A full eight weeks of lab work, kimchi and travelling, my time at Seoul National University has become one of the most transforming and unforgettable moments in my life. Besides gaining huge insight in to the daily life of a postgraduate’s work in academia, I had the good fortune of independently experiencing a far--‐flung culture from multiple perspectives. From immersing myself in Seoul’s Night life to solo trips across and around the whole of South Korea, the placement has taught me a lot in the way of coping with an unfamiliar environment outside my comfort zone. The great success of the trip was further compounded by the hugely friendly and accommodating research team I was working with. Needless to say, the time I spent with them and my supervising professor formed the foundation of the whole experience of working and living in South Korea. For me, this trip not only allowed me to diversify my cultural psyche and gain experience in academia but was also an invaluable opportunity to broaden my horizons and grow as a person.
A full eight weeks of lab work, kimchi and travelling, my time at Seoul National University has become one of the most transforming and unforgettable moments in my life."
The lab setting was very different to what I had been exposed to as an undergraduate. Advanced measurement apparatus was all around and utmost precision and care was crucial to the successful assembly of any given device. This usually involved wearing masks and gloves to protect the devices from human interference. Needless to say, as fascinating and surreal as it was to work with such advanced equipment in an international laboratory, a large part of the experience was adapting to a wildly different culture to that of the UK. There is a strong emphasis for showing your due respect to others, particularly your elders. The work hours were also novel to say the least. In the lab, work would start at 10am and could finish as late as 10pm. Even some of Seoul’s markets open as late as 11am and can close as late as 3am the next day. Nevertheless, whilst the research team I was with certainly worked hard, they always maintained a great team spirit and a nice friendly atmosphere.
Food was a central part of daily life in South Korea. Even the meals on campus were always varied on a daily basis and sometimes to match the theme of special days in the year. With restaurants dotted more than frequently on every street, Korean cuisine boasts what is a tasty, filling and healthy diet. Just be prepared to eat ‘Kimchi’ with every meal you order. One usually has rice, a main dish and many side dishes. In addition to classics such as Korean BBQ, Bulgogi, Bibimbap and Korean fried chicken, most towns across the countries each take claim to a regional speciality. For instance, in the city of bamboo ‘Damyang’ there are a variety of bamboo dishes to taste and the traditional town ‘Andong’ is famous for its chicken dish ‘Jjimdak’.
In addition to exploring Korean food, I enjoyed travelling around the country as much as possible on my weekends and days off. Sometimes this would mean travelling alone which in itself formed a significant part of my time. I feel that it was within these periods that I truly had the opportunity to discover and experience Korean culture for myself as I journeyed around destinations like the tourist hot spot ‘Busan’ to the deeply cultural ‘Gyeongju’, the old capital of Korea. For me though, an equally important aspect to this was making the opportunity to have complete independence within foreign surroundings in purposefully stepping out of my comfort zone. The whole process of taking complete responsibility for yourself, learning whatever parts of their language which would make it that much easier to get around and constantly planning ahead served to build confidence and ultimately establish an extraordinary experience.
The opportunities I was given this summer, both academic and cultural, will stay with me for the rest of my life. I learned a lot about academia, research and how the scientific community share and exchange ideas, all within a culture far removed from our own. The very friendly molecular electronics group taught me experimental techniques that, as an undergraduate, I would never have access to. Together with the time I spent with the other students from Imperial, meeting new people and exploring the country, I have learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this international opportunity.