5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad (in South Korea)

This year I lived in Korea from early March till late August and it was a crazy experience that I’m probably going to be talking about for the rest of my life. Going to Korea was the scariest thing I’d ever done and there were definitely some things I wish I’d known before I went. I was incredibly nervous before I left for Korea and spent many nights lying awake for hours, worrying about what my life in Korea was going to be like. During my time in Korea I discovered that a lot of my worries had been quite pointless (as worries so often are). The following five tips are the things I wish I’d known before studying abroad. If you are going to study abroad soon or if you’re thinking about doing so, here is my advice to you. I hope these tips will help you out!

1. Your hobbies will make you feel more at home, so join a club!
While in Korea I joined a theatre club and I made some of my best memories there. Not only did I meet some lovely new people (clubs are a good way to make friends, because you all have at least one shared interest), I also got to do something that made me really happy: acting. Joining a club gave me something to do a few hours a week and things to look forward to. I got to write, direct and act in my own play, which was a wonderful experience and something I’m so proud of doing. And (thanks to social media) I’m still in touch with some of the friends I made in the club. When you move abroad, everything is different and it’s important to do things that remind you of home. Your hobbies are a great way to do this and to go out and meet new people. Whether you love to act, play tennis, you name it, there’s probably a club for it, so join it!

Dream Forest in Seoul

2. It’s a cliché, because it’s true: get out of your comfort zone! 
I know moving to a different country is probably already waaayyy out of your comfort zone but it’s important to push yourself even more. It’s not going to be easy and at times it’s not going to be fun but it’s going to be so worth it! My Korean university had a club where Korean students organised events and trips for international students. In early March I joined an event where we went to the beautiful Dream Forest in Seoul. The park definitely did its name justice, it was a dream. I spent the day with a group of strangers; I had to introduce myself to so many new people, have dinner with people I’d never met before and at the end of the day, as I was the only one in my group that didn’t want to go clubbing, I had to travel back home on the Seoul subway by myself. The entire day was a real challenge for me, but I do think it helped me grow a lot as a person. So, as difficult as it all was, I’m glad I signed up for the event. Getting out of your comfort zone will help you make new friends, experience some lovely new things and help you grow. So, in the words of Shia LaBeouf, just do it!

3. Believe me, every exchange student wants to make friends.
It’s so important to make friends when you’re studying abroad, because when you’re feeling homesick (which, I’m sorry to say, you definitely will at some point), they will be there for you. Also, when you want to visit a cool café, see a film or go shopping, it’s much more fun to go with a friend! Everyone that travels hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of kilometres away from home wants to make friends, so don’t be afraid to approach someone and start a conversation. I know it’s scary (that dang comfort zone again) and, sure, you won’t become best friends with everyone you meet at your new university, but I promise you, it’s worth giving it a shot. So, talk to that person sitting next to you in class or standing behind you in line in the dining hall. You’ve got this!

Some lovely cafes in Seoul

4. Visit as many new places as you can, because this is a once in a lifetime experience.
While I was studying abroad in Korea, I tried to visit at least one place I’d never been to, every weekend and I’m really glad I did. There are so many cool cafes in Korea, my favourites were the garden café (Blüte Café), the sheep café (Thanks, Nature café) and the cartoon café (Café Yeonnam-dong 223-14). One of my favourite things I did in Korea was go to Busan with a friend I’d met in my theatre club. On a Wednesday morning my friend, who about to go back home to the US, sent me a message asking me if I’d like to go to Busan with her that following weekend. I said ‘yes’ and the next day we were buying train tickets and booking an Airbnb. Going on that trip was probably the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done and I had such a fun time. We explored some beautiful places and ate some really good food. The best part of the trip, though, was getting to spend some more time with my friend before she left. Studying abroad is such a special experience and something you’ll probably only get to do once in your life. Make sure you make the most of your time as an exchange student by exploring as many new places as you can.     

A Saturday morning in Seoul

5. Establish a routine to feel more at home.
This tip might seem to contradict everything I’ve just said but hear me out, okay? When everything else is new, it’s really helpful to have a routine to get some stability in your life. Before the semester at my university in Korea started, I had a two-week break, during which I had a really hard time adjusting, because every day was so different and I didn’t have a set schedule. Once the semester officially started, however, I began feeling much better. I got up at 7 a.m. every day, went to school, studied, had dinner with friends and spent the evening with friends or watching Netflix in my room. Getting that routine made my life feel less chaotic and gave me a purpose. Yes, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone but you also need to feel at home when you’re studying abroad, so make sure you get a good routine going.

The months I spent studying abroad in South Korea were some of the craziest, most challenging months of my life. I think the biggest lesson I learned in Korea was that the most fun things you will do in your life, will be completely unexpected and unplanned. If you’re going to study abroad, I hope these tips will help you and take away some of your worries. Good luck!


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