**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.