NSLI-Y

Study Abroad Crash Course // NSLI-Y Seoul PDO Day 2

On PDO day 2, we dove into a crash course on studying abroad. The schedule consisted of a variety of informational sessions, with topics including managing expectations, culture shock, and goal-setting. For future NSLI-Y students, this post might give you a basic idea of what to expect as a study abroad student!


My SD card has a hairline crack in it, and I think I’ve unfortunately lost all of my footage from this summer. I’m not sure if it is salvageable, but I’m searching for someone who might be able to help me! For now, the verdict is no more vlogs of this summer… Please keep your fingers crossed!!


The busy day started with breakfast in UW’s cafeteria. Meal times during PDO are another great opportunity to mingle and become more familiar with your peers! I chatted with other students about where we were each from and how we became interested in Korean. After breakfast, the 50 of us split into two groups for the day’s sessions.

Introductions, Goals, and Expectations

We were in Seattle, so (of course!) I also grabbed a cup of Starbucks coffee before heading to our first session. This session was pretty much exactly what it sounds like: we discussed the basics of the program, its purpose, and personal goals/expectations. Before PDO, we had been asked to complete a worksheet for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals. One of my goals was to learn at least 20 new vocabulary words a week.

My mindset for the summer was pretty simple: I will get as much as I put in. I promised myself that I would dedicate 110% because I knew that this experience would be whatever I made of it, and I didn’t want to miss out on opportunities to learn and explore.

The Flexible and Open-Minded Cultural Explorer

Iceberg Model

During this session, we discussed both Korean culture and culture shock. We examined the “Iceberg Model,” which divides culture into aspects that are visible and invisible. The visible aspects of culture are like the tip of the iceberg; they’re obvious and can be relatively easily grasped through simple observation. The invisible aspects of culture are like the rest of an iceberg that’s hidden under water; these aspects are not obvious, and they require greater experience in the culture to understand.

Everyone is bound to make a “deep culture” faux pas at least once when immersed in a foreign culture, and that’s ok–it’s part of the learning experience! A nuanced understanding of this “deep culture” only comes with time and exposure, so be mindful of these concepts and soak in as much as possible when opportunities arise.

To discuss various aspects of Korean culture, we divided into groups and brainstormed on large pieces of paper labeled with different topics posted around the room (e.g. gender roles and transportation). The subsequent discussion allowed us to share what we knew and learn something new from our peers!

Culture Shock

Although the topic of culture shock had already been broached multiple times in webinars prior to PDO, we had a more in-depth discussion during this session. It’s an important topic to emphasize because everyone will have a different reaction to the new environment, and it’s a major part of the exchange student experience.

The diagram above depicting the “W curve” is often used as an aid when discussing culture shock. I wasn’t quite sure what my own W curve would look like by the end of the program. I came to Korea knowing a decent amount about the culture and language, and I look Korean, so I figured I would blend in and be less likely to be treated as a foreigner. (More on my personal experience with culture shock soon!)

Before heading off to lunch, we watched a video message from a U.S. Department of State representative who congratulated us on our acceptance and emphasized the importance of exchange programs. (The video had been filmed during one of President Obama’s terms, evident from framed pictures of President Obama and VP Biden in the background.)

The Model Citizen Ambassador, The Safe and Savvy Traveler

We returned from lunch for these next two sessions, which were both mainly about the program rules and expectations. While in Korea, we had a curfew of 9:30pm Sunday-Thursday and 11pm Friday and Saturday. As a NSLI-Y scholar, you are a student ambassador and represent the United States in all of your interactions within the host country. For some, you may be the only American some have interacted with, and, as such, you want to leave a good impression.

Thoughtful and Engaged Host Student

This was my favorite session of the day, and it was presented by Alex Litz, a NSLI-Y Korea Summer (2014) and Academic Year (2016-17) alum. (Check out his Youtube channel!) The other alum volunteering at the orientation, Shantel, made a similar presentation for the other group of 25 students. Alex has lived with many host families before, both through NSLI-Y and other experiences, so he had many stories to share with us eager soon-to-be host students.

Every student’s relationship with her or his host family will be unique! You’re a guest, but also a member of the family, so it’s important to act accordingly. Your host family can be the ultimate resource for you, and it’s another opportunity to embrace the culture.

Free Time

After the sessions ended, we had our last meal in America before our flight the next morning! Because we had so much free time, I and some friends decided to to go on a mission to find pints of ice cream to share instead of buying ice cream from a vending machine.

We found a cute ice cream shop on Google, but it turned out to be just beyond the campus border, so we couldn’t go. We wound up going to a little market on UW’s campus, and we got some Ben and Jerry’s!

I’m horrible with directions, so we got a bit lost on our way to finding the market. However, we found this beautiful view of the mountain, so it was all worth it! After some photo-ops, we made our way back to the building we were staying in and watched a movie and played cards.

We were all exhausted after the long day of info sessions, but we had some fun bonding time. Once it was time for room checks, we headed back to our own rooms to re-pack our bags and prepare for the next day’s flight!

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