Student rides out pandemic while on exchange in South Korea

Published on 6/22/2020 6:01:16 PM
Texas A&M senior Matthew Kus was in the middle of a year-long exchange at a university in Asan, South Korea when the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head. Despite the recommendation of Education Abroad staff to return home, he was one of a handful of students who decided to finish their experiences.
 
Like universities around the globe, the university moved all of its classes online following its spring break. Kus was allowed to remain in university housing with a group of other international students, but the campus was virtually empty. That, coupled with strict social distancing guidelines, limited the cultural exposure that Kus desperately wanted to experience. But what he discovered was even more significant.
 
“A huge influence was, of course, COVID-19, which provided another perspective of South Korea,” he wrote in an Aggies Abroad blog post. “All the flash and fun of the first semester was not replicated in the spring due to the pandemic. Instead, a new side of South Korean culture was seen – community and resilience.”
 
Because of the protocols put in place by the South Korean government, Kus indicated that he felt safer there than he would if he had come back home. But cultural norms and citizen action, such as wearing face masks, also made him feel comfortable finishing his exchange program.
 
The decision to stay didn’t come without consequence, however. Kus took part in the university’s Cultural Internship Program in which English-speaking international students live and interact one-on-one with Korean students studying English. Because Korean students did not return to campus, the program abruptly halted.
 
Benefits of the internship include airfare reimbursement, free housing, and a weekly stipend. With the program canceled, Kus was left with no steady income after spring break. He was far from home and desperately needed money. Education Abroad’s response was swift, and a local scholarship, as well as federal CARES Act funds, were applied to his account.
 
And being able to complete his time abroad, despite all of the challenges, was life-changing.
 
“Although COVID-19 flipped all plans upside down for the second half of this past semester, many more experiences came from it that have allowed me to grow,” Kus said. “I can’t wait to go home more resilient, mature, and open-minded. All thanks to Korea, I have had great times, eventful experiences, and too many stories to remember.”