Seoul, South Korea

Rayyan Nadeem

ISEP Direct: International Student Exchange Program, Spring 2024

Major: Computer Science



Hi everyone, I’m Rayyan Nadeem, and I’m thrilled to share that I’ve been selected as a Study Abroad Ambassador for UMBC for the Spring 2024 semester. I’m excited to take you through my adventures, but before we dive in, let me introduce myself a bit!

I’m currently in my junior year at UMBC, majoring in Computer Science. When I’m not glued to my laptop coding, I make time to work out as much as possible, practice Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts, watch a bit of anime, and occasionally play some video games. Now, let’s talk about my upcoming adventure: this semester, I’ll be studying abroad at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, alongside two of my best friends, Andy & Dennis. We’re going through an affiliate provider known as ISEP, specifically their ISEP Direct program, which means we’ll be paying tuition fees and housing directly to ISEP, but we decided to decline the housing option provided by ISEP Direct and opted for an Airbnb for four months instead. It’s closer to campus and offers a more ‘homey’ feel.

The decision to choose South Korea came after much deliberation. As Computer Science students in our junior year, our options were limited due to the specific upper-level Computer Science classes we needed to graduate. After tons of research and discussions and back and forth with the Computer Science department, we concluded that Korea University—known for its Computer Science & Engineering program—would allow us to study abroad while staying on track to complete our degrees.

I pretty much packed all the suitcases, which was challenging, knowing that I had to prepare not only for the end of winter but also for spring and summer, which has a climate very similar to Maryland’s. It felt odd packing my thick North Face jacket next to my summer swim trunks! I’m ready to leave now. We’ll be heading to Korea, dropping off our stuff, and then setting off for Japan for two weeks shortly after. We decided, since we’re already in that part of the world, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to leave a little early and spend some time in Japan before our semester starts on March 3rd.

Hopefully, the next time you guys hear from me it will be once I come back From Japan and have my classes registered and can tell you some cool stories of things I did and people I met both in Korea and Japan!



In-country post

Hey everyone! Wow, it has been an amazing two weeks. I got to Korea, checked into my Airbnb, and headed straight for Japan two days later. It was tiring, but I’m happy I got to visit Japan while being here in this part of the world.

Okay, let me slow down and rewind a bit. Yes, I went to Japan! After arriving from my 20-hour journey, and having a layover in Istanbul for 4 hours, I finally got to Korea. I hopped on a taxi, and after a one-and-a-half-hour-long ride, I got to my Airbnb, which was just how I imagined it to be. Not amazing but not horrible. I looked around for about 20 minutes, took a mental note of the things I would have to buy once Dennis and Andy also arrived, and then fell into my bed and fell asleep. The next few days, we just ran errands and bought goods until I left for Japan, where I went to Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. The trip together was around 10 days, and it was an amazing experience, having spent 5 days in Osaka and Kyoto and 4 days in Tokyo. I think if I visited again, I’d spend more time in Tokyo. Though the last couple of days in Tokyo, the weather wasn’t the most supportive, I had to make do with what I had. I visited almost all the big “touristy” places and some low-key ones too, including the Kyoto shrines, Osaka Castle, Tokyo Sky tree, the Tokyo Tower, and a ton of other things. I got to try so many different types of foods that were super authentic to Japan and finally got to taste those famous fluffy pancakes I’ve been seeing on TikTok for the last year. Altogether, I know you can’t cover all of Japan in 10 days, so I plan on going back there again. There’s a lot more I can talk about regarding Japan, but the last thing I’ll say is… I’ll definitely be back!

Once Japan came to an end, I hopped back on a plane for 2 hours and headed back to Korea, taking a 2-hour flight as well as that one-and-a-half-hour taxi back home. There, I rested for the day since I got back in the morning, and the mandatory orientation was the next day, where I was met with tons of other international exchange students and assigned Korean buddies. These were Korea University volunteers who spoke very good English and were assigned to help us out. I met my buddy and the big group we were assigned to, and it was honestly a blast knowing there were so many international students like us. We had a campus tour afterward, but to be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention as I was so focused on meeting everyone and talking while walking around campus. Well, that’s pretty much my update for now, but the group planned on going to a restaurant later tomorrow, so hopefully, I’ll fill you in on that and the start of my classes’ next blog. Stay tuned!


