Students from over 50 different countries study at CNU, so it is common to see people from all around the world on campus. This makes for a more international academic environment. However, how well do we know our foreign peers?
What is Worldwide CNU?
In Worldwide CNU, we interview our foreign colleagues. Through these interviews, we share our interests, feelings, and stories with our peers from overseas.
Our Story for Today — Josh Ragbir and Sondoroo Ganbat
For the 269th edition of The Chungdae Post, we interviewed our two fellow CNU students: Josh Ragbir and Sondoroo Ganbat. In this edition, we will discuss what brought them to CNU and how they feel about Korea.
Nice to meet you! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Josh: Nice to meet you, everyone! I’m Josh from Trinidad and Tobago, and I’m 25 years old. I’m now studying Korean at the International Language Education Center at CNU as a KGSP (Korean Government Scholarship Program) student.
Sondra: Hi! My name is Sondra, and I’m from Mongolia. I just turned 22 years old. I’m a fourth-grade student in the Department of Asia Business International Studies at CNU, and I’m in my final semester.
Why did you choose to study in Korea? Is there any specific reason for choosing Korea among other countries?
Josh: Before studying in Korea, I studied in Singapore and the US, where I made lots of good Korean friends. In 2016, one of them invited me to Korea, so I stayed in Seoul for about a month. It was probably one of the best times of my life. Since then, I became interested in Korea and wanted to become more acclimated to the Korean language and culture. Moreover, I found out that Korea has a lot of fascinating business opportunities. These are the reasons why I came back to Korea to study.
Sondra: Actually, I lived in Korea before. Because of my dad’s job, my family moved to Daejeon in 2012 and lived here for about two years. Since I went to a Korean middle school, I was already familiar with Korean culture, and this is the first reason why I chose to study in Korea. The second reason is that I think Korea is an affordable, well-developed, safe country. As a woman, I especially like the fact that I can party until late at night without anybody attacking or harassing me. Lastly, the tuition fees are relatively cheaper compared to other developed countries.
How long have you been in Korea?
Josh: I have been here since I arrived in February this year; I left quarantine in March.
Sondra: As I mentioned before, I was in Korea from 2012 to 2014, and I came back in 2018 to study, so about six years in total.
What was it like when you first came to Korea and what was your first impression?
Josh: In 2016, when I first came to Korea and stayed at my friend’s house in Seoul, I was completely blown away by the infrastructure. In my opinion, it was better than most cities in the US, especially in Seoul. It was almost ridiculous that I could take the subway for only about 1,000 won. I think it's too cheap compared to what the Seoul Metro offers.
Sondra: I remember it was around August when I first came to Korea. As soon as I landed, my first impression was that it’s really hot here. Compared to the cold weather in Mongolia, Korea’s weather was like “Oh my god, I need to find some air conditioning as soon as possible!” Other than that, it wasn’t very shocking to me. Since I grew up with K-dramas and K-pop, everywhere was just the same and very familiar to me. I thought like “Umm, everything is just the same as K-dramas!”
CNU: What was your favorite K-drama?
Sondra: “Boys Over Flowers” was like my whole childhood. I was in love with Lee Minho!
Is life in Korea the same as you imagined? If not, what are the differences?
Josh: When I was studying philosophy and history in the US, inviting friends to one’s house was quite common. I was invited to about 15 Korean friends’ houses in the US. In Korea, however, no one has ever invited me to their house, and this is the biggest difference, I feel. I think COVID-19 is the main cause.
Sondra: Before I first came to Korea as a middle school student, I had thought my school life in Korea would be terrible, for example, everybody’s going to bully me, and I’m going to eat my lunch alone in the toilet! Contrary to my concerns, however, everybody was super friendly, and I was very impressed. I also want to talk about some stereotypes of Koreans, for example, all Koreans are super nerdy, and all Korean university students study super hard. When I was a freshman, I was quite scared because I kind of believed it. However, I soon found out that Korean students are just the same as me: procrastinating, partying, and staying up all night before exams.
As a foreign student, what are the difficulties of living in Korea, and how do you overcome them, e.g., cultural differences, homesickness, etc.?
Josh: Singapore and the US, where I stayed before coming to Korea, are multicultural societies. And even my home country, Trinidad and Tobago, has five different races and four different religions. Therefore, cultural differences are not a big problem for me, and it hasn’t been that difficult to adapt, except for one thing: university classes. Unlike at CNU, there were more discussions and debates during classes in the US.
Sondra: I have made good friends here and go home every year, so I haven’t experienced homesickness. However, I sometimes have difficulty speaking Korean. Unlike Mongolian and English, Korean is difficult and confusing because it has honorifics. Sometimes, I talk informally to my teacher. Also, the fact that Koreans consider age differences a lot troubles me. Once I called one of my seniors by his name, and he asked me to speak formally. It’s still difficult for me to adapt.
