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01 May 2015 @ 10:01 pm
[sticky post] Intro  
Hello! As it says in my blurb over to the left, my name is Aidan and I'm a UMBC Asian Studies/History student studying at Yonsei in Seoul for my 2015-2016 junior year. This will serve as a record of my application experience, studying abroad itself, and my travels. Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions!

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29 October 2015 @ 01:18 am
Arianne has been saying for almost a week now how much she wanted cake, so I looked some stuff up online and found a place called Vanilla Kitchen, which serves six kinds of cake supposedly masterfully. I was particularly looking forward to the S'mores cake, which just seemed delicious.

Since it was in Hongdae we ate dinner in Sinchon first, then took the subway to the Hongdae station and then walked. The good thing about this whole thing was that this was that this was the first place I'd found online that actually existed, the bad part was that it sucked.

Out of the six advertised kinds of cakes, they only had about two slices of carrot cake and three slices of honey milk tea cake (I mean I get it, it was towards the end of the day but they were still open for two hours so...). Arianne wanted the milk tea and this was her thing so that's what she got. It was also, coincidentally, the cheapest on the menu at the still exorbitant ₩7000 per slice (the more expensive ones went up to around ₩8500). Arianne and I switch off on who pays for things, and it was my turn, so I paid and we got our piece of cake.

It tasted fine I guess. I mean it didn't taste bad but it didn't taste good either. It was far too airy and crushed down to nearly half its height when forking off pieces. Even Arianne didn't like it, and ultimately it took us less than three minutes to eat it. We sat around for a while mooching off their wifi and then we just left.

All in all it was a massive waste of time and money and I'm inordinately depressed that I blew nearly seven dollars on a really subpar piece of cake. To be honest I think any premade cake from Weis would have been better.

**UPDATE (12/16): In the subsequent time I have quite quickly realized that you can get cake at any number of local dessert cafes, regular cafes, cat cafes, basically literally any kind of cafe, and for much better prices too, thus rendering this trip a big waste of both time and money.

Here it is at last - the post that hung up all the others and ruined my whole determination for a schedule. (Written 1.Oct.2015)

Thursday was exciting: Seoul tour day!! (Also there’s too many pictures to incorporate so they’re basically all under a cut at the end.)

I mentioned previously that I had signed up for something called the Buddy Program (read about that here), and one of the things offered by the program was your choice of three tours of Seoul, each focusing on two destinations. I chose the second tour, which visited Gyeongbokgung, a palace first built in the late 14th century, and the Bucheon Hanok Village. This actually allowed me to tick a destination off my list as well as see some specific things I had hoped to see.

Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung, which as it turns out is actually really close to school - I might go back, actually, get a better look at some things than I could in the group. (Note: by point of posting, I have gone back. New post eventually.)

Anyway, the coolest thing about Gyeongbokgung (other than the fact that it’s a 700-year-old palace, but more on that later) was the painting style under the roof. I had learned (briefly) about this style of Korean decoration, called dancheong, in a class previously and I just really wanted to see it; luckily, Gyeongbokgung was rife with examples!


We were divided into groups which sucked a bit just because I didn’t really like the people in my group. They didn’t want to look at the things I wanted to look at and they were all the French kids who I’ve determined are pretty much universally assholes (except this one kid Guillaume he’s alright plus he knew where Frederick was because he lived in Rockville for like 5 years for some reason) and they just sort of rushed through and then lingered in lame bits that weren’t buildings and it was irritating because the mentor and I and a couple other people basically just spent the whole time trying to catch up to them.

They actually spent the longest time of all in the cafe/gift shop buying coffee so that was simultaneously irritating and nice because while I wanted to actually see things, I did sit outside on the covered porch and talk with our mentor for a while. He was really cool. He was asking about my name because he (and everyone else) said he’d thought that was a guys name. Shockingly people in Korea actually know the name and can pronounce it with greater success than most people I’ve met at home have been able to. I said that yeah, it was kind of gender-neutral but mostly a man’s name and he said he understood. His name was (is) 근선, aka Geunseon, which means “hibiscus” (the Korean national flower) and which he said was technically gender-neutral but in reality is distinctly feminine; I said it was a nice name but he said he hated it.

We talked a bit more about ourselves - our hometowns (I’ve just been saying “close to DC” to everyone for ease of understanding; he comes from somewhere down south though I don’t remember the town), our ages (he’s 24 because he took time off of school to get his required time in the army out of the way), our years (it’s his last semester), our majors (I don’t remember anything about this), stuff like that. We talked a bit more as we were walking but it was significantly less because he was talking to everyone else. He was really cool, honestly. I’ve actually seen him once since then and he recognized me and ran across the street to give me a really hard high-five.

