There is a quote by Sir Richard Burton, which goes, “The gladdest moment in human life is a departure into unknown lands”. As he said, heading to regions of the globe gives people a thrill of facing a new world outside their own little world and has a lot of benefits in itself. Traveling makes people more aware of the world freeing them from boring daily lives and just a fraction of the world. Also, it has a tremendous impact on one’s life and even it changes one physically and psychologically.
However, as people today get older, they become shorter of time because of their busy and hectic lives in the modern world. Therefore, a lot of adults and office workers recommend wandering abroad and having various experiences to the youth of today while in the flower of their youth. Thus, if you are a student, do not be afraid of taking adventure into the world and take advantage of student exchange programs like that of Kim Sun-min (English Language Literature, 16), who was in Greece for one semester to get to know more people and experience diverse cultures. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all, as Helen Keller said.
The Catholic University Forum (CUF) interviewed her as a foreign exchange student to tell her stories in Greece to CUK students.
Q1. What led you to go study in Greece as a foreign exchange student?
A1. Before I entered the Catholic University of Korea (CUK), I had dreamed of going abroad as an exchange student because I believed that it is a special opportunity given only to the university students. It is a definitely privilege of the university students in that they can enjoy all the benefits of traveling and studying abroad having a fabulous time for less money. Hence, I was so determined to be a foreign exchange student and decided to go Greece in my third year at the university. Time is flying, never to return so I got this opportunity which never return in my life.
Q2. Why did you particularly choose Greece among many European countries as your destination?
A2. I saw a report of my senior who had been in American-accredited university located in Greece in online homepage of Office of International Affairs (OIA). Students can get all information on preparing for student exchange program such as qualification for program, credit transfer and see reports of students who has been foreign exchange students in the OIA homepage (https://oia.catholic.ac.kr). The report of my senior was truly helpful to me and I got to know that many American students go there and most students there communicate in English.
Thus, I thought that I can experience life of both residing in European countries and meeting with American friends experiencing American culture indirectly. It is like killing two birds with one stone. For this reason, I went to the American College of Greece which is the oldest American-accredited college in Europe founded in 1875 and the largest private college in Greece. As I heard about, there was not in any difficulty in communicating as they commonly use English for communication besides Greek.
Q3. What did you feel most studying in Greece? Are there anything you realize about the difference between educational environments of the two countries, Korean and Greece?
A3. I realized that there are significant differences in the educational environment and systems as well as students’ attitude toward learning. I expected that before I went there yet it stills came as a culture shock. Professors and students have more intimate and friendly relationship and the university have smaller classes usually consisted of about 10-20 students. The classes have a discussion more actively and professors do not use prescriptive methods of teaching.
In this free atmosphere, students speak their opinions frankly and spontaneously not frightened of being wrong and they even debate with professors. Professors do not tend to judge students’ opinions and they just make a correction when students think completely in the wrong direction. In this learning environment, I could have the courage of speaking my own candid opinions and learned a lot of things such as confident attitude and flexible mindset from my college classmates speaking their diverse opinions and profound thoughts in the classroom. Especially, I learned a lot in the philosophy class, Introduction to Philosophy with Paul Raymond Petridis Tzombanos.
Q4. How about the life in Greece such as making foreign friends or experiencing their cultures?
A4. When I arrived there, I found difficult with making foreign friends since there were only three Koreans and the others are almost American or the Greeks who were already intimate with each other and made their groups. At first, I thought that people will reach out to me first like a drama or movie but it did not happen. Thus, I had to change my passive attitude and be proactive in getting along with them.
Over time, I became close with my roommates opening my heart and share our own stories. Talking with them, I got an impression that foreign students were like filming an amazing teen movie, and it was truly amusing to hear and see their romance drama which shows initial spark of love, some chemistry, which is a special and indescribable feeling, and that finally two people have a crush on each other. I believed that I stepped into a new world of a Netflix drama series. Also, I want to recommend to the readers who are going to become a foreign exchange student to go to a house party or club party hosted by foreign friends because it is a part of experiencing their cultures.
Q.5. What did you realize through this journey to Greece?
A5. Before I went to Greece, I had romantic ideas about becoming exchange students and going abroad but through this travel, I became aware of that even though there are differences in cultures, location, and so on, people’s ways of life are similar regardless of nations. Also, I recognized the importance of normal things in my daily life such as being with my Korean friends or family who are by my side all the time supporting me. People do not know what they have until it is gone and I realized it this time. Also, I realized the value of health in Greece so I would like to recommend for students who are going to become foreign exchange students or go abroad to get necessary medicine or pills as much as you can before leaving.
At the end of the interview, she said that through this journey to Greece, she could learn a lot of things experiencing different cultures and connecting with new and different people from different cultures. This helped her get original and creative thoughts and broadened her horizon. As she said, what about getting out comfort zone and exploring new places breaking out of your daily routine? This would give you the opportunity to see issues and daily life challenges from a different angle. In that respect, Andre Gide’s famous quote is worthwhile: Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.