[Cover Story] Days in the Life of Exchange Students

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What is studying overseas really like during the pandemic? What does the life of an exchange student look like? Being just as curious as the readers of the Mirror, the 246th edition of The Sungshin Mirror captured the stories of two ambitious Sungshin students who studied in two different European countries. Let’s hear about the time they have spent in Czech Republic and Finland as exchange students!


Ahoj from Czech Republic! Jang Haelim, (Department of Global Medical Science, Class of 18) a student exchange program participant shares her experience during her seven months in Ostrava, Czech Republic.


Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly about the country and school you studied in.

Hello, I major in the Department of Global Medical Science and I studied at the University of Ostrava in Czech Republic.


Why did you choose Czech Republic and University of Ostrava among other countries and schools you could have selected?

First of all, there weren’t many options for schools and countries I could apply with my major. Among these limited number of schools, University of Ostrava was the only place that offered a training opportunity in a hospital as well as studying.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Czech Republic was the low commodity prices, which was economically beneficial. Additionally, because Hyundai Motor Group was located in the city of Ostrava, several Korean markets and restaurants we could visit were found in the area. I also loved the city of Ostrava more than other cities I traveled to. This was due to my tendency to avoid too crowded areas and prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.


How were you able to make a decision to study abroad despite the pandemic? Please describe how COVID-19 affected your overall student exchange experience.

Although it might vary depending from person to person, I went there because it has been on my bucket list ever since I was in middle school. Also, because I devoted about one year in preparation, and COVID-19 even added another semester-long delay, it would have been mortifying and unfair for me if I had to simply give up.

Due to COVID-19, the orientation event and many other courses were conducted online, which curtailed my opportunity to interact with people. Additionally, there were times when intercity travel were heavily restricted due to the pandemic. It has caused difficulties in terms of traveling, touring and partying, all of which many exchange students look forward to doing.


How did you prepare to blend yourself into the culture and the language of Czech Republic? Which language did you mostly speak in, and how did your Czech skills affect your daily life?

I had never heard of the language Czech before I decided to study there. Thankfully, the University of Ostrava delivered a basic Czech class before the semester began, and I was able to learn the basics of the language in it. Although I spoke mostly in English with friends and professors, I communicated more in Czech when I went to a shopping mall or somewhere off campus. I noticed that people answered me more in a friendly manner when I spoke to them in Czech instead of relying on English. Moreover, I met a Czech friend who expressed her interest towards Korean culture, who was also willing to learn some Korean. Later, we taught each other our native languages in a language exchange class.


Regarding your major, Global Medical Science, how different was your learning experience in University of Ostrava, compared to what you studied in Sungshin?

Actually, it is rare for Global Medical Science majors to get hands-on training opportunities at Sungshin. On the other hand, being a medical exchange student in University of Ostrava was mostly about training and doing an internship in an actual hospital. I was able to participate in several surgeries, and see doctors perform various tasks in person. I learned how to make a knot for a suture surgery, had an opportunity to visit a postmortem examination with pathology doctors for example, both of which extensively expanded my knowledge about the medical field.


Could you share the most memorable experience you had during your time as an exchange student?

The most memorable moment for me was when I first met a friend in an operating room. Fellow students and I had a chance to take part in a surgery, and the surgeons communicated in Czech during the operation. There, a Czech friend kindly approached me and my friends and chatted with us. She later explained that because she knew we were exchange students, she wanted to talk to us since she is also going to be an exchange student in the U.S. next year and thought it would be great if she could make a friend who can offer assistance if she was there alone. We became closer and my friends and I even visited her hometown and traveled various places throughout the country, experiencing a realistic local life thanks to her. From the moment we met to all the memories we made are unforgettable.


What do you think has changed after the student exchange program?

I was always pondering whether I should direct my career path into my field of study or not. Being uncertain about my future after graduation, seven months of studying abroad helped me more seriously consider which profession I really want to pursue. Practical and educational experiences I had there really shifted my point of view comprehensively.


Hei from Finland! An exchange student Jung Hyowon (Department of Business Administration, Class of 18) talks about her life in Turku, Finland.


Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly about the country and school you studied in.

Hello, since January 2021, I have been studying in University of Turku in the city of Turku, the fifth biggest and the oldest city in Finland. I major in the Department of Business Administration in Sungshin and now I’m studying in the Turku Schools of Economics faculty.


