It’s my second week in Seoul and I’m starting to get used to life in the big city. It is crazy how everything here seems to go so fast and everyone is in rush. The city is so lively and something is always going on whether its 4:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. It can be truly overwhelming. I find it funny that now I live in a city that has almost three times more inhabitants than my entire country. It’s really insane!
After days of fighting against the spicy food I’m starting to give in: I’m experimenting and testing how I react to certain spicy foods (many say they don’t find it spicy, but I have major issues eating it). It’s usually funny for the people I’m with – I can’t resist coughing and making faces when I eat something spicy. It’s going to be a long way before I’m able to eat kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) like everyone else. But I’m getting there!
Last week I managed to go with a group of exchange students to the immigration office and apply for an alien card. Basically, anyone staying longer than 90 days in Korea must apply for one. We were stuck at the immigration office for about three hours. There is so much waiting and a gazillion administrative things to do. We were lucky to have Leo, an American-Korean student, to take us there and help us out. I really appreciate it when I have a Korean speaker around! It was also great that the person working at the counter figured out we were all exchange students from Yonsei so we didn’t have to go through the process individually, but as a group, which cut down our waiting time. It took us almost that entire day to sort the immigration things out, but we are finally done! All that’s left to do is to wait for the cards to be mailed to us. I really don’t think I’d be able to go through the whole process again!
Before school started this week, the Yonsei International Committee organized many welcome events such as parties and dinner. There was even a party for all exchange students at the universities in Seoul so we could get to know more people.
There were also a lot of events held related to the Mentors Club. The Mentors Club is the equivalent of UR’s Ambassador Club: exchange students are paired up with a Korean student who will help them adapt to the new environment and show them the best of the Korean life, culture, language, and traditions. Mentors and mentees are then grouped in cells (groups of about 25 people) that do things together, go out for dinner, or attend some cultural events. Last Friday some of my cell members and I met for dinner to learn more about Korean cuisine and traditions. We had some dish with chicken and vegetables (relatively spicy I’d say, but nobody else really agreed with me) and then we had this huge pancake with sea food (I loved it! It was so delicious and not spicy at all so I was able to eat loads of it) and makkoli (very refreshing beverage made out of rice). It was really fun (apart from the fact I wasn’t able to eat much of the food we were served)! And my mentor is really amazing. His name is Junhyung and he’s a senior at Yonsei with a great passion for djing. He’s also the leader of the cell so he’s in charge of organizing events. I loved how during that cell evening we were all able to get to know each other better and to learn more about Korea.
Inevitably all the tours, new climate and environment, and very cold weather took their toll on me and I got sick (I know I was in Sweden last semester in temperatures of -8F and I didn’t get sick, but Korea is something different). It was frustrating being in bed the past few days; I just got here and I wanted to go out, explore Korea, and meet new people, but instead I was chained to the bed by my fever and cough. At least I did get better in time for school!
This week is the first week of classes. Initially I was registered for four classes: US-Korea Relations, International Conflicts and Cooperation, Free Trade Agreements, and German Romanticism (this one has a funny story behind it). I thought of taking Beginner Korean, but I just wasn’t able to fit it in my schedule. That is why I will participate in FLE (free language exchange) where I will be paired with a person who will teach me Korean and I will teach them one of the languages I speak. I am really looking forward to the program to start!
All of my classes seem really good and I like them, particularly Free Trade Agreements as the professor seems to be so passionate and knowledgeable about the topic (she used to work in this field in the US, Korea, and China) and as I don’t really know much about anything related to economics, this will be a new experience for me. All the classes I am taking are in the “Study Abroad” department and basically all students in the classes are exchange and/or international students.
German would have been the only class I would be taking outside the “Study Abroad” department if it wasn’t for a big misunderstanding I had about this class. On Tuesday I was supposed to have my first German class and I went to the assigned classroom. The professor comes in and starts lecturing. IN KOREAN! I was so shocked. That was supposed to be a 300-level language class that at UR would be taught entirely in German, but Yonsei is apparently much different than UR when it comes to foreign languages. I was really sad as I was looking forward to my first German class in over a year. I had to improvise and get an override for the Modern Korean History class (also in the “Study Abroad” department). Now I am all set for the school!
Classes are structurally similar to UR classes as the final grade is based on attendance and participation, essays, projects, a midterm, and a final (unlike in Sweden where the final exam is 100% of the final grade). As this was the first week of classes we didn’t do much, just general introduction and course related explanations. Next week real lectures start.
The absolute highlight of this week was an Uppsala reunion I had with three Korean students I met while we were on exchange at Uppsala University – Taesung (he picked me up at the airport), Suji (she helped me get a Korean phone), and Eun Chong (back in Sweden we were in the same project group for one of our classes so we used to spend a lot of time together). In the spirit of the country (or the region) that bonded us, we went to the Scandinavian Design House near the Gangnam area (yes, like the “Gangnam Style” song). The was a Fika – Swedish Coffee Break café where we could get Swedish coffee, tea (or some other beverage) and typical Swedish cookies, cakes, and pastries (you can read more about the tradition of fika in the blog I was writing about my time in Uppsala last semester). We had kanelbulle and semla! They were so good – I really felt like I was partially back in Sweden. The most amazing part was seeing the three people who helped me make my decision about the spring semester study abroad destination and who helped me settle in once I got to Seoul. It was such a great afternoon and I had so much fun with Taesung, Suji, and Eun Chong. This was also kind of a farewell party as Taesung is leaving this weekend for Germany where he will be doing an internship until Fall.
I guess now I have a bit more time to enjoy before the schoolwork kicks in, so I’m looking forward to the weekend! 🙂