Exchange journal: South Korea, beyond Gangnam Style

Kaethe Lassen is studying a Bachelor of Commerce with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Finance and Interactivity and Games. Here’s she reflects on her short-term exchange experience at Seoul National University.

“There is something to be said about the 24/7 lifestyle that defines South Korea’s capital, Seoul. Whether it’s 3pm or 3am, the cafes and corner restaurants are open to assuage your cravings (which is important when you’re trying to fit six months’ worth of experiences into a six-week exchange).

Hidden behind the constant buzzing and sky-rise buildings there is a softer side to South Korea that tells a story of the country’s rich history. Seoul National University’s international summer program introduced me to this beautiful country and to amazing people from all around the world, and allowed me to experience what South Korea had to offer.

SNU truly was the university in the mountains. Students commiserated over the shared experience of dragging suitcases up the hill to the dormitory, or the time they decided to skip the bus from the train station and walk back to the university campus.

When you’re exploring a new country with people from all around the world, it adds a whole new layer to your adventure. Not only was I learning about Korean culture each day, I was learning about different cultures from all around the world as well. There was always someone gathering a party of people to do something new and interesting, so there never was a dull day, even when you had classes to attend.

I never imagined myself sitting behind a stall in the fish market, trying Sannakji (live octopus) or enjoying Korea’s unique take on pizza (cranberries and potato anyone?). And of course, when in South Korea you can’t forget the famous kimchi. There’s also the famous Korean barbeque, and the time-honoured university tradition of ‘chimek’, or fried chicken and beer.

While the Summer Program gave me a taste of what it’s like to live in a 24-hour city, it also let me experience an entirely different side. Spending time with Buddhist monks at Woljeongsa Temple was like stepping into the past – no internet or technology and learning to appreciate nature at its finest. Waking up at 3am for Morning Prayer before undertaking 108 full prostrations to create our own prayer beads was as strenuous as it was enriching. And while the monks’ idea of a light walk turned out to be a two-hour hike, it left me feeling invigorated.

My Seoul experience was fabulous – full of great adventures and wonderful people. The buzzing city to the peaceful countryside, the culture and people of South Korea embraced us all.”

On top of a huge number of full-semester exchange locations worldwide, Macquarie students can also choose from a wide variety of short-term exchange programs in Asia, Europe, USA and South America.