Thomas Laird, Physics (SNU)
For a period of two months over the summer I participated in a research project conducted in Seoul National University. In it I got to participate in academic research in a manner similar to a graduate student. The importance of this experience for me lies not only in the academic and technical experiences gained, but also in the opportunity I had to witness a cultural sphere completely new to me.
My subject was condensed matter physics and upon arriving at the Physics Department I was given a desk of my own in the research group office. There I would spend my time working on my project, while being amongst graduate and postgraduate researchers. This enabled me to interact with them and, together with my own endeavours, form a better understanding of how research is properly conducted on the graduate level. I view this opportunity as the most valuable academic opportunity the placement had to offer
Throughout my time there I have indeed acquired invaluable skills, such as the art of reading research papers and coding MATLAB. But since these come naturally in time, it is the impression of research as a vocation, together with the connection I made, which I feel are my most important academic gains. I now find myself determined more than ever to pursue a career in academic research in the future, and though I don’t yet see myself as necessarily following my research topic into condensed matter, I still value the knowledge I have gained into the subject and its structure.
During the weekends, I spent my time exploring Seoul as much as I could. The many palaces, markets and museums in the city are a testament to its prominent role in the historical development of South Korea, and of its culture as a whole. Dining in traditional Korean restaurants and participating in the different aspects of nightlife in Seoul, I managed to catch a glimpse of the distinct lifestyle experienced by Korean people. Korean society exhibits a hierarchical structure based on respecting ones seniors. Indeed throughout my stay I had observed many cultural habits, such as exclusively pouring drinks for each other and waiting silently for everyone to finish at the end of a meal, which demonstrated the importance of respect in Korean society. To my surprise, I myself have adapted such habits, and since returning from my placement have even found myself many times demonstrating those habits on my own everyday setting.
In my eyes, the strength of the cultural encounter offered by the placement is its length - the two month period is long enough to form a large pool of cultural experiences. The additional structuring produced by the placement serves to project these experiences in a manner of everydayness not normally encountered in, say, typical holiday trips. I am really grateful for having the opportunity to undergo this research placement, and will forever regard the time spent there immersing myself in the Korean culture as valuable memories and the academic experience as another step into my future.