We’re curious about your thoughts on Korea and Korean culture. First of all, have you acclimated yourselves to the climate of Korea? Is it quite different from your hometown?
Josh: Both the spring and the autumn in Korea are very pleasant for me and much better than in my hometown. However, the summer here is surprising and strange because it’s hot and also rainy. Usually, rain cools down the temperature, but it seems like in Korea that the hottest moment is when it rains. Since I like cold temperatures, I’m looking forward to winter.
Sondra: Mongolia has a cold and dry climate, so it doesn't rain much, whereas Korea has a rainy season. Secondly, I think almost every Korean uses super cold air conditioners in summer. When I enter a mall, it feels like passing through a refrigerator. Sometimes I even feel my stomach hurts when I enter from outside. Lastly, compared with Mongolian snow, I think Korean snow is more beautiful and soft, so I love it.
Secondly, what do you think about Korean food culture?
CNU: Josh, what is your favorite restaurant in Daejeon?
Josh: There is a restaurant called Haksa-sikdang in Gungdong, and I was fascinated by the food and the price. You can eat 15 different Korean side dishes for only 5,000 won! I can’t understand how that’s possible. It blows my mind every single time I go there. Yudamgamjatang at Yuseong Oncheon Station is also one of my favorites. There are so many different food offerings at competitive prices. I just don’t understand how they do it given the prices of the raw materials like the ingredients.
Sondra: I love Korean food. But there are two foods that I cannot eat: kongguksu (chilled soy milk noodle soup) and cheonggukjang-jjigae (rich soybean paste stew). My all-time favorite is samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly), and I love it so much that I’ve had samgyeop-dosirak (a packed lunch with grilled pork belly) almost every day. I have many American friends who are kind of picky, but they love samgyeopsal ssam (using lettuce to wrap the meat) too.
Please tell us about the most astonishing Korean culture and the most incomprehensible Korean culture.
Josh: In my hometown and the US, people tend to get angry and aggressive after drinking. In Singapore, they don’t drink a lot, but they still get aggressive. But in Korea, like in Hongdae or Itaewon, literally every single person is cool. I’ve never seen any violence. Moreover, I saw some drunken people lying on the street, but nothing happened to them. That was almost incomprehensible to me.
Sondra: Two years ago, I had an internship at the Daejeon Museum of Art. One day, I went out for lunch with my superiors and they asked me if I wanted to drink soju. Of course, I said yes, and we came back to work after drinking two bottles of soju. In Mongolia, alcoholism is a big problem, and they hate women drinking. Funny, however, being able to drink a lot is close to praise in Korea, and no one cares whether women drink or not. This is the most astonishing Korean culture to me. The most incomprehensible Korean culture to me is noonchi. I can’t understand why workers cannot leave work before their boss leaves, even after 6 p.m.
CNU: It’s quite interesting that you had an internship at the Daejeon Museum of Art. How was it?
Sondra: It was really great! Everybody was super nice. Literally, it was both the first and the best internship I’ve ever experienced. I remember the time the biennale was held during my internship. I worked as a guide and translator for foreign artists.
Do you have a bucket list of things to do before leaving Korea?
Josh: Actually, I don’t think I’ll leave since my goal is to import Trinidad and Tobago products into Korea. In my country, we had had the spiciest pepper in the world for like 100 years until a guy in the US recently grew a spicier pepper. Before leaving Korea, I would like to introduce our peppers and pepper sauce culture into Korea.
Sondra: I think I've done almost everything that I want to do in Korea, but if I have to choose something, I want to go to Jeju Island. I heard Hallasan Mountain is really beautiful, so I really want to reach the top once.
What are you studying at Chungnam National University and what are your goals?
Josh: I’m now studying Korean at CNU. My primary goal is to achieve at least level 3 on the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) since it is required for all KGSP students. But to tell you my ultimate goal, I want to be competent in business and formal settings so that I can attend business meetings and deliver presentations in Korea to restaurant owners and food service operators.
Sondra: In the Department of Asia Business International Studies, I’m studying international business and trade, economics, international law, and political science. Since I’m a senior, I’m now looking for a job. After doing an internship in a public organization, I feel that’s my type of work. I want to work at the Mongolian embassy in Korea. It’s my biggest goal right now. Lately, I’ve been applying for jobs at small private companies.
Aren’t there any inconveniences in studying or living in Korea resulting from the language barrier? How have you overcome the language differences?
Josh: For me, I have a high tolerance for awkwardness, so I don’t generally feel bad if someone doesn’t understand what I say. But I think my personality has naturally changed a bit since I became less willing to use any humor. It’s almost impossible to make an actual joke in Korean.
CNU: Compared to Daejeon, was your life in Seoul more convenient?
