There was no special reason for me to decide to become an exchange student. I just wanted to experience as much as possible in life, and I thought what a waste to only live only. Before this, I'd never lived independently before, so it was a bit exciting to think this would be my first time to live on my own, and it would be in a foreign country. The Sookmyung Women's University's exchange student program helped broaden my view of the world. I realized, "The world is wide, and there are so many different kinds of people in it." Classes, festivals, trips, and friendships from my exchange days helped me come to this realization.
What did I study in Germany?
I attended European University Viadrina Frankfurt (EUVF) in Germany. Before the onset of regular semester classes, I took a German language class, and although I had studied a little German before leaving for Germany, I felt the language to be quite difficult. However, I met many foreign friends in the language class, and I took pride in my ability to use German in real life. Friends I made in the language class and I went on an excursion to the city of Wittenberg that was run by EUVF. On the trip, I enjoyed traditional German food and learned the history of the city from our guide. During the regular semester, I enrolled in a business administration class. I was looking forward to the class because the university is known as a famous school for business administration. The class atmosphere whereby students actively ask questions was amazing. Interestingly, some classes allowed students to bring cheat notes to the examinations, which made me feel the true meaning of a test. It is not to repeat learned knowledge but to find out if students really understand the lecture content. The pedagogy of class was unique. The Department of Business Administration is divided into 1st block and 2nd block, similar to Korea's intensive semester system. There is a short vacation slot between 1st block and 2nd block, so I had a bit of free time to rest and travel. This also helped my learning. I am really interested in accounting, so I used my knowledge of accounting concepts that I learned from Sookmyung in my financial accounting class at EUVF. I also took a marketing class for the first time, and it was a good experience. I formed a group with other peers and we presented a simple marketing case. Mathematics was the last class I took, and it was the most challenging subject for me. Unfamiliar mathematics concepts appeared, and I was expected to use an engineering calculator, which is not used in Korea to solve operations. I still can't forget the joy of solving difficult problems. The high quality lectures nurtured my abilities in business administration and management.
Promoting Korean Culture
I took the time to actively promote Korean culture to others. The university festival International Day gave me the opportunity to showcase Hanbok, Taegeukgi, K-pop, and Korean food. Especially, I was in charge of the food served at the festival. I made Korean kimchi pancakes, rice cake skewers, chicken skewers, and gimbap. I quickly realized that I had to also account for vegetarians, so I made a menu especially for vegans. In Korea, the number of practicing vegans is very small, but in Europe there numbers are huge. Some friends tasted the Korean kimchi pancakes and rice cake skewers did not really enjoy them because of the spiciness, but they all praised Korean food for being the most delicious. Whenever I was asked for recipes, I gave them willingly. One surprising thing was that everyone believed gimbab was the same as sushi. While it does resemble sushi in appearance, it is completely different. Unfortunately, no one mistook sushi for gimbab, but everyone mistook gimbab for sushi. I tried to explain the difference more passionately to correct the misunderstanding. Other Korean peers at the university wore Hanbok and took pictures with their foreign friends while holding the Korean national flag, and other peers danced to K-pop music. I didn't join the dance group, but I was proud of Korean peers who performed and praised their performance at the end of the festival. I also participated in an unofficial gathering of exchange students from different countries living in the same dormitory. Korean students cooked them Korean food. Especially, I made green onion pancakes (pajeon), red pepper paste bulgogi, and bibimguksu for my German flatmate. I loved that she took photos of the food that I had made for her. These activities gave me the chance to introduce Korea to friends who had never been to Korea.
Tutor system for exchange students
EUVF offers a 'tutor system' for exchange students. Exchange students and German tutors from Viadrina are matched by an organization created to provide information for exchange students. I applied for a tutor, I didn't just get to interact with my own tutor, I had many opportunities to interact with other friends' tutors as well. My tutor helped with administrative processes such as making my bank account, signing up for medical insurance, and registering my residence. Some tutors said that one day they hoped to visit Korea as exchange students, so acting as a tutor was the easiest way to exchange cultures. Most tutors were also of mixed ethnicity, so I had the chance to learn not only German culture but also the cultures of other nations such as Vietnam and Turkey. My tutor and I traveled to Hamburg together with other Koreans. Travel was much easier in Germany when traveling with a tutor, especially when ordering food or buying tickets. The tutor had already been to Hamburg before, so she introduced me to a great many of Hamburg's tourist attractions. Near the end of the exchange period, several tutors organized a farewell party for us exchange students and we offered them our sincere gratitude. I also gave my tutor a personal letter and a small gift. Overall, the tutor system allowed me to easily absorb and get accustomed to German culture. Even after returning to Korea, my tutor and I kept in contact and celebrated virtually each other's birthday.
Short trips to nearby cities
Frankfurt, where EUVF is located, is at the eastern end of Germany. I could walk to Poland or take a train to Berlin. To reach Poland, one simply just walks across a bridge. Because prices are cheaper in Poland than Germany, I went to a Polish market with my friends or ate out in Poland. Also, Berlin is one of my favorite European cities. There are many famous tourist attractions such as the Berlin Dome, the Brandenburg Gate, and the East Side Gallery. In Berlin, I ate delicious food and experienced the urban life of German people. I will never forget how I felt entering the Berlin Dome. It was my first time to enter a cathedral, and the splendid openness inside overwhelmed me. Furthermore, the view of Berlin from the Berlin Dome's observatory was beautiful. I went to Berlin with my German flatmate, which gave me the chance to experience eating at a local restaurant. She also explained the historical background of the tourist attractions to the extent that she knew them. On days when I wanted to spend time alone, I went to Berlin alone and watched a movie. When I just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of Berlin, I slowly walked the streets alone or sat still and watched Berliners as they went about their lives. In Korea, I spent every day with impatience and anxiety, but I left that all behind in Berlin and relaxed. Even now, the atmosphere in Berlin is vivid in my mind. The smell, sound, and scenes that I experienced daily come to mind very clearly, and those memories cheer me up these days.
The impact of the exchange student program on me
The experiences I had during my exchange gave me a chance to strengthen my mind internally. I had never lived independently or been to Europe prior to my exchange, so my life as an exchange student was strange and sometimes scary. However, every time I faced a problem, it made me develop my self-esteem and nurtured my independence in the process of resolving it. I learned the spirit of challenge for doing things I had never done before. I came to believe that though I was in a strange land, it was similar to home. I enjoyed the lessened anxiety that I could never feel when I was in school in Korea. I enjoyed my daily life of taking classes with my friends and eating together. It was a break from the Korean reality of my part-time job, doing extracurricular activities, and earning career certificates. I felt like I was doing what I wanted without fear of others' eyes. My travels widened my view of the world as I met new people and encountered new cultures. Prior to leaving for my exchange, I thought six months was a long time, but once my return date to Korea approached, I felt the time to be too short. The exchange student period is not long, so prior to going, I recommend students to think deeply about the things they wish to accomplish on the exchange and then once in the foreign land, do them. For anyone considering applying to the exchange program, I say do it. It is a very good opportunity, and you will have a lot of great experiences.