The decision to study abroad in Korea initially started as a joke. I was talking to my older brother about university and the fact that I had no idea what to study, much less where, when he at one point jokingly said “tell mom you’re going to Korea, she’s gonna have a heart attack”. We shared a nice laugh over that one, but it was too late to go back. As irreversible as protein denaturation, the seed was planted. In the privacy of my room, far away from any judgemental eyes and disbelieving laughs, I googled “best universities in Korea”, because you gotta aim high, right?
What you should know is that the three most esteemed universities in Korea are the so-called SKY universities: Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, practically impossible the get into as a domestic student. But I was just doing my jolly little research and would not let such trivial details stop me. I soon found myself in the 53-tabs-open-and-counting state I am sure many of you can relate to. I was reading the most irrelevant information about renovated libraries and watching Mamma Mia covers performed by students. I even went as far as to email two of the universities about their English proficiency requirements, because they requested TOEFL or iELTS on their websites, while I had successfully passed the Certificate of Proficiency in English and was not excited at the prospect of having to take (and pay for!) another exam. Mind you, that was half a year before the application period even started. I got the green light from Korea University, and so I decided on where I wanted to study before knowing which department I would be applying to. I just had to be extra like that.
Luckily for me, Korea Univrsity has a wide variety of quality programs listed on their website. So I started the process of elimination. Alright, medicine? No. History? A definite no. Languages? Love them, but not a fan of literary analysis. Bussiness? Could be fun, but I can’t see myself being passionate about it. Architecture? I don’t know anything about it. Chemistry? I cried over my Internal Assessment, maybe not. Wait a second. Architecture? I mean, I don’t know anything about it, but it sounds like something I might enjoy learning about. Click. Of couse. The entire course catalogue is in Korean. Much like everything else on here. The photos look cool though. New tab. Architecture. No, wait. Architectural drawing. Scratch that. How to draw like an architect. Cue a couple of random cube sketches in my notebooks and the excitement upon seeing “for architects” on my markers.
Deciding that architecture is something I want to pursue even if I end up studying in my home country, I enrolled into a preparatory course for the entrance exam and I absolutely loved it. With each passing lesson I was more convinced that this is what I want to study and more determined to suceed in this field. Little did I know that choosing my major was not the difficult part.
I will spare you the long and boring story of the many documents and authentications I had to get from my teachers, the headmaster, the IB coordinator at our school and the district court. But do not be fooled, there is a lot of fine print and the application guide, though concise, includes a lot of important information, not necessarily all in the same place. For someone who had zero previous experience, the whole process was stressful, to say the least. Let me just mention two points that I found surprising. Firstly, applying to Korea is much more expensive than I initially thought. Excluding the application fee that you have to pay to the university, the costs of official translations, Apostille stamps on your documents and the shipping of documents via postal service quite quickly add up to more than you anticipated. Secondly, despite having started with my application as soon as possible, I was cutting it close with the deadline. I answered the self-introduction and study plan questions before the start of the application period and had most of my documents ready for submission and yet one month was barely enough to struggle through all the bureaucracy.
And then comes that moment when you think you’re done and finished and through with it and a missed call from a number with a Korean country code hits you like a ton of bricks on the morning of the last day before the document submission deadline. And, trust me on this, no matter how many friends reassure you that it’s probably not a big deal, the only thing going through your mind is how much money and time and energy you’ve spent on this one application and how it was all for nothing. And then you call back and no one answers, because oh yeah they are seven hours ahead, they’re probably having their family dinner as you’re panicking. In an attempt not to feel useless you send them an email, but in reality there is nothing for you to do except wait. Irony seems to be the theme as you find out that they were calling you for your TOEFL scores, you know, the very reason you applied to their university.
With the issue resolved and my heartbeat returning back to normal, the next step was a painful waiting game. Two months of being powerless and knowing your fate is being decided while also trying to focus on your final exams. And so I waited. And waited. And the closer it got, the more nervous I grew. I tried everything to boost my self confidence, from starting to say when I am accepted to Korea University to convincing myself that it was their loss if they reject me. I even put stickers in my agenda on the important dates and we know a sticker is done once you use it. But nothing worked in eliminating the fear of having overestimated myself and the possibility of being gravely disappointed. That’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t really want to spread the news of having applied. Dealing with rejection is hard on its own, I did not want to have to explain the situation to others.
And then, the dreadful day came. I had been counting down the weeks, days, hours. You name it, I’ve done it. I was shaking, my fingers were cold and my stomach hurt from all the worrying. My best friend and I were on a summer trip in Beauvais and just when I pulled out my laptop a couple of minutes to ten it started to rain. We ran into the nearest tourist office, I used up half of my mobile data to open the website and find the link. Admission results for 2019 Int’l students. Click. Loading. Are you kidding me? Still loading. Finally. More instructions. Another link for international students. Application number? Where is that again? Right, I sent an email to my dad with all the documents. Argh, where are you? More loading. My fault, I should have prepared myself better. Date of birth. Alright, I think I know that one. Or not. YYYYMMDD. Got it. Name. Is that in Korean or as it is on my passport? Or the way I’d write it in English? Let’s try the English one, that one’s the most common. Loading. A message in Korean. Great. Thank you, Sergey Brin, for Google Translate. Okay, so not the English version. Let’s try my actual name. More loading. Same message. I think I’m getting a gastric ulcer. I don’t know the Korean alphabet on the computer so I text myself my Korean name over Messenger and copy paste it into the box. If this doesn’t work I’m 99% sure I’ll cry. A different page. In Korean. Of course. Now is really not the moment. I’m an international student for a reason. I guess I’ll just translate the whole page. Copy. Paste. Moment of truth.
My eyes are searching the translation for the answer. Application number, name, freshman, Department of Architecture, my birthday and then – pass. I exhale and I can’t believe I’m seeing this right. I check with my best friend on my left and she’s grinning. I copy the phrase again. Pass. Pass. A million times pass. Different dictionary. Pass. Success. Qualification. Eligibility. Pass. It still feels like a dream. My cheeks hurt from smiling, I’m blushing, eyes wide and (not to sound cliché) but I actually pinch myself. I am relieved and proud and so happy I can barely form sentences. They chose me. I guess I better get used to barely understanding websites and signs and people. And I have a lot of studying to do. Because pass. I check again, just to make sure I’m not misreading anything but it’s true. Pass. Pass. Pass. For me. Everything is in Korean but even Google Translate can get the “Admission notice” right. I text my brothers and by the time I have my mom on the phone we’re both crying.
When I tell one of my friends, she comments: “I can’t wait to read your blog now ;)”. I almost forgot I said I’d start writing a blog if I’m accepted. Partly because I’ve recently written a bit and enjoyed it and partly because I was looking for this kind of content when I was applying, but couldn’t find it anywhere. So here we are.