One we did finally get going again (the cafe was really close to the entrance; we really hadn’t gotten much chance to see anything yet), it really was pretty. I guess in a way it’s kind of repetitive because most of the buildings sort of look the same but that painting is honestly so pretty I didn’t get tired of it. There’s a couple big ponds in the middle. One was surrounded by willows and had this big two-story open-air building with some stone pathways leading to it. There were people in it and I really wanted to go but the doors to the pathways were all closed and we weren’t sure it was ok to go over. The other pond was surrounded by pines and covered in lily pads. There was a tiny island in the middle with a small polyhedral pergola-type thing in the middle. It had a fancied-up boardwalk going out to it that was fenced off.

This second pond was also where I saw birds that looked like corvids of some sort but white and black and my inability to provide either a photograph (I tried but they flew) or a thoroughly complete description has since vexed my parents greatly.

We spent about two hours I think walking around this place. In a way I kind of feel like we didn’t see much, but what can you do. Such is the nature of touring in groups.

From there we went to a fancy department store to a fancy buffet that took up (so far as I can tell) the entirety of one of the floors. It was apparently very traditional Korean dishes (or as traditional as anything can be when served in buffet format). They were pretty good. I don’t remember a food in particular that stood out but the sauces were fantastic - I liked the fried lotus root a lot simply because it was flavorless and really took the sauces.

Koreans (or at least mediaeval Koreans) had a real thing for pumpkin. Like half of everything was pumpkin - pumpkin sauce, pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, candied pumpkin, pumpkin I-don’t-know-what-else. It was a lot of pumpkin.

It was good. Not fantastic, mostly because a lot of it had gone cold from sitting out or gone soft because of same. I’ve had better but I’ve definitely had much worse. I also sat with my roommate, a sort-of friend of hers name Helen (that at this point I don’t think she’s talked to in weeks) who went to her uni back in Australia (though they didn’t meet until getting here), and some guy named Andre (Chinese but from the Netherlands) who I see everywhere and who is very nice but never say much to. I’m not really sure if that improved or took something from the situation but it really was OK. Although I think Helen hates me.

After that it was back on the bus to go to Bukcheon Hanok Village. This was the biggest disappointment. It’s still a working/normal neighborhood so there were signs everywhere asking people not to be loud so as not to disturb the residents. When we got there everyone went in the one direction the map suggested and it was a slow-moving madhouse so someone in our group asked Geunseon if we could go the other way. He ran off for a second to ask but I guess it was fine because we went off in another direction without any other groups.

Like I said it was still just a normal neighborhood. With absolutely insane hills but still. All over Seoul there are old tile-roofed buildings mixed in with the skyscrapers, so I honestly couldn’t see much difference between this area and the rest of Seoul. It was hugely disappointing and we finished going through really quickly so then we went to a cafe. It was super cute inside although all the French were pretty massively disappointed that it didn’t have rooftop seating (they had some weird term for it that I can’t for the life of me remember). The one girl also asked all of us for a lighter (no one had one) then laughed and said, “Zey say zhere are smokers, and zhen zhere are French,” and laughed haughtily and it was at once annoying and one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in my life and did exceptionally little to bring the French into my good graces.

After that we pretty much just went back. At least my roommate tells me they didn’t really see anything either so I guess I know that I didn’t just take a crap path. Again, I may try going back here alone because there’s a bunch of little museums we didn’t even glance at and places where you can pay like 5 bucks and learn/make a traditional handicraft and take it home which you may know is absolutely and directly up my alley. After that the mentor club kept sending out emails saying they were overenrolled and to fill out the form again if you really wanted in. Arianne and I filled it in three more times, I believe, without getting in. The final time they sent it out I finally gave up. Arianna did it one last time and got in. So.

Click for a sampling of all the photos I tookCollapse )
25 September 2015 @ 09:39 pm

Everything I'd heard had led me to believe I'd be monstrously overweight for Korea. While I guess it's true that a lot of the population is quite skinny, people my weight or even a bit more are pretty common. To be fair I've only seen one morbidly obese person in the month I've been here and they were an American tourist.

So many of the other foreign students (i.e. everyone from Europe) don't know a single word of Korean, not even "hello" or "thank you." I have no idea how they're doing it, since I'm struggling even with a basic knowledge.

Everyone here smokes. Or at least all the men. I'd heard about it before, though I think mostly in the context of Japan, but it's crazy how many people here smoke everywhere all the time (including the opera majors - what are you doing??!????!).

I sort of wonder how much of the things here that a strange to me are Korean things or just city things. I've never spent any real length of time in a city either so I have no way to tell.

I'd heard that the scooters here were insane, and that definitely wasn't a lie. They drive on the roads, the drive on the sidewalks, they drive on the grass. They drive through red lights, they drive between lanes, the drive against traffic. They do not give a single damn - if you're in their way they will hit you without hesitation and they won't look back.

