By Kaitlin Mayhew
What shocked University of Mary Washington foreign exchange students the most when they came to the United States wasn’t the food or the music or even reality television-it was our shoes.
“In Korea we take off our shoes every single time we’re inside,” said Shin-hae Kim, a Korean exchange student who spent the semester at UMW.
In accordance with Korean culture, it is polite and expected to take off your shoes whenever you are inside a building, be it someone’s home, a school or even a restaurant. The UMW foreign exchange program is in full swing this year, with the largest group of exchange students being from Korea.
Along with tackling a new language, the students have had to deal with a new and different educational system.
“The classes are smaller and the students participate a lot more,” said Eun-Ju Shin, another Korean exchange student.
But Shin prefers at least part of the American learning system to the Korean one.
“One thing I really like is that we can talk to each other in class more casually,” Shin said. “In Korea, we have to respect our professor and cannot talk as freely.”
Shin and Kim came abroad to experience American culture. Both girls say their friends at UMW consist of students from their exchange program and their roommates.
“At first I was a little shy,” Shin said. “But now I want to make more friends here.”
Classes have proven difficult for the exchange students, mainly because of the language barrier. Kim cites Global Issues in Literature as her hardest class.
Though they find the public speaking assignments and class participation particularly difficult, the women are not discouraged.
“The tutoring program is very helpful,” Shin said.
The pair has even begun to join clubs and organizations such as Club Tennis, Inter-Varsity and the Asian Students Association.
Shin and Kim are from Seoul, the capital of Korea, so they have had to adjust to living in a smaller city as well as a foreign country.
“In Korea, we’d go to the clubs, the theater, eat out or go to a museum,” Shin said. “It’s a very big city. At first we didn’t do much on the weekends here, but now we are starting to go to Central Park or the mall.”
After just one short semester at UMW, the exchange students are ready to return home with many valuable lessons and experiences.