A Korean exchange experience

A Korean exchange experience

EPA student Daniel Wijma decided in 2016 that Korea would be a good place to go to for an exchange programme. He went there in 2017.

Somewhere early spring 2016 I told my mother: “Hey mama, I’m going to Seoul on exchange” to which she responded, “WHAAT, are you insane!?” From that point onwards, the relationships between South Korea and the United States with North Korea would only deteriorate. During the first few weeks in Korea people back home would ask me whether I felt threatened, to which I answered, “No, actually I feel safer than ever.”

When in September North Korea launched a rocket over Japan a joking remark by one of my professors was: “Good thing about the rocket? It flew over Japan instead of Seoul, haha.” This was very typical for the general Korean attitude regarding North Korea. This ongoing feud between North and South never stopped since the truce in 1953 and nowadays it seems that no one bats an eye about North Korea anymore.

Last year, I decided I wanted to go to Korea for an exchange. Some of the first year courses and people in my master’s degree EPA, short for Engineering and Policy Analysis, really sparked my interest in different cultures. Since I had never been outside of Europe I wanted to go east, away from the western culture and dive into something new. One of the perks of EPA is its international orientation, not only do you learn about different cultures, you also interact with them since the majority of students in EPA are internationals. During the course Intercultural Relations and Project Management you read how nationalities have been characterised in the past, for example the differences in importance regarding individualism, long term orientation, or uncertainty avoidance. One of the differences in those characteristics became clear in the first academic period. As someone being very competitive and ambitious, I was very surprised when the South Korean girl in our programme was afraid to tell her parents about her first grade, a 94% score (!!!) and was actually taking the resit. Are Koreans really this crazy?

Before leaving for Korea I only got extremely positive stories from people that had already been there. Six months later, I can only confirm how mesmerising this country is and how intrigued I am by its culture. Experiences, classes, and interactions in the EPA master taught me about different cultures and how to handle those, but as with most things theory is only one part. The other part is really going abroad and mingle amongst domestic students. In the end, it is not only the hosting country you learn more about, but for me the other 20+ cultures in the exchange programme also added to the overall quality of the exchange programme.

For me life in Seoul could be captured in the following phrase: “Work long, play hard”. The general perception is that Koreans work long hours, depending on their industry. However, after working, people often go for some serious drinking with their colleagues and superiors, and it is therefore not uncommon to see people passed out between 21.00 and 23.00 during the week. To compensate for the intense and serious life Seoul offers a myriad of options to sit back and relax. Where cat cafés have grown quite common, there is also an abundance of dog cafés, and if you feel like trying something special there are also raccoon cafés you can visit. In a metropolitan city of 26 million people, the options are unlimited with the most exciting nightlife and party people I have ever seen, huge shopping malls, hiking opportunities within reach, and many more activities, the options to play hard in Seoul are truly unlimited. This combination of, on the one hand, the harsh working life and sky-high expectations to perform, and, on the other hand, the vivid city with its many options to relax is really stunning. Seoul, a city where traditions and an unprecedented development go hand in hand stole a place in my heart.

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