In the following I will provide some details about what I prepared and organized before coming to South Korea. I think this information might be particularly useful for students who also want to do an exchange semester. Some of the steps might be very specific for an exchange semester in South Korea but I think most of them can be applied to exchange semesters in general.
After making the decision to study one semester abroad and choosing a country, it is beneficial to check if your home university has collaborations with universities in the chosen country. Usually, if they do, the tuition will be waived and the home universities already have some useful information and experience reports about the exchange. Next, a university for which to apply has to be selected. I chose Sungkyunkwan University because it offered a lot of computer science courses in English and it was also close to Seoul.
The application usually consists of a letter of motivation, your transcripts and CV. Sometimes also recommendation letters and proof of language skills are required. I had to submit the final application to the International Office of my university. It might also make sense to list additional universities as second and third choice.
After getting the letter of acceptance, it is time to look and apply for scholarships. Living in Seoul can be quite expensive so it’s good to get at least small financial support. I applied for the PROMOS scholarship and was lucky enough to get selected for it. But there are many other scholarships out there.
Immigration, Visa and Paperwork
For me it took several weeks until I received the official letter of admission from Sungkyunkwan University. This letter is one of the crucial documents when applying for the student Visa. Other required documents are listed on the website of the South Korean embassy in Germany. It is also required to fill out a form with general personal information. The only thing that was confusing for me in this form was that I should state my Korean address. However, I didn’t have a accommodation at this time and after some (longer) research I found out that I can fill it out with “Undecided”.
All of the documents must be personally brought to one of the embassies in Germany. The entire process in the embassy took only ten minutes. In addition to all the documents, it is also required to provide an stamped envelope that can be send as registered mail (“Einschreiben”). This envelope is used to send back the passport which will then contain the issued Visa. In my case, it took only three days until I had my passport back.
Travel and Accommodation
Right after receiving my Visa, I booked a flight from Germany to Incheon International Airport. I decided to fly with Lufthansa and bought a round-trip ticket for around 770€. First, I wanted to buy a one-way ticket, however these were more than 3 times as expensive.
At some point, the International Office of Sungkyunkwan University did send a notice about different accommodation options, like the dormitory, AirBnb or nearby apartments. I decided to move into the dormitory, although it was the most restrictive option. I will go into detail about the dormitory life in a future post. But, it was the simplest option in terms of organization. Another advantage of the dormitory is, that there is a cafeteria that provides three to four meals each day, also on the weekends. So I don’t have to cook. I had to transfer the entire rent for the dormitory all at once. Unfortunately, it was not possible to transfer the money through online banking instead I had to go to a branch of a bank and had to fill out a very long form.
The dormitory also required all students to submit a tuberculosis test. I went to the health office (“Gesundheitsamt”) for a skin test. The result was in German only but the dormitory did not complain about my “unofficial” English translation.
Health and Insurances
Sungkyunkwan University requires all exchange students to have a foreign health insurance. Most travel health insurances are only valid for 56 days, so I bought my foreign health insurance from HanseMerkur that is specifically for students who study some time abroad. I also bought a liability insurance there.
Even before submitting my application for the exchange semester, I checked the recommended vaccinations on the webpage of “Centrum für Reisemedizin”. Some vaccinations need to be refreshed after several months so it is good to start getting them early. It was quite hard for me to find a doctor that was willing to give me these vaccinations. The health office didn’t have any free appointments left. Fortunately, after many calls I finally found a doctor in reasonable proximity who was specialized in tropical medicine and able to give me these vaccinations over the course of several months. My German health insurance did fully refund all of the costs afterwards.
Other things to organize
The things previously mentioned are probably the most important ones. Other things that I also organized are listed in the following.
- Credit cards: I think it is wise to have at least two different credit cards. In South Korea almost every store accepts credit cards, some even accept debit cards.
- Passport photos: For various documents during the exchange semester passport photos are required. It might be handy to already have them.
- SIM card: It is useful to have a Korean phone number and maybe even some kind of internet package. Although there are many free WiFi’s in Seoul, they are not always really stable and once you get out of the city you still might want to have some internet. I chose EG Sim, because the prices were no too high and the SIM card was already delivered in Germany.
- Course signup: A few weeks before going to South Korea we had to signup for our courses. The tool for managing courses only worked in Internet Explorer and installed at least two plugins that were only described in Korean. For this reason I set up a Windows VM. Before the course signup I received a mail describing how to actually enroll in the courses accompanied with a warning that usually after a few minutes all courses are full and that it is virtually impossible to sign up for all desired courses. Therefore, at the day of the course sign up I waited until exactly 2 AM and clicked “Register”. I was able to register all of the courses I wanted. I know that most of the exchange students could only register for one course and then had try the offline course sign up after the semester started.
- Learning Agreement: Once all courses are settled a learning agreement has to be filled out. This learning agreement is usually mandatory if credits should be transferred and also for some scholarships. The completed learning agreement needs to be signed by the head of the faculty’s examination board and some responsible person at the host university.
- Sublet or terminate contract of German accommodation
- Copy of important documents: Copies of important documents, like passport or the Visa.
- Register online for “Elefand”: Germans who stay for a while abroad can register online for Elefand (Elektronische Erfassung von Deutschen im Ausland). After the registration they will be notified by the embassy in the host country in case of natural disasters, outbreak of war or other problems.
- Contact persons: Coming to an unfamiliar country can be hard especially at the beginning. It is helpful to already have some contacts who might be able to help in case of problems. Sungkyunkwan University automatically assigns a Korean buddy to each exchange students. My buddy contacted me a few days before the semester started and was very friendly.
- Learn the language: All people in the host country highly appreciate it if you can at least say “Hello”, “Thank you” or “Sorry” in their native language.
- Packing list: Before packing it is useful to have a list of all the stuff to be packed. This list is also helpful at the end of the exchange semester to make sure that important belongings might not be forgotten.
In retrospective it might seem easy and straight-forward but at the time there were so many things I had to consider and I was never quite sure if I missed something. There were so many offices and other places I had to go in order to get all the documents etc. that I needed. I hope that this post makes this process a little easier for future exchange students.