Many people here in Korea think of spending a year or maybe a semester studying abroad, maybe in the United States or Europe or maybe some where closer to home such as China or Japan. I myself wanted to improve my English and satisfy my interest in the history of the United Kingdom but little did I know how much it would influence my way of thinking when it comes to studying.
The first few days spent at my host university, the University of East London in the British capital, were mainly for settling in, meeting fellow international students and going to see some of the famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Greenwich and Buckingham Palace, but it was the following week that my year in Britain began properly. The British way of studying higher education is very much different from in Korea. For instance, the class hours you are expected to attend are much shorter, the grading system is coursework intensive rather than exam based like in Korea and there is also a ‘seminar’ where students have done preparatory reading and then debate the topic with only minimal interaction with the seminar leader. These three differences were a complete shock to me but eventually I came to understand how it worked and appreciated some of the good factors behind them. I still do believe that the Korean system has many beneficial elements but being able to appreciate and to experience a different educational philosophy, has helped me to develop a wider understanding of what it takes to perform to a high standard at university.
On a personal level, it was nice to meet and make friends with some British people and to learn more about their culture but I did not realise that London is an extremely multicultural place where I would interact with many different people from diverse backgrounds and I had many friends from Asia, Africa and of course the United Kingdom. I wanted to immerse myself in the British culture and therefore I visited stereotypical English pubs, shopped in famous London markets such as Portobello Road and Camden and even went to see an English football match where I ate my first ‘meat and tato’ pie, a traditional dish in English football stadiums.
London is famous for its world class museums and historical sights. The British Museum has artifacts from all over the world and its Korean collection, for example, has some of the most prized examples from Korean antiquity and so it is a place of pilgrimage for those fascinated by the past. The famous landmarks of St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London might be crowded and expensive but they are well worth a visit.
London is a perfect place for you to visit for several reasons. Not only does it have some of the most famous sites in the world, it is also extremely easy to visit other parts of the UK or Europe from here with cheap airlines flying to France, Germany or Belgium for under £20! I visited many countries in Europe during my year in London and I can honestly say I do not think it would be so easy to see so many countries if I studied in elsewhere.
There is much to see and do in London with all its art galleries, museums, churches and palaces but one of the highlights of the city in my mind, is the green spaces and walks that are plentiful here. Some of my most memorable moments was just taking a stroll down the South Bank, through Hyde Park or following the Regent’s Canal and it allowed me to refresh and prepare myself for the next weeks studying! All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the year as an exchange student and would advise those students who are contemplating a study abroad year to follow their first thoughts and act! A year in another culture is fun and interesting but also academically rewarding as it will open your mind to different ways of thinking.