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Axelle mon expat a seoul
My Expat' in Séoul

Axelle, Master in Management student on expatriation in Seoul

Can you explain your career path?

I am currently in my fourth year. I chose the Expertise Track and the Supply Chain specialisation. 

In the first year, I was a volunteer with "EM Matelot", an association that organises sailing weekends in Le Havre. In the second year, I spent a semester in the United States near Seattle, which allowed me to make good progress in English.  

In my third year, I went to Oxford campus where I was president of the sports office. 

This year, I am not involved in community life because I am an expatriate in Seoul. The university where I am is called Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. EM Normandie has 4 universities in the country which are all well known.

What do you do in your spare time?

There is a lot to do. I could stay two years in Seoul and not have visited everything. First of all, there are many temples to visit. There are four main temples and many smaller temples with many different areas to visit. There are also museums of contemporary art, museums about the Korean wars, ...

Was it your first choice?

No, I was ranked 11th out of about 300. However, many candidates had chosen Asia this year and as I had Hong Kong as my first choice and another university in Seoul as my second choice, I was finally retained for my third choice. In the end, I don't regret this choice, especially because in Hong Kong, the confinement is much stricter now.

What kind of course do you have?

We can choose our courses and plan them during the week. I group them together over three days so that I can make the most of the country. You have to go to a platform and plan ahead to get what you want and be careful to select courses taught in English.

As the school is very internationally oriented, I chose courses like "international relations theory", "international political economy", "international relations"... I wanted to have a global vision of the world. I also took a marketing course. The choice of courses offered is incredible. 

Did you choose your courses according to your professional project?

Having chosen to specialise in Supply Chain, I intend to work in the fields of transport and import/export. I have chosen international subjects to be able to understand the differences in culture, work organisation and customs law.

At the same time, I am also studying marketing to have a more versatile profile and not be too focused on the supply chain again this year. 

What do you do in your spare time?

There is a lot to do. I could stay in Seoul for two years and not have visited everything.

First of all, there are many temples to visit. There are 4 main temples and many other smaller temples which are themselves made up of many different areas to visit. There are also museums of contemporary art, the Korean wars, ...

There are lots of parks and walks to do as well as the "Han River", a very long river along which you can cycle, walk or take a boat ride.  

I also go to the cinema and the advantage is to have all the films in English with Korean subtitles. You can also visit other Korea thanks to the Visa but with the Covid, there are currently restrictions.  

How did your integration into the country go?

I have been in the country for 4 weeks, including a week in quarantine on arrival. I integrated very quickly, a bit like in the United States. In one day, I met a lot of people.

On the other hand, there is more of a language barrier in Korea, even if people tend to improve their level over time. Some people, especially the older ones, speak little or no English so it can be difficult to communicate. 

Is the karaoke myth true?

Yes, there is a lot of karaoke in Korea. Many songs are in Korean but there are also some in English. They love this activity. For example, after work, they go for karaoke to relax.

How did your accommodation search go?

I got there late because I wasn't sure I could go because of Covid. I had found a community on-site with houses but I waited too long to book it. So I had to find another solution. I booked my accommodation only one month before I left. 

To help me in my search, I asked students who had already gone to Seoul where they had lived. I was given different links to consult to make a selection. You can also search on the internet like "shared house" to find a flatshare and the sites will give you results. There are even groups on Facebook that share accommodation and flat-share ads. 

I took the same accommodation as another student who came to Seoul 2 years ago. It is a residence where everyone has their own room and bathroom. Only the kitchen is shared with the other residents.

Who are the other people in your residence?

There are many French people in Seoul, much more than I expected. There are also Belgians, Germans, Italians and Americans.  

How is the food on site?

It's very different from French cuisine. You have to know that there are many restaurants in Seoul, it's probably one of the cities where there are more restaurants in the world. I was able to eat many different foods like Korean, Indian, French, Italian, Japanese, ... 

In the beginning, I had a hard time with Korean food because it is spicy. In the end, I like a lot of things in this cuisine, although I'm usually quite picky. There are a lot of dishes based on noodles, rice, chicken, ... 

You can find a lot of Korean barbecues where you order different kinds of meat to be grilled directly on the table. As a meat lover, I love it!

Do you miss any French dishes?

For my part, no. But many French people say they miss bread, cheese and wine.

Are the bars different from ours?

I found a lot of cocktails and drinks that I have in France so it's quite similar.

What are the best places to visit?

When people are asked, Pusan, a colourful seaside town, and Jeju Island stand out. There are many places like these where you can take a road trip and experience the local culture, which is often different from Seoul.

During the summer period, I plan to go on a trip to the South of Korea with friends but for the moment it is too cool. It is only the beginning of spring. 

When I arrived, it was very cold, snowy and windy, which surprised me a lot.

Do you have an outstanding memory to tell us?

There are walls in Seoul and four large gates through which you can enter and walk along the walls. I did two hikes. If you go very high, you have an incredible view of the whole city

You can also go up to one of the big towers and admire the view, especially during sunset. You notice immediately that the city is huge. It is the equivalent of six times the city of Paris. What I really like are all the hills and mountains around Seoul.  

Is student life different from that in France?

Yes, because schools are very demanding in Korea. Grading is very hard, including for international students. There is a heavy workload. I have a teacher who wants us to read 200 pages a week, for example. You have to be present at all the classes and not be backward, otherwise you lose points. The students are also very calm and concentrated. The level of demand is even higher than in France. 

Despite this requirement, Koreans go out in the evening even if at the moment with Covid, people are cautious. 

What did you get on the TOEIC? 

I got 970 after my trip to the US where I improved a lot because I was at 750 before. 

How quickly were you able to get your visa? 

When you apply, you have to wait 15 days to get an answer. On the other hand, there are a lot of documents to collect beforehand and it takes a long time. So you have to anticipate at least 1 month

For my part, I received my visa very quickly after my application because my file was complete. 

Would you recommend this expatriation? 

Yes, because culture shock is quite important. It is good to get out of your comfort zone. Moreover, adding this experience to your CV is quite appreciated because you have taken the step to study on the other side of the world. 

Moreover, Seoul is a big city with a great atmosphere. You meet a lot of people, you go out a lot, you travel and you visit a lot of places.  

What advice would you give?

All beauty and hygiene products are quite expensive. It's better to take some with you. I came with two full suitcases and I shouldn't have. The fashion here is great and I'd like to be able to buy clothes and I'll have to pay extra to bring these things back. You really have to be careful with the weight of your suitcase

You also have to make sure that your passport is valid for more than 6 months. This is valid for any expatriation. 

The last word...

I bought a guidebook of Korea which helps me a lot in my excursions and for the life on the spot.

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