Julia Weatherford is a TEAN Seoul alumna and a ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at the University of Oklahoma whose experience abroad during Fall 2021 helped her achieve many of her life’s goals, including improving her literacy in Korean and furthering her love of Hallyu, or the wave of Korean pop culture.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with TEAN South Korea and how her experience abroad has impacted him long-term. Check out her unique story below and hear her advice for others wanting to follow a similar path!
What inspired you to study abroad, and why did you choose Seoul, South Korea?
JW: Since high school, my goal was to study abroad since I have a deep appreciation for different cultures and am a fan of learning languages. When the time came, my biggest inspiration to go to Korea was the modern vs. traditional city life atmosphere, but also to learn about the history of Korean society. In school, I learned much about East Asia, but I wanted to learn more about Korea specifically and why the country has grown so much in such a short time. However, I also wanted to experience the popular culture side of Korea and understand how Hallyu (the Korean Wave) has affected people both in Korea and internationally!
What did you learn about yourself through these experiences and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?
JW: The biggest thing that I learned was that the best lessons come from the hardest challenges. During my experience abroad, there were times I felt homesick and wanted to come home. However, this built my resilience and capability to try new things that I normally wouldn’t feel comfortable with back at home. This also helped me build my communication skills and learn that our daily interactions with people can transcend beyond different languages. In the end, my time abroad has encouraged me to possibly travel to lesser-known places in the future, learn from various cultures by watching their popular media, and appreciate the accomplishment of traveling alone!
What is one of your favorite memories or stories from your time abroad?
JW: One of my favorite memories was going to the Lotte World Tower on my birthday! I went with some of my closest friends from my time abroad and we had an amazing time watching the sunset from the tallest building in Korea. The tower was crazy busy but that was what made the sunset so cool to see as all the lights around Seoul came to life. That day we also visited a museum exhibit in the Lotte World Tower called “Dreamer 3:45 am,” which featured distinct and vivid sets of art! At some point we even got an ice cream cake to split and enjoy (even though it was freezing in December at the time!).
Tell us about your recent ArcGIS StoryMaps project, “Seoul: A Dilemma of Modernity or Affordability.” How did you create this, and how did your experience abroad in Seoul play a role in this?
JW: I made this project in one of my International Studies courses at the University of Oklahoma in the spring of 2021. ArcGIS StoryMaps is a digital project website that allows you to use interactive media to tell an audience about a particular subject. I had the idea to talk about Seoul and its developing real estate crisis since I would be going there the following semester. I used different videos, pictures, maps, and articles to explain the challenging side of living in Seoul. Since coming back from my study abroad trip in December 2021, I also had the opportunity to add my experience and photography to the project. In January 2022, I applied for the OU Libraries Undergraduate Research Award with the help of my professor, Dr. Colven. About two weeks ago, I received the news that I was a recipient of the award, which was amazing! It’s exciting to see that my project will represent the development of Korea, but also other aspects of the country that make it intriguing to visitors/locals alike.
What is something that all students studying abroad in Seoul must do before returning home?
JW: This was a hard list to narrow down, but below I will talk about some of my favorite excursions while in Seoul! On several occasions, my friends and I would go to a rooftop café (the district of Jongno-gu, as well as some by the Mapo Bridge, had some amazing ones) to see the sunset. I have a lot of great memories doing this, and plus, getting coffee is never a bad idea! Some other places I highly recommend are the Lotte World Mall, Lotte World, and the Lotte World Tower which have much to see and places to shop/dine. And lastly, if you want a relaxing evening, a walk by the Han River or Seoul Forest is always fun, and you can bring picnics as well! Most people will go to a convenience store nearby to get some microwave ramen and Chilsung Cider (my favorite combination) and sit among a group of friends with a blanket.
Any advice for students interested in going abroad to South Korea?
JW: I have lots of advice for students wanting to go to South Korea! Before I left, I practiced common Korean phrases to help me get around. Even though Korea has many things in English, it is good to know how to order food/drinks or ask where something is. This helped me connect with the locals as I did my day-by-day activities! I would also be familiar with local Korean customs and recognize that Korea has a much different lifestyle than America. Being quiet and respectful when on public transit and giving/grabbing things with two hands shows the utmost appreciation for Korean people and their culture.