Joint-Study student mobility in South Korea: Claudia’s experience of a lifetime

Claudia is currently studying Games Studies and Engineering at the University of Klagenfurt and is about to spend her second Joint-Study semester at one of AAU’s partner universities. During her bachelor’s degree, she already spent an exchange semester in South Korea at Hallym University in Chuncheon. In this interview, she shares experiences from her first Joint-Study mobility and why she would recommend spending a semester abroad to prospective outgoing exchange students.

Tell us something about yourself, what do you study at AAU and why you decided to spend a semester abroad.

I did my bachelor’s degree in management information systems and before I started my studies I knew I wanted to go on a semester abroad. During my high school years, I had the chance to go on a 3-month internship in England with the Erasmus+ programme. This experience helped me a lot in many ways, for example, my English improved a lot. Before the stay I was barely passing my English class, after the stay I hardly had to study to get a good grade.

For my semester abroad I wanted to take the chance to experience a completely different culture, language, and country. I also had this little challenge for myself: how well can you learn a language, you not even barely speak if you live in the country, it is spoken in. With the extra difficulty that it is a language, not related to any languages I already know and that it uses a different writing system.

Why did you decide to spend an exchange period at your chosen host university?

As I wanted to experience something completely new, I decided to apply for a University in Korea and China. Funnily enough, the University I ended up going to was neither of them. I ended up going to the Hallym University in Chuncheon, South Korea. While I cannot say I chose to spend my exchange period at this university from the get-go, I really would not want it otherwise.

I probably should also mention that I went in 2021, with COVID-19 being a thing, I was just glad to be able to go at all. The ongoing pandemic surely added an interesting twist to my travel and stay there.

From an academic and personal perspective, in what ways did you benefit from taking part in a mobility programme?

From an academic as well as personal perspective, equally, there are only benefits to gain from taking part in a mobility programme.

Academically, even though the classes I could take were very limited as only a few were taught in English, and even fewer were relevant to my studies, the things I learned seem even more valuable. Experiencing a different teaching system, interacting with a wide range of different and diverse professors and students, and getting the chance to take specific courses, to learn things I would otherwise not have come across.

The way I probably benefited the most from the mobility programme was for my personal growth. Going to a foreign country without knowing anyone, or the language was a challenge. It for sure was not always easy but overcoming these little challenges and enjoying the stay there, forming new connections, and learning about a new culture on a different continent equid you with skills that you can use and need anywhere. Since I did not speak Korean, obviously my English improved once again. However, I also managed to get a good understanding of how the Korean language works, and in the end, I was fluent enough to at least order my coffee in Korean.

Additionally, the Asian culture is fundamentally different. Staying a whole semester allows you to adapt to the country and culture, as you live there. Unlike when you go there as a tourist, you get to know everything on a deeper level.

Has your view of the world changed through your mobility period? If yes, how?

In Korea, the school of Neo-Confucianism is very present. This shows in their daily lives how they treat others, how they interact with others and live their lives. You respect your elders and superiors, and overall, everyone is very polite and considers the others around them. The small signs of respect like giving or receiving something with both hands or treating public spaces with care and trying to not disturb the others around you. Things like this deeply impressed me. Furthermore, South Korea is an extremely safe country. The fact you could just leave your laptop, phone, and wallet in a café and step away to go to the toilet or just leave for hours, and no one would steal them, was mind-blowing.

Would you recommend spending a semester abroad to other AAU students? Can you tell us why?

Besides the probably rather obvious benefits from it, like the academic and personal ones, the main reason why I would recommend it would be: when do you have another chance to live a semester in a different country? Traveling somewhere is nice but living there is a very different experience. I get that it is scary, especially if you go alone, but not only do you have support from the international office of our university, but also from the university you are going to.

It is one of the things you do not actually need but are nice to have. The experience will stay with you for a lifetime, you get the chance to grow personally in a way it would not have been possible otherwise. You make connections and memories that will last you for a lifetime of course, it is also a very nice thing to write in your CV.

Can you give prospective outgoing students some tips to make the most out of the mobility? (From a general “logistic” point of view and from an academic one)

Maybe, prepare for the unprepared? No, let’s be honest, that is frankly impossible. Be flexible! There are probably a handful of situations you did not expect or prepare for. It is easier to deal with them if you try to flexibly adapt to them. Trying to have this kind of mindset will help you not to despair when suddenly the classes you intend to take get cancelled, or when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere because you do not quite get how the buses work.

Make friends, talk to local students and international students, and go out as much as possible. Being a shy person myself, it is not easy, but I think it is necessary. It might be easier to befriend the other international students, and it is great to travel or check out the tourist spots together but try to make some local friends as well. They can show you a whole different side of the country you went to and help you with various things.

In general, make trips, travel around the country or visit neighbouring countries if possible.

When it comes to making out the most in an academic sense, inform yourself well what the university offers, what courses you can take and maybe even who teaches them. Planning well before head will make a lot of things easier.


Word Rap:

My first day at the host university was… exciting, a bit confusing and welcoming

When in Chuncheon you should not miss… (max. 3 words): Myeongdong street.

The best 3 things about an exchange semester… The food, the people I met, the memories I made.

My studies abroad in 3 words: interesting, informative, fun.