student spotlight banner: studying from seoul
student spotlight banner: studying from seoul

Student experience: Studying from Seoul

Jiwoo Won is a PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) finalist at Brasenose College who has been based in Seoul for the duration of the lockdown. Here, Jiwoo shares how life studying away from Oxford has been.

From Oxford to Seoul

"I left Oxford back in March 2020, when things were looking much worse for England than Seoul. I’d already decided to take a year off before the term ended, so my scheduled return to Oxford was January 4th, 2021; the start of Hilary term with extra time for quarantine.

Come the end of January, I’m still stuck in my parent’s house in Seoul for two main reasons. First, there was confusion around the UK Government guidelines on international student arrival, making planning difficult . Second, it also didn’t help that my parents were very worried about me leaving for the UK a day earlier than I had to. COVID cases in the UK were, far more alarming than many other countries (for context, our new weekly cases in March were in the 300-500s; the seven-day average of new daily cases in the UK over the same period of time was over 30,000)."

Missing Oxford

"Don’t get me wrong, I much prefer doing my term in Oxford compared to Seoul; I was left with no choice. But there are also the obvious perks of not being in the UK this term, especially if you’re from the few lucky countries where COVID-19 is more in control than the UK. Most public spaces, restaurants, and non-essential shops are open. The food and the accommodation is also much better; all of your ‘soul food’ that you sorely miss during term-time in Oxford are just blocks away, and your living arrangements are probably better than college accommodations. The biggest irritation of moving to and from Oxford, packing and unpacking every term, doesn’t apply if you’re staying home. I once had to sleep in my puffers for days in freezing winter because my sheets would not dry quickly enough, so this was much appreciated."

Adjusting to life in Seoul

"But there are also major downsides, which I assume by now every international student is more than familiar with. The biggest peeve is, of course, the time zone. Being awake past 3am essentially every day to attend events, functions, lectures, and tutorials is not fun to say the least. I’m grateful for my tutors and the faculty, who try in every possible way to accommodate international students such as prioritising tutorial time slots for us to accommodate our time zones. But despite the University and the faculty’s best attempts to accommodate, your day-to-day schedule becomes more and more skewed towards the unhealthy. Getting books and resources you need is also more challenging for those living outside the UK, despite libraries and tutors trying their best to bridge the gap. Not having the Oxford friends support bubble to get you through the essay crises is hard. Many may lack personal space and privacy in their family home, or also feel pressured to help out with family care issues around the house."

Staying healthy and organised during the pandemic

"We’re used to devoting much of our time at Oxford to developing a routine of studying that works. Revising that is highly stressful, but necessary. Generally, I’ve found that pencilling in exercise to your schedule, no matter how busy, to be very helpful. Setting up specific sleep schedules, even if said schedule looks a bit crazy, definitely helps. Gather a support group of friends who can share their progress, help someone if they seem like they’re in a slump, and check up on each other. Check if your local government support centres offer free therapy.

The pandemic is stressful by itself, without being locked out of the UK. Don’t be shy to ask for support, and check up on your friends."

If you would like to share your experience as an Oxford student during the pandemic, contact