3/1 – 3/15 – In-country post

Welcome back to the blog, everyone! The past two weeks have been phenomenal. In my previous blog post, I mentioned I was about to head out to dinner with my group. Well, I’ve finally had the chance to meet a ton of international students and buddies within my group. Additionally, I’ve interacted with people from all around the globe, which has been an incredibly awesome experience. We already made a ton of plans, including trips to Jeju Island, camping, and other exciting activities for this semester. The group buddies also decided that the dinner was so much fun that they would try and do some sort of activity with everyone at least once a week. I’m eagerly looking forward to blogging about those!


Moreover, I discovered a Jiu-Jitsu gym just 15 minutes away from my house by bus, and I’ve been aiming to attend at least twice a week. The experience has been surreal, and I’m thankful to have found such a welcoming gym. Despite their limited English, everyone there wants to joke around and engage in conversations about anything and everything. I’ve had the opportunity to spar and have live rounds with most of the people there, including the coach, with whom I usually do 20–25-minute live rounds, which is cool. Just the other day, I spent about an hour talking to the coach after class, discussing everything from school to BJJ and our competition goals. It’s been awesome to realize that even outside of Korea University and college life, people are incredibly friendly and share common interests. 



Last weekend, I also visited Myeong-dong, a huge business district in Seoul known for its wide variety of stores and shops. The plan was to find some shoes to buy, but after visiting several stores, from Footlocker and Nike to local shoe franchises, I couldn’t find my size in the shoes I was looking for. However, I did manage to pick up a very nice sweater for $6, so it wasn’t all too bad. The next day, me and my roommates went to Costco, yes Costco in Korea! We got so bored we decided to just see if it was any different from what we have in the states, when we arrived though it was so similar, they had the same brands and similar prices which was nice to see but we only ended up getting a bunch of water bottles and I snagged some of those special Costco bagels!


The following Monday, classes started and, though it was syllabus week, I still made sure to leave early to ensure I could find all my classes. Because I’m a computer science major, most of my classes are actually a 25-minute walk away from the house on the engineering campus, which is annoying, while the main campus is hardly 2 minutes away from the house the engineering campus is kind of far. My roommates and I didn’t even think that far when getting a place and just assumed that there was one campus so all our classes would be there. This whole semester, I am going to have to leave 30 minutes beforehand to get to my computer science classes, which is a pain, but it could have been worse, I think. All the professors sounded nice though, and I’m hoping the workload won’t be too bad. We were all let out super early, as after finishing the syllabus, no professor had anything planned. Next week, I assume that classes will really start, and I’ll get a better gauge of the course load. Besides that, later tonight we have a futsal match planned between the buddies and some of the international students in group 5. I’m looking super forward to that and will definitely fill the blog in on that next time. See y’all!



3-30 – 4-12 – In-country post


Hey everyone, the last two weeks have been busy. I’ve been loaded with assignments and a ton of activities with friends and buddies! So, let’s start with the English Class my roommates and I were going to host for the buddies; that was a huge success, and we ended up doing two classes. The buddies loved it a lot and wanted to focus on slang as well as texting abbreviations. I prepared by just writing down the things I use daily, so it was easier to remember. We had a good turnout with 4 Korean buddies the first day and 7 the next time; they were around an hour and a half each, and we went over tons of slang. What was surprising to me was that people were taking notes and writing these things down. They took it seriously, one reason being that a lot of the buddies were preparing to study abroad next semester and really wanted to learn. Following that, I got to eat authentic Uzbeki food. I ended up going out and realizing that there is a huge community of people from Uzbekistan, and you can find authentic Uzbeki food here, which is not the case back home. I ordered a large naan-type bread and a beef soup, which is their most authentic food. I thought it tasted good and will be going back to try other Uzbeki dishes.

On Monday, the following week, I had a couple of assignments due for my Computer Science classes and had to finish those up, which took a couple of days. That last week was probably the most average week as I didn’t go out or do anything interesting but just followed a routine, especially because of Ramadan and fasting. I really don’t feel like doing anything and just want to stay at home and chill. This last weekend, though, I spent all my nights at the mosque, basically three days in a row I was at the Seoul Central Mosque till 5 am, usually until the subways started again so I could get back home, but it was a surreal experience. Talking to people from all over the world, it wasn’t just students but people who lived and worked in Seoul. Surprisingly, they all spoke very good English, so it was super easy to communicate and connect with them. After the subways opened back up, I immediately hopped on the first one and went back home.


