By Hunter Leong ’24 Photos courtesy of Hunter Leong
Hunter Leong stands in front of a university building in Korea whose walls are covered by moss

I arrived at the Incheon International Airport at 5:00 a.m. I brought out my T-Money card, which I have had since 2019, and took the hour-and-a-half subway ride to Hanyang University, where I was attending my J-term abroad.

Initially, I didn’t expect much on this trip since it was my fourth time visiting Seoul and third time participating in an exchange program. Also, because I recently finished my senior comprehensive project, I was worried about becoming burnt out after two or three days.

digitally altered artsy image of students against the background of a city
Digital studio class photo at Hanyang University, January 2024

But my instructor, Professor Tammy Ko Robinson, encouraged me to make my time worthwhile. I took a 10-day digital studio course with Professor Robinson and learned how to utilize different workflows to produce creative but also emotional stories. On the first day of class, Professor Robinson suggested I constantly self-reflect while spending my time in Seoul. I sincerely thought about what I felt as I saw old friends and revisited places where I regularly spent time. I figured it was nostalgia.

My first time traveling across the Pacific was as a high school senior in the summer of 2019. I did not know Seoul or South Korea well but was excited to go there with New York Times Student Journeys. The immersive and intense program involved learning about the culture and the tech industry. But, the culture shock was unreal. Every day was memorable, from visiting many landmarks to meeting tech industry leaders to making friendships within the cohort. I wanted to come back.

The fall semester of 2022 was a time to explore more of Seoul and myself. I had the privilege to study at Yonsei University, one of the top universities in South Korea, and to have assistance from CIEE, which provided a fun and safe learning space for international students. We toured Seoul and made friends with native South Korean university students from other institutions.

Two men making a square with their arms against an ocean scene
At Gwangalli Beach in Busan with a friend, October 2022

Outside the classroom, I learned how much I adjusted to life as a student in a foreign country. It happens in all moments and interactions. I appreciated how the overall experience was an opportunity to self-reflect. But, everything became ingrained into the study abroad experience regardless of its harshness. I had moments of setback when I experienced the threats from North Korea that shook East Asia and the Itaewon Halloween incident. They were unforgettable events and important life lessons I took many days to reflect on and organize my emotions. These events shaped my thought process to this day. I frequently took videos to document all the moments for fun, which eventually accumulated into a nostalgic story about community and time.

I caught up with some old friends who live in Seoul. Although we continuously follow each other on social media, we talked in person about how much we have changed since I left a year ago. One friend decided to become a journalism professor, and another became an executive director of a business. For myself, I became a manager for the Green Bean at Oxy and one of the leading content creators for Oxy Athletics. Even though so much time has passed, we were able to reunite in person and appreciate how we remained connected. It gave me the confidence to grow a long-lasting network at Hanyang University.

a group of young Asian men squatting in a group for a posed photo
Group photo to commemorate the last night in Seoul, January 2024

I frequently talked with Hanyang students that I regularly see. The language barrier was not a significant issue since I had some Korean fluency and used translating apps. Because I knew the current and past cultural trends in South Korea, I got along with them very well. With more knowledge and skills, I could exchange ideas and help. Over time, we built strong bonds. In addition, I now have supportive mentorship through Professor Robinson after completing her course.

Through my trans-media prototype about reflecting the places and the people I visited over the past five years, she saw more than just my growth in creative media; she recognized my passion for staying close to my networks in Seoul regardless of how much time passed. I felt comforted by the warmth of my friends and mentors, who continuously told me I was always welcome in their community. If there is another opportunity to visit South Korea, I will remind myself of that.

I thank the International Programs Office for making this extraordinary journey happen. IPO provided the guidance and support I needed for my successful and safe study abroad experience at CIEE Seoul at Yonsei University in the fall semester of 2022 and at Hanyang International Winter School between December 2023 and January 2024.

a young man from the back looking over a vista of Seoul's downtown
Overlooking Seoul from the top of Inwangsan, September 2022


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