Blitz chatted to James Huo about his adventures in South Korea while on exchange.
Why did you decide on South Korea for exchange?
It started a few years back when I stumbled upon a Korean show and I just happened to get hooked. From there I visited South Korea for a holiday and since it was pretty enjoyable and left a nice impression, I wanted to come back. My degree also happened to have an exchange requirement so I decided to take a few Korean language courses. They say that immersion is one of the best ways to learn the language and viola, I did just that! Mainly my interest in Korean culture, as well as the desire to learn the language brought me to South Korea for exchange.
What’s your favourite thing about South Korea?
It’s definitely the people. In general, Koreans are a very friendly lot and they’re always willing to give a hand. There was a time where I was with a few mates in a street market area trying out some unique Korean food, sannakji (cut up octopus that is so fresh it’s still wriggling on the plate) and a middle aged man across the table, watching us decided to give a nice explanation of what we were eating. He was kind enough to pour us each a few shots of soju!
How is South Korea different to Australia?
Compared to Australia it’s quite different in a lot of ways, there’s just so many different things. First of all, you get the sense that everything here is more fast-paced and much more developed. It’s really like those images of Asian cities with the bright neon lights and people bustling about during the night. All of the action starts at night in Seoul. Outside of Seoul and a few other cities, its not too different I’d say, but definitely a culture shock.
What’s the craziest thing you did on exchange?
There’s quite a few things that stand out to me and coincidentally they all happen to be alcohol related, not sure if that’s a good thing… I’d say it would be during September, when my university, Yonsei University and Korea University have their annual sporting competition. After a pretty long day of cheering non-stop (I kid you not, they cheer like crazy), we headed over to the local neighbourhood of Korea University and entered around two to three restaurants for some free food and drinks (its all part of the tradition of the sporting festival). After that, our group headed back to our own university neighbourhood and went to a bar for some drinks where I dozed off a bit. Give or take 30 minutes to an hour I awoke and we happened to be going to another bar, the fourth or fifth one. We then we finished off the night with karaoke. This was probably one of the more wilder nights and it taught me quite a bit, especially that how much Koreans like to drink.
Highlight of your trip
Just having fun with my mates that I met in a local Korean society, was great. We hung out and had fun all the time, whatever we did together was good fun. Of course, it always ended with drinking together, even if it was Monday night and we had a 9am start the next day. All of those times were a blast and together they made my trip the greatest!
What was your favourite tourist activity?
I’m a bit of a scenery/nature enthusiastic so one of my favourite tourist activities was when I headed down south to Jeollanam-do, a province near the southern coast of South Korea. There was plenty to see there, ranging from historical sites and cemeteries to bamboo forests and green tea plantations, all possible within just a two or three day trip. And to top it all off, each region has food it’s famous for, so there was plenty of great food to try as well! April is about time for cherry blossom season, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that.
What was your biggest challenge on exchange?
It’s been an extremely difficult time without any HSP’s or proper kebabs.
Any tips for students going on exchange?
Research is definitely important, you need to know where you’re going and what it’s like where ever you go. You also need to be aware and street smart, even if you’re going to a relatively safe country like South Korea. It’s also important to put yourself out there, and be willing to take a step into unfamiliar territory (without overstepping it and putting yourself in any danger of course!) Be willing to meet new people, join new societies, and immerse yourself in the country you’re going to. If you’re already thinking about exchange, you’re halfway there!
Describe exchange in three words
Unforgettable, crazy, Soju
Favourite Korean food
Korean Fried Chicken and Beef
Favourite KPOP song/artist