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Interview with Exchange Students Manel & Lisa: Stories of Their Lives in Korea

It may be no longer unfamiliar for most Kingos to take classes and walk on the campus with exchange students from around the world. In May, when spring has come and the campuses become livelier, exchange students can also experience the unique campus culture of Korea during the school festivals. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) met two exchange students from different countries and heard about the stories of their lives in Korea as well as what Korea and SKKU are like in their eyes.

Q1 Please introduce yourself and your country.

Lisa: Hello. My name is Lisa, and I am an exchange student from the University of Applied Sciences, Wiener Neustadt (FHWN), in Austria. I am a 2nd year graduate student majoring in Political Science and Diplomacy and I am studying at SKKU for one semester. My home country, Austria, is a very small country in the center of Europe. Since a lot of people get confused between Austria and Australia, I say “Austria, Europe,” whenever I introduce my home country to people.

Manel: Hi. I am Manel. I am a junior from the University of Alicante (UA) in Spain, and I also came to SKKU for a semester. Currently, I am studying at the Natural Sciences Campus in Suwon and majoring in Architecture. The city I am from is located on the east coast of Spain. Since there are a lot of beaches along the coast, it is quite touristic, especially in summer.

Q2 Is there any reason why you chose Korea over other countries? What made you want to come to SKKU?

Lisa: When I was checking the list of universities that I could choose to go to as an exchange student, I was interested in universities in Asian countries since I had never been to Asia. Plus, I was looking for a university with a long history and traditions. With these conditions in mind, I thought SKKU would be a great choice. Moreover, Seoul, where the Humanities and Social Sciences Campus is located, is famous for being modern and developed, so I decided to come to SKKU.

Manel: When I was a freshman, one of the professors shared his experience in Korea in class. He told the class that he had a splendid experience and that he loved Korea and its culture. After hearing his story, I started to get interested in Korea. The next year, I contacted two other professors who were working in Korea at that time to ask for some advice. They told me that it would be a great experience, so I decided to go to Korea as an exchange student. I could have chosen another country, but since SKKU provided Korean courses, I thought it would also be a good opportunity to learn a new language.

Q3 Ever since you arrived in Korea, what is the most impressive thing you found about Korea?

Lisa: Because I did not know a lot about Korea, I watched many YouTube videos and read articles about Korea. While doing so, I realized that there were some remarkable events in Korea, such as the “Miracle on the Han River.” I think such events could take place because Korean people are very motivated and want to move forward with their lives, which I think is quite impressive. Moreover, I love many small parks and walking trails in places because they are clean and have various plants.

Manel: When I first came to Korea, I saw Korean people sleeping on public transportation. I was surprised because it is not common at all in Europe. I think it is because Korean people focus all their energy on their job every day. In addition, as I am interested in architecture, observing how the streets are organized is interesting. For example, in Spain, it is very rare to see restaurants and bars located on the 2nd floor of a building. In Korea, however, I realized that a lot of restaurants and bars are located on the 2nd floor, which is impressive.

Q4 You might have experienced some difficulties while in Korea as well. Can you tell me about any issues you have had?

Lisa: I would say that the language barrier is one of the biggest difficulties I have in Korea. For example, I had to stay in a hotel for the first week when I arrived here. The hotel staff, however, did not speak good English, and I could not speak Korean at all, so I had trouble communicating with them while staying in the hotel.

Manel: I was embarrassed because of the cultural differences. For instance, kissing on the cheek, whether it is a man or a woman, is really common in European countries, including Spain. When I was still getting used to Korean culture, I was trying to give kisses to a female Korean friend like I did in Spain. She was very surprised and told me that it is not common at all in Korea.

Q5 What differences did you find between your home university and SKKU?

Lisa: Compared to my university, SKKU has way more courses to choose from; for example, there was a course called “War and Peace” which seemed quite interesting. Moreover, I can meet many more exchange students from all over the world at SKKU than at my home university.

Manel: The teaching style and the classroom atmosphere are quite different from those of my university. I was not used to giving a presentation or speaking in front of a blackboard in class before. Here at SKKU, however, there are many more chances to do these things. Furthermore, in my university, students do not mind having a small chat in class, but no one talks with friends during class at SKKU. I think it is a good thing since I can focus on lectures better.

Q6 What would you like to do at SKKU before you go back to your country?

Lisa: I am currently in a tennis club and I’m enjoying it a lot, so I want to keep doing that. I also want to go on a trip to Jeju Island with friends because I like to travel.

Manel: I want to experience SKKU more: sitting on the grass in front of the Samsung Library with friends and just taking my time on a sunny day surrounded by cherry blossoms. Not as a tourist, but as a Korean “citizen,” I want to learn more about Korean people and their culture.

Q7 Any last words for Kingos?

Lisa: Since I do not have any Korean friends, I would be more than happy if other Kingos openly talked to me more, as well as other exchange students. I want to get to know some Korean Kingos before I go back to Austria.

Manel: I highly recommend everyone to seize the opportunity to go abroad as an exchange student. There must be universities in many different countries that you can choose. Wherever you go, it will be worth it. I think coming to SKKU as an exchange student is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. At least once in your life, why not give it a go?

김효진  theweeknd@skku.edu

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