A Semester in South Korea
Simon Depiets, EPITA student, talks about his academic exchange in fifth year at Konkuk University…
Why South Korea?
When last spring EPITA offered me to do an academic exchange semester at Konkuk University, Seoul, South Korea, I immediately seized the opportunity. Studying in Asia was my dream, and although I knew only a few aspects of South Korea, the country aroused my curiosity. South Korea is known primarily for its strained relations with the northern half of the peninsula and its chaebol conglomerates: Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia, which represent 25% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Korea is also one of the world’s most-connected country to the Internet and a leader in home automation. The big cities having been built mostly in the 90s, the apartment buildings compete for comfort and high speed broadband is available everywhere.
What is the added benefit of an exchange in South Korea and the training you get there?
The Seoul stock market is one of the most dynamic places in Asia: South Koreans do not have a contribution based pension system, thus they invest heavily in stock markets. The financial market course given by professors working in this area was extremely valuable and also allowed me to make contacts for my future career.
How are the university courses organized?
I could choose from a long list of subjects taught in English to complete my semester: data mining, simulation, game theory, finance and the Korean language. The system differs greatly from that of EPITA: there are lecture based classes and assessment is divided between two sets of exams per quarter and case studies or group projects. Each course module is taught 3 hours per week, but 6 hours are devoted to Korean language, which is just enough in a country where the level of English does not let you get by in everyday life. Joining one of the many sports clubs is a good way to make new contacts with students. Fifty European students also took up the challenge of coming over to the “Land of the Calm Mornings”, as well as more than a thousand citizens of the “Middle Kingdom” (China).
How did you adapt after your arrival there?
After an adjustment period which was not very easy, I avoided the trap of isolation amongst expatriates and I managed to fit in more in the country. Learning the Korean language and meeting a Korean girl helped me a lot and I realized that English is useless in Seoul and it’s even worse in the rest of the country. It is not easy to find an internship in South Korea, but I already know that when I’ll return to Paris to finish my studies at EPITA, I will have only one idea in mind: going back to Asia.
Does this internship offer a cultural experience?
The student residence located in the huge campus of Konkuk University is very comfortable and very practical. The university itself is located next to a busy commercial district with an incredible number of shops and neon lights that illuminate the evenings after work. Once you get used to the bulgogi, Korean barbecue popular amongst westerners and kimchi, a traditional spicy fermented Korean dish which makes Koreans literally addicted, you can venture to more exotic specialties such as beondegi, boiled silkworm pupae. You can then change your mind by going to sing in one of many noraebang, karaoke room. If you like shopping, you can also try to negotiate a discount in the district of Dongdaemun, whose nocturnal malls close at six o’clock in the morning. Finally you can mingle with the student crowd of Hongdae district or go to the more upscale Gangnam. You can go down in one of the many bars or clubs to enjoy soju or makgeolli, the two most popular local alcohols.