When I was 19 I set off to South Korea on my own. I planned to spend six weeks at the Sogang University Summer Immersion program in Seoul. It was here, in Korea, that my love of the Korean language and Korean culture broadened into a complete love of travel in general. I loved almost everything about Seoul, and it was through Sogang University Summer Immersion program (whew! That’s a mouthful) that I was able to experience it. The program is more effective, cheaper, and more fun than most of the other options!
What Is It?
The Sogang University Summer Immersion program is currently a 4 week intensive Korean course. They also have pure study abroad options which are not Korean immersive if you’re more interested in traditional schooling. You can earn 6 credits through this program. It is five days a week, and is focused on conversational Korean. The reason this is a key point is that most comparable programs focus more on traditional grammar than actually, you know…helping you speak. It also includes culture classes nearly every single day! You get Korean cooking classes, plays, museums, Kpop dancing classes, traditional dance, baseball games, Tae Kwon Do…It’s crazy how much of a crash course this was in Korean culture all while in Korea!
Why Did I Go and What Did It Cost?
I had been researching Korea since I was 14 – and I started saving for this future trip around then too! I loved pretty much everything about Korean culture, which I’ll detail in another post soon 🙂 However, when it came time for me to study abroad I realized that all of the programs were $6000+, and did not include airfare. I was crushed. My dream of travel nearly ended before it began, but as I’ve now learned one should never let monetary issues become too big of a hurdle for travel.
Birdie found the Sogang University Summer Immersion Program. Including the housing, food, and textbooks the program costs around $2500, not including the airfare. This was soooo much more manageable! And it, frankly, included more. For more tips on how to travel while in school check out my post!
Housing and Food
I stayed in the Bellarmino dorm, which is the cheaper dorm. You will be with 3 other roommates. You can upgrade to the 2-person dorms in the other building but I personally preferred Bellarmino. The other dorm’s air-conditioning wasn’t working yet and I wanted to meet like-minded students. Each dorm has its own shared bathroom between roommates and bunkbeds.
One thing to be aware of is the tradition of locking the building doors from around midnight to 5AM. This is a potential downside of Bellarmino, but I never sleep anyways so whatever. The other dormitory gives you pass cards and if you come in late more than a certain number of times something supposedly happens… but that number of times is apparently near impossible to reach within the span of your time there. For Bellarmino, unless a friendly TA or the security guard happen to be passing by, you will not be able to get back in. As seeing the nightlife of Seoul is one of the best ways to engage with the culture, this can be fairly annoying. However, there is tons to keep you entertained and this is a real city that never sleeps!
Food was probably the only real disappointment about this program. It turns out that cafeteria food, even in another country, is still cafeteria food. It’s okay, but I would personally budget a lot more for food because everything everywhere else is delicious. The convenience store man next to the dorms must have been very happy to have me and my roommates because we ate Kimbap (a delicious mix of rice, seaweed, and generally a meat center) practically everyday.
As previously mentioned, the culture classes involve a lot of stuff at no additional cost. I really recommend attending these classes as I got a ton out of them. Perhaps my favorite was the Nanta performance, which needs no translations and is pretty hilarious.
One of the downsides of the program (or any language immersion program) is that you are in the classroom for a lot of the time. As I was there just to learn the language and not to earn credit, I skipped test days and anything I wasn’t particularly thrilled about. If you’re not there for credit I would recommend this, or at least add another week to the beginning and end of your stay to see everything.
How to Get There
There are a ton of ways to get to the school but I really recommend just taking a taxi if you aren’t familiar with public transport. At the airport I would still pick up a T-Money card (sort of like a British Oyster card for those familiar) for the subway system, which is easy and inexpensive. I’m normally a huge proponent of public transport but it was pretty confusing and Google Maps does not work in Korea and I get lost easily. The bus system was supposed to drop us off at Sinchon…but it turns out there are about 20 stops with the word “Sinchon” in them.
The subway is much easier to navigate but I still personally would take a taxi, even now. Getting back to the airport I took the subway and it was easy and fine – just make sure you have enough for the fare on your card or you’ll face really long lines to pay for it at the airport.
Where It Is
Sogang is in Sinchon, which is kind-of a university part of Seoul. There’s a ton to do in Sinchon for shopping and eating but Hongdae is right next door and that’s where it’s all happening. Amazing K-BBQs, buskers (amateur performers), and nightlife, it’s all within walking distance of the university.
I will have a future post on how I wish to re-visit Korea knowing what I do now (2019 UPDATE: I have now moved to Korea to teach English! Check out my post on Why Teach English in Korea). This program does have the option for a 2 day class trip to a town in the countryside, but I found it a bit overpriced. However, it is an easy way to see more of Korea. I spent my 2 days reading books and listening to the rain, and I can’t honestly say I regret it. Even then, I knew I’d come back again!
I truly think this is one of the best ways to learn Korean and it’s honestly probably cheaper than the average university tuition in the US to learn it! Even the price just to stay for a month is about $83 a day – which isn’t cheap, but it was in relative comfort and I was getting a lot of excursions and Korean instruction. You actually get a 20% discount on tuition if you’ve gone to the program before, which is pretty amazing. Then, your full cost would be about $2100. I’ve fully considered doing it again due to this, but I think I can manage a long trip much cheaper.
I‘ll have a post about how Korea could be done much cheaper if one isn’t learning Korean. Let me know if you guys have been!