Lastly, we had the KUBA field day, an event that occurs every semester where each group of international students and their buddies face each other off against other groups in a series of events such as Soccer, Dodgeball, Jump rope, Relay, and other games. It was a long day starting at 9 am and ending at 5 pm. We had a couple of games in the beginning, and then after lunch, we had the Soccer tournament, which I participated in; we got to the Semi-finals before losing a penalty shootout. It was a little disappointing, but I thought we played well, and it was a ton of fun. It was hard while fasting, and it just happened to be the warmest day while I’ve been in Korea, lol. I came home and just laid in bed till it was time to eat. Besides that, I think this weekend we have a couple of plans like going to the beach and meeting up with some of the buddies, so will keep y’all posted about all that. Peace!



4-12 / 42-6 – In-country post

Happy late Eid Mubarak! Yes, Ramadan has finally ended, and it concluded with Eid a little less than two weeks ago. It was an awesome time. I ended up pulling an all-nighter the day before and woke up around 7 AM to get ready and head to the mosque. I was living off caffeine those last few days before Eid, but it was worth it. After attending the Eid prayer, I met all the new friends I had made at the mosque, and we ended up going to a Tajik-style restaurant. About thirty people came, and we had a very large lunch. It was fun talking to everyone and meeting new people I hadn’t talked to before. I did bring my traditional Moroccan Thobe and wore it on Eid, which garnered a lot of compliments, lol. After lunch, featuring a traditional Tajik rice and beef dish, I went home and took a much-needed nap after calling my family back home to wish them a happy Eid and catch up.

Later that night, I went out to Gangnam with my friends Andy and Dennis. We spent the whole night, until the subways reopened, walking around and visiting different restaurants. We met a Korean guy there with whom we really bonded. Once again, I made a new friend. We bonded over going to the gym and lifting. This guy was an absolute unit, deadlifting 200 kg, benching 140 kg, and putting up some insane numbers. We just messed around with him all night until it was time to leave. Once home, I caught up on the sleep I had missed over the last few days.

The next day, my roommates and I had plans to lift at the gym with some of our KUBA buddies. One of them actually got ahold of a small private gym that we rented out for a couple of hours and just messed around. We had friendly competitions to see who could lift the heaviest. Overall, it was just a really fun time, and we definitely plan on doing something like this again in the future.

The next couple of days were filled with studying and attending classes. I had to push myself to get back into my normal routine now that Ramadan had ended, which included regularly going to jiu-jitsu and the gym. That weekend, we had a trip planned to the Coex Starfield Mall, the super popular mall that everyone has seen on Instagram and TikTok. I went with my roommates and got to do some shopping at a ton of stores. Afterward, we spent some time at the touristy library. We got to see it at night when the lights are much more visible, and it looks overall better. Honestly, though, I thought it was okay—something for the bucket list, but I wasn’t super amazed by how it was or how it looked. The mall itself was only one level and the rest was mostly an empty convention center. The library was the only big attraction and was more of a 5-minute sightseeing rather than something you could spend a day at.

That’s pretty much it for right now but next week I have a Beach Trip planned with some other international friends, and Midterms are starting off after that which is scary cause I literally don’t know anything and have scary stuff about how brutal exams could be in Korea, especially for the upper-level Computer Science classes like AI and Data Science, so just me Good Luck!



4-27 / 5/10 – In-country post

Hey everyone! The last few weeks have probably been some of the busiest I’ve ever had. After visiting COEX Mall last time, we ended up going to Gangneung, a small beach town on the east coast of Seoul. I went with my roommates and some other friends, and it was a super fun day trip.

We left Seoul at around 10 AM and took the KTX, a bullet train that got us there in about an hour and a half. Once we arrived, it was totally different from Seoul. Gangneung is a very quiet vacation city. I was honestly relieved to be in a place so different from Seoul. It felt more natural and peaceful. The weather was a bit too cold to go in the water, which was a letdown. It was around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water itself was freezing. So, we just spent the whole day on the beach, messing around and playing catch. We ended up packing up and finding something to eat around 6 PM and left Gangneung around 9 PM, heading back to Seoul. It was a very tiring day, and even though the weather wasn’t warm enough to swim, it was still a fun time.

The next day, I had dinner with some Kazakh friends I made at the mosque. We ended up going to one of their houses and had an authentic Tajik dish like biryani. We talked for hours, and it was a fun time. Afterwards, we went to a PC café. I got home late, and after that Sunday, we really locked in for midterms. The next whole week, I studied for exams. It was probably the worst week since being here. I studied for 12-14 hours a day the whole week, even through the weekend. I didn’t even get time to go to the gym or anything. It was a super boring week. The following week, I just had exams to get through.

