Before coming to Korea, I had never left the North American continent nor traveled on a plane alone before. To a lot of my friends and family, deciding to live in Korea for one year was a radical life change. And it is. Yet, while I expected the transition of life in the United States to life as a college student at Yonsei University to have a major impact on me emotionally, through CIEE’s program I was able to quickly adjust to life in Korea and prepare myself for the next ten months.
Before I left for Korea, I was able to meet another study abroad student in the CIEE group chat at the airport. We agreed to go through customs and immigration together when we arrived in Korea. I had expected the process to be complicated but was surprised by how easy it was to enter the country and navigate the Incheon airport. After picking up our belongings at the baggage claim, we met Hugo, one of the CIEE staff members who took us to our dorm. This minimized the initial shock of being in Korea, as I always felt like I was supported and guided by someone else.
A significant issue when traveling abroad is the time zone difference, which even affects me now when it comes to staying in contact with friends and family back home. From Boston to Seoul, there is a 13 hour time difference. If I want to talk to my mom on the phone, it has to be either early morning or late night, which tends to bleed together if you stay up late enough. Thus, the time difference immediately impacted me, as for the first 3 days of being in Seoul, I was jetlagged.
To resolve this, Suzanne, the director of the CIEE Seoul program, told us we’d be kept busy throughout orientation to regulate our sleep schedules. Orientation began the morning after we arrived and continued for a week. We spent time getting to know other participants, the Yonsei campus and surrounding area of Sinchon, and all of the resources at our disposal in Seoul.
While I’ve honestly always dreaded orientations, CIEE’s orientation guided me into a successful life in Seoul. Particularly, the scavenger hunt activity, wherein we were placed in groups with students we hadn’t previously interacted with, given a ₩60,000 stipend, and were told to visit select tourist locations whilst navigating Seoul. This was useful in visiting places I’d hoped to see anyway, and learning about the public transportation system, both the bus and subway, which I now use daily.
I’m particularly grateful for this activity because of the friends I made that afternoon. I’ve noticed while abroad that every international student is the same — we are learning to navigate a new lifestyle and hoping to build friendships while here. In this group, I met people who I hope to travel with over winter break, made a friend that ended up integrating into the friend group I had made prior to this activity, I met another student who is staying a year just like myself, and a student who has a similar music taste, who I have already purchased tickets for three different concerts with!
While friends are essential when studying abroad, what I hadn’t realized about CIEE was how close students and the staff work together. For example, during orientation, I learned that whenever students need to go to the doctor, whether it be for something as small as a cold, they’re accompanied by a CIEE staff member. This experience has a stark contrast to that of someone enrolling directly into a university, which some of my other international student friends at Yonsei have done, giving them complete autonomy over their path in Seoul.
My enrollment in CIEE means that CIEE carries some of the burdens of responsibilities that would otherwise be solely mine, which I appreciate as a first-time study abroad student. Thankfully, since arriving in Korea, I haven't felt alone or without support.