Korea Diary | Pre-Trip Preparation

1:36:00 AM mandy 0 Comments

The thing that I was meaning to announce, since way back when, was my then-impending Summer 2014 study abroad trip to South Korea. Yes, yes, I am many months too late now. But the next, long, series of posts will be a [photo] diary of sorts for my own reference or anyone else who may be planning a trip there in the future. Hopefully it'll come in handy to someone!

My memory of the whole process leading up to the trip is a bit fuzzy now. (Ah...the procrastinator in me.) But I'll try my best to share my experiences of everything that happened pre-flight, in Korea, and my return home.

For those that might want a much more detailed account (especially potential YISS applicants), click HERE! ~ Bestie's version of the our trip.

(More rambling and back stories. Feel free to skip over the rest of this if you'd like. But there will be some tips for fellow students. ^^)

As you may or may not remember from my past ramblings, I had been wanting to visit Korea for the longest time. Four years ago when I was applying to colleges, I also asked all the schools I was interested in about their study abroad programs to the country as well. (Even though the chances of me going were completely up in the air.)

Study abroad info brochures

After getting into college and being in a program that provides some funding for study abroad/research/etc., I couldn't wait to at least try to go abroad. BUT the caveat was...if I didn't meet the GPA requirements, those special conditions that I was entitled to would be prohibited for the time being. It didn't seem like a big deal at first - No biggie! Nothing to worry about!

First semester into my freshman year, my GPA was under the mark by (I think) 0.08. I was scared and a little devastated that it would have happened so quickly. The next year or so was spent dedicated to bringing my GPA up to be over the requirement. During that process studying abroad really didn't cross my mind at all, a luxury I thought I couldn't even consider. Sure, I could have went abroad with my own money but every little bit of scholarship and/or funding money helps and can't be dismissed.

I went to a couple of study abroad panels before and most students warned that transferring their major credits back was a pain in the butt. They mostly recommended taking the core requirement or general education classes while abroad. Problem for me was, I had taken most of those already which meant I couldn't really study abroad for a semester.

Until I met two classmates in my Spring of Sophomore year, who were set to go to Korea that Summer, I had forgotten about study abroad for the time being. I was honestly a little envious of them. However, by the time I found out they were going it was already too late for me to apply anyways. At least when they come back, I would have someone to help me through the process when time comes.

Program of Choice

Fast-forward another school year, Bestie C and I talked (constantly) about how great it would be if we could go to Korea together. We'd been to multiple Study Abroad Fairs at our college throughout the years and this was the year that things seemed to finally coming together. We were both filled with schoolwork to do at the time but the potential trip lingered in our minds.

Since Bestie C is the more timely of us two, she had been searching possible options we could take and told me of the ones she was interested in applying for. I was pretty much up for whichever program that was the lowest in price and allowed the most traveling (alongside the courses portion of the trip).

Yonsei University YISS

In the end, we applied to Yonsei International Summer School (YISS) via direct enrollment on their website.

▶︎ It was a program that past students at our school went on.
▷▷ Less paperwork

▶︎ Other organized third-party programs to Yonsei in the Summer were all based around the same YISS program anyway.
▷▷ Less extra fees to third-party people

▶︎ We could apply to go on their pre-classes trip to Jeju Island in addition to their one-day tours.

Applications

Once we picked the route, we had to:
1. Apply to & be approved by our school (a surprisingly long and detailed application
• General info
• Few short answer questions: Why I wanted to go, what I wanted to get out of it, etc.
• Program of interest
• Pre-approved courses I was interested in
• Professor's recommendation

2. Apply with & be accepted by Yonsei
• General info
• Courses interested in

While our school required much more work than originally anticipated, Yonsei's application was relatively simple and to the point (basic info and an application fee).

I can't say this is true for every applicant or even every year, but it seemed like YISS accepted both Bestie C and I as soon as they received our application fees.
Baruch study abroad approval
Yonsei University YISS 2014 acceptance

Logistics

After receiving approval and acceptance on both ends, the next steps were just the nitty gritty things (not really in any specific order):

▶︎ Making sure our potential classes would be transferable.

▶︎ Apply for
▷▷ Study abroad funding/grants
▷▷ Dorms or hostel (up to you)
▷▷ One-day trips
▷▷ Classes

▶︎ Wiring
▷▷ Tuition + extra trip(s) fee(s)
▷▷ Dorm fees

▶︎ Buying
▷▷ Plane tickets
▷▷ Travel insurance (required by home school)
▷▷ Packing related things

▶︎ Medical stuff
▷▷ Filing our emergency/medical forms for our home school
▷▷ Tuberculosis reports for Yonsei's dorm check-in
▷▷ Get recommended immunizations

▶︎ Visa?
▷▷ This depends on your home country
▷▷ For USA students, it isn't necessary for a short stay

▶︎ Have 2 copy of all your important documents hand for yourself + your family
▶︎ "Get our of airport & into the city" plan

Pre-Arrival Tips

▶︎Apply early so you can be accepted early & therefore buy plane tickets EARLY
▷▷  Summer prices are super duper pricey

▶︎Try your best to wire anything in Korean won if possible!
▷▷  Overages and shortages due to exchange rate can be a pain to deal with there
▷▷  Make as few wires as possible (the whole process requires at least 3 independent wires: application fee, tuition + trip fees, dorm fees)
▷▷ Wire fees are usually pretty hefty
▷▷ Ex: Chase USA had a USD $40 charge each wire

▶︎ Everyday amenities & personal care stuff
▷▷  "Use up & throw away" OR travel-sized mentality
▷▷ There are plenty of stores by Yonsei to get anything you'll need
▷▷ BUT!! Might as well pack those already used bottles of amenities from home to finish instead of buying new ones there and potentially not finishing them OR to relieve yourself of one more headache as a foreigner in a new place.

