Six Weeks in Seoul, South Korea

Last summer I studied abroad in a very traditional place: Italy. This summer, I yearned for a bigger culture shock, so I decided to go as far away as possible. As I began my adventure to Seoul, I was excited to immerse myself in a new culture (and maybe even master using chopsticks).

Upon arriving, a few things were very apparent. One, Seoul is a technology hub. With Samsung accounting for a large majority of South Korea’s GDP, there is no shortage on technological advancements. This is apparent as soon as you set eyes on the city. I was immediately surrounded by millions of people walking while staring at their phones. Yes, we look at our phones quite a bit in the states. However, it is nothing compared to Seoul. It has gotten so bad, that there are signs painted on the side walks warning you of the dangers of not paying attention to the streets you are walking on. The second thing I realized right away, is that for the first time in my life, I was a clear minority. Even in my classes, I was one of the few Caucasian people. Furthermore, I was one of the even fewer with above average height, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Needless to stay, I was going to be quite the anomaly for six weeks. About twice a week, I was approached by locals asking where I was from and why I was here. People asked to take pictures with and even of me. Little kids stared, pointed, and hid from me as if I were an alien. The last thing that was apparent as I began my journey through Seoul was I definitely got the culture shock I was seeking. Everything from eating to weekend festivals all had a new feel. I was as wide-eyed as a little kid in a candy shop.

Overall, the six weeks continued to bring me new challenges and rewards as I navigated my way through the unknown. I am so privileged to have the new perspective that this trip has given me. The biggest reward, however, has been my increased thirst for knowing the world. One of my favorite quotes about travel is “I am in love with places I have never been and people I have never met.” As I return from my adventure, I felt this way. I have the endless need to travel and Im grateful that U of L provided me with that opportunity.

Nantes, France

“Not all those who wander are lost.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

Except me. I was usually lost. Being lost seemed to be the theme of my entire study abroad experience. I took every wrong turn, ordered food I wouldn’t consider edible, almost missed flights, buses, and trains, and exchanged countless stares with strangers because of the language barrier. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I left for Europe one week after the 2016 spring semester ended. I was scared because I had never flown anywhere in the United States by myself, let alone outside the country. I was so stressed and busy with finals that I didn’t have any expectations set for studying abroad. Once I arrived in France I realized I hadn’t even looked up the weather. It was at least 10 degrees colder than what I had packed for.

I spent 6 weeks taking classes in Nantes. Nantes is the sixth largest city in France located about 213 miles southwest of Paris. It rained constantly which made traveling on the weekends even more desired. Every single Sunday we returned from traveling it was raining and it surprisingly became appreciated because rain meant we were home from a long Sunday of traveling. The pastries in Nantes were amazing. All good days started with a chocolate chip pastry before class. The classes I took were challenging and we were in class for around 6 hours a day. My classmates were from all around the world: America, Italy, Mexico, France, Germany, China, Vietnam, and many more places. They were all bilingual; some spoke over 4 different languages. I learned so much, solely from my classmates and the overall experience.

While abroad, I also had the privilege of traveling to Florence, Madrid, Lagos, Paris, and London. Every single city was incredibly different. Studying and traveling around Europe is an opportunity to see the world, meet amazing people, and learn about yourself. I wish I would have been pushed sooner to study abroad because being in Europe for 6 weeks wasn’t long enough but I know it won’t be my last time!

Alicante, Spain

Before traveling to Europe this summer, I had only been out of the country one time. Knowing this, I had a good bit of nerves when the day finally came to leave for Spain. Luckily I had my good friend Jack to share this month abroad with me, so I wasn’t too overwhelmed. When we arrived we got a hotel on one of the main streets in Alicante called La Rambla. We were exhausted from the long day and slept for a couple hours, then went out and explored the city a little bit. Alicante is a port city right on the Mediterranean Sea, and is extremely pretty. The staple of Alicante, I would say would have to be the castle that sits at the top of the city. It is named Castillo de Santa Barbara. After we made the trek up to the top, which took about 45 minutes, we made our way back down and went to sleep. We moved into our new apartment the next day, and met some of the other people in our group. We lived with other international students. There was Ellis, and Marianne, who were from Scotland, Rikke who was from Denmark, and Sebastian who was from Chile. They had all been in Alicante from 8 months and over so they really helped us out and showed us around.

