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  • Writer's pictureNyamal Gatluak

Why I Studied Abroad in South Korea

Photo by Cait Ellis on Unsplash
Photo by Cait Ellis on Unsplash

I never thought I would be able to study abroad. As a college kid who paid for everything from my tuition to housing on my own and heavily relied on financial aid, it didn’t seem possible. Especially when I looked at the prices for studying abroad - they were overwhelming.

It wasn’t until I spoke to people in similar financial situations who went abroad and learned about scholarship opportunities like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship that I knew it was possible and wanted that experience for myself. With the support of the Gilman Program, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea, during the fall 2021 semester.

One of the main questions I get asked is why I chose South Korea of all places. In this blog post, I detail the main reasons why I decided on Seoul for my Gilman experience.

A picture of restaurant buildings in Seoul

Experiencing A Different Culture:

Growing up, I consumed a lot of international media. At home, we had dozens of Nollywood DVDs and dubbed Chinese martial arts films like The Return of Beyonce or The Crippled Masters. I started watching Hindi films, Korean and Japanese dramas, Telenovelas, French noir films, and any other foreign media I could find throughout middle school and high school. To say the least, my love for subtitles started very young.

Watching these films, listening to the different styles of music, and seeing their distinct cultural practices and the variety of foods they ate made me want to travel to those places and experience their cultures. So, when I had the chance to study abroad in another country through school, I took the chance. Korean culture is entirely different from the Nuer and American cultures I was raised in, so it was the perfect place to experience something new.

The subway entering the station at the Han River in Seoul, South Korea.

Opportunity to Travel

I’ve watched many vlogs of people interrailing through Europe or traveling city to city by train. Living in Iowa, I’ve never had that experience. We don’t have a train or a reliable and consistent mode of public transportation that can take us long distances. We barely have Uber and Lyft drivers available in the city for people to order. If you want to travel far in this state, you must drive, which can become tiring, time-consuming, and inconvenient. I knew I wanted long-distance transportation to be easily accessible wherever I studied. That’s why I was excited to go to South Korea, known for its advanced transit system.

Living in Seoul has made me appreciate reliable and affordable transportation. Korea’s subway and bus systems frequently come, so a car is unnecessary. There are also taxis everywhere which gives people different modes of transportation to choose from. The transit system is honestly my favorite thing about living in South Korea.

The silhouette of my friends and I at the Haeundae Beach in Busan, South Korea.

Support System

Having two of my close friends study abroad with me eased many anxieties about going abroad. Being a South Sudanese person in Korea, I knew I would stick out, and I wasn’t sure how people would react to me. But knowing that I had people in South Korea that would be figuring things out together with me made the idea of going abroad less daunting. Since there was a big time difference, I knew it would be difficult to talk to the friends and family I had back home, so I made sure to get familiar with the support systems available for me, beyond my friends, before going abroad.

A sign in Korea's subway station in Seoul.

Learning A New Language

While you don’t need to go to another country to learn a new language, being in an environment where everyone speaks that language pushes you to be consistent with studying and learning. Before going to Korea, I did understand how to read hangul and say basic Korean phrases for shopping, ordering food, having small conversations, and traveling. But I never really put my knowledge into practice or conversed with people in Korean before leaving, primarily because speaking Korean was awkward, and I was afraid to make mistakes. I knew traveling to Korea would force me to speak and learn more of the language regardless of how uncomfortable I felt speaking the language. By the end of my study abroad program, I was an intermediate speaker of the language. I was proud that I quickly understood basic conversations due to the practice I had from living in Korea for a semester.


If you made it to the end, I appreciate you. I hope this post will give some of you the confidence to take those first steps to explore studying abroad or even serve as a resource for you looking into different study abroad programs. As I previously mentioned, the financial barrier was the most significant thing holding me back from studying abroad. I’m grateful for programs like the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and many more for making that semester abroad possible.

If you want to know more about the financial aspect of studying abroad, I touch on the scholarships I received and how I funded my program in "How I Studied Abroad in Seoul As A Broke College Student.”



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