TLU blog

Exploring the Heart of South Korea: Djahane’s Exchange Journey

Embarking on an exchange journey opens doors to new cultures and experiences. This article's main character Djahane is a third year Liberal Arts in Humanities student from France and is currently studying at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea for an exchange year. We asked her to walk us through the exchange experience and share her insights into navigating the rich culture, academic and overall life in South Korea.

Djahane Ambrine Zaïr

Why should you choose Korea as a destination?

Although my specialties are Anthropology and Cultural Analysis, I’m also very interested in Asian studies (I have been studying Korean since 2019 and I had friends in Korea prior to coming here), which is why I decided to do my exchange in South Korea. However, the first thing I can tell you is that you don’t need to be into Korean culture to come here. I met quite a lot of students who came here with no knowledge of the language or the culture simply because they wanted to experience living in a different culture, and they managed fine. Actually, I was surprised to notice that the majority of exchange students don’t speak Korean at all, or only very little. That being said, having some basic knowledge and Korean language skills can most definitely make your exchange more interesting. Speaking Korean will make your daily life easier and it will also give you a lot more opportunities to make local friends. Similarly, knowing a bit about Korean culture will also make your stay more interesting (though don’t believe that life here is like in K-dramas, it’s not). So I would recommend Seoul as a study destination both for people who already have some knowledge and interest in Korea, but also for those who don’t. 

Culture shock and adapting to life here

Even if you know a lot about Korea, you’ll still get a bit of a culture shock after arriving, and the first few weeks may even be difficult. My first month here, although still fun, was also very hard, especially because I was not used to the humid summer they have here. I even considered cutting my exchange short or going home when I got sick during the first weeks. If that happens to you too, I’ll give you the same advice my friends who went on exchange gave me: don’t give up! It is so worth it to hold on and make it through the adaptation period because once you’re settled in, it’s so much fun!

Everyday life in Korea

Weather wise, in the summer it’s so hot and humid which I really disliked, and in winter it can get a bit cold but considering we study in Estonia, it won’t faze any students coming from TLU. People wise, it’s crowded, to give you perspective there was a crowd of 1 million people at the Yeouido fireworks festival, so if you want to come here please make sure you can brace yourself against crowds. Even if you do avoid big events like the festival, you’ll definitely end up on public transportation during rush hour a couple of times and it’s nothing like Tallinn.

Food wise, Korean food is very good (but can be quite spicy and uses a lot of meat and fish), but I would recommend to not waste your time on trying out Western food here because they usually do it Korean style (eg: french fries with sugar on top or sweet garlic bread) which isn’t the same taste that we have in Europe. You might end up missing salty food sometimes, but fear not, Seoul is huge and full of restaurants and cafés to explore, so I’m sure you’ll find a couple of favourite spots in no time. A bit of a warning on the Seoul café scene (and for restaurants too) though, a lot of places look nice and aesthetically pleasing, but their food is disappointing so don’t be fooled by pretty pictures if you want to go café hoping for the actual food they serve.


Another point is safety: Seoul is very safe, I feel safe going home alone at night in a way I wouldn’t back home in France, and people here will casually leave their phone or laptop on the table without worrying about someone stealing their things. It’s a bit confusing to see at first as an European because we could never do this back home, but here it’s fine so don’t be too surprised. Money-wise, while people do pay by card almost everywhere, you might need some cash because a lot of foreign cards just don’t work here. Even mine, that I had switched to international before coming here, only works about 20% of the time, so my life got a lot easier once I got my local card. Lastly, you might hear people say that it’s cheaper to eat out than to regularly do grocery shopping, and that’s pretty much true. Personally I only go grocery shopping once a month and I go to one of the big Homeplus because it’s similar to the big supermarkets we have back in Europe, and if you want some European brands for food, you’ll have more chances to find it there.

People are generally friendly here, though you might get stared at sometimes, especially from older people or curious kids. I’d say that the staring really depends on individuals though because I personally barely feel it or haven’t noticed it much, but I have friends who said they’re stared at constantly. A fun fact is if you like wearing sunglasses that may attract attention because people surprisingly don’t wear them a lot here even when it’s sunny. No one will comment on it, but you’ll stand out a bit. Besides that, I’d say it’s not that hard to blend in as long as you follow the rules (eg: don’t use the seats for pregnant women and old people on public transport).

University life

Class registration is extremely competitive here, but don’t panic if you don’t get the classes you wanted, because there is an add-drop period during the first week of the semester, and a lot of people switch classes during that time. Some classes are meant especially for foreign students, or at least give them priority (some are in English and others in Korean), so you can try to take advantage of these classes to learn about Korea since they’re usually classes about the culture of the country (they too are quite competitive for registration though). I didn’t find my classes particularly hard, and we do technically have a heavier workload back at TLU since a class here is 3 credits, and 3 Korean credits = 5 ECT. One thing to note though is that unlike at TLU, attendance is mandatory, so if you skip too many classes it will affect your grade and can even make you fail the class (at Kyung Hee it’s 10 classes missed for a fail). 

Don’t be put off if Korean students don’t talk to you! Most won’t because they’ll think you don’t speak Korean and they themselves aren’t very confident about their English, so they won’t approach you. My tip if you want to make local friends is to take the first step, or try to join a language exchange at your university if there is one. Speaking Korean will be a big help in making friends, and if you come here to improve your Korean language skills, it will definitely work! 

Overall I very much recommend coming to Seoul for an exchange, especially if you’re already into Korean culture because then you get to experience what life is like here for yourself and you have a lot of opportunities to improve your language skills (even without language classes). I’ll continue to post on Instagram (@djahane__) about my adventures in Seoul during the spring semester if you’re curious about what life as an exchange student looks like. You’re also welcome to contact me via email at if you have any questions about doing an exchange in Korea (and in particular in Seoul). 

Djahane Ambrine Zaïr

More information on how to go for exchange studies can be found