Breaking out of the GNU: Yonsei University

Coming to Yonsei has given me the chance to learn about Korean life, especially student life, and has let me venture outside of the NYU bubble.

Fun fact: Korean universities do not take a spring break.

Shortly after my Instagram feed started filling up with impossibly scenic photos from friends and classmates on vacation, I checked my academic calendar and discovered I will not be participating in the far-flung-friends-and-fun-photo-fest. I guess that’s fair, though, because I didn’t even start classes until the rest of the NYU’s Global Network University (GNU) was taking midterms. So as the rest of NYU returns to reality, I’m rounding on my fourth week of classes at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.

As we all know, NYU provides students with 13 of its own study-away and portal sites where we can take classes without even needing to transfer credits. But what you may not have known is that the university also has exchange agreements with 12 other schools from around the globe. The application process is longer and more complicated, but in addition to NYU Accra, Sydney, Buenos Aires, and the like, it is also possible to study at local universities in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Nagoya, Tokyo, Seoul, Santiago, and Stockholm—and these are just a few of the options. Keep in mind, though, that most if not all of your credits will not transfer as anything but electives; if you really need that biology class to graduate, taking it at a non-NYU site will probably not help.

As mentioned, however, studying at a non-NYU site, also called “international exchange” can be more complicated than staying within the GNU. I had to meet with my advisor several times, consult with NYU Shanghai (NYUSH) and NYU New York (NYUNY) study away advisors, and fill out several layers of applications. First, I had to apply to be allowed to apply for NYU’s international exchange program; then, I had to actually apply for NYU’s exchange program; then and only then was I allowed to send my application for exchange to Yonsei University itself.

Even after acceptance, the international exchange process can be complicated. Remember how confusing and frustrating learning how to use Albert was? Now do it again for a different school’s system. In Korean. (Okay, so actually they have an English version too. But it’s still confusing!)

When I first arrived at Yonsei, I was astounded by how beautiful the campus was, and my admiration has only grown. Coming from the NYUSH campus, with its one building and single plot of grass, a whole campus full of trees, buildings, and green spaces is a breath of fresh air. There are endless benches and areas for students to gather and chat, a whole slew of cafeterias and on-campus cafes, and a campus store where every single exchange student buys the varsity jacket. Except me. I’m a rebel.

The classes and classrooms themselves are pretty standard. Yonsei offers students the option to take classes catered to exchange students, but you can also take classes with Yonsei’s students if you want to, assuming you understand the instructional language of the course. Most classes are taught in Korean, but some are in English, and advanced language courses are taught in the language of study.

My hopes to make friends with local students through Chinese class were dashed (long story), but there are plenty of other options to meet local students. One of the best ways to do this is joining student clubs and organizations. There’s a club for everyone, but not all of them take international students, and not all of them take exchange students, so it’s important to ask. Luckily, many clubs do take exchange students, and it doesn’t hurt to ask! Most also have a Membership Training (MT) trip at the beginning of the year, which to us is the spring semester. Studying away in Korea in the middle of your school year can be advantageous in this way, since it’s the beginning of the year for Korean students and clubs are actively recruiting.

Of course, it’s not all studies and school activities—historical sites, shopping, food, and nightlife are all important parts of any Seoul experience. The Yonsei campus is right next to Sinchon, which has some excellent restaurants (Oreo bingsoo bigger than my face? Yes please). There are also some hidden gem Korean-style bars, which are a little different from the kind of bar that most of us are used to. The Korean-style bars feature quieter music and fewer cigarettes. Rather than being a good place to meet people or dance, the bars are more of a place to go with a group of friends, be you five or twenty-five people, and enjoy each other’s company… with soju, of course (but drink responsibly!).

One of the things I always wished I could do while I was at NYU’s GNU campuses was engage with the local community more. In Shanghai, and in London where I studied last semester, it sometimes felt like I was stuck in the so-called “NYU bubble”. It was hard to meet local students from Shanghai and London, thanks to language barriers and physical barriers (I don’t know if you noticed, but not many local students hang out in Pudong on a daily basis). Coming to Yonsei has given me the chance to learn about Korean life, especially student life, and has let me venture outside of the NYU bubble. Integration into a new school always poses challenges, but I am grateful for my new classmates and friends’ open arms, friendly smiles, and kind reactions to my questionable Korean skills. And if all else fails, I know we can always bond over our unfortunate lack of a spring break.


This article was written by Dana Meyer. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Dana Meyer

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