George Mason University

News at Mason

Students Explore Songdo and Beyond

March 21, 2014

By Sudha Kamath

President Cabrera,Rachel Rockrohr and Gabrielle Hanley

Mason President Ángel Cabrera is greeted by international peer advisors Rachel Rockrohr, left, and Gabrielle Hanley at Mason Korea. Photo courtesy of Rachel Rockrohr and Gabrielle Hanley

So far, so good in Songdo. The two George Mason University undergraduates serving as peer advisors at Mason Korea are reporting on the new Voices of Mason Korea blog.

Honors College students Rachel Rockrohr and Gabrielle Hanley joined classes March 3 at George Mason’s first campus in Asia and adopted new roles as international peer advisors through Mason’s Office of Global and International Strategies.

It took Hanley about a week — Rockrohr, about two weeks — to adjust to the new time zone after the 19-hour flight from the United States to Incheon International Airport. “Things are settling down from the excitement of the first few weeks of classes, so we are finally establishing a routine,” says Hanley. “Usually we will work in the Peer Advisor Office in the morning and late afternoon to plan activities for the weeks ahead and working with students.”

Hanley, a sophomore from Kailua, Hawaii, is taking upper-level Korean, anthropology and sociology classes. “My favorite class is SOC 352 with Professor Karen Rosenblum … we have tailored a reading list for the semester based on areas of Korean culture and politics I want to learn more about.”

The tables are turned as the peer advisors tackle some inquiries from fellow students about what life is like on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. “But there aren’t many questions about American pop culture,” admits Hanley. “Sometimes I feel my fellow students are more plugged in than I am.”

Both students, of course, are staying in touch stateside, but that can be a little difficult with the 13-hour time difference. “We are on almost completely opposite schedules.  However, I can usually call family and friends in the morning, when they are finishing up their day. I do miss my family and friends, but the Internet has really revolutionized the way we interact with people halfway across the world,” says Hanley.

Rockrohr, a sophomore from Carbondale, Ill., won’t have to wait too long to see her family. They’re moving to Korea this summer.

As for communication, the students say learning a language is challenging, but they’re enjoying the opportunity to practice Korean; the Korean students have been, according to Hanley, “very kind and helpful.”

The same applies to the Mason Korea staff. “They are very dedicated to helping Mason succeed here,” says Hanley. “I would have to say one of my favorite things about Mason Korea is the accessibility of professors and staff. We have a community lunch every other week where faculty, staff and President [Matthew] Zingraff come together with the students to enjoy a casual meal.”

Speaking of meals, the students say the Korean and Western food menu is “delicious” at the campus cafeteria, and they often visit the coffee shop/convenience store on campus.

“The biggest adjustment I have had to make in the past couple of weeks to living in Korea is the food,” says Hanley. “We haven’t yet become tired of the plethora of options. It may be surprising, but often it is cheaper to eat out at a restaurant than to purchase groceries to cook your own meals.”

Rockrohr and Hanley eat off campus when venturing into the city. “Usually after class or work, I will walk into the main part of Songdo, where we can find a variety of dinner options.  At my favorite restaurant … the server will cook fried rice with your choice of toppings and meat in the middle of your table. And although a Taiwanese import, bubble tea is very popular here and Rachel and I will have it a few times a week,” says Hanley.

The peer advisors explore Songdo in the evenings during the week and Seoul’s landmarks on the weekends. “My favorite spot is the Cheonggyecheon stream, a manmade stream that creates a peaceful haven in the middle of a fast-paced city,” says Hanley.

Transportation is “extremely convenient,”  and Hanley describes the metro system as “clean, efficient and very affordable.” The nearest station is about a half mile away from campus, while local buses stop in front of the campus on a regular schedule.

Will they explore more of Korea? “Absolutely!” Hanley confirms. “We hope to visit Jeju Island off Korea’s southern coast, and perhaps visit the southeastern city of Busan for the Lotus Lantern Festival later in the spring.”

Follow their new blogs on, as well as posts by Mason Provost Peter Stearns, Zingraff and Rosenblum. Mason President Ángel Cabrera has also blogged on “Top 10 Reasons to Be Excited about Mason Korea.”