Part of learning about a new culture…

…is going to unfamiliar places, handling uncomfortable situations, and embracing even the smallest details. Rather than researching ahead of time, I wanted to prepare myself for the unexpected. Learning things first-hand helps me better understand where ideas come from and how they fit in modern society. Exposing yourself to unfamiliar cultures can be overwhelming at times, but I believed more in the progress of adjusting and ultimately becoming familiar with cultural practices.

Coming to Korea with preconceptions could have encouraged comparisons to ideas in Europe, possibly leading myself to shift away from solely learning the Korean culture. The fact that I was not familiar with any cultural practices allowed me to make the most out of every experience, making it unique. 

The university system and what it means being a student at Korea University was particularly unfamiliar to me at first. Not only was I surprised by the teaching method and how professors and students interact with each other but also by the strong cohesion between students. 

Surprisingly, adapting to a different University system and a new studying method was easier than I thought. In comparison to Swiss students, Korean students have a larger workload during the semester, because of several tests and assignments they must hand in during the semester. However, being a Korea University student is not only limited to studying all year around and attending classes. It means building a relationship with your professors, joining a club and represent Korea University. Studying at KU makes you part of a community, of which one is proud. 

The recent school festival is a good example of how students make others feel like they belong here and embrace diversity. At the start and the end of famous Korean artist performances, the so called “cheerleading” took place. KU students encouraged foreigners to sing, dance along and represent Korea University. In the circle which I entered, we hugged each other, rowed on the ground and headbanged to Korea University songs, all students know by heart. 

Joining the organisation of the international student festival, by representing my home country was also a unique experience to exchange and connect with people from all around the world. Cooking some traditional dishes and talking about cultural differences with Korean students has showed me that they are just as much interested in my culture as I am in theirs. This intercultural learning and teaching experience has helped me to reflect about my own cultural background and how I am influenced by it. 

Unfortunately, my stay in Korea is slowly coming to an end and I am now reflecting about all the things I’ve learned so far and the experiences I have made. The far too short time at Korea University has thought me much more than what I’ve learned from my classes. This at first new and unfamiliar cultural environment, has now become familiar and full of beautiful memories which have positively impacted me in many ways. The most important one is to not fear the unfamiliar, they turn out to be the best and most unforgettable experiences.

Chiara Heiss

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