Where should I go to college? Student stories, Yonsei Int’l Summer School (YISS)

July 28, 2015
(Courtesy of Angelina Widener)

French American student Angelina Widener went into Yonsei’s summer program eager to learn, meet new people, discover Korea and its culture, and after seven weeks, she says she had done all of those. (Courtesy of Angelina Widener)

(Courtesy of Angelina Widener)

Yonsei is one of the top-3 ranked universities (SKY) in South Korea. (Courtesy of Angelina Widener)

By Angelina Widener, Korea Times Los Angeles intern reporter

For most students, summer is a season that is associated with words like vacation, travel and fun.

But what if I told you that all of these were possible by taking a summer school in South Korea?

Here is the experience of a French American girl studying Korean and Chinese languages as well as international business in France, who chose to go to summer school in Korea.

Last summer I decided to enroll in the Yonsei International Summer School (YISS) program. My goals were to improve my Korean language skills, get a head start for my international business classes that I would be taking the following semester in France, and experience Korean culture.

YISS revolves around a variety of courses, from science and technology to humanities and economics, all with Korean studies put into the mix. The program consists of a summer internship and weekly field trips. It also includes extra-curricular activities, such as cooking, K-pop dancing and singing and Taekwondo.

When it comes to summer schools in Korea, almost every university offers a program geared towards foreign students. I ended up choosing Yonsei University as I was familiar with its language program.  I had taken a three-week summer course in 2013 at Yonsei’s Korean Language Institute (KLI). Another reason was the length of the program, around seven weeks, which felt like a more sufficient amount of time compared to others that only ran for three to four weeks.

For a French student unfamiliar with what I like to call a “U.S.-style campus,” my first encounter with Yonsei University’s campus was rather surprising. The campus is vast and since it’s attached to a mountain (which are very common in Seoul) there are hills everywhere! Walking to class or back to the dorms after a long day becomes a hike. During the weekends it is not unusual to see hikers making their way up the campus in their colorful gear.

Since the program takes place during the summer, the number of students around campus was less important than during regular semesters.

Being an international student at Yonsei or anywhere else in Korea, it is very common to get a few stares here and there. Even though we tend to garner attention, Koreans tend to shy away from foreigners. As I eventually found out, the main reason stemmed from a ‘lack of confidence’ in their English skills. Even the Koreans taking part of YISS would tend to sit together during classes and not interact with others.

(Courtesy of Yonsei University)

2014 YISS orientation (YISS Facebook photo)

When I started the program last year, my main concern was on the academic level of the courses at Yonsei given that it was one of the top-3 ranked universities in Korea (SKY — Seoul, Korea, Yonsei). My other worries revolved around things outside of the classroom including my ability to make friends as I am kind of an introvert.

Last summer 1,386 students enrolled in YISS, the majority came from the U.S. and especially from California through the University of California Exchange Abroad Program (UCEAP). Being from France I was part of the “other” category. Overall the attendance of the program was a mix of international students with Korean Americans, Asians, and many more.

The first few days were spent moving into dorms and it was generally a good time to get to meet new people people and make friends. Social media was an important medium to bring students together. Introductions, plans or any other questions were asked on the Facebook group for YISS 2014. Also a Kakao Talk chat room was created, but as people got to know each other, smaller chats became preferable.

The group of friends I became close to consisted only of international students as some Koreans seemed “to avoid” international students.

A particularity of YISS is that not only are the students from all around the world, but the professors also come from different institutions. Every course in YISS are credit-bearing courses and credits are transferable to most institutions outside of Korea.

The courses I decided to attend were, for obvious reasons, Korean Language and Marketing.

My Marketing class was an introduction to the principles of Marketing, therefore we covered a large amount of basic knowledge in just seven weeks. Looking back on my summer crash course in Marketing and the one I had the following semester in France, I learned more at YISS than I did in France.

The Korean language course took place at the KLI. After a placement test, students were placed in one of the six level classes. Each class had around 10 to 15 students max, and focused for three hours on writing, reading, speaking and listening. I know that everyone’s method to learn a language is different but in my opinion, KLI’s method always worked for me and my Korean has improved each time I went to Korea.

As a Korean language learner, my advice to anyone wanting to learn Korean or learning the culture, is to immerse themselves in Korea when visiting the country. Try interacting with Koreans, from speaking with Korean students to haggling with a street vendor. Don’t be afraid to speak! Make Korean friends, talk to the ajumma selling street food! It’s okay if your Korean is not perfect, as long as the other person gets your point, then it’s communication.

Overall my experience at YISS was very good and my concerns before starting were all blown away. I came in the program eager to learn, meet new people, discover Korea and its culture, and after seven weeks, I had done all of those.

YISS was an eye opener for me on many things. Not only did I get to immerse myself into the Korean culture, I also had, through my friends, roommate and classmates, a bridge to different countries and cultures!

I will always remember the fun times I had in Korean language class, the meals shared with friends and the nights spent shopping or watching street performers around Sinchon, Ewha or Hongdae.

Friends are the ones who bring out the best in you, and I made lifelong friends last summer. I still keep close contact with the ones I consider my “s(e)oul mates,” and now I have someone to visit in almost every part of the world.

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