The old people here are assholes. Old people can be rude and act very entitled in America, too, but this is next level. They act all feeble to reap the benefits of that but they'll do a strong job of shoving you out of the way to get the better spot. Lines mean nothing and neither does waiting.

I usually don't feel like I stand out too much. Obviously I know I look different - my hair's wrong (color and texture, not to mention style), my clothes are wrong, my features are wrong, I'm hairy - but I haven't noticed people staring at me like other people have complained about. Whether this is actually them not staring, or merely my natural obliviousness coming in handy for once, I don't know.

The food here is fast - like fast. I don't thing I've ever waited longer than five minutes for food. Probably the slowest meal is if you get barbecue, but still the meat comes out quick and then it's just your own cooking time (plus if you get one of the really him cuts it cooks super fast).

The other international students are so rude! In class especially. The teachers here seem to have a tendency to be really quiet, plus while he class is taught in English they're not always very good at it. I always thought it was just kind of the thing that when the teacher stood at the front of the class - and especially when they started talking - that you shut up, but people are shouting all through the very beginning of class and are still talking through the whole thing. It's hard enough to hear the professors without the added obstacle so this really pisses me off.

This country loves water. There's always water, usually a self-serve water cooler at casual places, and at restaurants they typically just plunk down a big water jug and two small cups at the start of your meal. There doesn't typically seem to be other drinks either, besides alcohol. This is by far the most water I've drunk in my entire life.

22 September 2015 @ 01:00 am
A number of family members, and my mom especially, had been requesting that I make a video tour of my dorm room, so here it is by popular familial demand!

Sorry it took so long to do it - I originally wanted to start outside and come in (and I actually tried but it didn't work out), and also Arianne had requested that I make such a video when she was not here, and we're both here quite a bit so it was tough finding a time when she was out for a while and I was in.
21 September 2015 @ 02:43 am
Just writing a short entry today because it shouldn't take too long. Today was pretty much a lazy Sunday. Sort of blobbed around in bed, went out to get lunch (dumplings - subpar) with Arianne, planned to study but didn't, then went out for dinner. Around the event of both meals we sort of wandered around Sinchon (as we do) struggling to find a place to eat and I guess really getting the lay of things as well.

Since yesterday Arianne's been texting a Korean guy, Sangwon, that she met through a friend previously. I guess I came up and he wanted to meet me for some reason, and when Airanne asked when he said 10:30pm (again, no idea why), and we figured it was too much hassle to walk back to the dorms after dinner then back out again later on so we decided just to kill time.

For dinner we went to the same barbecue place I visited with my Korean class previously. This time we got the samgyeopsal (pork belly), dwaeji galbi (pork spareribs), and the pork skirt meat. It was good, I dunno. We tried to kill time with it but in the end it only took less than an hour.

After that we wandered some more, ventured onto some streets we'd not visited before. We sort of came around the back of where we'd been previously and came upon Diaso, and we wandered around there for a bit. I bought a box of Milk and Cookie peperro which were really good, and we just sort of laughed at things around the store.

My final grandmotherly form.

Then we ended up visiting the roof garden on top of U-PLEX that we'd been to before. It's really nice up there and you can get a pretty cool view of the city.

We sat around for a while after that and finally, finally, got to 10:30. We waited in front of the U-PLEX for a couple minutes for Sangwon to arrive - Arianne didn't actually remember what he looked like so we really couldn't pick him out. But I guess he must have recognized her because he came up and waved. He brought a friend, who introduced himself as AJ (that seems to be a relatively popular English name in Korea and I don't understand??), and Sangwon introduced himself as John (both 28 year old [Korean age, so 26 or 27 American] Civil Engineering students). His friend (definitely the more gregarious) asked if we wanted coffee, we sort of mumbled in the affirmative, and we went to a cafe (Caffé Pascucci) across the street.

We went to a cafe and it was so awkward and horrible and AJ bough Arianne and I ₩6500 kiwi juices (which I feel bad about) and got himself a coffee and we sat down - Arianne and I on one side of the table, AJ and John? Sangwon? on the other side. Sangwon didn't get anything and he was yawning and not saying anything at all and it was terrible. Thank goodness his friend was there because he was absolutely and entirely running the conversation (he was the only one out of the four of us making any real effort to break the horrible awkward silence). I was tearing bits of my straw wrapper off and rolling them up and stuffing them into the rest of the straw wrapper and then Sangwon asked what I was doing (I think that might actually have been the first thing he said beyond his name) and I said I didn’t know and kind of laughed and put it down (and kept sucking down my juice) and he picked up the straw wrapper and handed it back to me and told me to keep going so I did. It was really weird and that guy wasn’t really talking, only the other guy was, and I just didn't know what to do so I was just sort of very deliberately not looking at Sangwon, only looking at AJ when he was talking (otherwise I just sort of stared at random things around the cafe), and picking at my straw wrapper.

