Before moving to the UK, I studied Fashion Design at a college in South Korea. But, I never thought that I would study the subject when I was a teenager. I have stories to tell you about my journey from struggling with my first uni life to coming to the UK to start my Fashion Marketing studies.
After taking the college entrance exam in Korea which is equivalent to SAT of USA, I had to think about which course to study. The problem was that I was not sure which subject area is right for me. I asked myself: what do I want to study? what am I interested in or passionate about? I tried hard to answer the questions, but couldn’t.
During my middle & high school like other Korean teenagers, I didn’t have opportunities to explore my interests and learn about different job areas. South Korea has a notoriously competitive and exam-focused school system. Students are forced to study hard from elementary school onwards.
Let me tell you about a schedule of ordinary high school student in Korea for your understanding. They wake up early in the morning and go to school at 7.30am. Although classes finish at 5pm, students should stay until 10pm to do self-study. This is a mandatory time for students to remain in their classrooms and study for the materials in class. After school is done, they still don’t go home. They go to private academies or libraries to do extra study. And then they come home at 12am or 1am. Most of students do this and it is not unusual in South Korea.
Let’s go back to my story of making a decision for what to study. I chose one of courses in the list and applied for a university. I was not entirely sure why I chose to study the subject. I never expected what consequence this choice will bring to me at that time.
I was excited about starting university journey and all the opportunities that I would have in the very beginning. But, not long after, I realised that the subject did not fit in my interests. I found it stressful and dreaded every week. Eventually, I failed and could not pass my first year. I felt stuck and did not know what to do. I considered changing the course, but was not sure which course I had a strong enough interest in.
I became lost and kind of hopeless. In the end, I dropped out of college. Other students and my course mates seemed to enjoy uni life very much; they went to parties and hung out with friends. I felt like I was a failure and I could not cope with normal things. After dropping out, I had stayed at home all the time. I did not want to meet friends and talk about my experience. My parents were already disappointed in me from my dismal performance. At that time, I had only one hobby which is reading fashion magazines. It was my own way to forget about reality. Fashion magazines acted as my guidance which taught me that there is much bigger world out there. They were my gateways to learning different stuff like design and culture, and getting inspirations.
After about a year, I applied for a Fashion Design course at a different college in Seoul. I got an offer and started my new uni life again. This time, I was determined to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I also wanted to prove myself to my parents. I made a list that I would like to achieve during my degree. It was my first bucket list that I made. It included winning scholarship, getting a variety of work experiences, exhibiting my work as an artist, and studying English etc. Guess what? I started to achieve things one by one and ticked all the boxes in the list in the end! For the first time, I realised that I could accomplish something.
While studying Fashion Design, I realised that I was not that good at designing clothes. I found myself interested more in theoretical areas like marketing and fashion history. I loved reading fashion magazines and art & design history books. I loved going to design stores and galleries to see beautiful products and displays. I was more intrigued in how fashion can be communicated through different media like photography, branding, styling, and marketing.
Over time, I wanted to study Fashion Marketing more in depth and started thinking about studying abroad as one of my next steps. There were some editorial stories which I used to read regularly in fashion magazines. The articles featured people studying fashion, art and design in other countries like UK, America, and Italy. Whenever I read them, it seemed like they were living in totally different world from mine; new surroundings, new culture, and new people. They gave me a motivation which I would like to study abroad like them.
I also wanted to experience different learning approaches. Korean education style is very much about passive learning. We don’t get many opportunities to talk about our opinions during the class. We hardly have a chance to develop critical thinking and creativity. In South Korea, I was taught to be more reserved and more quiet. Whereas, in the UK, everyone tends to speak up and talk about their opinions all the time. Studying abroad seemed a good choice to see other side of my study that I was never exposed to in my country.
I started to research how to study abroad and what schools are there in the UK. There are several reasons why I chose the UK for my study. I have always been fond of London-based designers. They are quirky, over the top, and pushing boundaries. Other fascinating advantage to live in Europe is that you can easily travel through neighbouring countries. Before coming to the UK, I already was aware of world-famous art and design exhibitions taking place in other European cities like Milan Design Week, Kassel Documenta, and Venice Biennale. I always dreamt of visiting those events.
In the choice of a school to study, one of my biggest concerns was cost of living. I was not sure if I could afford to live in London for three years. London is famous for expensive living cost. Searching for schools in other cities, I found Nottingham Trent University. It has a high reputation in art and design courses and it is much affordable to live in Nottingham. I also like the fact that it takes less than 2 hours by train from Nottingham to London. Whether it is easy to travel to London was crucial for me because I knew that I would visit London regularly for my research or assignment during my study. For example, if there are exhibitions or events that I want to visit in London, I could go to London like once every two or three months. And this seems more reasonable for me to save money.
After choosing the school and course to apply, I started preparing for my application properly: English language test (IELTS), portfolio, and interview. When I applied for the uni, the portfolio submission was not compulsory. But I decided to make a portfolio anyway because I really wanted to secure my place on the course. The course I studied belongs to school of art and design, which means it is focused on more creative side compared to others that are more business based. So, I thought the portfolio would be a nice way to demonstrate my creative skills and capabilities. I made a selection of my works carefully and built up the portfolio. My final portfolio included my street fashion photography, the fashion shoot which I organised, the window display mood boards which I created during Art Direction Course.
On the day of the university interview, of course, I was nervous. I tried to calm down and visualise myself achieving it. After the interview, I was made an offer by the school. It was the moment that i was getting close to my dream of studying abroad. It took one and a half years from getting English test grade, preparing for the portfolio, to having the interview, which was such a great effort. I was proud of myself and excited with the next step: start packing and get ready to fly to the UK.
But something happened out of blue. I got a health check in a hospital before I flew to the UK. A doctor told me that tumor was found on my thyroid gland and a further examination was required. After more tests, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and needed to get the operation.
To be completely honest, when I heard it, my biggest worry was that I might not be able to study abroad, not the operation or recovery. I had put a huge effort and time to get the opportunity and now all the hard work might go up in smoke.
‘Why is this horrible thing happening to me?’ I hated the situation which I was put in. The goddess of fortune did not walk away from me though. In the next meeting with my doctor, he told me that I was very lucky. As the cancer was found at an early stage, it did not need a big operation, which meant once I got the operation, I could go to the UK as I planned. He also added that I would need to take medication only for five years after the surgery. Some thyroid cancer patients are required to take it for the rest of their life to balance their hormones. When I heard it, I was so relieved.
What happened next? Three months after the surgery, I took a flight to London.