The Universidad de Alicante was a very beautiful university, which used to be an old military base. I took a European Economics class, and a Women’s Gender Studies class, both of which were pretty interesting. My Professors were both wonderful and really helped us understand the concepts, and also helped us get use to the way of life in Spain.

Me and Jack made some pretty good friends in our program who we spent a lot of our time with. The social life in Spain was very fun, and everyone was always friendly. We got to travel to Morocco in Africa and ride camels on the beach. We visited Gibraltar and drove up the big rock and took pictures with monkeys. We saw traditional Arabic dances in Morocco as well and traveled through the cities of Chefchaouen, Tangier, and Tetuan.

We were in Alicante during their biggest festival of the year called “Las Hogueras.” Basically a bunch of people build these big elaborate bonfire structures, and on the 24th of June, the firefighters in the city burn them down. (They keep it under control as well) Millions of people travel to Alicante to watch this event, and throughout the whole week there are other events and parties that happen every night. We didn’t get much sleep this week because every night music would go until 5am and then it would start back up at 10am the next day. But this was definitely the best week we had in our time in Europe.

All in all my time in Europe was, and will be, a very special memory in my life. I made some genuine friendships that I am sure will continue, and did things that not many people get to do in their life time. If it were my choice, it would be a requirement to study abroad during your 4 years in college, and if you are thinking about it, I highly recommend Alicante as your destination. This was, and will be one of the best months of entire life.

Recommendations

After spending my time abroad in Sevilla, Spain I never really realized how reliant people in the U.S. are on cars. One of the best recommendations I can offer, is using the bike system. Over in Europe, more frequent than not, countries are deciding to implement transit bike systems. At first, my roommate and I were a bit skeptical to buy a package at first, but after a night out and an unfortunately pricey taxi we decided to go for it. I can honestly say I’m angry we waited so long utilize the system. The Sevici Bike System made navigation easier: no more walking to class, we were allotted more time to explore and less time walking home, no expensive taxi’s home, and a chance to spend more time with our friends from the program. Spend the money and buy the yearly package; a week is 13 euros but the year is only 30. A warning, I found them fairly easy to operate but my roommate had some difficulties. From time to time they will become stuck in racks or if you’re not too careful you may even fall off for no reason!! Lmao.

Sevilla, Spain

My study abroad experience was fast paced and busy to say the least. Two classes in six weeks was challenging but luckily the professors and material was interesting and definitely worth 4 hours of my day. But the real fun was on the weekends, especially when we visited other cities. The smaller towns like Granada, Cordoba, and Malaga were my favorites, much better than metropolitan Madrid. Although the museums and cathedrals I visited were beautiful and were presented by great tour guides, I couldn’t wait to get out in the nature of Spain. I found a beautiful national park, El Torcal, for a hike near the beach town of Malaga. Plus, laying on the beach with a view of the ocean and mountains in the background was gorgeous and out of the ordinary. But during the week, it was fun to just walk around the city to choose a restaurant (or accidentally wandering for hours because I got lost) was enjoyable any time. Some days I walked over ten miles. Those six weeks went by way too fast and I can’t wait to return to Europe independently and explore more countries.

Memorable moments

Two of my favorite memories from my study abroad trip to Torino, Italy happened on the first evening I was there and one of the last evenings.

I arrived alone on a Saturday, one day early to the program start date, and decided to enjoy pizza for dinner and some much needed gelato after. I took my Canon camera to capture some memories and when I was handed the most perfect looking cone of gelato- I HAD to get a picture of me with it. There was a younger, Italian man sitting in the gelato shop who I asked to take a picture of me. He did and then proceeded to ask me if I would be willing to help him practice his English. I weighed out my options- it was still light out at 8:27 PM and sunset was not until 9:18 PM, he was about my size so if I needed to defend myself then I absolutely could, and finally we were in a pretty populated area- and I was able to deduce that if I stood around speaking with the guy it would be a harmless and memorable experience. Our conversation ranged from what kind of pet he had to what his hobbies were. The funniest part of the whole thing was that when I brought up the word “laundry” he mistakenly took it as “lingerie” and I quickly corrected that by whipping out the Google Translate app!!! Whew- what a close call, right?!