▶︎ Having less clothes will probably be just enough
▷▷ You might buy clothes
▷▷ Dorms have laundry rooms (washing machines, drying machines, and drying racks)

▶︎ Ideal suitcase situation: 1 big suitcase + 1  carry on/medium-sized suitcase + 1 large duffel
▷▷ Go with an empty duffel and use it just in case you need it on your return flight
▷▷ 2 large suitcases is handy for rolling BUT most taxis won't be able to fit it into their small cars
▷▷ Some drivers will be super accommodating while others will probably mutter and get mad at you
▷▷ If you don't mind that, go for it!
▷▷ Van service is available but requires a reservation. Unless you have the Korean skills to call and request, it is the more difficult option. Someone at the front desk at the dorms could help you call if you have a number though.

Currency

Something totally optional, but a thing we both decided we wanted do, was getting Korean won to bring with us to avoid the said terrible airport exchange rates. We both "exchanged"/bought won via Chase and had enough to last our 50 days there. (I don't recommend Chase that much though, at least not a big sum. Their rates were well below the typical day-to-day exchange rate at the time. Although...both of us did end up using our debit/credit cards as well. We wanted to be sure that we had enough "emergency cash" on-hand until we left.

Let me tell you, card swiping is super convenient in Korea!

▶︎ Most places, more likely than not, allows credit/debit card use
▶︎ Most of those places also don't require a minimum purchase or charge extra fees for card use
▶︎ MAKE SURE!! The card you use DOES NOT have a foreign transaction fee
▷▷ If it does, know what it is and swipe wisely

▶︎ Call your card or ask a representative at a branch to have them call and let the bank know that you will be using the card out of your home city/country
▷▷ Avoid a frozen account

If you do need more won/cash while in Korea there are a few options:

▶︎ Have your home currency with you?
▷▷The friends we met at YISS had good experiences exchanging their currency in Myeongdong and Jongno

▶︎ Don't have any more cash of any kind?
▷▷ATMs are pretty much everrywhere
▷▷Be careful of your bank fees
▷▷There are more Citi bank locations than Chase (if that is of help to anyone)

Korean Won front
Korean Won back
How pretty is the Korean won?! Granted, we did get new bills. But still, they were so colorful and vibrant in color. It is hard to tell in my photos but the bills actually increase in size in correlation to their denomination. That was hard for me to get used to but it's a neat concept. If you exchange money anywhere, I would recommend to just get mostly the smaller bills (1,000-10,000 won). I found that most place will look at you "funny" when you use the 50,000 won.

There was a pretty big hiccup along the way that almost hindered/stopped our trip but luckily things worked out in the end! Otherwise, I wouldn't have such lovely stories to share soon. ^^
Anyways...Get ready!! I'm committed to starting and finishing this series.

I may also do a few more detailed posts on tips but we'll see!

KSIP

(Super side story about something that did not work out.)

Although I was really psyched about the trip, the idea of using the "precious" summer of my Junior year in college for something non-internship related burned in the back of my head. When I saw that Yonsei had an internship program during the summer (Korea Summer Internship Program - KSIP), I was really interested in applying. They had positions at a wide range of firms in many fields. But for my major/interests, in particular, there were Korean advertising/marketing agencies, start-up tech companies, entertainment companies, etc.

But...there were quite a few problems that came up when applying:
▶︎No one at my school, who studied at YISS, applied for this and go in before
▷▷Needed additional paperwork and approvals in order to get transferable credit

▶︎Trying to get my major department's approval for said potential credit transfer was pain
▷▷In the end, the answer was more or less "We have no idea what it is you're talking about, so no."

▶︎Finding others' experiences in KSIP in the past years via the interwebs was unfruitful
▶︎I had no/limited work or internship experience to give me an edge
▶︎I have heard that some people got accepted via connections (home school departments, personal, etc.)

Ultimately, I didn't get an intern position but that was alright. I would have been happy either way, honestly! I felt good that at least I (kind of) did try to get some work experience in, even if it never worked out. Bestie C and I did meet with a fellow student from our school who was going to YISS and received an internship offer. Plus while in Korea, we met a two new friends who also had research internships with KSIP. It isn't impossible to get in but it would be safe to say that the Korean companies' standards are quite high and competition for the limited spots (1-3 per company) is pretty tough. If you plan on applying, I wish you the best of luck!

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