You could call it love. Or perhaps it was a longing for elsewhere that drew Esra and Eda Cabuk to South Korea. A beautiful country with lovely people, great food and an efficient education system - the twins, both studying Business Informatics at Technische Universität Berlin, reel off the reasons that make Korea so fascinating for them. And they both know what they are talking about. They were able to fulfill their dream of getting to know Korea by doing a semester abroad at POSTECH . Pohang is a city of 500,000 people on the coast of the Sea of Japan, some three hours from the bustle of Seoul. POSTECH is one of the 200 universities worldwide with which TU Berlin has a cooperation.
They discovered their fascination with Korea while doing an English course where they made friends with a woman from Korea. They gave their talk on the similarities between Turkish and Asian ways of life. “These include hospitality and respect towards elders,” Eda observes. The wish to travel to Korea began to take shape. They bought books, learned the Korean alphabet and cooked the Korean national dish bibimbap for family and friends. They did a tandem with a Korean woman to improve their knowledge of the language.
They also took part in the TU Berlin Buddy Program, organized by Student Mobility and International Students with the aim of promoting intercultural exchange. TU Berlin students help students from abroad to adapt to life at the University and in Berlin.
Esra and Eda took their Korean fellow students under their wing, showed them around the campus and the library; they explored the city together, cooked together and talked about their cultural backgrounds. “All this enabled us to develop friendships,” Eda explains. “Our intention to do a semester abroad in Korea became stronger.” And the friendships they built up in Berlin would prove to be important for their time in Korea.
A letter of motivation, a CV in English and German, a copy of a school-leaving certificate, a reference from a professor or lecturer, a certificate of English level from the ZEMS – these are just a few of the many application requirements. They handed everything in to the Department of International Affairs, were invited to an interview in English and German and were given the green light. Their applications to POSTECH and for accommodation in the student residences also went well. Now they were really excited.
But that was nothing compared to how they felt when their plane landed in Seoul. “There are so many people in Seoul, every one is in such a rush,” says Eda reflecting on her first impressions. Meanwhile Esra was feeling really proud of having made it all the way to Korea. They were here, in a foreign country, in another culture, the first time alone without their parents – they were ready for their adventure.
Their first impression of the POSTECH campus was overwhelming. “At first sight it seemed like a small city,” Esra recalls. There is a supermarket which is open until late at night, the cafeterias don´t shut until 11 at night; even the dinning facilities are open until late. A lot of Korean students order their meals online or via apps. The library is open 24 hours. Esra and Eda often met there with their fellow students to work together on projects. In short, very different than in Berlin.
In addition to doing a language course they also opted for two further courses which were relevant for their degree in Business Informatics: “Product Design and Development” and “Technology Management and Strategy”. These courses were in English and the course numbers with up to nine students were ideal. However, it was still difficult for them to get into conversation with their Korean fellow students. “They were nervous about making mistakes in English,” Eda recalls. The twins were very happy that they had met some students from POSTECH through the Buddy Program at TU Berlin. “We were able to ask them when we didn´t understand something and they could help us,” says Esra. They also had friends with whom they could explore the city and the culture. Together in the evenings they attended the events, competitions and concerts organized by students for students at the university.
It is now four years since their exciting time in Korea. Eda and Esra are in the fifth semester of their master´s program. Eda works on the side in technical product management and Esra is responsible for the logistics and IT infrastructure in a construction company. “Our stay abroad proved very useful when applying for work. Employers were really interested, particularly when they heard that we had been in South Korea,” says Esra.
Yes, they would go abroad again. Perhaps they will return to POSTECH for another semester during their master´s program, or maybe at a later stage in their careers. “Going abroad to study really extended our horizons and gave us so much self-confidence,” says Eda. “What we were able to achieve in Korea, we can certainly achieve here too.”
As a rule, students need to have completed three semesters in a bachelor´s degree program before applying for a semester abroad. Good grades are expected as well as a very good knowledge of English demonstrated by a certificate. “It is very important to prepare well in advance for a semester abroad,” says Esra. In addition to the application process at TU Berlin, you also have to find out about the university in the country you are visiting, book your flights, take out health insurance for abroad and arrange the financing for your stay abroad. Esra and Eda applied for both a DAAD grant and BAföG payments for students abroad. “Everyone should do that,” says Esra. It is important to know that you have to apply extra for BAföG when going abroad as this is separate from the BAföG paid to students while studying in Germany.