I don't remember really how it came up - probably another way to break the tension with safe topics - but Sangwon finally spoke up (he was keeping quiet because his English isn't very good, but it was certainly conversational) and asked me what kind of music I liked. I said I liked rock because I really wasn't sure what else to say that would be pretty simple to understand (and I mean I think most of what I listen to falls under the incredibly general subheading of 'rock') and he got really excited and told me he liked rock, too. Apparently until two years ago he played drums in a band (though now he doesn't play in order to focus on his studies) and he showed me some pictures on his phone. He asked me what my favorite band was and I said Siouxsie and the Banshees, not expecting any real response and preparing to back that up with someone more common, like The Who or Led Zeppelin. Shockingly, he got excited and said he knew Siouxsie, though he hadn't listened to very much, and then started listing off his favorite bands - I remember Led Zeppelin and ACDC as the two names that stood out to me. He asked if I knew how ACDC got their name; I replied that I didn't (I don't) and he seemed very smug and said that he did know, and followed that up with a story I really didn't understand about how some member of ACDC's sister looked at a science book or something. I think I need to look up the real story to understand.

From there he asked for my kakao ID, added me, and then I guess he looked at my profile picture, which is this.

and asked if I knew who this guy way (indicating Bob Ross). I said yes and, against all odds, he actually knew who Bob Ross was, said he loved watching his show as a kid, and talked about how much he loved Bob Ross' paintings because they showed such natural scenes (??? something like that). So then we further bonded over Bob Ross (who'd've guessed) and he desperately tried to get me to remember some sort of hamster (he said rat at first but then substituted hamster) who lived in Bob Ross' hair and would crawl around??? I don't remember any such thing, and told him so, but he was very insistent.

The conversation lagged again after that. Sangwon asked me what I thought of Korean food (I said it was delicious) and he said he likes hamburgers, such as from Burger King. AJ piped up and said he liked In 'N' Out (he's been to America before - he seemed quite smug about it). I said I'd never been because it was across the country, but that I liked Sonic (honestly, the burgers aren't half bad), and that I worked there, and I did my best to explain the concept of carhops. He immediately asked if it was like Hooters, which I thought was absolutely hilarious, and even after I said it wasn't he asked a couple more times whether it was like Hooters (no, it's not). They also gave me the absolute third degree about my knowledge of various internationally famous Korean football (soccer) players and American gameshow hosts (I think I was a bit of a letdown as a resource - I didn't know any of their favorite soccer players and I was only able to name half the cast of America's Got Talent).

I don't think we stayed too long after that. AJ and Sangwon said they were tired and mentioned meeting again (but what's the likelihood of any follow-through? slim to none). AJ said that next time we were going to go drinking (Sangwon immediately and enthusiastically agreed that that sounded like a great idea) in order to make Arianne and I talk more, and requested that next time we correct his English (there really isn't much to correct - he was pretty good, barring a few pronunciation issues). Sangwon shook my hand and apologized that his English wasn't good, and said that he would study for three weeks (not sure how that's gonna help?) and then we would hang out and I would help his English and he would teach me Korean (again, potentially nice but what's the likelihood of any followthrough).

All in all it was a decent-ish but incredibly, painfully awkward first meeting. Fun language barriers that I couldn't fit into this narrative include:

  • AJ trying to explain his experience shearing sheep in New Zealand as a kid, but pronouncing sheep like 'ship' leading to much confusion, before we figured out what he mean and corrected his pronunciation, at which point he jokingly said "sheeeep" in a very exaggerated way

  • AJ asking me if I hated him, my very dry answer of "yes" and his protests. When I told him that no, I didn't actually hate him, he seemed very flustered and told me he wasn't Americanized (apparently sarcasm doesn't translate well)

  • My struggle to understand their pronunciation of  "America's Got Talent" (apparently Arianne understood them right away, and didn't see how I couldn't so she waited a while before clarifying). I absolutely hate when I can't understand people because of their accent - I feel like scum when they're trying so hard

12 September 2015 @ 12:52 pm

**NOTE** I started and wrote most of this on Friday, which is why it says 'yesterday' even though I'm posting it on Saturday. I just had a lot of class on Friday and then I went out to dinner with some classmates. Also yes, my tongue is still burned.

Alright so these entries are getting obscenely late (TWO WEEKS) but I'll do one for yesterday (I was too tired then). Yesterday was something I was really looking forward to.

