Monday, September 8, 2014

Couple Weeks In

Holy crap I've done a ton since I last blogged. I'm not even sure what all I want to talk about. Let's just follow the pictures because hopefully they'll help me remember.

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Let's see... the last time I blogged was Wednesday so we'll pick up on Thursday. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were our last days before school started. Mostly, we explored the area around our campus. We found the busiest street alleys and tried street food. Nothing too exciting happened that weekend, excluding Friday. We mostly just tried to familiarize ourselves with the area and wandered around. It was a ton of fun simply stumbling into restaurants. We don't usually know what we're ordering, we just pick and then see if it works out.
Alleyway businesses
Fruit market! Korea is lacking in a couple food groups in their diet; I'm mostly missing meat and fruit. Meat is easier to find, although in little quantities, than fruit so we were really excited to find these vendors. The ladies were super nice and taught us the Korean word for all the fruits they sold. I got six nectarines for 3,000 won, which is much cheaper than at the stores where they sell three apples for 12,000 won and six kiwis for 19,000 won. 
We also tried Korean fast food that weekend, at Lotteria. It was actually pretty similar to American fast food. The fries tasted pretty much the same. The only differences I noticed, was that the ketchup was more tomato-y and the spicy chicken burger was much hotter than in Minnesota. Oh, and there was a shrimp burger on the menu. Like, a patty made of shrimp. It was actually really good. 
Friday night, some of us went to Hongdae to club. We got free Mageolli, Korean rice wine, and danced a ton. It was actually super fun but, due to our curfew, we had to leave at 11:30. The curfew is one of the worst things about living in the dorms. We have to be back by 1 AM or we get penalty points. Each student is only allowed 10 penalty points per semester. Of course, you can apply for a night out but then you can't return to the dorms until 5 AM. It also took us forever to catch a taxi, which we needed because the subway stops around 11:30. Overall, really fun night. 

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On Monday, our classes started, which was a big mess. Some of our classes were only taught in Korean, despite their listing as English, some were only for seniors, and some had pre-requisites that weren't listed. It was all incredibly frustrating. I ended up with Theories of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Teaching English Reading & Writing, Korean Language, Understanding of Global Cultures, British Novel, and Japanese Politics (which was actually listed as Main Diplomatic Figures in History but they changed it with no notification). I'm thinking about dropping one of the last two, though, because I don't really need or want either of them; they were just the only classes left. The Korean students are incredibly nice, though, and are always trying to help out. 
The Konkuk Language Institute. This is where I will learn Korean. I haven't had class so far because we had a placement test on Wednesday. They asked you if you could read Korean and if you said yes then you were supposed to take the test. When I got the packet however, it was entire passages in Korean and then you had to answer the Korean  comprehension questions about the Korean passages in Korean. It went from zero to sixty in ten seconds and I ended up just turning the test back in. 
We also joined a couple clubs from the Club Fair. The English Speaking Club meets every Wednesday and Thursday and is made up of about 50% foreigners and 50% Koreans that want to practice their English. We went both nights and it was actually a ton of fun and we met a lot of new people. After the club meeting, the whole club goes out to eat. I'm definitely going to stay in that one because the people were super nice. 

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After a long week of rearranging classes and getting paperwork filled out, the weekend finally came and it was pure awesome. Today's actually Monday but I'm including it in this section because this week is Chuseok. Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving and, because of it, we get Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week off. I'ts great but mot of the businesses are also closed for Chuseok. We stocked up on ramen and rice to make it through. 
Friday night, Soojung (a Korean friend), two Chinese foreign exchange students, and I all went to a free concert in the Seoul Children's Park. First off, the park is absolutely beautiful. It has a colorful water fountain show, a stadium, and a petting zoo.Secondly, the concert was absolutely amazing. I just can't even describe how cool it was. There were two dance crews, a vocal duo, Seventeen, Topp Dogg, and Nu'Est. The dance crews combined special effects and dancing to make an incredible combination. Seventeen was a group I'd heard of before but never paid attention to but after their covers of Mirotic and Sorry, Sorry, I can say they have a new fan. Topp Dogg was also pretty good and what I expected. Nu'Est closed the night and I just died. They were so good. I learned that JR wears red boxers and Minhyun waved at me. But after the concert, Ren stuck his head out of their van as they were leaving to look me in the eye and say "I love you" in English because I was the only obviously foreign person there. I almost died it was so great.  
Sometimes we hang out with EXO. Whatever, no big deal. 
Nu'Est on stage.
And after the concert, when we went out to eat, the restaurant owner asked if he could take our picture and have us sign it. Then, he put it up on the wall. That was the first, and probably the last, time I have been asked for my autograph. It was awesome. 
 Saturday was actually pretty tame. We went to Itaewon (the foreigners area) but it was pretty empty. We did get Turkish ice cream, which came with an awesome show. We then went to Hongdae afterwards and watched a couple buskers. Buskers are always so interesting. I could just camp out at the park in Hongdae and watch them perform all day. 
Sunday was absolutely amazing. Soojung, Stephanie (American exchange), and I went to Caribbean Bay, which is the world's largest indoor-outdoor water park in the world. We went on a bunch of rides and swam a ton. The prices for food weren't ridiculous like they are at parks in America so we had peanut butter fried squid for snack. My first culture shock moment happened in the locker rooms when we were done. All the women just walked around naked. Not just in the showers (which are completely public), everywhere in the locker room area. I saw more female body parts yesterday than I had before in my entire life. Not that that's a bad thing but it was for sure different. Oh, and a lot of Koreans wore clothes over their swimsuits in the park; not that it mattered, since Caribbean Bay requires you to wear a life jacket. Super awesome day, all in all, even though the ride there and back took about two and a half hours. 
 Today we went to Gyeongbok Palace for the first day of Chuseok. Because it was Chuseok, there were a ton of activities going on and admission was free. I wasn't sure I wanted to go because I was so tired from the water park but I'm glad I did. The palace itself isn't all that interesting but it's one of those places you should go while you're in Seoul. It's about the history. That palace was built in the 14th century. Just thinking about all the people who've passed through there can give you chills. We also made poop-shaped soap (I don't know why that is considered Korean), watched a children's puppet show, and tried on Hanbok. Hanbok is traditional Korean dress and it was one of the things on my to-do list that I wasn't sure I'd get to. Normally, Hanbok is incredibly expensive but it was free to try on because it was Chuseok. Yay!

