Unlike many of my peers who traveled to Seoul in order to get a closer look at the night scene, food and cafes spots, fashion trends, and simply exploring, my main goal was to broaden my horizons in terms of education. As an Asian Studies major, I feel like it would be disingenuous to claim to be an Asian Studies major while most of my knowledge is related to China. Therefore, I decided to travel to Korea so as to gain a new understanding of the politics, history, and culture that I wasn’t able to get through classes or media consumption over in the United States. Safe to say that I definitely achieved that within my time in South Korea! However, I will be honest and say that I prioritized my schooling, perhaps unnecessarily at times, at the expense of traveling around and exploring. In some ways, I think this was a good thing. My schooling didn’t suffer, I learned many things, and I personally felt that I got a more natural experience of Seoul. On the other hand, I can admit that I didn’t go travel as much as I had planned, visit as many cute cafes, or take advantage of all of the interesting ‘tourist’ activities most people did. I honestly feel like this semester was meant to be a trial run for myself just existing as an independent person in a foreign country.
In this way, I don’t know that I can offer much advice on how to keep a balance between school and adventure, alas I will try to describe my experiences and, hopefully, it will be helpful! I think that the atmosphere of Seoul naturally lends itself to a life/work balance, at least in the case of students and tourists. For instance, most classes start early in the day and end by 6, while restaurants, activities, cafes, and other places you might want to go, often only start their business hours at noon and go late into the evening. This creates a natural division of time wherein you can study and attend classes in the morning, and even into the afternoon, and not miss out on going to different places. In my experience, I had classes from 9-1 on most days, which left plenty of time in the afternoon and evening for more fun activities. Granted, I didn’t participate in these things as often as my peers, I did appreciate that things didn’t close around 5-8, making it impossible to ever go should you have been busy throughout most of the day. While I didn’t struggle focusing on schoolwork, maybe because this was also my doucs while I was in the United States, I wonder how some of my peers managed their schedules. When I scroll through social media, I see people traveling around not only SK but to Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong! While I know I took more classes than people typically did, many of my classes individually had a lot of course work and assignments, so I can’t imagine how they balanced it. Regardless though, if you want to have work/life balance, the best advice I can give is simply to not procrastinate. Classes, and life in general, move at a fast pace since you are only here for a semester. Furthermore, most classes have both large papers and an exam for midterms and finals, so if you do not stay on top of the work, it is easy for you to fall behind and become overwhelmed.
At the end of the day, I just feel grateful that I was able to come to Seoul and complete the semester successfully and learn more about myself, and I hope that others who spend a semester abroad in the future will be able to say the same about their own goals!!