Briyanna is a sophomore at Bowling Green State University majoring in Biology with a concentration of Pre-Physician Assistant studies and minor in Asian studies. She is currently abroad in Seoul, Korea on USAC’s Yonsei program.
After a little more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure most of us have mixed somber and reflective feelings towards the word “quarantine”. While the U.S. has started to stray away from the concept of lockdown as we saw in March 2020, other countries are still requiring you to quarantine for a certain amount of days before you can explore your new world.
Such was the case for me as I embarked on my study abroad journey in Seoul, South Korea. Luckily, I only had to quarantine for a total of seven days, which included the day I arrived. Thus, I only quarantined for 6 full days, which went by relatively fast. This was partially due to the fact I thought I had to quarantine for 7 full days without my arrival day counting (it was a pleasant surprise that I got out a day earlier!), and I did a lot of activities through the quarantine period
Thus, below is a list of all the things I accomplished, and why I think it is important for other study abroad students to do the same if their host country requires them to quarantine.
1. Chat with other study abroad students
This one is very important. Coming from someone who is easily overwhelmed by the abundance of text messages and rapidly-changing topics in group chats, you should try to reach out to other students that you know are studying abroad in the same country as you! If you are doing an exchange program directly through your home university, an easy way to find out who is going to study in the same country is by asking your study abroad office for the contact information of people who are going.
If you are studying abroad in a Partnership Program (like me), connecting is easy as well. USAC held a few pre-departure zoom meetings, and from there my cohort and I did what we know best — connect with each other via social media. At the end of the first meeting, we created an Instagram group chat, and later on when there were more people who joined our cohort, we transitioned to using a group chat on KakaoTalk, the most used messaging app in Korea (it’s similar to Line and Whatsapp).
Although I do encourage you to get to know your fellow study abroad peers, I also advise to use the chat in moderation. While I was excited to meet other people interested in going to Korea, my USAC group chat did become overwhelming at some times. This is due to the fact that all of us were coming from different universities and states, so sometimes the information that one person had did not apply to all of us, which sometimes bred confusion. This is why I also suggest that if you have questions about any deadlines or requirements that you have to submit, ask your USAC and home university study abroad advisor before you ask other students, because another student’s situation may be different than your own (especially if they go to a different university).
After feeling very overloaded with preparing for my next semester abroad, I decided I would check-in to the group chat a few times before departing and that I would only heavily respond in the chat once I got to Korea. Initially I was nervous about this choice, and I had feelings of “what if I miss the chance to get to know people?” However, as soon as I got settled in Korea, I decided to take initiative and get to know people by messaging them. I realized that everyone who arrived in Korea as students were in the same boat as me, and there were plenty of people who were still joining the group chat and did not engage in the chats before just like me. I didn’t allow myself to get caught in my FOMO, I just went for it!
Doing so allowed me to connect with many students before I got out of quarantine, and it set me up to explore the city with someone on my first day out quarantine.
2. Connect with people you meet on the streets
This point will only apply if you are required to get a COVID-19 test throughout your quarantine at a public facility. As this was the case for me, this not only gave me a chance to briefly see Seoul in the flesh instead of outside my window, but it gave me the chance to meet other ex-pats and international students.
Because I am living off-campus in South Korea, I got transported to the health facility by myself. So I was dropped off, and presumably all alone on my second day in Korea. This reality was definitely nerve wracking, and as soon as I felt very overwhelmed (and honestly, like crying), another foreign exchange student came up to me. Turns out we were both at the health center to take a COVID-19 test, and it was both of our first full day in Korea. Talking to my new friend eased the unnerving feelings I had, and allowed me to also see that I truly wasn’t alone. On the second to last day of my quarantine, I had to take another test, so I practiced what I learned a few days before and I held conversations with random people in line. The coolest thing about talking to other foreigners here is that it widens your perspective of the world. You may walk up to someone because you hear them speaking English and may have thought they were American, but then discover that they are from countries such as the Ukraine, South Africa, or Denmark, and that English is actually their second language. Learning their reasons for coming to South Korea was also soothing for me — it warmed me up while I was waiting outside in 19-degree weather!
Nonetheless, the important thing of talking to other people that you may run into is that you never know when you may see them again. I was not able to get the contact info of the first person I met because we got split up during the testing process. However, imagine my surprise when on my first day out and going to the health center to get a vaccine pass (some restaurants require you to have one in order to sit inside), and I saw my friend from the first day! It was such a pleasant surprise to run into a familiar face, and I made sure to ask for her contact info this time.
3. Study the Language
If you are going to a host country where you do not speak its native language, quarantine is THE perfect time to start learning! Think about it — you can practice reading, writing, and most importantly speaking, without anyone there to judge you. It is a great time to study key phrases that you need to use such as “Hello”(안녕하세요), “Thank you”(감사합니다), and “Excuse me, where is ____? (ex: where is the bathroom is: 저기요, 화장실 어디에요?)
During my days in quarantine, I studied Korean in order to prepare myself for the test I had to take in order to get into Yonsei University’s Korean Intensive Language Level 2 course. I really enjoyed having the time to go over what was being taught in the Level 1 version of the course, and seeing what I already knew and what I needed to study more of so I could test out of Level 1.
Additionally, I was actually able to practice speaking Korean to a native speaker outside and inside my apartment. When I called my health officer in order to find out which health center to go to for COVID-19 testing, I had to speak in Korean because the officer couldn’t speak English very well. I also had to speak a little bit of Korean to my taxi drivers on my way to the testing site. These experiences were most definitely intimidating at first, but I appreciated that the drivers and the health official forced me to speak Korean. It was a great way to practice some of the subjects that I was studying, and it was nice to talk to a native Korean.
4. Try the Food
Another cool aspect of being in quarantine is that I was able to try a bunch of 100% authentic Korean food from the comfort of my home. There was something very tranquil about tasting several slices of Korea cuisine (and enjoying every meal, the food here is on another level!) while watching The Proud Family on Disney+ – it made me feel so whole, happy, and calm.
Nevertheless, if you have to quarantine in a foreign country, I do recommend you try the local food around while in quarantine. It might be tempting to reach for your old favorites to soothe some homesickness and culture shock you’re experiencing, but trying the local cuisine will give you a chance to see what foods compliment your tastebuds. And if something is too spicy, you don’t have to worry about someone judging at the face you may make!
5) Build Your Spirit
This was also one of the most important pieces of surviving quarantine. There are so many feelings I had once I arrived in Korea. I was excited, nervous, overwhelmed, thrilled, anxious, missing my family, and some feelings that I can’t even accurately describe. That’s why building your spirit, or in other words, fueling yourself with positive and peaceful energy is important. It balances you out!
The way I continued to build my spirit is by praying and reading a daily devotional that my mother gave me. As I am Christian, relying on God’s presence (and feeling it!) made me feel that I was spiritually not alone, and it helped me to center my feelings and be calm.
There are also non-religious activities that helped to fuel me with positive energies, which were: calling home to talk to family and friends, meditating and spending some time away from the phone (Namaste), and watching some shows that bring me comfort.
Tying into the previous point, resting properly is SUPER important for a few reasons. Firstly, it allows your body to naturally adjust to the time difference between the U.S. and your host country. And secondly, with the different emotions that come with arriving in your host country, a day of sleep can amazingly center you and make some of those more unnerving feelings disappear in the morning. Additionally, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your calendar can fill up with course assignments, field trips, and personal activities, so don’t take this down time for granted!
I hope some of these tips were helpful to future students abroad, and remember the most important tip is to remain positive through all experiences!