So I signed up for three programs offered by the global program - One Shot, a international student photography club (first outing this weekend!); the Buddy Program (previously explained - I didn't get in); and the Language Exchange program, which pairs an international student up one-on-one with a Korean student to...well, to exchange language.

Thankfully I did get into this one, so yesterday was the orientation where we were slated to meet our partners. When I got there there was a list of names (one for the Korean students and one for the international students) with a seat number next to your name, and a seating chart showing which seat was where. I was in seat 가C06. Unfortunately, once I got to the front of the auditorium where my seat supposedly was, it...didn't exist. I have no idea why but the two outermost chunks of seats started at E. There wasn't even a sign that seats ever had been or could be set into the floor so I don't know if they put folding chairs there sometimes? There was a big empty space there but I don't know.

So I ran into a friend, Gabby, who I knew from UMBC who was supposed to be in row A and this equally lost. We sort of stood there for a bit not knowing what to do before we found someone to ask and she sort of vaguely told us to sit in the back, which we did. There was kind of a random smattering of other people across the back rows of seats so I'm guessing they were just similarly displaced. There was a brief orientation talking about two programs they had - one hiking the mountain behind the school and completing challenges with the first 10 pairs to sign up, and another challenge to take specific pictures around Seoul with prizes for the first five to complete it - before telling the international students to turn around and that the person directly behind them was their Korean partner.

At this point we were just sort of at a loss because, or course, we didn't...actually...have seats. So we sort of sat there for a while - they kept making announcements about things but we kept waiting and they never said anything. So then we went back up and stood roughly where our seats were for a while, but eventually it was really hot up here so we went to sit in the back again. They said that if you couldn't find your partner to come see them on the stage for contact info but basically everyone went up and that line was not moving so we just sort of sat in the back for a bit over an hour until the line was gone and then went up.

Basically they gave us our partner's phone number, email, alternative email, and kakao ID (Kakaotalk is a free internet texting/calling app that's insanely big in Korea, like you don't give anyone your number you give them your ID, even businesses). My partner's name is 김민철 or, for those who can't read Hangul, Kim Mincheol. So I added him on Kakao and sent him a message of greeting, and waited for a bit. Actually first I just added him and then died of laughter because a) his description was just the word "MOTORCYCLES" in all caps and b) his picture showed he had neon orange hair (not too much a thing here - most people, and the guys especially, trend towards more natural colors).

So basically I waited for a few minutes but he hadn't read it yet, and my friends who had found their partners already wanted me to go out to dinner with them, so I went out. Just after leaving campus and diving into Sinchon he finally replied, again just a greeting basically. He asked if I had come to the orientation, and where I was because he didn't see me. I said I had just left but if he wanted to meet I could come back. He agreed to that so I made my way back and what should have been a quick trip ended up taking freaking forever between dodging all the darn scooters, getting to the crosswalk at the absolute worst moment and being forced to wait for about ten minutes, and then being forced to dodge all around the campus to work around all the construction.

This whole time he was moving around and texting me - at first he asked me to meet him at the baseball court (iffy), then he said he actually meant the basketball courts, and then he asked where I was (because I was taking ages) and said just to meet at the library. I eventually did get there and is only been waiting for a minute or two before a guy I'd seen at the orientation while fire engine red hair came out from behind the building and sort of looked at me for a bit before saying hello.

Ok so I had intended for this post to be all about our actual interaction but somehow it's taken forever to get to this point (I'm so long-winded normally that really I shouldn't be surprised). Ok so we met and that was weird and awkward and stuff and I think we shook hands? Maybe not. When he showed up it turned out that he'd been standing pretty close to me while I was laughing at his kakao and I still feel terrible because he most likely heard me so that sucks but oh well. His English is really great - he even said as much when we first met, and said that he just wanted to fine-tune it. So he asked me if I'd eaten dinner yet and I said no even though I had because I felt bad, so we headed back towards Sinchon to eat.

He asked if there was anything I wanted to eat and I really couldn't think of anything so I asked what one of his favorite things was. He said he really liked seolleongtang so I just sort of told him to lead the way. The whole walk (and actually the whole evening) was kind of just awkward small talk punctuate by uncomfortable laughter but eventually we arrived in front of a pretty small restaurant. It actually a pretty big relief having him there simply because he ordered and it eliminated the ever-present stress of “how on earth do I order” because not only do you have to do so in Korean (obviously), but also service is different here so no one comes to your table (after initial delivery of water and cups) and you have to call them over or just sort of shout your order at them which I always feel weird about.

