Beyond KPoP and Kimchi; My KAIST Fall Semester Exchange 2015.

Michelle Howie here, Inaugural Korean fellow of the New Colombo Plan Scholarship, an initiative from our Government supporting Australian undergraduates to study and work in the Asia Pacific region. This program supports Australian students to deepen our relationships with the region by expanding links between research institutes, universities and businesses to nurture globally literate, informed citizens with regional experience.

I am a second year undergraduate in a Bachelor of Engineering (electronics and communications) from the University of South Australia, a major I chose because of my passion for global communications and connecting people. Before the New Colombo Plan, I could never imagine studying in Korea. Like most other Aussies if I thought of exchange I pictured myself in Europe or America, but as an aspiring engineer, I can’t deny that the Asia is leading the world in technology innovation. Which is why I chose Korea, the home of Samsung and LG electronics.

I arrived with no prior cultural or linguistic knowledge other than memorising my “Learn Korean in 10 Days” CD. I’d never heard K-POP, I’d never eaten Korean Food or seen a K-drama. And boy was I missing out! After a summer of intensive Korean classes, living in Seoul with a homestay family, I moved to KAIST for my fall semester exchange. I immediately joined KI House (free Korean peer tutoring) and enrolled in Korean for Beginners. Although my KAIST classes were all conducted in English, befriending local students and speaking the language on the street is the best way to forge lasting relationships. I progressed phenomenally and can now read menus, direct taxis, book bus and train tickets, allowing me to travel through smaller towns like Mokpo, Seogwipo, Jeonju and Jinju. Despite this, it was challenging to overcome the barrier of being a foreigner. I think that Korea has a lot to learn about diversity and this will only come from International Institutes like KAIST who help us curious students integrate with respect and understanding.

After my semester at KAIST, I can see how they are ranked among the world’ top academic institutes. I took a computer science course outside of my major because I wanted to experience some of the robotics and computer systems available. I spent my time either immersed in my Microelectronics textbook, in the KAIST taekwondo class, practicing Hangul in Norebang, or riding my bike along Gapcheon. I already miss the food; late night Soondae (blood sausage) and ttobbeoki, Korean bbq, live squid, bingsu (shaved ice) and of course, KIMCHI!

Thanks to the KAIST buddy program, in my first week I was shown were to buy a bike, where to study on weekends even how to purchase a new laptop, and I was introduced to many of my buddy’s local friends. During the semester, we went bowling, to charity walks, the cinema, board game cafés, wrote post cards, made peppero, ate at pojang macha, travelled to their home towns, and these KAIST locals never got tired of showing me new Korean dishes and translating printer error messages or online shopping. The international student organisation (ISO) was just as helpful.

At KAIST I could also learn about the myriad of countries represented in our international program, with friends spanning across the globe from Moldova to Mexico… However I remain the only Australian woman I have met in Daejeon so far.

Korea is a very misunderstood country, and I can’t wait to share my stories with my peers back home to encourage a more positive image of Korea when I keep up my new habits like walking on the left, leaving my shoes at the door and receiving things with both hands.

저는 한국에 공부하러 왔어요. 하지만 다른것도 많이 배웠어요.

한국에서의 생활이 정말 좋았어요. New Colombo plan 덕분에 한국에 와서 다른 사람들을 만나고 다양한 경험을 할 수 있었어요.

호주에 돌아가면 제가 경험한 것을 다른 사람들과 나눌 거예요.

이런 기회를 주셔서 감사합니다.