was not perfect, but it was enough to communicate and study. Moreover, I talked in Korean in the public transport, bank, hospital, taxi and understood everything. It was a very useful experience as I had a chance to practise the language.
Many people say that life in Seoul is cheap. But I thought that life may seem cheap only in comparison with the local salaries. When you come from another country, the difference is tangible. For instance, the student dormitories are extremely expensive. Four months costed me 1700 dollars. It was the biggest item of expenses.
The second one is the food. I tried to cook myself when I had just arrived, but it turned out to be not that cheap. That is why most of the time I went to cafes. To compare, coffee is much more expensive in Seoul than in Saint-Petersburg. The cheapest one costed about 300 rubles.
The third item of expenses is transport costs. The price depends on how long the ride was. Tickets to the suburbs were not really expensive. In February, it was possible to get to a neighbouring town for 180-200 rubles. I also had to spend money on the underground. If I remember correctly, a basic ticket was about 60 rubles.
What was surprising
Not many things surprised me. I have been studying this country for four years at the university. I had known a lot about it before as well, so I am used to the cultural differences.
The first thing that struck me was that the Koreans do not give up seats for senior citizens. It has nothing to do with the lack of manners, but depends on the cultural differences rooted deep in history. Maybe they were influenced by Confucianism. Once, I, as a person from another culture, gave up my seat for a senior woman in the underground. She was extremely surprised, bowed to me ten times, thanked me, and said goodbye to me when she got off. She was shocked because they are not used to such things.
I had known that there were many dialects in Korea. However, I was still surprised when I had to face them. The country is relatively small: you can get from one end to another within five or six hours. That is why when we came to the Eastern Sea coast, it was strange to hear the dialect of the locals and realise that I could not understand some things, though it was not far from the country centre.
Travelling around the country
In Korea buses are very comfortable, so the long road was not annoying. Our first trip was to the city of Gyeongju. We were on the road for about five hours, but did not get tired at all. After that, we travelled by bus most of the time to have a look at the country and enjoy the landscapes.
Moreover, we visited several small towns in the province of Seoul. For example, Paju. It is located on the border with North Korea, so we had a chance to see it through the barbed wire. We also visited Suwon where the famous fortress Hwaseong is located. It is included in the UNESCO World Heritage site.
We visited the resort city of Busan as well. There is a Buddhist temple by the sea which is a must-see place. In addition, we went to Incheon to see Chinatown.
On the other side of Seoul, there is another tourist attraction: Nami Island where lots of Korean TV series were filmed. You should visit this island for magnificent views.
I liked everything in Seoul! The city has a well-developed infrastructure: you can get anywhere you need to by the underground. Moreover, I really liked the way the traditions and modernity combine. First of all, it is about the architecture. The famous attraction—five royal palaces of Seoul—coexists with glass-fronted high-rises. But it does not look bizarre, on the contrary, it is very harmonious. To sum up, the citizens of Seoul support and preserve historic places, but at the same time they keep up with the times.
Three places in South Korea one must see
Let it be something offbeat in Seoul. So these are not the palaces I have mentioned, but the Botanical Garden. It is a vast complex with interesting plants and flowers which one must visit to see this beauty with their own eyes.
In Busan I recommend following this route: Haeundae Beach—Dongbaekseom Island—Gwangalli Beach. All of them are unique and beautiful in their own way.
Next to Gyeongju, you should look at Bulguksa Buddhist Temple and Seokguram Grotto. These are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are rather ancient and have been preserved since the times of the kingdom Silla.
How the academic mobility has changed me
In junior courses at the university, I read a similar interview with a student of our programme who had gone to Japan. He said that after the trip he lost his passion and Japan became just a usual country for him. So when I went there, I was really worried that my hobby, my passion, which I had been into for these ten years, would become something ordinary to me. But it did not happen. I still think that Korea is an amazing country: traditional, authentic and sunny. It is rather mono-ethnic, but still very friendly towards the foreigners. Summing up, I understood that all my efforts were worth it. They were definitely not in vain.