During the last four months I, Alina from the study program International Business Administration, had the opportunity to do an exchange semester in South Korea’s second biggest city, Busan. The Pusan National University offers numerous courses in English. I decided to mainly follow cultural oriented courses in order to understand the relationship between East Asian countries much better and to get a better understanding of Korean traditions and their lifestyle. Furthermore, I attended a language class in order to communicate with locals in daily situations. The courses that I decided to follow during my stay were Norms and Rules in East Asia, Asian Life and Wisdom, International Organizations, Comparative Responses to Globalization and Beginners Korean.
The exchange semester opened my mind towards other cultures, not only the East Asian culture but also what it means to be a European citizen. To live in another surrounding that is totally different from everything you know makes you more tolerant concerning other cultures and behaviors. Furthermore, I learned a lot about the historical relationships between North East Asian countries and how they contribute to the current political and social relation.
In today’s business world a great understanding of other cultures is expected and working groups tend to become more multicultural with the increasing digitalization. In order to become open-minded and understand another culture, a distinctive experience in this direction seems to be necessary. Furthermore, such an exchange semester helps you stepping out of your comfort zone and increasing your soft skills, which you will never learn in a classroom. Eventually, an exchange semester helps you to define yourself, to extend your soft skills and to prepare you for a future career.
I decided to study mainly cultural oriented classes at the Pusan National University in order to increase my knowledge about the East Asian region. Even though my classes were more focused on specific organizations than on business related topics in general, they broaden my perspective particularly about South Korea, but also North Korea, China and Japan. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how European countries politically as well as functionally cooperate with each other in contrast to East Asian nations and how they interact with each other.
I would not say that there is one single experience that I could call the best one, but rather all different impressions combined that made this exchange semester unforgettable for me. Busan itself is so diverse with incredibly nice beaches, an amazing coastline and mountains from which you have impressive views on the surrounding area. Next to the Pusan National Universities are numerous bars and restaurants that contributed to many nice evenings and nights with other exchange students.
Traveling was also a major part of my exchange semester. During Chuseok, the biggest public holiday in South Korea, I went to Seoul with several other exchange students. Seoul is obviously one of the ‘must see’s’ when being in South Korea. I celebrated my birthday in Seoul’s famous Itaewon area where you can find many bars and restaurants next to each other and the atmosphere in the evening was relaxed and enjoyable. If you are looking for a nice afternoon, the Insadong Street is definitely worth a visit. You can find many handcrafted souvenirs and streetfood.
At the end of September, some friends of mine and I did a road trip on Jeju island, an island located 100km south of the Korean peninsula. The nature there is really beautiful and we got even luckier when we discovered a group of dolphins close to the coastline, which were jumping out of the water.
The biggest highlight was my 11-day trip to Japan where I visited Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and of course, Tokyo. I found it interesting to discover similarities and differences concerning cultural peculiarities between South Korea and Japan. During my stay I experienced a Japanese version of an ‘Indian Summer’ with red and yellow leafs basically everywhere. Especially, the atmosphere in Kyoto was really nice and combined with a lot of sightseeing and trying out different kinds of food.
However, short trips and events such as to the lantern festival in Jinju, the previous emperor city Gyeongju, and the Busan firework were experiences that come to my mind when I am thinking about my time in South Korea. I will definitely miss South Korea and all the people I met during my stay, it was an amazing time.
After my time and countless memories in Korea, I am currently traveling through Vietnam and Bali. In order to finalize my journey through South East Asia, I will spend the last night in Singapore before eventually flying back home at the end of January.