Designing Seoul: How I Create a Meaningful Student Experience Abroad

by Anna Kim | Aug 30, 2018

This is my third time designing the “city as a campus” experience for Minerva students — the first in Seoul, my hometown, the second in Hyderabad for the spring semester, and, now, I’m back in Seoul, preparing for a new cohort of students to arrive.

Over the past year, I witnessed students from the Classes of 2019 and 2020 develop their leadership skills through student-driven initiatives, practice professionalism through workshops and projects with partners, and build community defined by shared values and practices. From developing mobile applications with a major technology company to exploring their limits with spicy food at Korean food markets, the Classes of 2019 and 2020 matured by continually challenging and expanding their world views. And by interacting with our students — individuals who are motivated, curious, and dedicated to becoming the best that they can be — I too was able to grow and discover many new perspectives.

This summer, the Student Experience Team in Seoul has been busy preparing for this next class, the Class of 2021, to arrive. When students land in Seoul, the vast majority will have never been to Korea. The culture shock and language barrier can be paralyzing, and, with just a few months in the city, my role is to help students acclimate quickly to their new community — from developing cultural dexterity, understanding social norms, and basic vocabulary — so that they are able to engage with the city and effectively utilize the skills they have been building. One way we accomplish this is by developing a professional community, what we call our civic partner network, to foster meaningful relationships with locals and community leaders. For example, last year, many students were interested in learning more about entrepreneurship. To help them connect with the local scene, I connected them to people who were working at start-ups, and took them to relevant conferences where they could both immerse with local professionals, and share their own bright ideas. Initiating opportunities like these not only allows students to practice the practical skills that they have been learning in classes, it also helps the students to better understand the unique culture of Seoul in ways that match their interests.

Because each cohort of students has diverse passions and professional goals than the previous classes, over the past few months, I have been identified industries, fields, and social issues that are both relevant to these interests and, also, authentically represent Seoul. In one instance, I visited Liberty, a non-governmental organization that tackles human rights challenges in North Korea. We discussed how to best introduce Minerva students to the unique North Korean relationship and how to motivate student volunteering support. I met with members of the Kakao Corporation, a communications company, to better understand their work in order to collaborate with them this coming semester in a civic project. And, at Hanyang University, I spoke with professors who shared their excitement at having Minerva students, like Florence from the previous year, back in their laboratory to conduct research. My summer has been full of meaningful connections with entrepreneurs, architects, marketers, data scientists, consultants, designers, and many others who are eager to collaborate and interact with Minerva students.

As Seoul is the first Asian city students experience in the global rotation, the incoming students are often both wary and excited about the noticeable cultural differences, language barriers, and unique opportunities. To mitigate this feeling, in addition to sourcing partners for civic projects and professional mentors, my team also designs the core experiences that provide deeper understanding of Korean everyday culture. These events, known as co-curriculars, are hosted every week and vary in context to cover the widely diverse cultural history of Korea. Last fall, for example, students volunteered at a senior citizen center, stayed overnight at a temple, and met with female leaders to learn what it was like to be a professional woman in Korea — just to name a few activities. Students strongly felt that the activities where they worked alongside local Koreans provided the best lenses for students to not only understand South Korea, but to initiate their own collaborations. One group of students teamed up with locals to organize a poetry slam; together, they practiced, rehearsed and performed a show for the students at the end of the semester. Another student worked with Green Climate Fund, a non-governmental organization fighting climate change, for her civic project during the semester, and returned to work with the organization this summer as an intern.

On the top of all these exciting projects and experiences, I make sure to secure time to listen to and develop a bond with my students. Just like how Minerva is not a typical school, this is not a typical 9–5 job. Both out in the city of Seoul and within the residence halls, I am grateful to interact with the students every day and emotionally support their experience in a new culture by providing guidance for whatever they need. This is how we build a university together, grow together, and make positive impact together.

With the semester about to begin, it is now time to make a concrete project schedule, so that the students can fully experience Seoul as a campus, from day one. Seoul has so many hidden gems of aesthetic cafes, streets, and hikes, to parks, temples, palaces, and more! I, myself, am still in the process of discovering all of the wonders of this city — and I’m very excited to continue our collective journey with the Class of 2022 when they are in Seoul.

Experience Seoul, and the full global rotation, yourself, as a member of the Class of 2023. Apply today.