When was the moment you first decided to study abroad? Please describe how COVID-19 affected your overall student exchange experience.

I once took part in a program called Asian Women’s Leadership Program which Sungshin University hold in the past, as I wanted to learn more about feminism. Although to communicate entirely in English wasn’t easy at first, my skills slowly evolved as I tried to talk as much as possible, even introducing Korean culture to my friends. After this valuable experience, I thought to myself that applying for the student exchange program would be a great opportunity to further improve my English.

My original plan was delayed due to COVID-19 outbreak. The most significant effect of the pandemic would be that all the classes were conducted online. Nonetheless, I was befriended with other exchange student I shared my dormitory with. We cooked together, went out to pubs, threw a party, and traveled to cities in Finland. I could enjoy my exchange student life as much as I would have before the pandemic.


What was your reason for choosing Finland and University of Turku over other countries and schools?

I was agonizing about which school I should apply to and prioritized the following conditions: first, it had to be somewhere I could communicate with people in English. Since English was the only foreign language I could speak in and Finnish people are known to be fluent in it, I could make my decision to study in Finland. Secondly, I wanted to go somewhere I have never been to before. The excitement I felt from the word Europe was more than the names of any other continents for me. Third, I considered commodity prices as one of the most important factors. Compared to other Scandinavian countries, Finland was adopted with a better student welfare system and living expenses seemed adequate.


Regarding your major, Business Administration, how different was your learning experience in University of Turku, compared to what you studied in Sungshin?

The way of education in Finland is quite different from that of Korea. While Korean education is more focused on exams which tests only what’s taught in classes, Finnish education aims more at self-driven learning. There are no exams, but professors assign students with about 10 pages of reports on a subject such as cases of business theories that can be applied in real life. I found it difficult to get used to it in the beginning as a Korean student. Soon, however, I found myself gaining more knowledge by researching resources on my own.


Could you share some of the most memorable experiences you had during your time as an exchange student?

First the most memorable experience I had was when I went over the Arctic Circle and traveled to Lapland, the northernmost area of Finland through the program Erasmus Student Network offered to exchange students. I rode a husky sled, fed reindeers, and had toasted marshmallows in a cottage. At the end of my trip, I saw the Northern Lights, the curtain of the heavens, ecstatically dancing in the sky. Another unforgettable event was the birthday party of one of my flat mates. Each of us cooked cuisines from our homeland and shared it. I still remember how amazing the crepe and the chocolate mousse my French friend made me were. I also traveled to Spain by myself and saw the architecture of Gaudi, was guided through various sites to Valencia and Madrid by my Spanish friend, and stayed in the house of the French friend I met during summer vacation. I am endlessly thankful to all of my friends who made it possible for these treasurable events to happen.


What is the most important lesson you have learned from this experience?

I believe the most priceless gain I earned were people. Beyond the accumulation of knowledge, I was able to learn so much more while interacting with people around me. In fact, I didn’t try hard to expand my boundary for friends when I first entered Sungshin. However, I determined that I would strive to approach people and be more outgoing the moment I set foot in the airplane to Finland. Reaching out to other exchange students from various countries, I realized that I was actually a people person more than I thought I was.


What do you think has changed the most during your time there?

The biggest change is that it made me become a more active person who’s unafraid of challenges. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t an extrovert before. But here, I came up to friends first, started small talk, and went to parties to overcome that. I also became more productive since it was difficult to manage all the tasks solely on my own while keeping my schedule under control. I started planning more thoroughly and wrote down everything I will do each day.


Tiny but Useful Tips for Aspiring Global Crystals

Small Gifts – Haelim: I think bringing small gifts for people I wanted to thank in Czech Republic was a great idea. For instance, I presented postcards or stationeries that are decorated with traditional Korean designs and my Czech friends loved them.

Language Skills – Hyowon: Some might assume that after their time in an English-speaking country, their English might improve significantly. In reality, being an exchange student is more about utilizing your language skills, rather than a chance to advance your English proficiency. I advise you to practice diligently prior to the beginning of your exchange student life


Although fortune may not seem to be on our side at the moment, their stories demonstrated that it will still be of all those who endeavor to seize the moment. The Sungshin Mirror will always support every Crystal’s voyage towards the world.

By Cho Yoonji Editor

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