Similar to the one I posted for Cambridge, here is a post that gives an overview of my experiences studying abroad at Yonsei and what you may expect as well. I’ll be outlining my experience with the academics, structure (UCEAP and Yonsei), and life while in the program. Not everything is program specific so if you’re heading to Korea University or any other ones to study abroad at, the information can be helpful to you too. Read away!
Yonsei University is one of the highest ranking universities in Korea, part of the ‘SKY’ universities that everyone wants their kids to get into (Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei). It’s a private Christian university established by Mr. Underwood thus we have a Underwood College here on campus. That being said, you don’t have to be Christian to attend the school and as an international student there is zero pressure about religion here. In fact, we completely forgot about it being Christian until our UCEAP director told us that the talent show dance of ‘Troublemaker’ was too scandalous for a Christian school HAHAHA (he was joking).
The best part about Yonsei (besides the academics of course) is its location. Compared to the other two ‘SKY’ universities, Yonsei is very centrally located and you can easily travel anywhere in the city from here. We are only a few bus stops away from Gwanghwamun and Myeongdong, and very, very near Hongdae which provides us with lots of shopping and eating options. Gangnam is a little further, but the bus and subway there are direct lines so its not so bad. Yonsei is located in Sinchon, but this Sinchon, Edae, and Hongdae area (and to a larger extent, Mapo) is one big university town. It’s young, hip, and there’s something for everyone.
Yonsei’s campus is a mix of old and new and is just completely breathtaking. It’s a beautiful campus built into the mountain (you can hike up to the summit if you’re up for some exercise and see all of Seoul on a good day) and features a wide avenue lined by trees and modern buildings leading up to the older buildings. During the fall, the colors are vibrant and during the spring, the flowers are blooming.
I had an easier time making friends here than at Cambridge actually..maybe I’m getting better at this new friends thing HAHA (yay for study abroad!). I recommend going on the Facebook page, be it the Yonsei one or the UCEAP Yonsei one and asking people if they want to go to Homeplus in Hapjeong or anywhere to get living supplies. That’s your first step to making friends. Since I was part of UCEAP, I was able to meet a lot of people during the UCEAP trip that happens once every semester (Spring, Fall, Summer). I also met a lot of people in my KLI class and normal classes. Overall, it was quiet easy to meet people especially with everyone in similar classes (since we mostly took study abroad classes) and you’ll easily find a group of people to hang out with no matter what.
Coming from UCEAP, you will hear a lot of ‘ugh UC people,’ ‘oh so you’re a UC kid,’ ‘another one?’ It’s okay, they’re just jealous of our awesomeness HAHA.
We were able to hang out with just about anyone and everyone is literally so nice so just start chatting. Don’t be afraid! You can do it. Take the opportunity to meet people from all around the world and all the different schools. While at Yonsei, you don’t just learn about Korean culture and society but you also have a chance to interact with students from other countries as well and learn about their lives too! For example…all the ways of finger counting the world has haha.
Regarding making friends with people on my floor, I actually met my next door neighbor on the first day while moving in and we fell into the same group of friends easily since I invited her out with us and I also got introduced to her other friends. I also knew another girl down the hall who played with out group. I would say though that you don’t really make friends while actually in your living space but rather you make your friends outside and realize that you live in the same floor.
My friends also joined the Mentor’s Club at Yonsei which puts you in cell groups with a local Korean student and you get to go on group trips (mostly eating duh). How fun this club is depends on your group and your mentor. If your mentor is lazy…you can still have fun by yourself and your friends. Luckily for my friends, they all got pretty good mentors and were able to make friends with their groups. I would recommend it too since it does open you up to more people and experiences, especially earlier on in the program.
My friend and I joined the UCEAP LE Buddy club which paired us up with a local Korean student (shout out to Wonseok!) who will be going to a UC school in the coming semester or quarter. My friend and I were put into the same group and we had lots to talk about all the time. It was a really fun experience and we managed to meet up at least once every week besides midterms and finals.
In terms of meeting local Korean students, besides Mentor’s Club, you may meet a few in your classes depending on what you are taking. Unless you are really good at Korean yourself, local Korean students aren’t usually to active in making friends with foreign students. You can definitely join clubs while at Yonsei but be prepared to commit! Local students don’t usually live in the international dorms but my friend got one during her second semester at Yonsei and they got along really well.
The Spring and Fall programs for Yonsei run as a normal semester would. For Spring, it usually runs from mid-February to mid-June and for Fall it runs from late August to late December so plan accordingly. For UC students, our required number of units was 21 quarter units o 14 semester units which was four to five classes at Yonsei depending on what you chose. Internships were also available and could replace required course units.
The Summer program is shorter and less taxing academic wise and runs from late June to early August. Students take 9 to 13.5 quarter or 6 to 9 semester which is two to three courses.
Students are expected to follow local school rules should perform accordingly in classes.
UCEAP Korea provided a lot of activities throughout the program. Every program has a weekend trip in the beginning. For the Fall semester, we were able to go river rafting and hand fishing for our trip which were both experiences I would not have likely done on my own here in Korea. You can read more about our trip in this post.
