First Two Weeks in Seoul

Time is already passing by too quickly. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve already been in Korea for an entire two weeks!

What naturally proceeds from this is that a lot of what I have experienced so far seems to blur together in my mind. If I were to give detailed daily accounts of my life in Seoul, this blog entry would be a rambling block of text. So I think I’ll just compile a list of a few of the most useful but perhaps not obvious tips I could provide for the first week at Yonsei:

  • Before you go, buy a three-pack of international plug adapters from Amazon in the US and make sure all your electronics are dual-voltage.
  • Also before going, learn the Korean alphabet and whatever phrases you would think are relevant. It’s really not hard.
  • Read this post for tips on course registration. Basically, just be as paranoid as possible when it comes to course registration.
  • If you have a smartphone, download the KakaoTalk and Naver Map apps.
  • To make an expat bank account, bring your passport to the bank in the student union building and use the dorm’s phone number and address as your Korean phone number and address. The debit card that they give you can also be used as a T-money card in the subway.
  • Buy whatever dorm/home necessities like towels or laundry detergent at Daiso to save money.
To be honest, Seoul is pretty idiot-proof. It seems that the absolute worst thing that could happen is that I spend a little more money than necessary.
     As someone who is biracial (white/Asian), I’ve never really been able to get a solid consensus from others about what my perceived ethnic background is. Koreans, from what I’ve been told, usually think I’m Korean for about half a second, which means that I can move through a crowd unnoticed. I have heard from others that they get glances or even stares, but since I don’t experience anything like this, culture shock has been pretty mild. The only thing about Korea that I’m having trouble adapting to is the frequency of meat consumption. As a vegetarian, I feel that generally Americans at least sort of understand why someone wouldn’t eat meat, but this is not the case in Korea.  I did meet a Korean vegetarian, though, so I feel very fortunate that I’m not alone in that respect. Meeting people and making friends in general is facilitated very well by Yonsei’s international student orientation and Mentor’s Club, an on-campus organization that pairs a group of exchange students with a Korean “mentor,” a Yonsei student.
     So far, classes seem similar to how they are in America. There are <5 non-Koreans in each of my classes, and in one of my classes, I am the only non-Korean. It’s a little strange to think that I have a Korean professor, completely Korean classmates, yet the class is taught in English. One thing that’s different is that many students print out the lecture notes (usually ppt format) before the class and write supplementary notes on those rather than blank notebook paper. I feel that the semester is not yet in full-swing, but I hope to be involved in the language exchange program eventually.
     The differences from American culture that I’ve noticed never frustrate or confuse me, but instead make me realize little inefficiencies of my life back home. I’m always internally questioning my motives for doing things or why I hold certain opinions or beliefs, but this semester will definitely help me to actually develop better habits in day-to-day life.
Just a few of the pictures I’ve taken in the past couple weeks:

construction happening on campus

view of the Han river from the subway

떡볶이

view of Myeongdong from the Uniqlo store

된장찌개

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5 comments

  1. Oh, Okay that seems simple enough. I’m actually downloading Naver Maps now so that I may familiarize myself with the app ahead of time (if possible).

    I imagined there would be a lot of Americans due to the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea, I just didn’t think Americans would make up close to half. Still, it all sounds very exciting. :) Haha My Korean won’t be that developed since I’ll still be a beginner by the time I get to Korea. I’ll give speaking an adequate attempt though. lol

    I’ve heard that mishaps such as that (signing up for a class supposed to be taught in English, but ends up being taught in Korean) can happen. Those students helping you are very lucky to get so much practice with English, but you as well for having such kind classmates. I will try to take classes out of Underwood International College if I am able to. I’m not sure as of now which classes I will be signing up for aside from the language class.

    What is your daily schedule like? Do you have time during the day to do other things or are most of your week days filled because of school and studying?

    1. It’s very simple and easy to use. There’s a little button in the top left that, if you press twice, will serve as a compass/ GPS locator thing. That function has saved me so many times haha

      Regardless of how much Korean you learn in the conversational sense, if you know just the basics, you’ll be able to get around just fine! I feel so incredibly lucky that there are a couple classmates who can help me. I’m gaining so much perspective on what being a foreigner is like in that class, as uncomfortable as it is. I would still drop it if I could though, just so I could stop feeling like such a burden D:

      You won’t need to worry about classes; there’s a huge variety of English courses, especially for non-engineering majors. Classes that have the reference number 2 are in English (unless it’s partially taught by TAs like in my lab class…heh). I would suggest making some kind of spreadsheet a little before the designated course registration time just to make sure the classes you pick don’t conflict with each other, in case you don’t already do that in the US.

      This is my schedule:

      The times are on the left, so you can see that I’m busy on Tuesdays, but all the other days are pretty light. I have a nice lunch break on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and no classes at all on Fridays. I don’t think this really applies to you, but for lab classes such as the one I have on Tuesday that is allotted six blocks (but actually only lasts for about three), there is a 1-1.5 hour lecture on Wednesday evenings.
      So I have time to do whatever I want for at least two days/ a week if I devote one day on the weekend to doing laundry and studying :)

      1. woops, looks like the picture didn’t show up.
        Here’s a link to my schedule:

        http://tinypic.com/r/xp8pyg/8

        Also, sorry for the late reply! Been busy~

  2. Daiso is actually a chain of stores that is completely located off-campus, but there are a couple of locations that are very close. Once you download the Naver Map app, search “다이소” and you’ll be able to find the ones that are close to campus.

    There are many American exchange students, but I would say that they comprise about one third to half of the foreign student population. There are many students from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe as well.

    Making friends with random native students can be kind of difficult, I must admit. If you keep in touch with your “cell” (basically, group) in Mentors’ Club, your mentor would probably be happy to introduce you to people. Joining clubs is also a really good option, probably even better for you since I’m sure you’ll speak Korean pretty well by the time you get here!

    Turns out I’m the only foreigner in my lab class that just started this week as well. The course had reference number 2, meaning it’s taught in English, but the lab TA only speaks Korean. It is interesting how something that’s so awkward for me can actually maybe in some way benefit the couple of students who volunteered to help translate for me (my gratitude for these classmates cannot be expressed with words), since they get to practice speaking/translating into English.
    I would really recommend taking classes outside of the Underwood International College if you want to have the same sort of experience (being the only foreigner, not the language issue haha).

  3. LOL I actually read your post before realizing that it was your post. Thanks for sharing your survival tips. I was mentally checking them off like as I read through them. I’ve never heard of Nevermaps but I will definitely take a look at the app (and most likely download it) since you’ve mentioned it. :)

    The Daiso store, is that located on campus then?

    The mentor program seems very reassuring. I had a few worries about making Korean friends but just figured I would tackle that obstacle by joining a club. lol Were there many American exchange students there or that you happened to meet? (just curious)

    The classroom set up seems interesting and primed towards language exchange.

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