Once that week was over and it was time for midterms, they went horribly. It felt like the stuff I studied all week was a waste of time because none of it was on the actual exam. The three computer science exams I studied for all went terribly. Now, I’m just waiting for the grades and praying for a curve without even seeing my scores yet. After my last exam on Wednesday, I started going back to jiu-jitsu and lifting again. I needed that to forget about the midterms. It was fun to be back and mess around. That weekend, my roommates and I made plans with the Tajiks to go to Nami Island. It’s a small park island about an hour and a half from Seoul. The weather that day was amazing, and it was like the beach, where it was nice to get away from the city and go to a more scenic place with nice flowing water and mountains. We spent the whole day there, and though it was exhausting, I thought it was fun to go with friends and just have a good time. There were a ton of activities we did, like motorboating, bungee jumping, hiking, and other stuff. Besides that, I’m going to Malaysia in the next couple of days, so I’m excited about that. I’ll keep y’all posted!


5/29 – 6/7 – In-country post

Hey everyone. The last two weeks have been an adventure through Korea! If you remember, we planned a road trip to Busan, and we went through with it. We had a national holiday that Thursday, so we left on Wednesday after all our classes. First, we took the train to Seoul Station, the largest station in Seoul, to go to Lotte Rent a Car, the biggest rental car company in Korea. Unfortunately, they had no small cars available and recommended we go to Gangnam. After another 30-minute journey, we arrived in Gangnam where they were expecting us. Because I had an International Driver’s Permit from home, I was able to easily rent the car, and we started the road trip. The drive was around five hours without any stops, and it was amazing. It was very scenic and felt good to drive again!

We stopped in Daegu for dinner and stumbled upon the 2024 Daegu City Festival, which was awesome. We got to see a ton of live performances. I really enjoyed Daegu; it felt different from Seoul, with people seeming livelier and less stressed. There were more families, and it felt a lot more relaxed, probably because it’s a smaller city. It reminded me of the difference between New York City and Washington DC back home. After dinner in Daegu, we continued to Busan, which was another two-hour drive. I had booked an Airbnb for my roommates and me, and it conveniently had free parking, making renting a car ideal. We arrived in Busan at night and walked around near our apartment, which was near a street called Texas Street. Surprisingly, there were many Russian and Thai stores there. After walking around for a while, we went to bed to get ready for the next day.

The next day, we explored Busan, visiting popular beaches and cliffs. We spent a lot of time on one cliff, climbing rocks and enjoying the views. Later that night, we got to see another K-pop live performance at a festival happening on the beach. We stayed until it ended and then walked around some more. We spent a few more days in Busan, hanging out and eating the local cuisine. Busan is famous for raw marinated crabs and live octopus, both of which I tried for the first time. The live octopus was insane; they cut it in front of us, and it moves in your mouth even while chewing because the nerves are still active.

We headed back on Sunday morning, returned the car, and slept for the rest of the day. The following days were the same routine of going to class, the gym, and other activities. I also went to a seafood restaurant near Korea University and had the best-grilled fish I’ve ever had. I’ll definitely be going back. That Thursday, we had a KUBA party with all the other international students, and I had a ton of fun hanging out with other exchange students and Korean buddies, that weekend my roommates and I ended up just exploring and going to different places in Seoul we hadn’t gone to before including places such as Sung Su, and Times Square mall. But besides that, this next week I have one last trip planned to Jeju Island with my roommates and a few Korean Buddies, so I’ll keep y’all updated on that!





6/8 – 6/21 – In-country post


Annyeong haseyo, hope everyone is doing well. I definitely have been, but at the same time, I’m a little sad knowing that these are some of my last weeks in Seoul. Time definitely flew by, but regardless, the last two weeks were full of fun activities, starting with Jeju Island! Yep, I finally got to go to Jeju Island with some of my roommates and Korean buddies. It was the most unique experience I’ve had so far in Korea. We ended up taking an hour-long flight from Gimpo Airport straight to Jeju. From there, we wasted no time and began exploring the island. One of the Korean buddies we were with had one of the strictest itineraries I’ve ever seen! So, we wasted no time driving around the island, looking around, and getting to our first couple of spots. This included the famous Seogwipo Jeongbang Waterfall and Seongsan Mountain. Both were really cool, and the weather was pretty supportive for us to hike up these trails without being soaked in sweat. These were enjoyable, and it was just really nice to explore while talking to the group.


