Walking across the campus fills me with an unfamiliar feeling. It's the beginning of May, and the air is pleasantly hot by the lush green areas in front of Queen Sunheon Building. As I watch the other students pass by, I realize how fantastic my situation is here at Sookmyung as an exchange student and that life will never be the same again.
Queen and Country
I am a student from the University of Skövde in Sweden. Interested in studying abroad, I set my sights on Seoul for a single semester exchange. Stepping off the plane in August 2018, I felt it was the start of something big. Everything was so strange and alien to me, but I loved every second of it. Arriving at the Sookmyung campus, I was blown away by its size, grandiose buildings, and the lively street leading up to the school. The museum on campus dedicated to the school’s history and heritage told me how much the institution means to the community. Also, there is one person at Sookmyung who is a savior to me and all the international students, especially when first arriving, Yura at the Global Lounge. Yura and all her assistants have given me and others such massive support. Nevertheless, it was not an easy transition; for instance, there is the use of scissors instead of knives to cut food, chopsticks instead of forks, devilishly spicy kimchi everywhere, squid candy at convenience stores, cooking your own food at BBQ-restaurants, and the list goes on. I was continuously fascinated with both Sookmyung and Korea as a country and could not wait to start my studies.
Why Did I Choose Korea?
I have often been asked why I choose to come to Korea to study. This question is then followed by “But isn't that a women's university.” I got tired of explaining my real purpose that I started coming up with comical responses just to entertain myself. I will start with one of my favorite quotes: “A port is no place for a ship,” which is exactly how I feel. I wanted to challenge myself and go somewhere completely new and far away from my home port. Combine this with my interest in Korean films and here I am. The fact that I'm a guy attending a women's university baffles most people I talk to, but to be honest, it still baffles me too sometimes. Apart from plenty of giggling when I meet a group of ladies in the hallway, there is a sort of celebrity feel to being here, and I sometimes enjoy. Other times I just try to blend in. Truth be told, it is both strange and very fun at the same time, and I'm almost certain anyone would feel the same way in my unique position.
The Two Semesters
Once classes at Sookmyung began, I started getting a good feel for Sookmyung as a university. I took a Korean cooking class, a Taekwondo class, and other more ‘normal’ courses that the school offered in English. The level of ambition from professors and students in my class was impressive. Everyone aimed towards the top, and I did my best to absorb the diligence of my surroundings! The students in my classes were often a bit shy, so it was a challenge to get to know people, but luckily, I made a lot of friends thanks to URINK. URINK is a group of Sookmyung students who volunteer to be buddies for international students and address anything that is confusing or difficult for them. I met international friends and Korean friends alike, and we have shared countless experiences together. I owe a great deal to my Korean buddies. I don't know what I would have done without them! With the Fall semester coming to an end, I realized that I did not want my time at Sookmyung to end; both Korea and Sookmyung had stolen my heart. I got on the phone with my coordinator back in Sweden and asked if I could stay one more semester at Sookmyung. A week later, I got confirmation and it was settled.
Ode to Noonsong
It is endearing to see posters and webcomics about the snowflake, Noonsong. The comics are about her being exhausted as she studies for midterms or excited as she tries out a new café that has opened on the main street. I would never have thought I could feel a connection with other students and relate to them through such a mascot. What struck me is how engaged and active Sookmyungians are. They all seem to be involved in some kinds of volunteer work or doing club or group activities that help make the campus feel alive. Campus I always has something going on. It is always filled with tents that highlight club activities or school events, and there is also the occasional bustling flea market. All of these are vastly different from the school I come from. I have been inspired by Sookmyung students’ passion, and I wish to bring their sense of purpose back home with me and use it in my future escapades in life.
The Lesson of Cherry Blossoms
Spring has finally fully arrived and with it all the colors and warmth that we had forgotten about during winter vacation. Flowers began to bloom on campus, and soon after their arrival were the cherry blossoms on trees. It seemed like everyone, not only students at Sookmyung but all of Seoul was celebrating. Everyone gathered by the trees to take photos with their friends, and my professor even ended class early one day so we could take advantage of the nice weather to take photos too! When the petals started sailing down, I began to think about the lesson the cherry blossoms gave us: beautiful, extraordinary things can't last forever. We need to slow down and enjoy life as much as possible before it is gone forever.