Meet Mitali Joshi

Program and Location:

Summer, Hanyang University: Seoul, South Korea

Major/Minor:

Genetics and Global Public Health

Why did you choose to study abroad?

To learn more about and immerse myself in a culture that I had spent a lot of time learning about. To step outside of my comfort zone and learn study techniques from outside of the style I’ve been using. Also, to simply experience the responsibility of living in a country on your own and to become more independent.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned how to be a lot more independent and responsible for my health and my belongings. There is a lot to consider when you do live on your own especially in a foreign country and I learned that I can be successful without the constant assistance from others looking after me. I learned skills that will help me live in a bigger city alone such as asking questions or asking for help when needed regardless of the situation.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

My favorite part of the program was the way it was structured. As we were able to schedule our classes, I made sure that I was able to schedule my classes in a way that I would have the opportunity to learn what I wanted but also have time to explore Seoul. Additionally, the location of Hanyang University was absolutely perfect. It was located by the Han River which is a major river in Korea, and because of this I had the opportunity to go on a lot of late night walks and evening walks with my friends during the Summer. It was an experience that is essential to being a student in Korea in my opinion because there are so many good spots on the Han River to eat food, such as ramen and the iconic Korean fried chicken. I was able to go bike riding on the Han River and it was the most exhilarating experience.

What was your experience with navigating COVID-19 abroad?

Due to Korea being a collectivist culture, the way the dealt with COVID-19 regulations was super strict. We had to constantly wear our masks and given that it was monsoon season during a heatwave during the Summer the temperatures would be above 100 degrees. However, once I got accustomed to the dressing style in Korea and the lifestyle I did not mind it at all. It became second nature to wear a mask and it was basically part of my “getting ready routine” to slip on a mask before heading out of my room. The downside of COVID-19 was that we were put into a level 3 regulation with cases rising significantly in Seoul. This meant that once it hit 6pm, people could only travel in groups of three and it was difficult to navigate this at first because my friends and I would typically travel in groups of four or five. One of the most surprising things was how strictly all restaurants and cafes enforced these regulations because the second they realized our two groups of three knew each other they would make us separate or leave the cafe. It was a genuine culture shock because here in the U.S. the regulations were much more casual.

Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?

I was constantly surprised whenever I was in Korea. The most funny story I have about being surprised in Korea was during a trip to an amusement park called Everland. My friends and I had gone on this water ride and we were looking for a place to get something to drink because of how hot it was outside. While I was waiting for my friend to get her lemonade, I felt a tapping on my back pocket. I was so confused why someone was tapping on the phone in my back pocket so I turned around and saw this little kid. He was probably only around four years old and he thought I was his mom because he had gotten separated from her. Once he realized I was clearly not his mom, his mom ran up to me and immediately started apologizing to me. No matter how many times I told her that it was okay and it wasn’t a big deal, she felt that it was her responsibility make sure I was genuinely fine and that made it such a sweet moment.

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

I feel like somehow my identity as an Indian didn’t not play a large role but my identity of being an American did occasionally play a role in my experiences. It is widely known that Korea does not largely appreciate foreigners, and this is due to their long history of being oppressed with their surrounding nations of course. My style of dressing was similar to Korean fashion already, so it was honestly really funny how locals would confuse me to be Korean based on how I dressed and they immediately realized I wasn’t when I would make eye contact with them. The way that my identity played a role the most was that once people would recognize that I was not Korean they would immediately start speaking to me in English and generally how helpful people were.
One interaction that was very sweet was a conversation I had with an older lady. Honorifics are very important in Korea and of course my Korean was not that good so I would sometimes forget to use the formal tense. When I was asking an older lady for directions, I slipped up and accidentally forgot to use honorifics but she thought it was endearing in itself that I was simply communicating with her in Korean. One thing that surprised me was the number of Indian restaurants there are in Seoul. My friends and I all wanted to try the different cuisines to see how the compare and it was cool to see how much Koreans love Indian food.

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

My advice for future study abroad students is to stay safe of course but to not let their inhibitions and fear of a new culture stop them from doing anything. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for help and do not be afraid to wander a city by yourself if your friends happen to be busy. I decided one day to hop a bus in Seoul and I ended up on the other side of the Han River, but in the end it was a memory I would never forget. Also, try to know at least a little bit of the language for the country you are traveling to. Although the locals are good with speaking English, it is respectful in a sense to at least attempt speaking the language of the country you are visiting. Knowing how to order food in a restaurant or knowing how to convey information when you are out shopping is the most important. Also download whatever GPS apps the use there because that GPS will become your most used tool.

Would you do it again?

Yes, I am actually already looking into programs for studying abroad in the future. It was the most spontaneous decision I have made in my life but it was the best decision I have ever made.