Making New Friends — and Making a Difference — in Korea

It has been about a month since I arrived here and I can’t believe it has been that long. I must admit that I miss my parents, my friends and my school.

Despite the nostalgia, I could not be happier about finally accomplishing my dream of studying in South Korea. I am loving my experience so far and I am anxious to keep learning and discovering more about this beautiful country.

At SDSU, I had never taken a proactive role to be part of the campus community — not because I didn’t care or want to, but because of other responsibilities. However, to make the most of my experience in Korea, I decided to be part of a club where I could feel involved and establish friendships with Korean students.

“I was thrilled to see how this opportunity would unfold, the memories that would be made and the impact that I would leave behind.”

In contrast with San Diego State, where it is very common for student organizations to be welcoming of exchange students, my experience was different. Among the different student organizations, there were several that caught my attention, yet it was somehow difficult for me to join one.

A few of them did not allow exchange students to join at all. This was not because they didn’t want exchange students to join, but rather they were afraid that we might not understand what’s going on; The meetings and social gatherings are conducted in Korean only. In addition, many expressed their worry about me feeling like an outsider in the club because few members could speak English.

However this did not discourage me from finding a club.

Eventually, I found a club where I was warmly welcomed by the club’s executive board members and matched with my interests.

The student organization that I joined is called Habitat Construction Volunteer Club at Korea University (고려대학교 해비타트 건축봉사 동아리 고집). This organization promotes university students to volunteer in various activities that benefit vulnerable communities in Seoul. In addition, this club is a construction and volunteer club, therefore many activities focus on helping to construct and repair houses.

The new members welcome Meeting.
Our first club dinner with new members

While meeting the other members I had the chance to practice speaking and understanding Korean.

One of the first official social gatherings that we had was “MT” (엠티), short for “Membership Training Day” for the newcomers (신입들) and returning members to get to know each other better and establish a relationship. To be honest, before heading to the training, I was very nervous and I did not what to expect from this overnight gathering — yet I was hopeful and excited!

On our way to Bukhansan, 북한산, to have our 엠티.

On that night, I met other club members who also shared a passion for helping others and while promoting positive change in their society. We spent the first half of our night eating pork (돼지고기) and enjoying soju (소주), while getting to know each other.

As you can tell by this picture we ate lots of meat.
Members preparing the dinner for everyone.
Club members enjoying some 돼지고기.

We spent the rest of the night playing games and singing Karaoke.

As for my karaoke performance, I sang two Korean songs I’ve known for a while. The first one is “내 나이가 어때서?”, which is a trot (a style of Korean pop) song. To be honest, most of the Koreans were surprised that I knew this old Korean song. For my second song, I sang, “서울의 달” (Moon of Seoul) by 김건모, which has long been my favorite Korean song.


The president of the club and I sing “서울의 달.”

On April 7, I woke up early to prepare for my first volunteer experience in Korea. I was thrilled to see how this opportunity would unfold, the memories that would be made and the impact that I would leave behind.

Our day started by meeting at a Kwang Seong Church (광성교회 ), where we were given the material that our team would need to perform repairs.

The volunteer team from Korea University.

The repair process was exhausting, yet it was well worth it; I noticed how the people we were helping had smiles on their faces. It was a very rewarding experience because, through teamwork and dedication, we succeeded in not only helping someone but making their day!

In these two pictures, one can see results of our efforts:

When we finished, we had a group dinner to celebrate a day of hard work. This was a memorable moment for me — I now feel that I have found a new family away from home!

I recorded this video during the group dinner to always have it as a memory.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience so far. Stand by for my next adventure!

Also, if you have any questions about Korea or about my study experience, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Alberto Castro is a third-year accounting student. He is studying abroad at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea during spring semester.

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