Valerie Fowles ‘19 checks in from South Korea

What made you choose South Korea for Study Abroad?

For one thing, I wanted to take advanced chemistry courses, by the recommendation of my former mentor at Quest. At Hanyang University, I can take classes like polymer chemistry/physics and instrumental analysis.

The second reason is that I am half-Japanese, have been to Japan many times, and am absolutely enthralled by Japan. I was curious to see whether Korea was similar in terms of culture, food, people, etc.

So far, what is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered?

I am amazed at how incredibly nice Korean people are. They are just above and beyond in their kindness. One day, it was raining and my shoelace came undone, so I put down my umbrella and started tying up my shoe. An old man approached. 

I started getting uncomfortable, because a man approaching you silently in the street while you’re bent over tying your shoe is rarely good news. I was about to walk away, when he bent down and picked up my umbrella and held it over me so I didn’t get rained on while tying my shoe. 

I was honestly floored. I could never imagine that happening anywhere else. And Seoul is probably one of the cities I’ve felt the safest, comparable only to Tokyo.

Any challenges so far?

Language barriers are always difficult, but it’s been smoother than I thought. Knowing how to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) has helped me out of a lot of tough situations.

What subject/s are you studying?

I am taking six courses: polymer physics, chemical instrumental analysis, energy and environment science and technology, artificial intelligence, independent study (I’m taking the class because you work on an individual project of your choosing, so I’m just working on my Keystone) and introductory Korean. So far I have learned the Korean alphabet, how to order food, saying “please, thank you, hello, goodbye, and are you okay?”. Needless to say I’m pretty much fluent!

What’s the funnest part of all this?

This question is literally impossible to answer. The only thing that isn’t fun is how hot it is.

How do you think your Study Abroad will enrich your Quest experience? 

Being at Hanyang has made me appreciate Quest on a whole new level. This is not saying that Hanyang is bad. I love it here, but it is certainly different. 

Everybody I know at Quest at goes through a period where they question whether they should have attended a “revolutionary” institution with high tuition. I, too, experienced this. I thought perhaps I should have made a safer choice and gone to UBC or U of T.

Coming to Hanyang has made me realize that Quest’s small classes and intimate discussions are the reason I love going to school every day. I miss having office hours where I can just walk into a tutor’s office and sit and talk to them about their interests. 

Being back at Quest with this new appreciation will definitely give me the boost I need to get me through the last few blocks before Keystone.

Any particularly notable insights you’ve already had (academic or non-academic)?

My first day in Korea I learned that 20% of women between the ages of 20 and 35 have had plastic surgery. The beauty standards here are incredibly high and very much enforced through K-pop, K-dramas, and media in general. The most common surgery is double-eyelid surgery, where women from as young as 16 have their eyelids folded to get the “double-eyelid” look, which apparently makes their eyes look bigger. 

The dating culture here is like nowhere I’ve ever seen. To have a boyfriend/girlfriend is revered as a way to gain social status, and PDA is everywhere, train stations, crosswalks, on the bus, etc. Growing up in Toronto I thought I’d seen it all, but they really take beauty and relationships above and beyond.

How do you think it will relate to your career interests?

As I mentioned, I came to Hanyang to complete some upper-level chemistry courses. And travelling to different countries studying chemistry is exactly the kind of career I want to have. There is something invaluable about meeting passionate people who think differently than you about the same topic and learning together.

Do you have any advice for students considering Study Abroad?

Do not go in with the expectation that it will be anything like Quest. Come to Hanyang if you want an entirely different university experience, if you want to try balancing six classes at a time instead of one, if you are comfortable with being nearly anonymous, if you are alright with having almost no rapport with your professors at all.

I would also strongly advise anyone going abroad to eat as much local food as they can! There are a few exchange students here that are scared of Korean dishes and have therefore only eaten pizza and chicken wings. Not that pizza and chicken wings are awful foods, but they are significantly more expensive and Korean food is just so much better. Contact me for a comprehensive list of delicious Korean foods you must try!

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