The pandemic has had an immediate and acute impact on American exchange programs and students. However, as the United States grapples with vaccination and variants, higher education institutions are anticipating a recovery in international exchange programs. Despite the circumstances, many Ewha students went overseas to broaden their views. Ewha Voice interviewed two Ewha students on exchange, one at Temple University and the other at the University of Iowa, who shared their daily lives as exchange students in America amid the pandemic.
Start your adventure by discovering the world over the border
Jeong You-hyun, a junior in the Department of English Language & Literature, is an exchange student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jeong started her campus life in the United States on Aug. 15 and is planning to stay until Dec. 23.
Wishing to study abroad as an exchange student since entering Ewha, Jeong planned to go abroad in her sixth semester after finishing five semesters working as a reporter at Ewha Voice. Due to the pandemic, Jeong thought about postponing the exchange, but the expansion of face-to-face classes at universities in the United States played a decisive role in carrying out her plans.
“Just being able to attend classes in America with free discussions and open debates seemed like a meaningful opportunity,” Jeong said. “Among the many exchange schools in America, I chose Temple University for its location. The campus is very close to Center City, downtown Philadelphia. Going to a school in the city seemed attractive to me.”
Since it was difficult to get vaccinated in Korea before her departure, Jeong received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 18 after arriving in the United States and her second on Sept. 8.
The biggest difference Jeong noticed between Korea and the United States was the proportion of people wearing masks outdoors. Unlike Korea, where nearly everybody wears a mask both indoors and outdoors, Jeong replied that only about 20 percent of people there wear masks outdoors.
However, Jeong emphasized that the school is trying its best to protect the students returning to campus. The school is strictly advising both professors and students to wear masks in classrooms. Under the slogan “Mask Up Temple,” the students are encouraging one another to wear masks and stay safe.
Jeong revealed that her main purpose of studying abroad was to experience the culture of an English- speaking country in person. She wanted to learn more words and expressions native English speakers use daily. Simply put, she wished her speaking skills to be more like those of a native speaker.
Jeong is currently taking five classes: Shakespeare in the Movies, Introduction to Marketing, Advertising and Globalization, Hatha Yoga, and Tennis. All five are conducted face-to-face.
“Shakespeare in the Movies is a course that I am planning to transfer credit for the course Shakespeare at Ewha,” Jeong said. “While the class at Ewha only aims to study the works of Shakespeare, the course I am taking at Temple studies Shakespeare’s works along with the comparative analysis of some films that adapted and reinterpreted them.”
Since Jeong is living in Temple Towers, the school’s on-campus dormitory, with six other suitemates, she goes out every weekend with friends from America, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia living in the same dormitory building.
Jeong and her friends enjoy visiting Center City, which is only a 10-minute subway or bus ride from campus. Since Philadelphia is close to New York and Washington, D.C., she is also thinking of visiting other cities on her free weekends.
For Ewha students planning to attend exchange programs in Temple University, Jeong recommended them to spend time at Beury Beach, Charles Library, and Independence Blue Cross Recreation Center, and participate in the Peer2Peer program. Furthermore, she emphasized that experiencing the food trucks all over campus should be a mandatory tour course for exchange students.
“If someone asks me to describe what it is like being an exchange student in America, this would be my answer: adventure,” Jeong said. “It definitely is not easy considering the large amount of work needed before and after entering the United States. However, a new, enjoyable, and exciting life is waiting for you right behind that.”
Find what works best for you and make the most of it
Jeon Hye-ryeong, also a junior in the Department of English Language & Literature, is studying abroad as an exchange student at the University of Iowa (UI). She has been in the United States since July 27, a couple of weeks before school started, and is planning to stay for one semester.
Her decision to study in the United States was due to the higher vaccination rate amongst the people there compared to other countries. Although the pandemic was inevitably the biggest factor in choosing which country to study in, selecting which university to attend was all about her preferences.
The first thing Jeon looked for in a university was a high ratio of native speakers to Koreans, wanting to interact with the locals using English as much as she could. Her research pointed to UI, which consists mostly of local students, so it seemed perfect for her.
The second reason for Jeon’s choice was that the environment of UI allowed her to feel relaxed and focus on her studies. Despite there being numerous prestigious universities in both the west and east coast regions of America, they seemed quite crowded and hectic to her.
“When choosing exchange schools, it is vital that you consider what you would like to achieve through the school, rather than pick the ones that everyone else favors,” Jeon advised.
As most concerns about student exchange programs are caused by the pandemic, Jeon noted that UI provided free vaccines. She had her first dose shortly after her arrival and the second dose at the beginning of September.
Although UI strongly recommends wearing masks indoors, she says it is uncommon to find people who do on campus.
“I was utterly shocked when no one was wearing masks during a very crowded orientation program called On Iowa!” She said, “I assume it is because the majority of the students are fully vaccinated.”
Jeon is currently taking four classes: English Words, Understanding American Cultures, ESL Writing and ESL Listening Skills. While there are still classes held online, all the ones Jeon signed up for are face-to-face classes.
It came as another shock to Jeon how the classes were conducted. Classes consisted of debates and discussions among the students and professors, which is rarely seen in Korea.
Jeon tries her best to participate in as many school events as possible and luckily, she was able to make friends through orientation programs. As she is staying at the school dormitory, she also has become close with her roommate.
“We went to places near school together like the Asian market and boba tea cafes,” she said “I also got to visit my friends’ dorms and hang out there. I like working out and since my roommate is majoring in Sport and Recreation Management, she and I like to go to the gym after class.”
In her free time, Jeon films her daily life and posts self-edited videos on her YouTube channel. She started posting videos before going abroad, and is consistently uploading videos about her days at UI.
“I think it is safe to say that I started my YouTube channel to document my experiences during my student exchange program period at UI,” she said. “In fact, I am currently editing a video for my next upload.”
As UI is an exchange school available for other Ewha students, Jeon gave recommendations about the school’s facilities and activities.
“The Recreation & Wellness Center is the best,” she said “It is a huge three- story fitness center that holds many classes for free where people can learn Zumba, Yoga, Pilates and more. There are also various facilities for rock climbing, swimming and weight training.”
Moreover, she recommended going to many campus sporting events like football games. She is sure students will have many exciting new experiences that they cannot have in Korea by attending these events.