2018 Summer Student Exchange Program Experience
Monbi Chakma(BPSA_United Kingdom)
Keimyung University, Daegu, Laboratory of Pharmaceutics
(1) Why Daegu, South Korea?
This question was one of the most highly asked by my peers and professors, possibly due to the fact that most foreign students choose to travel to Seoul as the city is deemed as “more interesting”. However, I completely disagree! Although I understand the concern by some of my peers as I was the only student from the SEP in Daegu, I felt that I was able to integrate and create many meaningful friendships that made the whole experience worthwhile.
This trip was also my first ever solo trip (without friends or family), therefore my intention was to live more like a local rather than a tourist, which was quite a challenge at first. For this reason, I chose Daegu as my exchange site and I am proud that I made this decision as this program has really encouraged me to branch out and become more independent.
Another important reason I chose South Korea, was due to a lack of industrial/research placements here in the UK. For pharmacy students, it is incredibly tough to obtain an insight into industry or research due to the highly competitive internships that usually have very limited spaces e.g. some companies only have 1-2 available places for the whole summer. Therefore, I decided that if I were to apply for the SEP I would make sure I apply for at least a month-long research programme to enhance my knowledge in this area. I feel that I am extremely lucky to have obtained my first choice which was South Korea as I had prior knowledge that the pharmaceutical industry in Asia is advancing at a rapid rate, especially here in South Korea. As a result, I am very grateful for this incredible experience and would definitely encourage others to apply.
(2) The process...
The initial step was to apply via your home organisation, in my case this was the BPSA (British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association). Here the SEP officer will accept your application and will then prompt you to write a Motivation Letter and also will require your Curriculum Vitae. After you choose your preferences of which country you would like to undertake the SEP, your ML and CV will be made available to the organisations in that country. As KNAPS is the organisation for students in South Korea, I was contacted by their SEP officer which made me aware of the research programme at Keimyung University. Once I accepted, all other arrangements were swiftly coordinated such as housing and transport.
(3) My SEP experience in South Korea
i. Arriving in Seoul
On arrival, I was greeted by the Student Exchange Officer of KNAPS at Incheon International Airport, who kindly helped me to my accommodation in Seoul. Once settled, we were able to formally introduce ourselves over a bowl of jajangmyeon – the infamous Chinese-Korean dish of black bean noodles. Although I was slightly tired from the 11-hour flight, I desperately wanted to explore Seoul so I asked my Student Exchange Officer about some of the attractions, however as I arrived right in the middle of the typhoon season, I decided to postpone my travels for the last week of my journey.
The Seoul metro system may be quite confusing for some, so I suggest any future students to ask for a quick tour of the main Seoul station, especially for those that will have to travel outside of Seoul. As I had to travel to Daegu the next morning, I made sure I was familiar with the exits of the station to ensure I boarded the correct train.
ii. To Daegu
The next morning, I boarded the KTX train to Daegu (high-speed rail system) and was greeted by the Local Exchange Officer and Southern Area Coordinator that also studied in Daegu. I became close friends with the two officers during my stay and will forever be thankful for their help, especially when I arrived as Daegu is a completely different city compared to Seoul and Busan.
After I settled and unpacked, we all went to eat near the university and had a brief tour of the area where I would be staying for the next month. This was also the first time I would be introduced to the nickname of city, “Daefrica”. I was told that the nickname is a combination of Daegu + Africa as the city is known to have the hottest climate as Daegu is surrounded by large beautiful mountains that trap the heat and humidity. As it was typhoon season and thus, still heavily raining, I did not expect such extreme heat. However, I was soon to be shocked by the scorching temperatures that reached 39oC the following week.
iii. Keimyung University
Keimyung University was founded by an American missionary in 1954 and is known for their red brick architecture that is unique to the campus. The campus also contains the university’s own museum called Hengso Museum and its own chapel called Adam’s Chapel. The campus is surrounded by elegant flora that changes with each season and thus, the campus is also used as a filming site for many dramas including the very famous Boys Over Flowers drama.
