WEST HAVEN — For Paul Raffile, visiting the Demilitarized Zone was the most memorable experience of studying in South Korea.
“We got a first hand account of a conflict going on for 60 years — the continuing standoff between the North and the South,” said Raffile, a Wallingford resident and junior studying criminal justice and political science at the University of New Haven.
Raffile sat outside Jazzman’s Cafe in Bartels Hall on the UNH campus Friday. Next to him was Amanda Carter, another junior studying criminal justice at the school. Raffile and Carter, as well as Naomi Constantino, a junior, spent the fall semester at the Korean National Police University.
The program gives the students an opportunity to spend four months as a police cadet in a different country. Two South Korean students spent the fall semester studying at UNH.
Both Raffile and Carter are no strangers to studying abroad. During their freshman year, the two studied in Spain. During their sophomore year, Raffile studied in London and Carter studied in Italy.
Raffile and Carter found it difficult to describe their experience in South Korea. Being in another country, they experienced culture shock, Carter said.
“We had been traveling for awhile and the bus pulled up to the campus and it was dark,” Carter said. “I remember thinking, ‘What did I get myself into?’ I was anxious.”
Joining the three Americans were exchange students from around Asia, including China and Vietnam.
A typical day consisted of an early morning roll call and then classes, including criminal justice and martial arts. Courses were taught by Korean professors in English.
In addition to a different country and culture, the students also experienced strict rules and policies at the police academy. Every Monday, the students would have to be in uniform to participate in a march. And later that night, there would be room checks. Every Fridays consisted of a lecture that was mandatory.
“We were able to get by because most people knew some English,” Raffile said.
They had to salute seniors, while freshmen and sophomores had to salute them.
“Living that lifestyle is completely different from university life,” Carter said. “On our first day, they told us it was compared to the Korean West Point.”
With only about 480 students at the police academy, Carter said everyone “knew everything we did and where we went.”
Despite the strict regulations and different lifestyle, Raffile said it was worthwhile.
“Most people think studying abroad is a vacation. It’s mostly experimental,” he said. “Being able to think differently of criminal justice systems in countries you don’t think about and the advantages and disadvantages of their criminal justice systems and how to adapt and implement them into the U.S. system.”
The students also participated in events outside the classroom, including a talk by 30 female police officers from Afghanistan. It was these “experiences outside the classroom that were the most beneficial,” Raffile said.
When the group visited the Demilitarized Zone, it allowed Raffile to witness the “volatile environment,” he said.
“It’s something you can’t experience in the United States, Europe or much of anywhere else,” he said.
After studying abroad, both Raffile and Carter said they were still unsure with what they want to do when they graduate. Carter said she wants to have a job that balances criminal justice and law. Raffile said he had similar interests, and added that Interpol was a possibility.
They were also unsure if they’d pursue another opportunity to study abroad.
But there is one thing they both agreed upon.
Living life as a police cadet at the Korean National Police University “was the most beneficial experience we’ve had so far,” Raffile said.