Seoul to Athens


By Elyssa Abbott

Originating from Seoul, South Korea, Solyee Kim has taken her education all across the world, from Germany to Georgia.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in public relations at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea, Kim landed in Athens in 2014 for graduate school. Her husband taught English in Seoul, and eventually wanted to move back to his roots in Athens. Coincidentally, Kim discovered the University Georgia’s renowned public relations program.

“I thought Georgia was extremely bucolic and green. For me, Athens and Atlanta seemed small to me, which was a new experience,” Solyee Kim said.

Coming from the busy, high-rise lifestyle of Seoul, Kim recalls her very first time seeing the full blue sky without a skyscraper in sight in Georgia. She recognizes the difference between the prominence of public transportation in Athens compared to Seoul, and misses not having to drive everywhere. Kim highlights the difficulties of adjusting to a city that shuts down around 8 p.m. from somewhere that is busy 24/7.

Adjusting to a new environment is one of the many challenges international students face. “Each student’s journey is different, however, international students in general will experience culture shock at some point during their first months on campus,” said Justin Jeffery, director of International Student Life at the University of Georgia. “These students are adjusting to a new cultural setting, a new academic environment, new foods, sometimes a different climate, and doing so while learning and interacting in a language that is most likely not their first language – all while being hundreds of miles away from family and friends. However, international students are incredibly resilient and do a fantastic job adjusting to and thriving at UGA.”

Although she misses Seoul and the friends and family that are far from her, Kim adores the rewarding nature found in Georgia. Luckily, Kim finds herself back in South Korea at least twice a year.

Solyee Kim has taken her interests around the globe, from studying German in Germany for a year and a half to researching global development with the United Nations in New York City for several months. New York was where she began tiring of the big city life.

“When I started in the Southern culture, I did not expect myself to be friendly to people that I did not know,” said Kim. “I never talked to strangers ever, but here everyone says hello to each other even though we do not know each other. I really appreciate the hospitality and I learned a lot from it.”

Culture shock was something that Kim experienced immensely. Adjusting to a different medical and healthcare system challenged Kim because she had to relearn an aspect she already knew in a different language with major differences. Studying somewhere outside of the country comes with a new set of issues. Tuition is more expensive, as well as acceptance rates are lower for international students. Students attending graduate school, like Kim, have to take more tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Kim found the Trump election especially hard due to the offensive things being openly said about immigrants. Despite the challenges associated with seeking higher education outside of the country, Kim encourages it if a student can afford it and found a program that appeals to their interests.

“I think I am getting used to it. I used to complain a lot,” said Kim. “When I went to New York for a few months, I started getting sick of living in a big city. That was when I realized I was really a Georgian.”