The University of Iowa

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December 28th, 2018

Anyone who studies abroad can tell you the last few months are hectic. The further into a program a student gets, the more they can understand, make close friends, and start exploring deeper into the city. For me, my favorite part is always the end because it’s the part where most people form the strongest bonds and students usually feel more connected and comfortable with the city. It’s difficult to sum up all the wonderful experiences that I had throughout this last month and a half so I will just mention some highlights.

Memorial Site at the Museum

Memorial Site at the Museum

One of the most important things about studying abroad is understanding the culture.  I believe it is important to look back at the history of a country to better understand what makes the culture so diverse. At the University of Iowa, I took so many classes about Korean history and culture; however, it is an entirely different feeling to be able to see the history come to life when visiting these important historical sites. One of the most touching moments of my exchange was being able to visit the Japanese Prison Memorial Museum. Students from a partnering volunteer organization with CIEE took us and as we saw the different prison cells, they told us the history behind the numerous famous freedom fighters who were forced to stay there. There were so many important figures who were imprisoned there and so many suffered and died trying to fight for Korea’s independence. Without those suffering freedom fighters, Korea would not be where it is today. This was a very powerful day filled with strong emotions as we walked by looking at the various forms of torture and execution stations. The Korean students expressed their gratitude for these strong fighters who stopped at nothing to defend their country.

Another wonderful memory was being able to go to the Genie Music Awards show for free! CIEE (the study abroad program I came to Seoul with), gave a couple students free tickets to attend the awards show where we saw artists like Day6, Wannaone, Twice, Momoland, BTS, Charlie Puth, Heize, and so many more amazing artists! We saw Twice, Wannaone, BTS, and Charlie Puth perform! I sat in the standing section towards the center and was so close to all the celebrities! I was so grateful to be able to see these artists up close after spending years and months hearing their music on YouTube or on the radio everywhere in Seoul.

Some of the artists lining up.

Some of the artists lining up
Some of the performances.

Some of the performances
For the BTS fans

For the BTS fans

Another very important part of this first semester has been being able to volunteer. Within the last two months, CIEE helped us with volunteer opportunities. I began to tutor a North Korean defector in English. As it began, I was so nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. However, she was very nice, and we got along so well! I started with basics and tried to cater to what she most wants to learn. The most rewarding factor is feeling like I am somehow helping the community in Seoul. I don’t completely understand what she has been through, but I do understand what it is like to feel like an outsider. Overall, this experience has taught me so much about the world and has opened my eyes to things I had previously not understood. Before I felt so naïve facing the situation in North Korea, but now I feel like I have a tiny insight on what life is like inside that closed-off country.

All these experiences make going abroad worthwhile but the real reason that people look back at their study abroad experience over and over again is because of the relationships they form and the way that studying abroad changes you. The most powerful thing about study abroad is the way it changes your way of thinking about the world and yourself. During this experience, everyone questions what makes them who they are, what makes the world the way it is, and what is important to you. These questions may seem scary at first, but I assure you that they are the most important questions one can ask. Studying abroad helps you better understand yourself and better understand the world around you. Sometimes it’s a struggle, or strange, or scary, but in the end, you will feel like you accomplished something worthwhile that changed your life and who you are for the better. Not only do you make special connections with others, you also form a better relationship with yourself.


For me, this semester was only the beginning, as I will be returning for another semester in Korea in the spring. Maybe the remaining question is why do it again when you already did it once? I can assure you, as I am studying abroad three separate times; each time you learn something new about the world we live in, make new connections with others and grow as an individual. I believe that studying abroad is one of the greatest opportunities that will help you in ways you cannot begin to imagine for longer than you think. Once your exchange is over, it is never actually over because you will revisit those memories and think about how studying abroad affected you for the rest of your life. The reason why I am studying abroad again is that I believe there is much more out there for me to learn and I believe that this experience will uniquely help me become a more competent individual moving forward in this world.




Taylor Wertheim is an Italian and international studies major at the University of Iowa, pursuing a minor in Korean. She will be spending an academic year in Seoul, South Korea, on CIEE's Arts and Science program.