Where are you studying?
Busan, South Korea
Third-year international relations and law student
Busan, South Korea
'Karaoke is extremely popular here'
‘Korean barbecue!’ Anton immediately says when we ask him about his favourite food. ‘It’s delicious and fun. You sit around a charcoal griddle and eat your meat in a wrap with lettuce, bean sprouts, and kimchi. And then there are like, ten side dishes that you get unlimited refills on. It costs approximately 7.50 euro.’ Coffee is available absolutely everywhere in Busan: ‘I often have an Iced Americano, a cup of coffee with cold water and ice. It’s only one euro.’ Beer is slightly more expensive: ‘A large bottle is 2.40 euro, but the beer is pretty sweet. They often mix it with soju, a drink made from rice, or potatoes. It’s perfectly palatable.’
‘To be honest, Busan was my second choice. I wanted to go to Paris, because of the university there, but I wasn’t accepted. So I decided to go far away, to a whole different continent. It felt pretty surrealistic to hear I was going to Busan. A few months in Asia! I immediately downloaded an app to try and learn some of the language. Although all I can do is buy things in shops and order a taxi, haha!’
How are you liking the city?
‘It’s South Korea’s second-largest city, several times larger than Amsterdam. It’s a harbour town, fairly industrial. In South Korean films, gangsters are always from Busan, but I can’t say I feel unsafe here. On the contrary! I live on campus and share a room with a guy from Russia. I pay 250 euros a month, and it includes food. We don’t have a kitchen, but a large cafeteria.’
That sounds really fancy. You never have to cook!
‘I actually really miss it. I would give anything just to be able to fry an egg. And the cafeteria food is often quite bad. They serve rice with kimchi, a fermented cabbage, every day. You get pretty sick of it when you have to order it three times a day. Fortunately I also get to cook with friends who live off campus.’
Do you mainly hang out with international students, or with South Koreans?
‘We’ve formed kind of a small family; some are from the RUG, but there are a few Koreans as well. We got them from all over the place; some we met during nights out on the town. Koreans sure know how to drink, by the way! The alcohol consumption rate is one of the highest in the world. And yes, karaoke is extremely popular here. Everyone here can sing really well. They’ll often have a short karaoke session in between classes.’
What classes are you taking?
‘Korean language classes, Korean foreign politics, Asian philosophy, and drawing. Whether I’m any good at the latter? My teacher says everyone can make art, haha. The class on Korean foreign politics is interesting because of North Korea, of course. I wasn’t worried about anything coming here. There is no rational way either country will be carrying out an attack; it would be complete suicide. South Koreans are fairly blasé about it. This continent has been split in two for sixty years, and they’ve been making threats for just as long.’
How does the quality of education compare to that at the RUG?
‘The classes are much smaller, there are no more than twenty people in the room. It’s also much less work; I didn’t need to buy any books. I do have to write some essays and give a few presentations. In general, the educational culture is very traditional: South Koreans are told as early as high school that they have to work really hard. They bring this attitude to the university as well. Some people are in the library until four in the morning.’
Would you like to stay longer?
‘I wouldn’t want to live here permanently, but a year might be nice. I’d want to see the rest of the country, though. The semester ends in December, and I’m going to do some travelling around the region after that. I won’t be spending Christmas with my family, that’s a shame. But my boyfriend will come over for New Year’s. All in all, I’m really happy that I spent my Erasmus outside of Europe. I’d recommend anyone to spend some time in a different kind of culture. If you go into it with an open mind, you can make friends for life.’