From there, we actually did scuba diving on the first day. We all really wanted to do it, so we decided to book this in advance and had heard good things about the scuba diving place in Jeju. You don’t need to be certified or anything, but after around a 30-minute instruction period, we got strapped up, wore our gear, and hopped into the ocean! It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and while I was scared in the beginning, I ended up getting over it. One surprise to me was just how heavy the gear actually is. I probably had around 50 pounds of weight strapped to me, which made it kinda hard to move when I wasn’t in the water. The total session lasted around 90 minutes, but I think that was more than enough time for me to know if I liked it. After that, I realized how enjoyable it is and actually plan on getting certified back at UMBC, as they offer a seminar course to get certified! The day ended with us just exploring more and eating some of the famous foods Jeju is known for.

The next day, we actually ended up spending the whole day at Udo Island, a small island off the coast of Jeju that you take a ferry to. This was by far my favorite thing to do! We actually rented bikes for the day and just biked around the whole island. We tried various types of foods, my favorite being the peanut ice cream, which I ended up having three times in two hours. I had heard Jeju was famous for it but didn’t really believe it until I tasted how good it was. Other foods I got to try included live octopus, which I was excited about as it was on my bucket list.

After Udo Island, we just explored the city and got ready to head out the next morning, but it was definitely an amazing experience. The following week was pretty basic, going to classes, BJJ, working out, and occasionally spending time with friends.

However, the following weekend I came across an International Food Festival while going to Myeongdong. It was similar to the one at Korea University, but this one was way bigger. It had over 60 countries represented, and though I didn’t plan to, I ended up going on a food tour that day, eating foods from countries I would have never tried, like Algeria, Somalia, Nepal, and more! Besides that, my weekend also passed pretty fast, just going out and looking at different places I hadn’t been to before. At this point, I want to make sure I don’t leave anything out of Seoul, as I only have two weeks left, which I plan to use mostly for studying, so I know I won’t be going out much. But that’s it for me this time, and I really don’t have any plans for the next few weeks except studying, so I’ll see you guys later.


6/22 – 7/7 – In-country post

Hi all,

This is it, the final blog. I just got back from the 24-hour journey home, and I am utterly exhausted. From finals to saying goodbye to all the friends I made and packing up all the things I bought, I think I just need to enjoy the rest of my summer.

Let me rewind a bit. The last two weeks have been some of the busiest I have ever experienced. The first week was entirely devoted to studying, especially for two of my classes where I needed good grades to pass. Though I am happy to say that I ended up getting the grades I needed and successfully passed the hardest computer science classes I have ever taken.

However, the week leading up to finals was a challenge. I was mentally exhausted and stressed out, studying day and night for the finals I had my finals on Monday and Tuesday. It was such a relief to get them over with, and I had a couple of days to just chill before leaving Korea.

After finals, I made it a point to see all my friends one last time before heading out. This included my BJJ friends, who ended up giving me a custom BJJ rash guard (BJJ shirt). I had wanted to buy it, but it was a pre-order item. They ended up contacting a member of the gym who never picked his up and bought it from him just to give it to me! I also hung out with the friends I met at the mosque one last time before I headed out. We ended up going to a KBBQ spot, and it was just a really fun time. I also had some last-minute shopping to do at Myeongdong for gifts for my friends and family. I ended up buying a little too much stuff and had to stuff my suitcases, praying they wouldn’t be overweight. After all the packing was done, we ended up hanging with the KUBA buddies. They were the last people we saw before we headed out the next morning, and they were some of the coolest people I have ever met, they definitely plan on coming to the US so it wont be the last time I see them.

Now that I’m back, I can definitely feel the culture shock. Everything is a lot slower here, while in Seoul, everyone always felt stressed and was always moving fast. The people here are super relaxed. It also feels weird that everyone can understand English now. For the last four months, it was basically just me and my roommates, but now that I’m here, it’s a breath of fresh air knowing I can just talk to the waiter or ask for a cup of water without having to bust out Google Translate LOL. Besides that, it also feels a little weird to drive everywhere. There are pros and cons to that, for example while I was on the bus or subway, I could either do some readings for my classes or just scroll on TikTok…. Unfortunately can’t really do that when I’m driving.

Welp, this is the last blog. After four of the best months of my life, I truly hope I’ve inspired at least a couple of you to study abroad with UMBC, especially in South Korea. This journey has been unforgettable. Thanks everyone!