Starting something new usually makes one nervous; it’s challenging yet inspiring. Especially, the start of new semester makes students nervous because it means starting a new and different routine than that spent during vacation. However, at the same time, a new semester makes students set up new resolutions and start “something new.” To adapt to a new atmosphere, there are lots of programs and events both inside and outside of the university. For instance, Korean first year students attend the entrance ceremonies, orientations and Membership Trainings (MT). Likewise, the Sookmyung Times talked to three students from three distinct countries—Senegal, Germany and France—to learn about their home nations’ new semester adaption. Here are their stories.
Hard Entrance to University, Yet Simple Ceremony
To better understand Senegalese new semester culture, SMT asked Arame to briefly introduce her home nation situation. In Senegal, first year students enter school from November. Before entering college, they take an SAT exam, which is held on July 1st. The exam is made difficult on purpose because Senegal doesn’t have enough universities to hold all high school graduates. That is, Senegal must limit the number of students entering university. Arame’s university holds an entrance ceremony and orientation program: “My school’s orientation starts with the university president addressing students, followed by an information orientation session about the school. It concludes with lunch.” Arame added, during MTs, Senegalese don’t drink alcohol, and when someone proposes an idea, everyone has to voice an opinion on the claim. Arame joined an MT at SMU. She said, “Attending MT at SMU was a nice memory. But at my university in Senegal, I had an opportunity to meet upper year classmates and made more friends. Also, after the MT in SMU, we had more free time than in my home country.”
After semester starts, students in both Senegal and Korea attain textbooks in similar ways. They buy or make copy them. However, in Senegal, if students want to just borrow textbooks, they are made available in the library throughout the school year. Instead they need to pay before borrowing the books. Just like Korea, textbook costs are very expensive. Arame said,
“When I buy textbooks at SMU, I tend to spend about 200,000 won. This amount is similar to the cost in Senegal when students buy new books. Most students buy secondhand books since they are cheaper.”
In Korea, some universities help students sell their used books to other students. On the other hand, in Senegal, the student council doesn’t do this kind of work. Instead, there is a designated place in school where students sell their used books to bookstore owners. Arame said, “If the bookstore owner buys the student’s book at 5,000 won, then he/she resells it at 7,000 to 8,000 won.” Besides bookstores, students buy and sell used book amongst themselves. Arame concluded, “Students in every country have a hard time buying textbooks.”
Unforgettable Memories from a Special Trip for New Students
“When I first entered Sookmyung, I realized that almost every part of the new semester is different with that of Germany universities,” Anna stated with a smile. In Germany, not every university starts the new semester on the same month; some start in April and others in October.
“We start our campus life with an entrance ceremony. At school, the school president gives a welcoming address, and then there is a second ceremony held in the city hall. There the president of the university gives another speech.”
According to Anna, the university organizes a special trip for the new semester. The school takes first year students on an overnight trip right before the beginning of the semester, and she adds, “It is very nice. Since I had to move from my hometown to enter university, the trip allowed me to make new friends and know about school life and the surrounding city.” Having participated in SMU’s MT, she compares the MT to the Germany school trip as: “Unlike Korea, German professors never participate on trip, and normally it is organized by school authorities, not the students themselves. Also, not every university organizes this trip. On the other hand, there is an ‘opening party’ at the beginning of the semester that is quite similar to an MT. The university sells discounted tickets for the party, and students drink and chat. Like Korean, it is commonly known Germans drink lots of beer. Yet, we do not go to a far off city or spend an entire day there, which is something different from a Korean MT.”
Another noticeable thing is that there are regular classes during first week. There is no such thing as an ‘orientation week’ like here in Korea. Students are free to register or drop out of courses whenever they want—even during the middle of a semester—thus, they do not need a special period for dropping courses. Anna is very impressed by Sookmyung professors who take roll call and try to remember students’ faces from the first class. In regard to textbook preparation, German students face similar problems with Korean students. “In German, one book costs about 50 euro, which is over 60,000 won and the whole book is usually not covered during the course. Thus, we face a heavy financial burden buying new books each semester. As a solution, some students buy and sell secondhand books through Facebook or copy them. Especially, my university is located very close to Poland, so lots of students go there to purchase books as copies are available at much cheaper prices.”
From Parties to Museum Visits, Novel Ways to Start a Semester
“Since I major in fine arts, I do not necessarily have to buy books even at the beginning of a semester.”
Among the three interviewees, Eurielle was the only one who did not have to worry about buying new books at the beginning of a new semester. However, she introduced to SMT several novel ways university students celebrate and enjoy the start of a new semester in her country.
French students start their college life in September, after finishing a two-week exam called the Baccalaureat, which is the French SAT. After the exam, students have about three months of freedom before entering university. “Lots of students take a rest or find a part time job. Personally, I worked in a factory and spent two weeks in Bulgaria,” Eurielle explained. When asked to compare her first weeks of a semester in both Korea and France, she had a reminiscent smile. “A new semester in the two countries is both similar and different. The French start from the fall semester, and the first week is an orientation week, but it is not easy to change classes you have registered for. If a student wishes to change his/ her timetable, she/he must look for someone willing to exchange course enrollment.”
Also, she enjoyed MT culture in Korea. “I joined an MT in Sookmyung for foreign students, and we went to a remote place outside Seoul. We did some sightseeing and played games. Since there was no comparable program in France, it was totally new to me. However, in my country, students enjoy parties or trips.” She added, “We have ‘class parties.’ We divide each year of a major into classes, roughly thirty students per class. The class party is only for students in the same class. We rent a room and drink and eat altogether, so it’s really enjoyable!” In addition to class parties, other students can form associations, regardless of one’s major, and organize special nights and events. Another eye-catching event is that her university offers a short field trip. She explained, “professors plan a short day trip to Paris and go to a museum with students. I think it is quite similar to an MT since it is provided for students in the same major, and they spend time altogether. Yet, we don’t spend the entire day together, and this trip sometimes occurs at dates other than at the beginning of the semester.”