Google translate says that this is how you say “Thank You,” “Receipt, please,” and “More Kimchi” in Korean. All important phrases that were necessary during my recent recruitment trip to Seoul, South Korea last week. At USC, we have one of the largest international student populations of any college in the country, and we recruit heavily outside of the United States to spread the good word about the Trojan Family. Although this is my fifth year working in the admission office at USC, it’s my first recruitment trip abroad so I thought I’d bring you along the journey.
After a 13 hour flight, I landed in Incheon airport, where it is 16 hours ahead of Los Angeles. I took a red eye on Sunday night and landed on Tuesday morning. I’m never getting that Monday back. So sad. But when I landed I wanted to stay awake all day to get adjusted so I went to the Itaewon area of Seoul, which is known for good restaurants, shopping, and its international community. I hate to admit it, but I went to a taco place, which had some of the best Mexican food I’ve had. Hey, you can take the admission counselor out of L.A., but you can’t take L.A. out of the admission counselor.
Over the next several days, I visited numerous high schools all over Seoul. Before I left, people would ask me about how different the schools are and if the students spoke English. Honestly, visiting high schools in Seoul felt very similar to visiting high schools in the United States. I’m mostly going to International schools, American Schools, British Schools, and the students are taking AP Classes or the IB Diploma program, just like many American students. The aspect of my interactions that felt the most different was the way in which I described the USC residential experience and the Trojan Family. The vast majority of students in Korea have not visited the campus and many have never been to California before. Being able to describe our vibrant campus life, which includes our residential college system, and our tight knit family feel was a lot of fun and the students were excited about having a smaller residential affiliation within the context of a large, research university. It is not assumed that these students are going to college in the United States, as many are looking at colleges in Canada, the UK, Australia, among many other places so they’re trying to figure out if USC and the American college experience in general is the best fit for them.
But none of this would have been possible without Mr. Junho Park, who drove me to all of my high schools. Taxi drivers in Korea aren’t known for their English fluency, so it was great to have someone who spoke English and could make sure that I got everywhere on time. He helped me on my pronunciation of “Gomabseubnida” and “Deo gimchi,” without explicitly laughing in my face. And for that, I thank him.
After my final day of high school visits I was able to have one solid day of tourism and I certainly made the most of it. I went to the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace where I saw numerous teenagers in traditional Korean dresses. I thought there might be a special festival or ceremony happening, but it was later explained to me that it’s now trendy for girls to wear traditional dress and take pictures for their social media at palaces and shopping districts. Instagram is officially the universal language.
Ok, I’m off to finish my travels in Jakarta and Singapore before heading back to Los Angeles so before I go I just wanted to say “Ssaul!” (Google Translate for Fight On!)