MEDIA, Pa. – Nineteen Penn State students had the opportunity to travel to Seoul, South Korea for Maymester in a new course called “Sociology and Culture in Seoul, Korea,” a three-credit study abroad program in partnership with the University’s Sociology department and Konkuk University in Seoul. In the program, students spent two weeks in May immersing themselves in Korean culture.
This Maymester course is designed to give students the chance to experience both modern and traditional Korean life, with focuses on modern K-entertainment and the sociological transformation of Korean society.
Ben Park, professor of human development and family studies and one of the faculty leads for the Maymester program, said the trip to Seoul was a truly immersive experience into Korean culture.
“Penn State students were actively integrated into classes and activities with Konkuk University students,” he said. “The direct involvement between the two groups created an environment for lively inter-cultural dialogues which also brought both parties closer together. It helped form a cohesive and unified group.”
Jasmin Arellano, a third-year human development and family studies major at Penn State Brandywine, said that she wanted to study abroad in Seoul because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“What really made me want to study abroad in Seoul is that I had the opportunity to go to a different country and might not be able to go again,” she said. “I had also taken an interest in Korean culture, so I was really excited to be able to experience it firsthand and take it all in.”
Students were able to explore the city and its outskirts through a variety of excursions during Maymester. Some notable attractions they visited were Namsan Tower, Gyeongbokgung Palace, a Korean folk village and SM Entertainment, one of the biggest entertainment agencies in Korea, with notable clients like EXO, Red Velvet and Girls’ Generation.
“We did a lot every day, which I’m very grateful for because we were never bored,” Arellano said. “It was especially cool visiting Namsan Tower. It sits on Namsan Mountain, and it gives you a nice view of Seoul. It’s really high up — you get to see the whole city from up there.”
She said her favorite part of the whole experience, though, was meeting new people from a different culture.
"I really enjoyed meeting new people from Konkuk University because we got to share pieces of our lives with one another, and we created a bond with them."
—Jasmin Arellano , third-year human development and family studies student, Penn State Brandywine
“I really enjoyed meeting new people from Konkuk University because we got to share pieces of our lives with one another, and we created a bond with them,” she said. “We were in the classroom together every day, so we got to know each other well over those three weeks. Even though we’re thousands of miles away from them, we still talk to one another and reminisce on the time we spent together. Meeting new people also improved my socialization skills.”
Arellano said that one major takeaway she got from this trip was the cultural difference between the United States and South Korea.
“Every place you visit is different. Experiencing a different culture firsthand was an amazing opportunity, and I got to learn so much about a culture that was different from my own,” she said. “I went into this opportunity with the mindset of not judging a book by its cover and being more considerate of different cultures, and I was able to really appreciate my time there because of that.”
When asked what advice she would give to students who want to study abroad, Arellano said to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.
“Studying abroad can be really life-changing. I know for me, it changed my life and my whole perspective on the world,” she said. “It’s something you can look back on and say, ‘Wow, I did that, and I feel really proud of myself.’ It can be a core memory that you hold onto and cherish for a long time.”