Penn State First students in Seoul, Korea, participate in Walk-a-THON

A Penn State tradition takes new form in a new country

Credit: Nancy KimAll Rights Reserved.

SEOUL, Korea — On Oct. 31, Penn State students in Seoul, Korea, participated in a Walk-a-THON hosted by Penn State First, a first-year residential program offered to students in China and Korea in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, hosted by the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and Penn State, raised more than 800,000 won (more than $700 USD) through donations and fundraising activities throughout the walk.

Penn State First students in these programs take a blend of residentially taught and remote courses from a local institution, as well as Penn State remote courses. Since students could not come to the United States for the Fall semester, they were instead given the option to enroll in the Penn State First program.

The program in Seoul has about 40 students. Many of them attended the Walk-a-THON, joined by Penn State upperclassmen who are studying remotely in Seoul, staff, and members of the Korean International Organization for Penn State students.

The event included a long walk by the students, who were split into three teams. Before the start of the event, students had their temperature tested, and masks were mandatory. Students were also encouraged to keep distance, and the activities were designed with social distancing in mind.

Throughout the walk, students were given different tasks to earn points, which would then be translated into donations. One of the tasks — a photo scavenger hunt — challenged students to take photos in various situations, such as finding the Hangang Monster, made famous in the movie "The Host"; taking pictures forming “PSU” with their bodies; and running up the stairs like Rocky Balboa from the "Rocky" movies.

Students also made self-portraits and handed them out to each other as an icebreaker, answered trivia questions about Penn State, and learned about American football stances while earning candy. Because of COVID-19, this was the first time for many of them to meet outside of online classes. One student said it was their first time being out and meeting people in weeks.

On Nov. 3, the Korean Association for Children with Leukemia and Cancer (KACLC) held a donation ceremony. Lisa Kwak, a Penn State First student, attended the ceremony and spoke about the positive experience of the Walk-a-THON.

"It was great to do this because it allowed us to get together during COVID-19, and also work toward a meaningful goal,” she said.

Overall feedback from the experience from students was positive. The hope of the organizers is that the event laid the foundation for the students’ participation in THON, and their embodiment of the Penn State spirit, for when they are able to come to campus in the United States.

“One of the key motivators for partnering with CIEE to host Penn State First: Seoul was to offer new students in South Korea an opportunity to meet other Penn Staters and get to know more about our institutional values, traditions, and culture,” said Brian Brubaker, director of Education Abroad in the Office of Global Programs. "I was so pleased that Nancy Kim, our on-site program coordinator, picked up on the importance of philanthropy, community, and our 'We Are' spirit that’s captured in THON.”

For more information on the Penn State First: Seoul program, contact Brubaker at

Last Updated November 19, 2020