While there are more university student exchange programs than high school ones, there are still many opportunities for international high school students to study in South Korea. While there are many positives, there are some negatives too – here’s what it’s really like to be an exchange student in a Korean high school, as told by real international exchange students.
1. Korean high schoolers arrive at school early and leave late.
Being an international exchange student in South Korea is described as “intense” and “hard work”, because students are at school for longer than most international students are expected to be. They arrive early for about an hour of homeroom class (described by one Youtuber as “an hour of being yelled at”) and then have about six hour-long classes during the day and an hour break for lunch.
However, school doesn’t end when classes are finished — students sometimes don’t leave school until 9 pm at night, after starting around 8:30-9 am. International students, however, aren’t expected to stay at school this long, usually able to leave about 4-5 pm.
2. Students are expected to clean the school after classes finish.
Students are expected to clean the school after classes, with some high schools having a cleaning roster. If students are late to class, punishment is often having to clean alone after school for one entire month!
3. Students study English, Korean and usually one other language such as Chinese or Japanese.
Students generally study more than one language, including their own, as well as science, art, and music. Exchange students are often able to check out more than one class to see what learning the different languages are like.
4. Spending time with your host family is really worthwhile.
International students gush about how friendly the people are in South Korea, and how warm and welcoming the host families are. Not only is everyone curious about international students – one student relayed an experience where ahjumma‘s flocked towards them in a market, asking about where they were from and giving out free samples – the host families (especially the mother!) go out of their way to make sure students have the best experience of South Korea.
5. There’s an opportunity to explore the city you’re in and surrounding areas.
In some exchange programs, students attend school four days a week and have one day to explore their chosen city or nearby areas.
6. The food is amazing!
Many international exchange students rave about how delicious the food is, not only traditional Korean fare but the variety of unique snacks available from the convenience stores.
7. The language barrier is a scary but enlightening experience.
While staying with host families, students have the opportunity to experience Korean culture and hospitality firsthand – but it doesn’t come without its share of difficulties, one being the possible language barrier. International exchange students who have had the experience recommend it, however, saying although there will be awkward moments where you want to express yourself, but can’t, just go with the flow because that’s a part of the fun!
8. It’s an amazing experience overall.
Many international exchange students say that although there are some difficult aspects of the experience, overall it’s a rewarding, unique, and fun time that’s very worthwhile. Not only does it give students the confidence for future studies and careers, but it forges lifelong friendships and memories.