I have many friends who have studied abroad in America and Australia and complained of “culture shock”. However, in a country where not only the language is different but the culture too is completely alien, studying abroad can be a very daunting prospect indeed. A great way to get a feel for a new country is to do a short term study program. In Korea, many universities offer short term summer Korean language programs that provide a great opportunity to give you a peek of what full-time studying would be like.
I first studied abroad at Seoul National University back in 2010, participating in a 5 week summer course studying Level 1 Korean. (For those interested, I even made a video about it… I look back at this video and cringe..but we all start from somewhere…)
I had a great time, learnt a lot…then went back to England and promptly forgot it all. It wasn’t until two years later that I decided to really get stuck into Asian languages … and I got about as ‘stuck in’ as you can get; I opted to do BA Chinese and Korean at university.
Having spent my year abroad in Beijing speaking practically no Korean and facing the daunting prospect of Advanced Korean classes starting back at university in September, I was keen to return to Seoul to top up my language skills before heading back to the UK.
With that in mind, I once more made the decision to study in Seoul.
For me, there were two main factors that influenced my decision to study at Seoul National University; the first being previous experience and the second being timing.
During my first time studying in Seoul, I’d been really impressed with the quality of teaching in the language department at Seoul National University (SNU) and I also really liked the textbooks so I was keen to return. Also, I planned to stay in Beijing until the end of July and most universities in Korea hold their summer courses from the end of June / start of July to the end of July / start of August making timing a bit of an issue. Since SNU actually has two summer courses, one earlier and one later, it seemed like a natural choice. I completed the Level 6 summer course at SNU in August.
There are many universities in Seoul that offer Korean language programs.
The top universities in Korea are Seoul National University (SNU), Korea University (KU) and Yonsei University. In my experience, most of my friends have studied at one of the following universities; SNU, KU, Yonsei, Sogang University and Ewha Women’s University (males can apply to language programs).
There are various points which the universities are famous for which I shall introduce – in no particular order.
1. Seoul National University (http://lei.snu.ac.kr/site/en/klec/main/main.jsp)
When it comes to dealing with SNU, I’m practically an expert and feel free to ask me anything. Trying ever so hard not to be biased, I really do think Seoul National University is the best university. Renowned for its quality of teaching, the courses are well balanced between all 4 skills; reading, writing, speaking and listening. Classes are taught mostly in Korean (and completely in Korean at higher levels) and daily testing ensures what you learn, sticks. A big plus point for me is the textbooks – I really like the textbooks that SNU use. They might not be the prettiest books or have the most pictures but the vocabulary is usable and relevant and the grammar points are well explained. The teachers are very strict about attendance and anyone who exceeds the absence allowance will be failed – I’ve seen it happen multiple times – whether you see this as a good thing or not depends on what kind of course you want. A nice, relaxed course….this definitely isn’t it. This course, while suitable for beginners, really excels at teaching intermediate to advanced learners. The course will push you very hard and your Korean will get a lot better for it. On the bad side, the campus can be an absolute pain to get to. Situated near SNU station, there’s not much else in the area. Gangnam is a 30 minute tube ride in one direction, Hongdae is a 40 minute tube ride in the other direction. If you’re someone who wants to go out regularly in the evenings, you may find yourself frequently catching taxis or always running to catch the last tube – around 11:30pm at the weekends…>.<
SNU : For those willing to spend a good portion of their evenings doing homework and looking to seriously improve their Korean. Study priority 1. (Not for people with attendance issues!)
2. Yonsei University (http://summer.yonsei.ac.kr/index.asp)
Yonsei University is in a really great location – Sinchon. I have many friends who have studied at Yonsei and have commented positively about their experiences. They said the course is well balanced and pretty well taught. The main pulling factor it seems is location. Sinchon is a really lively student area and is right next to Hongdae so no problem for those looking to get the most out of what Seoul nightlife has to offer. There’s so much more to life in Seoul than studying and with so many opportunities to socialise right on your doorstep, you’ll get many chances to practice your Korean outside the classroom. On a side note, I’ve been told the marking at Yonsei is very meticulous – whether you see this as a good or bad thing depends on you. This might sound somewhat silly but I was really put off the Yonsei course for two main reasons. Firstly, I really don’t like the textbook…but this is a very personal thing and not a valid reason for you not to study here. The second reason is class size. It may have changed recently but I had a friend who studied at Yonsei but transferred to SNU after complaining about having too many people in the class.
Yonsei : For those looking to study hard…but also play hard too. Study priority 2.
3. Korea University (http://klcc.korea.ac.kr/about/about01_eng.html)
Korea University is one of the top universities and is where my university in London (SOAS) sends all its BA Korean Students every year for their year abroad. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had the chance to go yet but it is quite possible I may go there on scholarship next summer. Talking to peers who have studied there, one points seems to be unanimous. KU places significant priority on speaking over other skills. Their website says “Classes 1&2 focus on communication skills, classes 3&4 focus on varying topics depending on learners skills and interests”. Rather vague. The location, like SNU, is a bit of a pain. Situated in Anam, in the North-West portion of Seoul, KU’s location makes SNU almost look convenient. On the plus side, textbooks are included in the course costs.
KU : For those looking to really improve their spoken Korean. Study priority 2.
4. Sogang University (http://www.sogang.ac.kr/english/program/04_program.html)
On its website, Sogang University advertises itself as focusing on speaking and this is definitely echoed in comments my friends have made. Friends with little or no knowledge of Korean have sung the praises of the Sogang course, already well known for its friendly, easy-to-use textbook. Interestingly, while studying in the advance level at the London Korean Cultural Centre, we also used the Sogang textbook series but even then, when my Korean really wasn’t that good, I felt the textbook was really too easy. The impression I’ve been given is that Sogang is a great course for beginner or intermediate learners looking to cement their skills but once past this stage, most learners look to more challenging courses at SNU or KU. Also located in Sinchon (near Yonsei University), Sogang university offers a great opportunity for those looking for a more well balanced, study-socialise course. Its great location promises numerous opportunities to practice your Korean outside the classroom until the early hours!
Sogang University : For those looking to focus of speaking Korean. Study priority 2-3.
5. Ewha Women’s University (http://cms.ewha.ac.kr/user/indexSub.action?codyMenuSeq=18294&siteId=summer)
I only have a few friends who have studied at Ewha and they gave mixed reviews. A big point to be in mind is that while the university itself is women’s only, the summer course is open to male applicants. I’ve been told the courses were pretty good – interestingly, for the program you select two courses from the large variety available – learning Korean, it seems, is entirely optional. Offering English taught courses on various topics including Korean / North Korean Studies, Art & Design and Women’s Studies, Ewha provides a way to study in Korea without focusing on the language itself. The university is one-stop away from Sinchon and 2 stops from Hongdae so even if you’re not studying Korean in class time, there is plenty of time to go out with your friends in the evening and learn ‘real’ Korean instead!
Ewha University : For those looking to get a feel of studying in Korea – without focusing solely on learning Korean. Study priority 3.
Of course, where you choose to go depends entirely on what you want to get out of your summer. It’s well worth visiting the websites for all the schools and learning as much as you can about all of them before making a decision.
There are many other courses available outside of Seoul – for a more comprehensive list of courses, don’t forget to check out the Official Korean Tourism Organisation’s list here : http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/CU/CU_EN_8_6_2.jsp
If you have any questions about studying abroad in Korea, please do not hesitate to get in touch! You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And just for a giggle- here’s my graduation photo from my Korean summer course at Seoul National University!
*This blog post is based on my experiences of studying at Seoul National University. Please bear in mind other universities may be different*.