Sofia Piticari (Department of Chemistry), SNU Summer 2017

Sofia Piticari at SNUMy IROP at Seoul National University was an experience I will never forget… I promise this is the only cliché sentence used here, since my memories from working at SNU and from living in South Korea for 2 months (!) deserve a far-from-mainstream student perspective.

Completing this project afforded me the opportunity to gain confidence in my practical skills and develop a good work practice, which will prove invaluable during my final year project and in my future career.

However, I believe that most of my development occurred on the personal plan, as a result of the rich intercultural experience. I have to say that my cultural shock started off immediately after landing in Seoul – I shortly had to find out about the Korean etiquette, which is to be quiet on both subways and buses. Therefore, me and my colleague from Imperial struggled with containing our excitement until after the end of the bus trip.

It was amazing to appreciate the infrastructure, the size and the level of city development which all arise from the hard-working culture present here. I was impressed by the amount of hard-work that people are putting in in order to create something useful for the community. During my work in the lab, it was interesting to notice that the general mentality is to quickly create a concrete final product that has a well-defined utility. Needless to say that the great sense of organisation and the cutting edge technology has facilitated the day-to-day activities to a large extent and I was perceiving the life there as being extremely enjoyable at the end of each day, although I was spending a significant amount of time working on my project.

The people I have met have definitely made my experience worthwhile – I was extremely surprised by the respect and the kindness we were shown.  From departmental events organised for us to being invited to traditional Korean meals and even taken on a trip to Jeju island by a lab colleague, the experience was unforgettable and I’m afraid that my gratitude for the people who have been part of it can’t be expressed into words. 

One of my favourite moments was being dressed in a hanbok (traditional Korean costume) in my final IROP week. This gave me a special feeling of becoming accustomed the culture after 2 months that have shaped my personality. I believe that overall, the whole experience has made me a more considerate person and has helped me remove the communication barriers that I was facing (even when talking to my Imperial colleagues from other sides of the world).

Instead of conclusion, I will quote A. Huxley:  “Every ceiling, when reached, becomes a floor, upon which one walks as a matter of course and prescriptive right.” Undertaking a research project abroad helped me to step out of my comfort zone and reach a “ceiling”, but most importantly, I now realise how many other such “ceilings” are above me, taking the form of lessons that are still to be learnt – from travelling … from discovering new cultures… from taking every opportunity! 

"Undertaking a research project abroad has definitely helped me step out of my comfort zone and inspired me to continue learning about other cultures. IROP has fuelled my enthusiasm for a career in research and taught me that hard-work, patience and the willingness to never give up are essential for success in this environment"