I lived in the United States for two semesters as an exchange student. I had a fabulous time at Coe College (Coe), and it’s my pleasure to share my experience with fellow Sookmyungians, especially students considering applying for an exchange program. At first, I enrolled in the program expecting to improve my English skills and to experience new cultures, so after arriving at Coe, I participated in as many events as I could. I also strived to achieve academic success. I studied at Coe from August 2014 to June 2015.
Small College with Powerful Bonds
Coe is located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is a small college of only about 1,400 students; thus, class area is also small. The maximum number of students per class is just thirty, but the average is generally about fifteen. Courses are opened even with small enrollment. For example, I once took a class that only had two students enrolled in it. Because class sizes are small, professors recognize the faces of all students, which makes students focus more during class. This is important because courses are mostly discussion-based at Coe. Whereas at Sookmyung students make take 5 or 6 courses a semester, at Coe students usually only take three or four classes per semester since courses are intense, even for locals. Coe offers intensive writing courses, and there professors will require students to rewrite their essays at least twice before final acceptance. I also had to write lots of essay drafts before my final essay was accepted. At the beginning of the semester, my paper was full of red ink, pointing out my mistakes and incorrect sentences, but I managed to get an A after rewriting tons of papers. It felt great. It was one of the most difficult challenges as an exchange student, but my effort had paid off. Interestingly, all classes at Coe finish by 4 p.m, so students have plenty of free time after classes. The school offers events for students every Friday. The Student Senate invites comedians, singers, or acapella groups to campus every Friday night for student enjoyment. It also provides free movie tickets once a month. The biggest event on campus is Flunk Day, which is held in spring, for the spring semester has fewer holidays than the fall term. Flunk Day has a long history. Students do not know when Flunk Day will be, so they wait expectantly for the day. Suddenly, one day when students awake in the dormitory in the morning for classes, a group of students will arrive and scream FLUNK DAY! All classes canceled and the school hands out food and drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages, to students for free. Both students and professors enjoy the day together on campus. That day I really felt the bond between Coe and its students.
Internationals are Not Strangers
Every event at Coe embraced the international student community and enabled students to better socialize with local students at Coe. I strongly recommend joining International Club (I-Club). International students are automatically enrolled at the Club, which makes it easy to make friends diverse countries. I-Club holds many events and ceremonies. For example, members of I-Club spend their vacations together and travel to places like Chicago during fall break. Chicago is around five hours from Coe. I-Club members can travel to Chicago at a reasonable fee. I-Club also hosts two big events so that international students can inform introduce their culture to local students. The two events are the Culture Show and International banquet. The Culture show is held in fall. There students participate as representatives of their home country. I also took part in three shows. The first one was an ensemble with Japanese, Chinese, and Cambodian friends. I played the flute while the others sang in Korean and Japanese. The second show was more important. It was Nanta. I prepared a show similar to that of Nanta with another Sookmyung exchange student. We played drums on two trash cans to the tune of Arirang. After our performance, people praised us, saying it was impressive and interesting. The last show was a fashion show that displayed traditional clothes. I appeared on stage in Hanbok and demonstrated how to bow Korean style. At the International Banquet in spring semester, I-Club invites local people and faculty to taste traditional food come from different countries. I prepared Jjim-dak and served it. My friend and I considered the palate of domestic and foreign people, and it was successful. Also, I danced on stage with an international friend to a K-pop song. Surprisingly, people cheered loudly as we performed. They stood up and clapped. In Korea, I would have never had the courage to do those things because I’m not an outgoing person. However, after the performance, I gained self-confidence and courage. As aforesaid, Coe provides plenty of events for students because most students live on campus. Coe provides housing for more than 90% of its students. Likewise, international students also live on campus. I stayed in Vorhees Hall, which is for only girls. In the dormitory, American students are matched with an international student, so for international students, their roommate is their first friend at Coe. It is easy to make friends at Coe. Particularly, I felt people on campus were nice and kind. For instance, all students and faculty said hello to each passerby they met on campus. At first time, it was a bit uncomfortable, but after realizing its commonality, I began to say hello after making eye contact with someone. It is a great way to express hospitality and be friendly.
Next Coe Collegians, Do Not be Afraid
Indeed, life overseas does have its challenges. The biggest of which is transportation. Since most people drive a car, many students eventually purchase a car. Otherwise, it is difficult to go anywhere in the U.S. Buses do exist, but routes are limited. Also, the buses only run till 6 p.m, so it was hard to go to a downtown restaurant for dinner or visit a supermarkets or mall after class. Other difficulty was the food. All exchange students must purchase the Meal Plan which stipulates that students must eat the food provided in the cafeteria. The food is not bad, but it is hard to eat similar types of meals each day. Moreover, there are no Korean restaurants in Cedar Rapids, so I longed for Korean food. Despite the challenges, the exchange program boosted my confidence and my life has changed a lot. I tried to actively participate in all events as an exchange student. Before going to Coe, I only expected to improve my English skills and experience a different academic environment, but after completing my exchange, I realized something more important. It was the time I spent there itself. To truly enjoy an exchange program, students should take part in as many events possible. By getting involved with the college community, exchange students will make more friends and improve their English skills naturally. International students can do anything they want if they are willing to seek out how to do it. Since another exchange opportunity will not come your way again, I highly recommend participate and while on the exchange get involved. Good Luck!