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Walking in an exchange student's shoes

In order to truly understand another person’s experience you should walk a mile in their shoes.  

Bill Paterson in South Korea
Bill Paterson in South Korea.

Bill Paterson, chair of the Department of Computer Sciences and Information Systems
stepped into the student role and participated in a six-week exchange program to Ajou University in Suwon, South Korea this past summer.

The international committee in the department of Computer Sciences and Information Systems wanted to expand their horizons and offer exchanges in Asia, and Paterson jumped at the opportunity to explore the possibility of international programs in South Korea.

“The International Education office asked me if I would be interested in doing an exchange to Korea,” says Paterson. “I have always wondered what type of institution our students were being sent to and what their exchange experience was like.”

Paterson participated in a summer school exchange program — a full semester compressed into four and a half weeks.

“I was introduced as a distinguished professor who would be a student,” Paterson says with a laugh. “The Korean professors had some trouble with the idea of a person in their 50’s being a student.”

The Ajou University experience

Paterson was one of 93 students from across the world to take part in the exchange.
“Upon arriving, all the students had an orientation and got the chance to meet one another and find out how the program would work,” says Paterson.

The next day the group went to the resort island of Jeju for three days. The students got the chance to tour the island while learning about the history and culture of the area.

“This was a really great way for all the students to bond,” says Paterson. “It was great to have the opportunity to interact with other students from all over the world. We were a team coming out of that.”

After returning from their excursion it was down to business.

Paterson opted to take a blend of course work and cultural programming, which he enjoyed immensely.

Mud wrestling in South Korea
Bill Paterson in South Korea.

Work and play

“On Tuesday nights they had Korean movie night,” says Paterson. “We saw everything from a Korean love story and a taekwondo film to a suspense thriller.”

“On Wednesdays there were no classes, but they would take us to do a number of cultural activities,” says Paterson. “Friday and the weekend were also organized with different excursions and activities for the students to participate in.”

Paterson also discovered some interesting cultural differences.

“There is a tradition that when you live in residence you arrive to a messy room and you clean it up. Then, when you are leaving, you have a big party and the mess is cleaned up by the next person who lives in the room,” Paterson says.

But the most unusual thing Paterson discovered was the mud wrestling culture.

“The idea with mud wrestling is that you get covered in mud and you make your way through blow-up obstacle courses that are set up by the beach,” Paterson remarks.

Some blow-up obstacles you’d slide down and others you’d make your way through. There was a mosh pit where everyone got sprayed down while dancing to techno music in the mud. At night they have a huge concert. The festival is a week long.”

Lessons learned

Not only did Paterson catch a glimpse of what life looks like in the eyes of an exchange student in South Korea, he learned some valuable lessons of his own.

“Sometimes my professors were not very organized or clear on their expectations, so I had anxiety on how I was being graded,” says Paterson.
 
“However, this did help me to be a bit more sensitive to those types of issues when I teach my own students.”

Paterson also feels confident in knowing where his students are headed in future exchange programs with Ajou University.

“I just feel more comfortable as the Chair of a department having some idea what it will be like for my students who travel there.”

Interested in hearing more details about Paterson’s adventure? He will be speaking about his experience during International Week on Nov. 16, 2011.

Angela Sengaus, Oct. 6, 2011