Get as far away from your own culture as possible

My name is Ken Geeler and I major in Management Engineering at Zurich University of Applied Sciences. My favorite activities include making music, hiking, and traveling. While I had to leave the first one for the exchange, the latter two were not neglected during the semester abroad. But more about that later.

I attended the Fall 2020 semester at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in Seoul and had a time filled with invaluable experiences. When choosing the destination, I had one thing in mind – it should be as far away as possible from the Swiss / European culture and way of life. In this respect, South Korea was particularly appealing to me, as it also has a lot to offer in addition to the fine cuisine and interesting culture. The range of modules was ultimately the decisive point why I applied for SKKU. In exchange with the International Office and my program director, I was allowed to put together courses that were a mix between regular courses (which I would have attended at ZHAW) and supplemental courses in similar fields that I wanted to get into.

Incheon Fish Market
Incheon Fish Market

To address the elephant in the room – despite the Covid19 pandemic, the semester abroad was filled with adventures, travel, and cultural experiences. Admittedly, I was no longer quite so optimistic during the mandatory 14-day quarantine (compliance with which is very strictly monitored, by the way). However, as soon as I started living with my roommate in the shared-flat and met more and more international friends, the tide turned and I formed some really good friendships.

Due to the pandemic and Korea’s relatively restrictive strategy compared to Europe, all courses had to be offered online, although some were held offline depending on the lecturer. This means you could still admire the huge campus of SKKU and make yourself at home in the library. I do not have a comparison, but without the pandemic, life on campus would probably have been livelier. However, the online courses also had their merits, as travel could be planned due to the flexibility. During my stay, I was able to travel to countless towns, islands, and cities. Most of the courses were clearly laid out with good documentation and the lecturers were usually very happy to have exchange students in their classes. Academically as well as workwise, the activities at SKKU have brought me further. Especially the group work with international or local students was an invaluable experience.

In a semester abroad, you leave your life in your country of domicile on pause and start a new life in a completely unknown place. This filled with various life experiences. What I grew most fond of were the Korean and international friends with whom the semester abroad was spent. One of the most impressive moments was the trip and longer stay on Jeju Island, which was very different from Seoul and filled with interesting history, food and people. Also, the temple stay I did with three friends in the mountains on a Buddhist temple complex was quite impressive. The morning meditation is admittedly not for morning munchkins. However, the whole moment in the mountains was simply magical, even for a rather pragmatically thinking student like me.

Group of students On top of Hallasan on Jeju Island
On top of Hallasan on Jeju Island

The semester abroad in South Korea at Sungkyunkwan University was for me personally one of the best experiences in my life. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the people and organizations who made this experience possible.

1 Comment

  1. The phrase “get as far away from your own culture as possible” is probably meant as an actual physical distance brought about by a physical journey. For young people, it is definitely o.k. to see the “big wide world” with his or her own eyes.

    Becoming older, however, I think we should reduce our physical journeys in favor of environment protection and CO2 reduction (I’m quite sure, Greta Thunberg would agree)! This does not necessarily mean that our view upon the world would become more narrow: It absolutely possible to “get away from our own culture” just by building up an inward distance.

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