I actually pretty much understood what he said (something along the lines of “설렁탕 두게 주세요,” or “Give us two seolleongtang, please”) which I was kind of pleased about, and from then it really only took a couple of minutes (more awkward small talk) before our soup arrived, during which he asked if I liked kimchi and started cutting up an insane amount before I even really got a chance to answer. I got what Mincheol recommended (he got the same), which was some variation on seolleongtang (a kind of beef soup with a milky white broth) with like a lot of garlic? I don’t really know what it was but the broth was pretty garlicky and there were a bunch of whole stewed cloves. They brought it out still boiling in a stone bowl (pretty typical for Korean soups; you get the same thing stateside) as well as a little metal bowl of rice (also typical) which, when I touched it was also about a million degrees.

He told me that you’re supposed to put the rice into the soup (for this whole meal I was pretty much just following his lead) and eat kimchi with it every couple bites or so. He just sort of dove right in - Korean’s have amazing mouths, I have no idea how they eat such hot food no problem. I blew on mine because it was obviously hot despite his lack of reservations but eventually I felt self conscious about it so I just went ahead and ate it. My tongue is still burned - and I mean visibly burned, which I didn’t even know could happen, but it’s red and lumpy and feels like sandpaper.

I was a little more conscientious about blowing on the soup after that though I still felt weird about it. About halfway through I was still blowing on it and he stopped eating to watch and seemed pretty surprised when I said it was still hot. We ate pretty slowly and kind of continued with the small talk which, though awkward, was kind of nice. He talked a lot about Carl Sagan (he’s an Astronomy major), explained that his face is torn up because he got in a motorcycle accident while driving drunk two months ago and had just been to the hospital for scar treatment (he lost his license), and also explained that he was 24 but still in college because he’d taken time off to complete his mandatory military service. In Korea the 빨리빨리 (quickly quickly) culture is definitely very apparent so whenever I eat somewhere I feel really rushed and kind of pressured to just cram food in my face and get out of the restaurant so really taking time over a meal was kind of refreshing, even in unfamiliar company.

After a while we paid and sort of meandered our way back onto campus. He walked with me about a third of the way back to the dorms - as far as our paths matched. We exchanged phone numbers and then parted ways. Basically the whole thing was just really awkward. That’s not to say that Mincheol was poor company, but the whole setup felt kind of weirdly date-like. The feeling may have been enhanced just by the knowledge that a really large portion of people who signed up for Language Exchange did so in hopes of dating their partner. I kind of wish I had requested a female partner, but I signed up for “either” in hopes of improving my chances of getting in.

The only other thing that happened that night was that on the way back to the dorms there was really loud music coming from a lit-up rainbow stadium that I didn’t even know we had - apparently a kpop group called B1A4 is playing here Saturday and Sunday.

Current Music: Hum Aapke Hain Koun - Didi Tera Devar Deewana
02 September 2015 @ 03:17 pm
Level one.

I've decided that at this point I'm just going to stay behind so I might as well update in real time and catch up in between.

Level one.

I've studied Korean for TWO YEARS and the best I can test into is level one. Me and all the people who don't even know the alphabet, didn't even take the test just signed on up for the beginner class.

All I wanted was to get into level two. Just something to validate that the last two years haven't been a complete waste but I guess I can't even ask for that much. Now the only "validation" I have is that I've just blown the last two years doing absolutely nothing.

I really thought I had it. I knew I didn't do well but I thought I'd at least done well enough to avoid starting at complete baseline.

A friend of mine from home said her instructor told her her grammar was good but her vocabulary was basic, and that she'd almost certainly be placed into level one but that next semester she could sit the test again and likely get into three or four. My instructor said nothing at all but maybe I'll try the same thing, give myself at least a vague chance of testing out of 300 level Korean back at home.

I'm just so mad at myself for failing like this. I should be better than this.
26 August 2015 @ 11:09 am

(Written 1.Sept.2015)

So. Wednesday.

Wednesday was kind of dull. Basically it was a day dedicated largely to gross administrative stuff that had to happen even though it was boring. Although, I suppose in retrospect the results were somewhat exciting.

Our first stop on Wednesday was to the Olleh store in the basement of my dorm to get a SIM card. Olleh is one of the three major mobile carriers in Korea, along with SKT and another brand I can't remember at the moment. Dad and I had done a decent amount of research on SIM cards before I left (to, I think, no real conclusive result) and I had investigated a couple options. Ultimately, however, I chose just to go with Olleh, partly just out of convenience but also because, based on the research I've conducted, Olleh hosts the free national wifi (yup, even in the subways), which is available only to those with an Olleh SIM.

It was pretty simple. You have to have been in the country for three days (long enough for immigration to process you) before you're eligible to apply for a card (and this goes for any carrier, not just Olleh). I got here on Sunday so I was good, and Arianne (my roommate) got here on Monday so she wasn't sure if it was long enough or not but we figured we'd give it a go.

