In my first year of university, I was granted the Global Experience scholarship which meant I could study at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea. Later, in second year I applied to the Erasmus scheme and was set to study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland; however, because Covid-19 I did have to put an end to these plans. Currently I’m researching Master’s programs abroad. As such you can see that I have quite a bit of experience researching universities in different places of the world and some experience living in a completely different cultural climate. I will be speaking on my experience as a black woman travelling to give other BAME students advice on how to navigate travelling abroad.
Being a minority comes with a host of anxieties when it comes to travelling around the world, especially when you will be staying there for long periods of time. Going from a deeply diverse environment to one that is homogenous might put you off exploring this opportunity. I would advise against allowing an opportunity such as this one pass you and the best way to curb travel anxiety is through research. While deciding to travel abroad you want to research the countries current political climate, be assured, you are not too paranoid for wanting to avoid places that might make you unsafe or feel on edge- although please do understand that the university would never send students to countries that would put you in danger- however circumstances do change, and political climates can be in upheaval at any points in time. As a precaution please do be mindful of these climates and decipher how comfortable you would be within these places.
For me, when I was researching which summer school to attend, I remember watching Youtube videos of black women who had been to Korea and picking up on the dos and don’ts of being in those countries. YouTube is a great and honest source for the experiences of POC who live in foreign countries. They will share their experiences with being stared at, being praised and generally being different.
For people who have dietary restrictions such as those who follow Kosher, Vegan or Halal diets, I would also recommend researching the key dishes in the countries you travel to and finding out if they allow food substitutes. In Korea, you cannot request for a meal to be altered, so if a dish has a restricted item you cannot eat please do be aware staff may not agree to remove that item for you. For those who do not eat pork, Korea is quite difficult to in terms of avoiding pork as it is the most popular dish, however, from walking through the streets of Hongdae and Myeongdong a few stalls are Halal or vegetarian. So, if you do enter Korea or any other country where it is harder to follow dietary commitments be prepared and open to eating vegetarian. That being said, the food in Korea was AMAZING. If you are a fan of spicy foods, desserts, bubble tea, savoury foods or traditional Korean dishes, be assured that you will love it. Every restaurant I ate at was delicious and cheap! Food in Korea is substantially cheaper than in the UK, you could share a meal with friends for as little as £2!
One thing I would warn people is being smart about your interactions with people you don’t know. No country is entirely safe and travelling with caution will save you from a lot of dangerous situations. Please do not engage with people who ask you for directions, especially if they are native, these tend to be scams, so travel and interact with caution. Also, please travel with friends, do not be too friendly and be extra careful, especially if you are a woman. On lighter notes I also advice on buying Sim cards with data on them at the airport, these tend to be more expensive than at phone stores however, the staff in airports are more likely to speak English and having data when you first arrive will allow you to be connected with your family and friends at home and get directions with ease. Get a card which you can use abroad such as Monzo or Starling. This way you can buy thing without incurring travelling fees. Finally, be aware that Google Maps is banned in Korea so you will need to download their travel app, Naver.
Going from being part of a large diverse country to being an even smaller minority might be the most daunting experience that POC’s or minorities have to encounter, but I can safely assure you that you will be fine. Spoken from a success story of being one of the few black people in Korea I can tell you that I did not encounter any racism or prejudice during my time there. People were respectful, the food was good, workers were helpful, and the public were incredibly responsive to pleas for help. My most fond memory was going into a restaurant and one of the women workers walking us through the menu and recommending the best dish for us because we could not read Korean. Another instance was a gentleman who saw we were lost and took time out of his schedule to direct us to the right platform to get to our destination. I made many friends while abroad and the language barrier was hardly an issue. I had the best time in Korea and the experience has made me want to go back and do the things that I did not have time to do.
I can confidently assure you that you will be fine, and you will have the time of your life.
If you have any other questions about global opportunities or want to speak to an ambassador who went to a country that you are interested in, please do not hesitate to contact us at:
Globalopps@sheffield.ac.uk (General/ Administration)
Globaloppsamb@sheffield.ac.uk (Ambassador email)