Sarah Poole: Looking back at my year abroad in South Korea

Han River

Hi, my name is Sarah and I am a final year English Language & TESOL student at Swansea University. If you haven’t read my previous blog post about my year abroad in South Korea, I highly recommend you go take a look here before reading this one!

When I wrote my previous blog post I had only experienced Korea for a few weeks. Now, in this post, I’m looking back and reflecting on the time I spent there after finally returning to the UK and starting my final year at Swansea University.


Haeundae Waterfront

Exploring, Festivals and Culture 
South Korea is alive with culture, blending the new and modern with the old and traditional. There are an endless number of temples and palaces, but also at least five aesthetically unique coffee shops on every street, with skyscrapers that are so high they disappear into the clouds. There is something for everyone and always new things to see. To travel around Korea is also really cheap and super convenient! I highly recommend that if you have the chance to visit, pick up a travel card (much like an Oyster card in London),  it can be used all over the country for the subway and buses.

Firework festival at Gwangalli Beach

Korean people love to celebrate! Every Autumn and Spring, PNU (Pusan National University) holds its very own festival with some well-known celebrity singers, and performances done by the students themselves. I also had the pleasure of experiencing a famous firework festival while sat on a beach with a million other people  – this is no exaggeration! Around a million people come to see these fireworks. So, you can imagine trying to get the subway back home was quite an experience!

Cherry blossoms along the river

Another favourite festival of mine that I saw while in Korea was the Cherry Blossom Festival. To put it simply, rather than a festival, it is more like an entire season! For a few weeks in spring the cherry blossoms bloom. Everything is pink and you just want to take a photo every five steps (which is exactly what I did).

Overall, with each celebration and every activity there is always a sense of ‘togetherness’, which is what I really enjoyed while I was there. Everyone I met was really kind and extremely helpful – even when there was a bit of a language barrier at times. I met some amazing people from all over the world too, so I was able to learn about everyone’s cultures as well as the Korean culture in which I was embedded.

Feeding Raccoons at a Raccoon Cafe

University Life
So, after completing both semesters at PNU it is fair to say that in some respects it differs quite a bit compared to Swansea University. Generally, classes are conducted in a similar fashion: lectures, discussions, and so on. But the true difference lies with the exams.

In terms of the exams themselves, depending on the class, it would be multiple-choice questions rather than an essay-style question, which is more of what I am used to. The exam setting is more informal and often takes place in the classroom where you have the lesson. You can keep your bags and belongings with you under the desk and water bottles get to keep their labels – this was a bit of a culture shock for me to see the contrast in examination conditions.

Midterms and Finals are taken quite seriously by the students and they will spend endless hours studying in the library, study hall or café  – it is almost impossible to find a seat in a café despite there being so many! Even the dorm curfew is removed so students can go to the library to study at night. That’s definitely not to say that students don’t study hard here! But the overall attitude and atmosphere is somewhat different, and you can’t help but find yourself doing the same.

On a different note, the professors at PNU were always engaging and making the classes fun. I even had one class take place at a café! The professor bought us all a drink of our choice to enjoy while the lesson proceeded – I have never experienced anything quite like it before! Other professors brought in traditional clothing for us to try on or brought in snacks for us to try. They were really eager to share Korean culture with us and I felt very welcome.

Goodbye Busan, South Korea

Final Thoughts
Taking part in this Year Abroad Programme has really been an eye-opening experience that I will never forget. I can’t thank the Go Global Team and the Applied Linguistics department enough for giving me this opportunity and supporting me while I was out there. It is hard to explain about every little thing that had made my time in Korea and at PNU so memorable. I can only suggest that you go and see for yourselves, whether you travel independently, or to go for a year abroad such as I did.

I really enjoyed my time there, so much so, that once I graduate, I hope to be returning to South Korea to pursue my dream job as an English teacher!