The people in the shop were really nice - they're there basically solely to cater to the international students, so everyone spoke English and was very nice about the whole thing. Every plan they had was $50 startup fee, with $20 towards the card itself and administrative stuff and the other $30 dedicated to your plan. They offered a choice of 500mb, 1gb or 2 gbs of data with an adjusted amount of calling (I remember it was 128 minutes with the 500mb, but I don't remember the others; more data meant fewer minutes basically). If I'm not mistaken the data is monthly but the minutes are just refillable? I'm not totally sure. I need to go back and ask some questions.

I chose 500mb but looking at it now I have no idea why. I mean I have no Korean friends or anyone I'm calling/texting in Korea, and the only communication I do is via line or kkt so data would be more useful?? Honestly I have no idea what I was thinking but oh well. I hope to change that in the coming months.

Both of us were told to come back later in the day - Arianne was told in an hour, I was told at 5pm - to pick up our cards since they were kind of swamped with orders at the moment, so we moved to the bank in order to set up an account.

This was a drag just because of how long it took. We got a number there from the little ticket machine right away and then followed the example of the horde of other international students in the bank and filled out the form for opening an account (I would totally have missed it; they really didn’t make it obvious). It was in Korean mostly so it was a bit of a struggle, though they had a completion diagram taped to the desk and there was a harried but very sweet young security guard doing his best to help everyone despite the language barrier.

It probably took us about 10-15 minutes to finish the form, and then we waited.

And we waited.

We ended up waiting for about an hour and a half, I think. There were six stations, and each one had a screen with a number on it that corresponded to a ticket number. There was also a bigger screen up on the wall that displayed the same numbers as well as which station number that ticket should go to. For the most part it barely moved but occasionally it would just barrel through numbers. Let me tell you, you have to be on the mark with the numbers because if you don’t stand up immediately (and I mean immediately) they just charge on past you and pass to the next number.

When we did get called up it was pretty simple i guess. You handed them the form and they pointed to a blank I hadn’t filled in because I didn’t understand it and told me to create a username. Then I had to create a pin and a password and I don’t really remember but I think it was pretty much boring bank stuff. The cool thing was that, rather than wait for two to three weeks for the card to ship, they just gave it to you right there, with your name on it and everything. They asked me if I wanted to deposit anything and I just handed them the ₩80,000 I had in my wallet (I wasn’t sure if there was a minimum deposit so I brought a lot) and she put that on the card before she gave it to me. Then she gave me a sheet with instructions on activating your online account, and a little book that says how much I have in the bank and that I can stick in the ATM to print my transactions onto it.

The crappy thing about this whole bank business is the online banking. Everything here is PC oriented and works exclusively on Internet Explorer (literally no one uses explorer; why is it Korea’s optimum browser of choice) so it’s already choppy navigating to where they told me on the paper. Then I had to download all this security software but it’s PC exclusive so it couldn’t download some things and now I can’t even visit that page because the same popup always comes up about how I need the security software but it can’t download it, and when I close the popup it just opens again instantly and so eventually I have to force quit Safari (it doesn’t work at all with Chrome) entirely in order to use my computer. So that sucks.

Then we meandered our way back to the Olleh store by way of the Student Union building and the bookstore, only to have Arianne be told that, since she hadn’t been in the country for three full days, she’d have to come back tomorrow. Then we had some lunch before deciding to set out to Daiso, a Japanese dollar store, in search of cheap necessities. There’s not really too much to say about that - it was a dollar store, pretty much like any other, though there was some awfully funny English on a lot of the products.

And yeah. I think that’s everything for Wednesday. It really wasn’t a very exciting day, though I suppose a decent amount happened. I guess the only thing left was picking up my SIM at 5, which then became 6 when he couldn't get it to work at first when he tested it. (Now it works great!)

29 August 2015 @ 12:05 pm
Alright, so I wrote all this down on Tuesday but I hit some button, I don't even know what, and it summarily closed Chrome and deleted the entire post I had written but not yet published. I'm going to do my best to retreat what I wrote last time but I don't remember it exactly.  Also sorry this is late - I've been so, so tired these last couple days and busy besides so I haven't had the time.

So today (Tuesday, not today, but I'll be referring to it as today for the sake of continuity) was orientation day, and the date of my first real and proper adventure. I'll start from the beginning.

Orientation started early with the housing orientation at 9:30 am. This was pretty boring, standard stuff; just dorm rules, some administrative things we need to look into (such as getting our refund if we overpaid our housing fee), introducing the housing staff, some advice such as never to ask someone for their number because that means you're interested in them, that sort of thing. It didn't take very long at all, perhaps twenty minute to half an hour all told, and then we were off across campus to another building for the actual orientation.

This orientation was pretty standard and started with a pickup from 10-11 of a packet containing the forms needed for our alien registration cards, a couple booklets with a ton of really great info on a variety of subjects, and our students ID cards. Then followed a general orientation from 11-noon covering primarily the information contained in the packet.