Initially, I did not know what to expect as my university (King’s College London) was so different to Keimyung. For example, I study at an urban campus so all other faculties are quite distant from each other, whereas Keimyung’s campus is so large and integrated with one another.
My direct supervisor was Professor Lee at the DDTS laboratory (drug delivery transport systems) and we became close research partners, along with my lab partner who was also undertaking a placement in the department. We visited many places such as 3D Korea which is a 3D printer company in Daegu and also travelled as far as Incheon to Komipharm to produce our pharmaceutical formulation we optimised during laboratory experiments.
My main role was to assist the Professor’s new project that required a new method of encapsulating an antigen to produce a vaccine and thus, assess the feasibility of the desired formulation. There were many times my knowledge was tested which encouraged me to improve and deepen my research skills, in addition to reproducing relevant research papers that our experiments benefited from. I also really appreciated the independent work in the lab and also the collaboration with my lab partner as this challenged us to both solve issues without being spoon-fed too much information by the Professor.
Whilst learning about DDTS during my course at King’s College London, at first I actually despised the topic and thought that I would never be interested in this area of research. However, over the next few weeks at Keimyung I really enjoyed the course and have a wider range of knowledge and also a new perspective towards DDTS. I really do recommend choosing a research programme such as DDTS as your attitude can easily change when influenced by passionate supervisors such as Professor Lee.
As I spent most of my time with my lab partner, we also became very good friends due to interests in our different cultures. He also introduced me to his other friends who also were undertaking internships and we frequently visited many restaurants and attractions.
The experience working in the research department was invaluable and would definitely visit again as the whole department was so unbelievably welcoming and kind.
iv. Other activities
Over the month, I visited many places and tried many incredible foods which was very important to me as I am a massive foodie and frequently travel to other countries to try their famous dishes. Therefore, one of the most memorable experiences in Daegu would have to be the Chimac Festival which translates to chicken and beer festival. This is South Korea’s largest Chimac festival and many people usually travel to participate. It was such a surreal experience as there were also performances from rappers and groups. If you are ever in Daegu, I highly recommend this event!
Another interesting attraction in Daegu is called The Arc which is a large exhibition centre that contains sculptures and art inside. However, on the outside The Arc is almost like a light show itself and changes colours every minute. Many locals in Daegu like to visit The Arc at night as it is situated near the river and is a perfect place for long walks or alternatively, you can hire electric bikes and ride alongside the river too.
E-world theme park is also a place not to miss when in Daegu due to the spectacular light instalments during the night and also the 83 Tower which you can see the whole of city’s skyline.
Outside of Daegu I visited Busan for a weekend and met other KNAPS staff members which organised a mini-tour of some of the most popular attractions. Busan Tower was one of my favourite attractions as each floor of the tower had different art exhibitions in addition to the astonishing view of Busan during the night. Busan is also very famous for its beaches such as Haeundae and Gwangan beach which also allow you to view the Gwangandaegyo (Diamond Bridge) at a close distance.
Before I finished my internship, I was also fortunate to meet two other international students from Malaysia that had just finished their 2-week internship in Seoul. Our Local Exchange Officer and another KNAPS member accompanied us to Gyeongju which is a city located to the east of Daegu. Gyeongju has such a rich history as this used to serve as the capital during the Silla dynasty and thus, is a very popular tourist site. Here, I created many wonderful memories with the group as we visited the Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto and the Donggung Palace. Hiking from the Bulguksa Temple to the Grotto was an experience I will never forget as the view from the Grotto was remarkable and worth the time and energy of the hike.
(4) Final thoughts
It was so hard to leave Daegu when I completed the internship due to the many close friendships and memories I had made within the city, so I will always cherish the time I spent here in Daegu. South Korea in general is such a magnificent country with such caring people which will make you feel as though you are at home, therefore I highly recommend any prospective students to choose South Korea for the SEP. The culture itself is also a reason anyone should choose to visit as there are so many differences and customs that are so outstanding to non-natives. I hope to one day visit again and also bring other students via the Student Exchange Program so that they can experience all that South Korea offers them.