Life in Korea is far from the fantasies seen in popular media -- and as with everywhere else, hard work and preparation is needed, says Yukta Tyagi.
“Don’t come here just because you like K-pop and K-dramas. It is not the fantasy land that you see in the shows, and there’s not a Korean 'oppa' walking on the street," she said.
The allure of K-pop and K-dramas has drawn many international students to South Korea, but the realities of studying abroad can be quite different from the idealistic portrayals in the media. Yukta, a senior student at Yonsei University, candidly shared some of her experiences as an Indian international student navigating through the challenges of living and studying alone in Seoul.
Studying in Korea
Yukta's decision to study in Korea was influenced by her father's past work experience in the country. Initially, she had the support of her father, who she was living with in Busan at the time. However, she faced difficulties once she moved to Seoul and started living alone. Adjusting to a new city, managing a rigorous academic schedule of seven classes a semester, and handling finances became formidable tasks.
The process of finding a suitable college in a foreign country was not easy, especially with the limited information she was able to find online. Ultimately, Yukta discovered Underwood International College (UIC), a Yonsei University college where all classes are conducted in English. Yukta enrolled at UIC’s International Students Track, which is exclusively open to non-Koreans with non-Korean parents.
"In my first year, Yonsei University kept updating information about Korea, from simple stuff like special events to laws and regulations, even the visa procedures. So that definitely helped me as well," she acknowledged.
Yukta emphasized the importance of preparing everything in advance, especially documents like high school transcripts and recommendation letters from school. While Yonsei University generally requires all international students to submit their Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) scores in the application process, UIC does not, which helps ease a bit of pressure off many incoming international students. However, Yukta mentioned that many still come prepared with at least some level of Korean fluency in advance.
“While I personally didn’t undertake the (TOPIK) exam, several of my friends had proactively studied Korean beforehand. If you’re currently in high school, begin exploring this option, as it demands a substantial investment of time." She added that Yonsei University offers free courses covering up to beginner level one or two before the semester starts, allowing students to enroll directly in intermediate level courses upon entering the college.
Yukta discovered that studying the Korean language not only afforded insights into Korean culture such as trendy colloquialisms, but also facilitated her adjustment to college life. She found the linguistic similarities between Korean and Indian, which eased her language learning. “Not only are there similarities in grammatical structure, but certain Korean words either sound similar or identical to their Hindi counterparts, like 'eomma' and 'appa,' which means 'mom' and 'dad' in both Korean and Hindi,” she said.
Fashion, YouTube, modeling and more
Yukta's passion for the fashion industry led her to double major in Cultural Design Management and International Studies. Outside of school, she works part-time as a model and content creator. When asked about her plans after college, Yukta voiced her desire to bridge the cultural gap between India and Korea through fashion. She showed a sketch of a dress she designed -- an elegant fusion of a traditional Korean hanbok and Indian sari.
“I think that life in Korea was like a game changer for me, and definitely shaped me into a better person,” she said. “I also don’t think I would’ve challenged myself to get into YouTube or start modeling weren’t it for my time in Korea.”
Hear more about Yukta’s life in Korea as a student from India, as well as her personal experiences dealing with assimilation, mental health and more. Watch the full episode on The Korea Herald YouTube channel.