April 25, 2024

Are you a UBC undergrad thinking about going on a student exchange? It can be a daunting decision. You might wonder, what's it like spending a year or a semester in another country? How can you prepare? And how do you handle it when things go sideways? We talked with a group of UBC Global Ambassadors who studied abroad with a Go Global program. They spoke with us candidly, sharing their personal impressions, fears and misgivings, best memories, top tips and advice. (This is story #3 in a series of five Global Exchange Insider interviews.) 

Meet 21-year-old Tamano Nishida. She is 3rd-year UBC undergrad majoring in International Relations in the Faculty of Arts. She grew up in Japan, the Philippines and Thailand, and moved to Vancouver to attend UBC.

Before you go

Why did you pick Yonsei University for a summer abroad? How did you hear about it? 

Ever since I started following in a Korean drama called “A-Teen” in high school, I’ve been a big fan of Korean culture. I had always dreamed of going to Korea and experiencing the culture firsthand. Go Global’s Summer Abroad program was just the perfect opportunity for me to make this dream come true. Also since I got to finish three credits in just one month, this exchange experience didn’t interrupt my initial study plan at UBC and allowed me to lighten my course load for the next school year. 

Trying out Korean traditional dress Hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul on the weekend (photo: Seobin Moon)

What was the application process like? Any tips? 

When tackling the application, it’s best to stay away from general answers. Craft a response that is unique to you: Why is it important to you that you go to this country or university for the exchange? How would this experience influence your personal, academic and career goals?

How did you prepare? Anything to be aware of? (travel, cultural differences, classes, etc.) 

The language did not become a big problem thanks to useful technologies, such as Google Translate. But I do recommend that you learn to read letters because it is helpful in finding the information you need in the city; for example, you might want to look for the letters that spell “map” or “bathroom.”

One of the biggest troubles I had while preparing for the exchange was that I had to get a negative tuberculosis test result to enter the dormitory in Korea, and this process took a long time to complete (almost a month) due to unforeseen complications. It is best to start preparing any travel documents as early as possible to allow extra time to resolve these kinds of issues!

What worries did you have beforehand? How did you overcome the anxiety?

Before my departure, I worried about finding a community in a completely new country, where I could not speak the local language well and knew barely anyone attending the same program. However, as soon as I arrived, I realized everyone was on the same page looking for a new connection in a foreign country just like me.

A visit to Gamcheon Culture Village during our day trip to Busan: a very colourful village on the side the coastal mountain (photo: Tamano Nishida)

During the experience

How was the overall experience? What did you learn? 

Very enriching. As an International Relations major, and because I was taking a North Korean foreign policy class, I really enjoyed our trip to DMZ, the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. I talked about DMZ with some of my classmates on the first day of class and we decided to book a tour together on the spot. We saw some other classmates on the tour bus, which makes sense because we were all political science students who flew internationally to study North Korea. The Summer Abroad program allowed me to explore my academic interests and gain valuable firsthand experiences. Studying topics related to Korea while in Korea gave me perspectives I would have never been able to get at UBC. History is real. What we studied in the textbook actually exists in real life!

A weekend at the Demiliatarized Zone between North and South Korea. The tour included visits to Imjingak Peace Park, Freedom Bridge, The Third Tunnel and Dora Observatory (photo: DMZ Tour Guide)

Studying topics related to Korea while in Korea gave me perspectives I would have never been able to get at UBC. History is real. What we studied in the textbook actually exists in real life!”

If you could change something or do it differently, what would you change or do? 

I wish I had signed up for more school-hosted events. Yonsei hosted many events, such as a day trip to Lotte World, a kimchi cooking class, a taekwondo class, etc. I wasn’t aware of these opportunities and by the time I learned about them, it was too late to sign up for anything. I still did a lot of activities outside of school with my friends, but I think it would’ve been nice to participate in those school events because they are great opportunities to meet new people.

How were the academics? 

Maybe I got lucky with the professor, but overall, my academic experience was an enjoyable, less stressful one. I took a class called North Korean Politics and Foreign Policy. It was a 2.5-hour class four days a week for a month. At first, having a midterm exam after two weeks of class felt like a big rush and it seemed like there was so much to do in so little time. But the professor acknowledged that we came to Korea not to just study in a dorm room and he made sure we had plenty of time to enjoy activities outside of school. He gave us a manageable amount of readings and just two exams to prepare for, but I was still able to gain new perspectives on North Korea’s politics from historical and comparative analysis viewpoints. The course gave us a lot of primary resources from academic literature in the Korean language, which was definitely a unique experience. 

How was the social aspect?

I was very lucky to have a roommate that I got along well with. We had some similar backgrounds (she came from the university that my parents went to!) which helped us feel connected on the first day. From there, I introduced her to new friends that I made in class, and she introduced me to her new friends, and these friends became friends with each other. In the end, our friend bubble grew bigger and we went to many places together. We decided we would go out somewhere every night to make the most of our time in Korea. Luckily, Yonsei University is centrally located in the very convenient neighborhood of Sinchon station. We went to places such as Hongdae, Myeongdong and Itaewon, wore Korean traditional dress known as Hanbok, sang K-pop songs at karaoke places and ate a bunch of tasty Korean food.

A day trip to Busan in the southern part of South Korea with my roommate (photo: Chaewon Le)

After the experience

Would you recommend this experience to others? What can they look forward to? 

Yes, I highly recommend this program to anyone who is eager to make the most of their summer :) As I mentioned, you can get academic credits in a much shorter time than a UBC winter term, so a summer abroad will help lighten your course load for the next year.

And, the Yonsei U. 2023 tuition for the three-credit course was almost a quarter of what I would pay to UBC as an international student. So taking summer courses abroad might be a financial benefit, depending on your situation. More than anything, though, you’ll be able to meet new friends from all over the world that you’d never have met otherwise. You’ll be able to experience the local life that you wouldn’t have experienced as a tourist—things like learning how to do the laundry and shop at grocery stores.

On a typical day, I would wake up at 8 or 9 am. I’d eat the breakfast I bought the night before from a convenience store, Emart, located next to the dorm and study for the class until lunchtime. At noon, I’d take a 10-minute walk from the dorm to the cafeteria and meet my friends for lunch. School meals were very affordable and tasty. There was kimchi, soup and some pickles always available for free! Then, I would walk to the class and attend a lecture until 4 pm. I’d get back to the dorm, drop my school bag and head to the city right away. What we did was different every day, but we would mainly get dinner and walk around a new part of Seoul until we were tired. When we got home, it was often around midnight—a quick shower and head to bed.

After school, eating ramen and chicken after enjoying the Korean-style sauna Jimjjilbang (photo: Nichole Tan)

What was the impact on your academic and personal development? 

Hugely positive. I think this is an amazing opportunity to expand your global network and grow as a person. My advice is: Don’t hesitate to open up to strangers. Say hi to the person sitting next to you. It might lead to a new friendship and you might end up making unforgettable memories with this person.

Read more Go Global student stories.

Categories

  • Issues of Global Relevance
  • Students as Global Citizens
  • UBC as a Global Actor