City Discovery: Seoul, South Korea – a City of the Future

Approximately 60 years ago, following the end of the Korean War, South Korea underwent a period of rapid development, industrialization, and technological advances. In fact, Korea’s swift transformation from a homogenous country rooted in agriculture, to a beacon of modernization has been dubbed nothing short of a miracle. Rightfully so, Koreans take much pride in the new international leadership role the country has in the 21st century.

In the days after the war, Seoul was merely a small dot on the map of international, vibrant, and cosmopolitan cities. Today Seoul is currently a center of innovation, economic opportunity, diversity, and technology that makes many western cities seem backwards. While walking around the city’s streets, it’s impossible not to notice the modernity of this fascinating metropolis. In fact, Seoul is often described as a city of the future, a place where one can imagine what cities will look like in the years to come.

Recently, South Korea has developed a reputation for its coveted pop culture, which is increasingly sought after not only in Asian countries, but throughout the world. At the head of this phenomenon is K-Pop, or Korean Pop. Because of this, along with many popular Korean products from companies such as Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, the world is beginning to develop a taste for everything Korean. Whether it be in fashion, art, cuisine, or music (to name a few), South Korea now has the world’s attention.

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Intercultural


Intercultural experiences highlight exposure with the local culture, promoting a multilateral exchange of ideas, language and opinions.


During their time in Seoul, ISA students have incredible opportunities to experience Korean culture, as well as get to see first-hand how Seoul is becoming a multicultural and leading global business, educational, and technological center. From trying on Hanboks (traditional Korean attire), to learning how to make Korean food, or meeting Korean friends, ISA students will be enthralled in Korea’s rich heritage and culture.

ISA encourages students to participate in multiple groups, organizations, and activities at their host university that focus on intercultural exchanges. Korea University also has a Buddy Exchange Program, which allows ISA students to be paired with a local university student. This helps them make Korean friends, practice Korean, and learn what it’s like to grow up in another country. The Seoul Global Center (available to all ISA Seoul students) encourages Koreans and foreigners alike to exchange ideas and traditions that contribute to international cooperation and a deeper global understanding.

A club offered by Konkuk University where ISA students often participate is the English conversation club. This club helps Korean students practice English, and international students practice Korean. The International Students’ Festival, hosted by Korea University, is also an incredible event where students from all over the world come to learn more about different countries, cultures, and traditions. Additionally, there is an LGBT club at Korea University which informs international students about LGBT culture and diversity in South Korea. ISA students are encouraged to participate and teach others about where they came from, as well as learn about their peers.

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Historical


ISA excursions and cultural activities highlight historical parts of the local culture to help students better understand their new environment.


It is often said that Seoul is a perfect example of how tradition meets modernity. Next to high-rise futuristic glass buildings, it is common to see structures that are much older than the United States. ISA has planned activities to help students learn about Korea’s history, and how it relates to the present. One of these is an excursion to an historic temple (part of a temple stay), for students attending Korea University. There are several temples in and around Seoul, each with significant importance to the country’s history. While there, students will be able to eat a “temple meal,” which is completely vegetarian, and has its roots in traditional Korean Buddhism.

ISA, through Konkuk University, also offers an excursion to Jeonju Hanok Village, located in the geographic center of the country. Jeonju is famous for its traditional Korean architecture, food, and its international film festival (each May), and is one of the most visited places in the country. Here, Korea’s history is on full display, and delicious Bibimbap (a popular Korean dish), is generously served to both locals and visitors alike. Students at Konkuk also have the chance to learn about making traditional rice cakes, which have been prevalent in Korea’s food culture for many years.

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Sociopolitical


Sociopolitical discovery highlights social and political activities or experiences.


The border between South and North Korea is the most heavily armed place on the planet. Formed at the end of the Korean War, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a consistent topic of discussion and often frustration for Koreans as well as the international community. A country that was torn in two, Korea often struggles to cope with one of the last living symbols of the Cold War. Reunification efforts have been underway for years, but still have yet to promise any immediate change of policy. However, there have been several reunion meetings, where Koreans with family on different sides of the border apply to get the chance to see their loved ones.

ISA students at both universities in Seoul (Konkuk University and Korea University) will have a chance to visit the DMZ and see for themselves how the Cold War continuously affects Koreans on a daily basis. They have an opportunity to learn about Korea’s past, and what both countries, as well as many outside nations, are doing to keep peace on the peninsula.

In addition, Korea’s unique geographic location at the center of three global powerhouses in China, Japan, and Russia, gives students the chance to learn about the politics of East Asia and what Korea has done to maintain its identity and culture while surrounded by occasionally hostile neighbors. There is also a large course selection (in English!) that students can choose from at both universities, which focus specifically on International Studies, International Relations, and the changing politics of East Asia. The ISA Seoul staff makes it a priority to send students information on news, to make sure they are up-to-date on current events going on in Korea and the world.

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Professional


Professional experiences provide exposure to professional development opportunities during an ISA program.


It is clear that the 21st century is Asia’s time in the global spotlight and South Korea is a perfect example of this resurgence. As the economies of Asia continue to expand at a rapid rate and education becomes more accessible, Asian countries are becoming more visited and discussed. South Korea is at the heart of this “Shift to the East,” and businesses are taking note. More and more companies continue to look to Asia for expansion and, often, relocation, making it a great place to advance one’s career.

ISA offers support and opportunities for students looking to gain professional experience and career development. One example is the Korea International Volunteers organization. Students are given the chance to get involved by finding places to volunteer, as well as network with other international and local volunteers. Through ISA, students also have the chance to help in a kindergarten classroom, giving both the local students and the volunteers a great exchange experience. As South Korea is one of the top destinations for college graduates teaching English abroad, both Konkuk and Korea University offer courses specifically focused on teaching English as a second language. In addition, there are various internship opportunities for interested students, including an internship with the Konkuk University of International Affairs, in cooperation with ISA.

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Environmental


Environmental experiences expose students to different environmental aspects of the host country.


Bucking the trend for most Asian cities, Seoul has become a model for how rapidly changing cities can develop in a sustainable manner. One example of this is the Cheonggyecheon (청계천) recreation area in downtown Seoul. Once an elevated highway, it has been redeveloped into the flowing river that it was in the past. It now is incredibly popular as a destination for green space in the center of a highly urban area. As more cities look for ways to mitigate climate change as well as raise the quality of life for their citizens, Seoul continues to provide quality examples.

Students studying in Seoul will have the chance to volunteer at Neoul Park, as part of the World Cup Park (built for the 2002 World Cup). They will work alongside volunteers to help plant trees and convert the area back to its natural state.  It is important to also mention the amount of green space both in and surrounding Seoul. The Han River (한강), which cuts straight through Seoul, is home to several parks and recreation areas. Seoul is also engulfed by mountains on all sides, which contain extensive hiking trails and camping spots. Hiking culture is extremely popular in Korea and students will quickly notice how busy the trails around the city can be. ISA Seoul students are taken on hikes to get a glimpse of the natural beauty engulfing Seoul. Korean tradition focuses on the connection of humans and their environment and from the time students arrive in Seoul, it’s clear to see how important nature is to the citizens of this country.

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The 2015 City Discovery Series aims to showcase one of ISA’s program locations each week. Facts about each location and several Discovery Compass activity examples are given, however they are not a comprehensive list. These activities highlight the areas of Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental discovery. The Discovery Compass aims to help students have the best possible study abroad experience by helping them to gain a better understanding of the local environment, customs and people through a variety of experiences.

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