Last year, I had the fantastic opportunity to go on student exchange to South Korea and attend Seoul National University (SNU) as a music student for one semester. As it was my first time to experience living away from home for such an extended period of time while studying in a foreign environment, I was very excited to take part in the exchange program and looked forward to what SNU had to offer.
Seoul National University is regarded as the most prestigious University in Korea. For Korean people, it is the equivalent to studying in an IVY league University. Hence, the standard at SNU music was very high, as each year they only select two students for each brass and woodwind instrument out of hundreds that audition.
My trumpet teacher was in fact an American trumpet player, Bruce C. Barrie. During my time at SNU, I felt I was able to learn so much in a short time as I was the only brass student that could speak English fluently! I learnt a lot about technique, practice methods and routines that I believe helped me further develop my musicality and skills. It was a pleasure to learn under Professor Barrie, with whom I embarked on an explorative musical journey, first isolating and refining different elements of technique to ultimately achieve enhanced and balanced technique and musicality.
I was also able to take part in the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Wind Symphony and Chamber programs during my time there. The Orchestra gave two concerts during the semester, with repertoire including Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Verdi’s Overture to the Force of Destiny. The Wind Symphony program repertoire included an arrangement of the Sound of Music soundtrack, Malcomb Arnold’s 4 Scottish Dances and Holst’s Second Suite in F. Chamber consisted of a trio with another piano student and bass trombone, joining with another SNU trombone quartet to perform at a local hospital for a truly rewarding charity concert.
The opportunity to play in an orchestra that speaks an entirely different language and performing together with them in a foreign environment was an amazing experience. It showed me that music has no boundaries and is a medium that communicates our feelings beyond language and culture. In addition, as a musician it widened my awareness and taught me to be adaptive to different styles of music, different methods of rehearsals and performance in foreign environments and conditions.
Beyond music, I thoroughly enjoyed what SNU had to offer. My accommodation was the University dormitory on campus, which was positioned on one side of the Gwanak mountain within the huge campus. This provided me with a beautiful mountain view, however it meant that I walked through the mountain every day to the practice rooms in the music department. This was a delightful experience, particularly towards the end of the semester when the snow blanketed the whole campus, layering the trees and creating soft snow covers on buildings.
As a heritage Korean student with a grasp of the language, I was able to travel and socialise in Korea without too much difficulty. However, as I was born and grew up in Australia, there were the occasional cultural shocks, such as the respect and specific social manners required dictated by age and social status. This was, however, in a friendly and welcoming musical community, beneficial as they supported me personally, as well as providing the opportunity to perform outside of the university. Through such friendships, I had the opportunity to perform as a part of Sonamu (pine tree) Brass band in Incheon, the only Brass Band in Korea.
Towards the end of my exchange period I left Korea for a short period of time to perform at the awards ceremony for the Grand Virtuoso Prize in Rome, Italy, as one of the major prize winners. I believe that what I had learnt in Korea, both in terms of music and the experience of performing in a foreign environment, had prepared me to perform to the best of my ability at this event.
All in all, my experience overseas was very enjoyable and memorable, an educational experience that would help any student expand their network and advance in his/her field of study. I highly recommend anyone to take on an exchange opportunity.