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Trading Places

The first students to take advantage of the new exchange program between Albright College and Sookmyung Women’s University of South Korea share their adventures exploring a new country and culture.

By Hilary Bentman

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Albright juniors Mandy Boandl and Camille Fuller (left) spent fall 2015 at Sookmyung Women's University. This spring, Sookmyung students Kate (Soyoung) Lee and Elly (Jiyeon) Han are attending Albright.

On a recent afternoon, as the setting winter sun shines through the slit windows of Jake’s Java, Albright College juniors Mandy Boandl and Camille Fuller approach a table.

They don’t know the two Korean students – Elly (Jiyeon) Han and Kate (Soyoung) Lee – seated there.

But within moments, all four women are laughing like longtime friends, swapping stories of spicy food, their adventures navigating an unfamiliar country, and, of course, K-pop.

Boandl and Fuller have fallen in love with Korean pop music – “It’s great for working out and cleaning,” says Boandl – one of the many upshots of spending fall 2015 studying at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul.

Meanwhile, Han and Lee, seniors at Sookmyung, are studying at Albright this semester and are immersing themselves in American culture.

“We’re both really excited,” says Han, a child welfare and English literature major. “You really learn something just by being in a different place.”

The four women are the first students from their respective schools to take part in the Albright-Sookmyung student-faculty exchange program. Established in 2014, the exchange aims to promote “global leadership in today’s high-tech and multi-cultured society.”

The exchange is an outgrowth of a trip that Albright administrators took to China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea to forge international partnerships with institutions of higher learning. The agreement with Sookmyung, which opens the door to semester- and/or year-long student and faculty exchanges, has been followed by four other similar agreements with Asian schools.

Studying at Sookmyung

photoGyeongbokgung Palace, one of the many places Boandl and Fuller visited while in Seoul.

Boandl, a fashion design/merchandising and costume design major, had never planned to study abroad, and had never been so far from home. But when she heard about the new exchange, she signed up.

“I was scared about going, but I didn’t want to look back and regret it,” she says. “You’ve got to be adventurous.”

Fuller, a fashion design/merchandising major, felt “study abroad was a good opportunity to learn about a new culture,” but acknowledges that she never considered Korea as a place to study fashion.

Though it still may not carry the prestige of Paris or New York, Seoul is a burgeoning hub of design. “Fashion in Korea is really taking off,” says Fuller.

Founded in 1906, Sookmyung, located in Korea’s capital, has about 15,000 students. Though an all-women’s institution, male students are admitted in exchange programs.

Boandl and Fuller lived with exchange students from around the world and took courses in business and marketing, Korean culture, and fashion science, where they learned the fine art of fabric dying.

Wearing white laboratory coats, the students looked more like chemists than fashion majors as they combined natural materials, such as coffee and cabbage, with chemical elements to extract the perfect color for dying silk scarves.

photoFuller and Boandl pose in traditional Korean dress called Hanbok at the Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul.

The Albright students also had the chance to attend Seoul Fashion Week.

“It was really amazing. We just emailed a designer and asked if we could see their fashion and they mailed us tickets,” says Fuller. “It opened my eyes to different ways of designing.”

Adds Boandl: “Korean fashion is a beautiful mix of modern and traditional. It’s so bright and ornate.”

The Albright students also seized the opportunity to explore the country, visiting Jeju Island (the “Hawaii of South Korea”) and touring the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the buffer between North and South Korea. There, they met a North Korean defector, saw the soldiers who patrol both sides, and learned about the precarious situation between the neighboring nations.

Both also helped Korean students practice their English and forged some strong friendships they still maintain.

Adventures at Albright

Like most Koreans, Han began studying English in grade school. But for someone who aspires to teach the subject one day, she knew she wanted to study in an English-speaking country. America topped the list.

“I would be most exposed to the language here,” she says. “And I looked at what Albright offers and I was interested in the different classes, the variety.”

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Han and Lee discuss the differences between American and Korean classes.  

Likewise, Lee, a business administration major, wanted to study in America since it’s home to major companies and industries. “America is really famous for marketing,” says Lee. “And I was interested in the psychology classes at Albright.”

At Sookmyung, students who study abroad are required to give reports on the schools they attend. But since no one had ever studied at Albright, Han and Lee had no idea what to expect.

So they took a leap of faith and boarded a plane, flying nearly 7,000 miles, experiencing a difficult flight and lost luggage.

And shortly after they arrived, Reading was hit with a blizzard.

But Han and Lee have taken it all in stride and have loved the experience.

At Albright, they are taking classes in their major and a few electives. But it’s not quite what they’re used to. For one, classes in Korea are much more formal.

In Korea, say Han and Lee, students don’t ask questions of the professor during class or share their opinions in front of other students. It’s just not part of the culture. So Han and Lee have had to adjust to the Albright dynamic. “It’s been hard for me to raise my hand and give my opinion,” says Han.

Also new to them is the diversity of Albright’s student body. As Lee says, “We’re experiencing the melting pot in classes.”

Seoul Food and More

Boandl and Fuller, and Han and Lee, may be from different countries and cultures, but they share a love for spicy Korean food and definitely feel its absence at Albright.

“My spice tolerance has gotten really good,” says Boandl with a laugh.

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The Albright and Sookmyung students share a love for spicy Korean food.

Han and Lee are enjoying a Chinese buffet near campus, but miss their pizza. Korea has a seemingly endless list of pizza toppings (sweet potatoes, anyone?), while American restaurants tend to stick to the basics.

Food aside, all four women agree that the Albright-Sookmyung exchange offers incredible educational, cultural and experiential benefits, and recommend it to their peers.

Two more Albright students have already expressed interest in attending Sookmyung next year.

“I wish more students could take part,” says Han. “We are so grateful to Mandy and Camille. If they didn’t go to Korea, we couldn’t come here.”

After the spring semester, Han and Lee will return to Sookmyung; they each have one final semester before graduation.

As for Boandl and Fuller, they have caught the travel bug and hope to someday return to Korea. “I absolutely want to go back. Korea has so much to offer,” says Boandl.

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