Studying abroad | Diary of a university placement year in South Koreaby Robbie
Because Robbie's blog was written before the global pandemic, some aspects of the experiences he describes may be different while Covid-19 restrictions are in place. For the latest information about how we're keeping our students and staff safe, visit our dedicated Student Enquiries page.
Studying abroad is one of the greatest one-of-a-kind opportunities available to students. But what is a placement year really like?
A university placement year could take you anywhere, with some of our students travelling to universities in Australia, Canada, Austria, China, and many more world destinations. Studying abroad helps students build their CVs, learn a second language, grow in confidence, make new friendships, and experience different cultures.
BSc Environmental Science student, Robbie, travelled to South Korea for his placement. Read on to find out about the challenges and triumphs he faced, as well as his 'study abroad pros and cons' from his first month in South Korea…
My first month on a placement year in Seoul
Having arrived in Seoul I was met by one of my roommates at the subway station. They showed me to my new place - an apartment that I would be sharing with a Brazilian and a Korean.
Almost immediately after arriving I headed out to explore my new area, Hongdae, where I coincidentally bumped into a guy called Kim, who I had actually approached about living in one of his apartments for international students when organising my study year abroad.
I joined his group and we headed out for Korean BBQ. I was completely absorbed by the appearance of my new neighbourhood with its bright lights and crowded streets. This was my first time living in a capital city. The biggest city I've ever lived in before was Newcastle! At this point, I wasn’t sure if the city's crowds and busy nature would become overwhelming, once my initial excitement started to subside.
After a good first night in Seoul meeting more international students, I spent the following days wandering around the streets, going to markets, temples, parks, and seeing the sights of Seoul.
There were lots of other districts to see too, such as Itaewon, Gangnam and Sinchon, as well as taking my first trip to university on the subway. My commute here is almost an hour, but I only have classes three days a week, so it’s not too bad.
Over the course of my first week or so, I met lots of new people, as well as a couple of guys who I was in contact with through mutual friends back in the UK. Together we went on nights out, meals and checking out other parts of the city.
I also managed to catch up with one of my Korean friends who I had met cycle-touring in South America and last seen over two years ago.
Having sorted my courses out, I eased into my new routine – my commute, new timetable, and meeting people from my university.
On weekends and my days off I would continue to explore the city, often with the help and advice of my Korean housemate Suhong. Together we cycled along the Han river, went out for traditional Korean food like army soup and went on nights out with my new friends and Suhong’s Korean friends. Knowing a local definitely helped me get to know the city.
So far, my university placement has been full of action and new things to see. but there's definitely been some particular highlights...
Relaxing at Bukhansan National Park
As I mentioned, the sheer number of people in Seoul can feel overwhelming and at times I would begin to miss the green open spaces of my home back in the UK.
However, in the North of Seoul there is a national park where you can go walking in the forests and mountains, sometimes climbing up to 800m. Here you can escape the crowds and enjoy incredible views over Seoul.
Cycling from Seoul to Busan
On the Chuseok National holiday, some friends and I decided to cycle the Four Rivers Path from Seoul to Busan, covering over 600km in just four days.
Despite being an incredibly tough cycle, it definitely consolidated great friendships and was a perfect way to see more of the country. After an incredibly tiring and eventful ride, we arrived in Busan with high spirits, enjoying a swim in the Sea of Japan and some much-needed food.
Exploring the city at night
Seoul probably has the most varied nightlife of any city I have ever visited, with a host of options across the city on any day of the week.
The main reason I chose to live in Hongdae as opposed to in university accommodation is due to the fact there are many restaurants and bars, as well as clubs, making it much more social.
One of the first places my housemate took me to was 'The Playground', a park where hundreds of internationals hang out on a Friday and Saturday night to meet other people and enjoy the incredible street performers.
Travelling even further…
Seoul is incredibly well located and connected, with many countries just a few hours away by air. Tickets often cost less than £100!
I've enjoyed a trip to Jeju island, climbed Korea’s highest mountain, swam in the Sea of Japan, and enjoyed local cuisine, such as black pork and abalone. Having sorted my student visa, I went to Tokyo to watch the rugby world cup final and explored a new city.
For the rest of this semester I’ve lined up trips to Hong Kong and skiing in Korea, before spending my two and a half months during the Christmas holidays travelling around the Philippines and South East Asia.
Are you interested in a university placement year? Your experience abroad could last from a single semester to a full year, with destinations ranging from Europe and the Americas to Asia and Australasia. Find out if studying abroad is available on your degree and discover the benefits studying abroad can bring.
Published By Robbie on 23/01/2020 | Last Updated 05/03/2021