Flash forward to the last Aperitivo (if you are going to study abroad in Italy and do not know what this is yet… look it up… you are welcome) of the trip. We walked down to Piazza Vittorio Veneto and found a table at Blanco. Our waiter spoke fairly decent English and when one of the individuals at our table asked about where he learned to speak English, his answer made me almost spit out my drink! He admitted he learned English from watching MTV! A direct quote from this man, “Tupac was my teacher”. This story gets funnier and funnier every time I tell it!

In essence, studying abroad provides unique experiences and gives you the most memorable stories!

Gromm Gelato- Torino, Italy

Gromm Gelato- Torino, Italy

Arriving in France

The week leading up to my departure from the US I was definitely excited and could not wait to get to France. But, as the day got closer to leave, the more I got nervous, especially since it was my first time leaving the country. May 20th has finally arrived and I was off to France. 12 hours and 3 flights later I arrived in Nantes, France. Nantes is on the west coast of France, about a 2 and a half to 3 hour drive to Paris. After I got settled into my apartment I went and got groceries and right off the bat this was definitely different than an American grocery store. Picking out what to eat I guessed what the food was since it was all obviously in French and hoped for the best. I go to check out and see the customers in front of me bagging their own groceries into a big bag that they brought with them. So, I had to buy this bag and bag my own groceries. Ugh, such a struggle. Later on saturday night and sunday I went and ventured around Nantes and checked out the city. Going around the city I was a little nervous since I just arrived in a new continent all alone. Europeans can spot an American from a mile away, so I got a few stares, which definitely made me feel out of place. My first two days in France I thought there would obviously be a language barrier, but every person I talked to, I would first ask if they spoke english and about 90% of them said yes. I did have some people that automatically starting speaking to me in english, I don’t know how they knew, I guess the way I said bonjour. After a week and a half here I have ran into a few problems with the language, but I’ll just stare at them for a little bit or shake my head no and they finally realize I have no clue what they’re talking about.

Fear of Studying Abroad?

Studying abroad has allowed me to learn about myself. You never really learn about independence until you move out of your parent’s house, which typically happens when one starts college. However, being in different country where you do not understand the language and culture is great way to develop one’s independence. Being abroad has allowed me to see that I am capable of doing pretty much anything on my own. It takes confidence and a bit of resilience to take on the challenge of being alone in a new country. So if you are afraid of traveling abroad, I recommend that you forget that fear and go abroad. This opportunity is a valuable life experience and for most people this is a once in a lifetime chance. Many places you have never been able to imagine visiting could become a reality and the experiences you will learn throughout the trip will be remembered for the rest of your life. I am really glad I studied abroad and if you are on the fence about going, just take the leap of faith, because life is short and you do not want to regret not going later on in life.

Study Abroad Friends

Five weeks abroad may not seem like a long time to some people, but for me I feel the opposite. I got to experience many amazing things that people have only dreamed about and I have met people who I feel I will be connected to for the rest of my life. There was one guy I met in particular, who is from Washington, who I have many things in common. The first day I met him, it seemed like we would never really talk, but one day we happened to sit next to each other in class and we found out we had very similar interests and almost instantly developed a friendship. We have taken most of our trips together and we are actually planning to meet up in the future to each other around our city. While I have known him a short period of time, he has been more of a friend to me than some of my “friends” back home. It is unfortunate that we do not live close together, but I believe the bond we have developed over these past five weeks will be unbreakable. Thus, I leave the recommendation of talking to as many people as you can while abroad. Talk to people who appear to be different than your friend circle back home and get to know. Although, it may seem like a waste of time, but you could possibly develop friendships with people all over the country, who are not only good people, but also a potentially resourceful business contact if you decide to move near their area in the future.

Recommendation #3

Another recommendation I have if you are studying abroad, is find that one person in your program that has travelled a lot and befriend them. This person will have all the insight about all the places you are thinking of traveling to during your time abroad. These people are great resources, honestly in some cases more beneficial than the people who work for your program. They know good places to eat, good places to sleep, interesting monuments/structures to go see, and even nightlife places to experience, if that is in your realm of fun. So get to know everyone in your program, if you can, because you will never know who holds a wealth of information. Also, if you do encounter someone with this knowledge, of what seems everything, they may be able to help you save money on trips.