#GlobalScholar Interview: Amaia Patterson, South Korea
Tell us a bit about yourself!
When I first got to college, I did not know what to major in. My teachers in high school had suggested I become a teacher as I liked working with children. I started taking classes in Elementary Education, but over time realized that I was excelling in all my Humanities classes. So, I switched my major to that, and then a friend suggested studying abroad. That got me really interested, and I also realized that I could teach English abroad without having a degree in education.
My friend was actually studying in Korea, and the whole time while she was there, she was telling me how much fun it was. When she came back, she said “Why don’t you go?” I had never thought about studying abroad but decided to look into it. When my friend moved to Korea to work there a couple of years later, I decided that this would be the best time for me to go too. I went from August 2021 to August 2022.
How did you decide on which university in Korea to study at?
First, I looked at the Global Exchanges website to see what schools they offered for South Korea. Then I researched the different schools. I looked at where they were and what their campuses looked like. In the end, I decided on Soongsil University, the same university my friend had been to. She recommended some classes and put me in touch with her former professors. Soongsil offered to pay the dorm fees if I enrolled in language classes. That was too good to miss.
First impressions – what were some differences between FSU and Soongsil University?
Of the two, FSU has the bigger campus. But Soongsil University campus is built on a steep hill, so every time getting from my dorm to classes was going either up or down. I did a lot of walking during that year! At Soongsil, the classrooms were always open and when they weren’t occupied by instructors, students would just sit in random empty rooms to study. Not like at FSU, where we usually go to the Student Union, one of the libraries, or a coffee shop.
There were many international students on campus too. Mainly, Japanese, French, and German. But there were only a handful of American students.
What was it like living in Korea?
What I really liked about Korea was that I did not need a car because they have great public transport. I could go and visit places near and far away by taking trains or buses. Also, the university was right in the middle of town. I could walk to the bank, McDonald’s, the grocery store. Everything was within walking distance.
Shopping for clothes was a bit of a challenge as the Korean sizing chart is very different, and I had a hard time figuring out what was the correct size for me. I never did figure out the shoe sizes. I just ordered shoes from Amazon.
The biggest adjustment for me was being away from family. I am from Tallahassee, so I had never lived in a dorm before. In Korea, I had to share a room with another student. I had to fend for myself, find my own food, and learn to budget my money. Those were all hard to do – and I spent more money than I should have. I missed my family the most though. Especially my mother. She came out once to visit me – that was great.
Was it difficult to make friends with Korean students?
As I spoke Korean, the language was not such a barrier. What was hard for me was to stop being an introvert and reach out to others. It took a lot of work to get myself to be more of an extrovert. I could feel myself seizing up in social settings and stressing about talking to people, but then I would tell myself: “Get it together and talk to these people! I am leaving in a few months, and even if I don’t become friends with them, I should at least talk to them and see what happens.” It wasn’t easy, but I did it. And if you ask any of my friends in Korea, they will tell you that I am an extrovert. They’ll say: “She is always outgoing and talking.” I had to change my personality to make sure that I had a good experience socially.
How did you come to learn Korean?
In the beginning, while I was thinking of studying abroad, I began to learn survival phrases in Korean, like ‘Where is the bus? Where is the bathroom?’ But then I went further, and I challenged myself to learn as much as I could before I went. I used some language learning apps, and then I began to watch content in Korean to absorb as much as possible. In the end, I really concentrated on speaking. I realized that I could understand stuff in my head but that was of no use if I couldn’t speak outside of my head. I practiced speaking for an entire year before I went.
Most of my classes were in English, but the Korean language classes were fully in Korean.
What surprised you during your stay in Korea?
I did not expect winter to be as cold as it was. Coming from Florida, I thought, it can’t be that cold in other places. Wrong. Incorrect. It was freezing, and I bought my first winter jacket.
Something else I had not realized is that they don’t have sweetened tea in Korea. I am a sweet tea lover at core. So that was hard to live without.
What did a normal day look like for you?
My roommate would most likely wake me up as her classes were earlier than mine. I’d get breakfast, get ready for class. Between classes, I’d grab a snack and a coffee, and study. I did not have that much homework, so I spent my time going over the material from class. I usually went out in the evening. I’d text my friends, and we would do something together, go to karaoke or dinner or sightseeing. I made sure I went out as often as I could. I only stayed home when I was truly exhausted.
I love K-Pop, but it was very hard getting tickets. It is very competitive, especially for the big bands. So, I did not manage to go to concerts as I had planned.
How did it feel coming back to Tallahassee?
I had to be careful what I was saying in English – because everybody is speaking English too! And I gained a bit of weight because I stopped walking so much, and then I caught up on all the food I had missed: Publix cake with solid icing on it, pizza, southern food. The worst thing: I had to get used to all the bugs again.
What advice would you give about studying abroad?
To other students, I would tell them to go. Just go, even if it is only for a semester or the summer. Because you’ll never know what it is like until you go. And you are only in undergrad once. It will always be better to go and live with some things that you do not like, than to not go at all.
To myself, I would say “stick to your budget.” And I would also tell myself to be even more outgoing than I was. I discovered later that there were quite a few people who had wanted to hang out with me, but did not have the courage to ask, and I had also wanted to meet them but had not reached out either. Be even more pro-active when it comes to making friends. Lastly, I’d tell myself to do my laundry more regularly. I kept forgetting to do that!
What are your next steps?
I have started my master’s in teaching English as a Foreign Language at FSU this fall, and I am hoping to go back to Korea to teach once I have graduated.