Columnist compares college life between Korea and U.S.

Younghwa Lee

I have been here only a month and a half. I think I have adjusted well to SDSU. Although there are different cultures and lifestyles between Asia and America, I am getting used to living here as an exchange student. The differences between the two countries’ cultures are decreasing due to globalization. That’s why I think Korea’s university education system is almost the same as that in the U.S. But I have noticed several differences between university students’ lives in Korea and the U.S.

The first is drinking. Whenever my friends and I became stressed out from studying or simply wanted to socialize and have fun, we were able to drink on campus anytime we wanted. When I was a freshman, I had a great time drinking with my friends. Now, I have come to think of it as a good memory. (Don’t worry, we did not cause any problems!) But SDSU is a dry campus, and we cannot drink in the dorms or on the green. We cannot create the same sort of fond memories here that my friends and I did on campus in Korea. However, our study habits as underclassmen are similar, despite the difference in on-campus social customs.

A second thing is students’ fashions. I feel free here because I do not have to wear makeup, heels, a skirt and a shoulder bag. But I used to wear all of them every day when I was in Korea. It is not for a special day or event that Korean women students wear heels and prominent makeup in the university; it is normal among us. But here, I have seen most American university students usually like to wear jeans, hoodies, backpacks and sneakers. I think they look much more free and comfortable to study their major in class.

Which brings me to a third difference: how American students find their girl/boyfriends. Are you going to parties to meet new friends or a prospective girl/boyfriend? Koreans are not familiar with house parties, and it is not customary to speak with strangers. We have a more formal social custom called a blind date for those who want to find a girl/boyfriend. When you feel alone, you just ask your friends to introduce you to other girls/guys, because chance meetings at the market or a bar are not socially acceptable or taken seriously.

A fourth difference is student attitude. American students have good manners. I was impressed, for instance, that American students hold the door for other students who are walking in the door even though they are far away. Korean students usually do not wait for others to open the door for them. Moreover, American students do not hesitate to say “hello,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and “sorry” while they are smiling. Korean students, on the other hand, do not smile. Maybe Korean students think you are a strange person (a “bufflehead”) when you smile at a passerby in Korea.

A final difference is that American students usually are willing to solve a problem by themselves rather than copying solutions other students have done. My Korean friend told me that his American friend’s behavior is impressive: they tried to solve problems without any other help. However, Korean students are used to using other people’s solutions. This is because we think that, whenever we have homework, we can solve our problems quickly and easily if we refer to solutions other people have done. I think Korean university students need to emulate this behavior because Korean students are usually not reluctant to copy solutions

Although there are some differences between students’ lives in Korea and the U.S., students have the same common interests such as boy/girlfriends, friendship, classes, appearance, studying, getting a job and so on. When you have troubles with something, I suggest that you ask other international friends who are going to give you better solutions in different ways from friends in your own country.


Younghwa Lee is a senior studying computer science and mathematics and, she can be emailed at [email protected]