After a two hour break for lunch came a second orientation, called "First Step to Korea," which lasted until just before five. This one was all about issues particular to international students, such as culture shock (with speeches given by formal studiers abroad) and generally getting settled into Korea and Seoul. We also had the chance to sign up for several company tours (KBS, Hyundai motors, Hite Jinro beer company),

While this was all well and good, the best part of this second orientation were the musical performances.

Following this, at five, began the very brief "orientation" for the buddy program. The buddy program is an optional program that they sent an email around about a few days before we moved in, in which four to five international "buddies" are paired up with a Korean student "mentor" (we filled out an online application in which we stated our preference for either a female or male mentor and detailed what we hoped to get out f the relationship, as well as provided contact information).

During this brief introduction to the program we were divided into large groups based on where we were sitting and informed that we would be moving to various restaurants along with the three or so mentors assigned to each group and from there to a club called Barfly. Since there had been no previous mention of this I only had ₩13,000 (roughly $10-11) on me, which I figured would be good to cover food, which is really cheap here, and then I could just sort of sit in the bar and not buy anything. I have no idea the name of the place that we ate at, but it was a tiny open-front hole-in-the-wall barbecue place that looked increasingly distressed by the number of people attempting to cram into their restaurant.

The front/inside of the restaurant

The pre-meat spread

Kim Soohyun is way too hype about this beer

After a lot of scrambling we were eventually seated at extra grill tables and stools they pulled from who knows where and served. We never ordered, I presume the mentors did that for everyone, but we got what I think was slices of pork loin, except for two of the girls at my table who didn't like pork and thus ordered a small plate of beef for the two of them. By the time we got our meat, however, our table was so crowded with side dishes (lettuce leaves and garlic to wrap the meat, a block of tofu with some sort of thick red sauce over the top, a mixture of what I think was onions and garlic chives that I expected to be pungent overly pungent but was instead sweet and refreshing, and paper-thin slices of radish in some sort of clear green soup) that our plate of as-yet-uncooked meat (the grill only had space for about three slices at a time) had to be placed on a stool.

Can you see disaster looming yet?

When it came time to refill the grill I handed over the meat plate and a few more slices were put on the heat, but when I put the meat back on the stool I guess it must have been too close to the edge or something because everything, the pork and beef, upended completely onto the floor.

I felt so bad, both for ruining the dinner of four people besides myself and for making a mess and it’s not like I had the vocabulary to draw a worker’s attention to the mess or explain anything. An older man did notice after a couple minutes and picked up the raw meat off the floor with tongs and I felt so bad and then he replaced our meat and while my guilt towards my stablemates was somewhat resolved I felt even worse for the man and it was just awful.

This meal also contained my first drink in Korea (and so far my only one) consisting of two shots but the guy who poured the second (its rude to pour your won drink) over filled it so it was more like one and a half. Drinking is still awful but I’ve determined that soju tastes basically exactly like vodka only a bit smoother and the taste is more easily covered with meat and pickles.

Eventually we emptied out of the restaurant to move to the bar, something which I wasn’t really keen on but I figured I’d just sort of sit there and not spend money. I had forgotten, of course, having never been to a bar in my life, that bars have cover fees. ₩10,000 (~$8) in this case, and I only had ₩3000. As I saw it my only real choice was to head back to school by myself since I mean I couldn’t go in and I didn’t really want to stand in the street for hours.

I really thought I remembered the way we had come but after walking in what I thought was the right direction for several minutes and not recognizing anything I ditched my initial plan of retracing our steps in favor of just sort of wandering in the direction I thought the school might be. I actually planned to use a precious little amount of my obscenely expensive data to look up where I was, but the stupid international SIM card I had woke up my phone every three or four minutes to ask whether I was in the US or the rest of the world (something it’s only supposed to do when the phone is first turned on following SIM insertion) and so had killed itself within the space of a few hours. Basically I was just wandering and trying to avoid asking someone for as long as possible when, at last, I saw the hospital.

Yonsei was founded from a combination of a missionary school and an early medical college that formed into one and as such is home to a world-class hospital and medical complex that is one of the best, if not the best, in Korea. It’s also absolutely massive (like 10-15 stories) and has this huge sign at the top telling you that it’s SEVERANCE MEDICAL HOSPITAL YONSEI UNIVERSITY in both English and Korean so you can see it from pretty far away so I just sort of used that as a guide to find my way back to campus, which I eventually found even though I realize now I took the absolute most ridiculous, round-about path to get there.

Basically eventually I did get back to the dorm after about forty-five minutes to an hour of being lost alone in downtown Seoul and you know, fun as the adventure was I think I’d like to avoid it happening again.