For Chuseok, there was a little event where we were given our own boxes of rice cakes and for Pepero Day (11/11) we were given our own boxes of gourmet Pepero (are they still considered Pepero if they’re actually high class pastries…). For Thanksgiving, we got to enjoy a Thanksgiving banquet and in December there was a goodbye banquet with lots of games, a talent show, and lots of love.
UCEAP Korea definitely makes sure that you feel welcome while on the program and everyone in UCEAP was able to build a tight bond, including with the staff.
UCEAP also provided some small classes or clubs that taught us daily Korean slang and what not! Their office is onsite in the Yonsei Global Lounge so if you ever need help or recommendations, just drop by and they’ll be happy to help.
Yonsei provides some activities for international students such as Christmas tree decorating for the dorms and the cultural fair that showcases traditional Korean culture with lots of free food on the side.
There are also a few clubs that are foreigner oriented available.
Every Fall, there is the YonKo Games which is a three day sports and spirit competition between Yonsei Univeristy and Korea University, two of the top private universities in Korea. It’s kind of like the rivalry between USC and UCLA or Stanford and UC Berkeley. Super heated and super fun. Everyone is dressed in blue (for Yonsei) or red (for Korea) and you’re taught all the chants. After the games are over, there aren’t really any sore losers but rather, everyone gathers in Sinchon and celebrate together.
In the Spring, there is the Akaraka Spring Festival which is also a spirit competition between Yonsei and Korea. There is a large music festival held at Yonsei (see this amazing video of Twice performing at Akaraka. We are very, very proud) where the whole school comes together to cheer on our teams. Who knows…you might spot a line of red invading the blue as Korea University invades our turf or maybe you’ll invade their’s.
For accomadations, check out this post!
Culture and Living/Travel
Although Korea has been open to Western culture many years now, it still keeps a lot of it traditions so make sure to be respectful! There are lots of Confucian guidelines that still run through society, including hierarchy. Be respectful to your elders. Dress appropriately or you’ll get a lecturing from the ahjummas for not dressing warmly enough. Also, showing legs is okay but shoulder’s not so much. Just make sure you’re being respectful to the locals here.
On public transportation, although there’s no rule saying you can’t, usually don’t sit on the seats reserved for the handicapped and pregnant. Bills at restaurants are usually paid at the front.
In terms of race, its a sensitive topic but if you’re not Asian, people will definitely stare, especially the older generation. Korea is still a very homogeneous population.
Living wise, Seoul is a very convenient and comfortable city to live in. It’s super safe here (we would leave stuff on the table 10/10 would not recommend, but it would still be there after we got our drinks) and there are convenience stores around every corner. The Sinchon, Edae, and Hongdae area will make sure you won’t ever starve during your time here. Public transportation is super nice and convenient with Line 2 being your main line coming out from Yonsei and tons of bus stations around the area connecting you to the rest of the city. Language usually isn’t a problem in the newer areas and around universities as a lot of people understand some English (and many are really, really good at it) but when heading to mom and pop stores it is best to learn some Korean before going.
Besides traveling around Seoul, traveling to other parts of Korea was super convenient too. Jeju can be reached by boat or plane and everywhere else can be reached by bus or train. Prices were not bad either! Definitely take the opportunity to explore outside Seoul because all the different areas of Korea host very different cultures and histories that have shaped them to today.
In regards to signing up for classes, please refer to the bottom of this post!
Academics at Yonsei, since I took only study abroad courses, was much easier than at home at UC, although I also think it also depends on the person. The classes really opened up new perspectives on the state of Korean society, whether it be through film or through political and historical development of the country. I was quite satisfied with my classes although some of the class structures could be improved.
Even though KLI ended at 6pm, we had plenty of time to explore around on the weekends and even before or after class. KLI is a must take. In my opinion, not taking advantage of this fast-paced language class while in a place where you can thoroughly practice it on a day-to-day basis is a waste-and why not learn another language in this increasingly globalized world?
My opinion on this program
I would recommend everyone and anyone to go on this program. Even though I grew up in a community which was basically half Korean and half Chinese, with everyone around me following Asian news and pop culture throughout my time a school, I learned hella information and knowledge that I never knew before, not only about Korea, but also about its connections to other countries. It was an eye-opening experience that allowed me be placed at the forefront of domestic and international issues shaping modern Korea, especially with the political events happening at the time and the opportunity to learn about the issues in class at Yonsei.
Seoul was a much larger city than Cambridge and really fostered my independence here, especially with the language barrier I had felt at first while here. Speaking of language, I would definitely recommend taking KLI at Yonsei because it really, really helps you in adjusting to Korea and truly experiencing everything here. The teachers are all great and really care about you. Learning a language while in its environment is the best opportunity you can ever have.
I met many great friends, people with whom I could talk with about just about anything (and also shared the experience of getting our first tattoos with), and enjoyed interesting classes with a perspective I would never have learned about in America.
Definitely study abroad here because Korea is much more than its pop culture which is a problem I’ve constantly encountered when interacting with people from other places. To be able to study at one of the most prestigious universities in the country as well, is an opportunity unlike any other.