Josh: Absolutely! For sure, Seoul was a very convenient place to live. I can’t remember meeting a single person who didn’t understand what I was saying.
Sondra: I think I feel the same as Josh since I also have a high tolerance for awkwardness. I try not to be embarrassed and always try my best to express what I want to say. This is because I think the key to learning a language is to keep trying even though I’m not perfect. Another problem is that since I’ve been in Korea for a long time, I have started to forget my mother tongue! Two years ago, when I went back home, I found my accent sounded weird. My friends asked me, “Why are you speaking like a foreigner?” I was shocked.
CNU: I remember you saying that you studied in a Korean middle school in Daejeon for 2 years. How was your school life?
Sondra: It was extremely hard at first because I didn’t know any Korean. I tried to communicate with my classmates in English, but this didn’t work at all. The hardest thing was pretending: pretending to understand. After hanging around with my classmates, I could finally learn some Korean.
Have you made friends with your fellow students or other international students? How did you get close, e.g., club, language exchange, etc.?
Josh: I have made a lot of international exchange student friends in the dormitory by chance. Near the dormitory, we play badminton together. I have also made some international friends in a club: AFKN (Association of Foreigners and Koreans Network).
Sondra: I’m in the same club as Josh. AFKN was really big before COVID-19, and I have made a lot of friends there.
CNU: Sondra, please could you briefly introduce the club to us?
Sondra: AFKN acts as a bridge between Korean and international students. For international students, it is not easy to make friends on campus, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. And some Korean students want to make foreign friends for language exchange. The club is a link between them. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, there were weekly activities; we used to go bowling, play badminton, and so on.
CNU: Josh, before coming to Korea, you said that you studied at universities in Singapore and the US. Are you still in touch with the friends that you made there?
Josh: Of course! My university in Singapore was very unique. Fifty percent of the students were international students, and we all ate in the same dining hall. Therefore, it was much easier to make friends there compared to CNU.
Are you satisfied with your campus life at Chungnam National University? Compared to your expectations, what are the good and bad things?
Josh: I’m really satisfied with my campus life in Gungdong since there are lots of amazing places near the campus. What I'm slightly unsatisfied with is that I think CNU needs more international activities or programs like field trips. Moreover, I think the campus isn’t well organized for international students like me.
Sondra: My campus life is way better than I expected. Since I started to express myself in Korean, my life has become independent: I can live as I want. Sadly, COVID-19 is messing everything up. I loved to go to real classrooms, but now my classes are held via Zoom. I especially loved Makdong (the picnic area in front of the library), too. That has been the best part of my campus life. I hope COVID-19 will end soon.
What is the biggest difference between college life in your home country and Korea? Please briefly introduce the campus life and culture in your home country.
Josh: Since I’ve never been to a college in my home country, let me compare it with my university in the US. In the US, everything is centered on house parties, football, and basketball. Also, people definitely spend less time in nature. I’ve spent more time hiking in Korea. Last but not least, I think people in the US have lower levels of stress. They are not very worried about their grades or future.
Sondra: I also haven't been to a college in Mongolia, but I have friends who have. I think the biggest difference is that in Mongolia there aren’t really any campuses. Instead, there are some college buildings on some streets. Moreover, most students live in their homes in the capital city, and only students from the countryside live in dormitories.
CNU: As international students, what are the pros of living abroad?
Josh & Sondra: Living abroad clearly opens your eyes and changes your perspectives.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, events such as university festivals and sports competitions have been canceled and classes are not being conducted smoothly. Once the pandemic is over, is there anything that you would like to do on campus?
Josh: Hang out in Makdong! I’m looking forward to it!
Sondra: Same as Josh! I remember the day I spent in Makdong during the cherry blossom season. It was so much fun, festive, and beautiful.
CNU: Sondra, do you remember the university festivals before COVID-19? How were they?
Sondra: I loved them! The food trucks and the cocktails were awesome. I also remember the festival held in the College of Economics and Management. It was great, too.
Reflecting on your life in Korea, would you recommend that your friends study abroad in Korea (or at Chungnam National University)?
Josh: Definitely! For two main reasons: first of all, Korea has lots of things to see, taste, and enjoy. Secondly, I think that Korea is the most accessible compared to other countries.
Sondra: I'm of the same mind as Josh. To add one more thing, I think Korean universities offer a good balance between campus life and academic life in general.
Lastly, is there anything that you want to say to CNU and our readers?
Josh: It seems like COVID-19 is ending! I hope to see the real CNU after COVID-19, and wish you all have a good time! 화이팅!
Sondra: Please take care and stay safe everyone! Be sure to wear a mask and get vaccinated! Hope to see you soon in good health after COVID-19!
By Kim Sejung, Noh Yujin firstname.lastname@example.org
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