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 Random Thoughts:

 Korea is super duper hot. Maybe it's because I'm used to Minnesota having just one week that's super hot and humid but this is ridiculous. Korea isn't hotter or more humid than Minnesota gets, but it stays there longer. My hair has been up every single day.

Everyone always says that Korean don't show public displays of affection. That's a total and complete lie. Koreans may not kiss as much in public but couples are literally constantly touching each other. And if they aren't touching each other, they're probably wearing couple items so you still know they're together. I have seen the most unique positions in Seoul; like, how are they even walking? And why must you always touch each other?! It's actually a little ridiculous.

The spiders here are ginormous. Enough said. They scare the crap out of me.

I was told before I got here that my study abroad experience would be an emotional roller coaster. I thought I would have good days and bad days. While that can be true, I've also experienced days where my emotions have drastically changed moment to moment. It's rather exhausting actually. Sometimes I'm fine, sometimes I think Korea is the coolest place ever, and sometimes I just want to go home.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Impressions

I'm here. This is actually my third day in Korea and it's about 11 P.M. now but everything's been so crazy, I didn't have time to blog.

The flight was absolutely insane. I got transferred to a Delta flight so at least that wasn't too terrible. But I threw up five times on the first flight, which totally sucked. I spent most of the second flight in a state of semi-consciousness so I wouldn't be sick. When I finally make it to Incheon Airport around 4:30 (two hours later), I'm completely exhausted and still sick. I couldn't figure out where to go from the signs so I just followed the crowd and eventually made it to customs, via train. Customs was terrible because the lines were uber long and it took forever. When it was finally my turn, he took my fingerprints and I was on my way. Then I went directly to the McDonald's to meet the Konkuk students. (which I later found out was a mistake because I should have gotten currency first.) We then waited for more students for another two hours. I was in a group of about 40 students and, of those, 37 were Chinese. Then there was me, a British guy, and a German guy. The bus ride from Incheon to Konkuk took about an hour and a half but I slept most of the way. After another long process of checking all of us in, I was dropped off at my dorm with a key card. You need the key card to get in the dorm and into your rooms so no guests can come in. I also met my awesome roommate, Serena, that night but I don't remember too much of it because I was utterly exhausted. 

My room. I'm on the left.

The bathroom doesn't come with toilet paper.

The shower doesn't have a curtain or a drain. All the water just flows to the one drain in the room, by the sink.

The second day was a free day for us but neither Serena nor I slept well so we were up pretty early. Apparently, I also slept walked for the first time in my life. We met up with a friend that Serena met, Mara, and the three of us walked around campus a bit before eating at a kimbap place. I tried to ask the owner in Korean if there was a bathroom but I ended up putting the past tense in there so I literally asked her "Was there a bathroom?" Oops. I still wasn't feeling well so I didn't eat very much but I ended up throwing up right before I ate and a couple hours after too. It was bad. Oh, and Tuesday was also my birthday. Then, we met Mara's roommate, Nicki, and the four of us walked around off-campus for a couple hours. We just wanted to see Seoul but we ended up entering the residential area instead of the shopping areas. I enjoyed it though because I recognized a bunch of the Korean celebrities on the advertisements.


The view of Seoul from across the lake on campus.

After our hot walk outside, I took a two hours nap because I was feeling pretty bad still. It felt like I'd never be healthy again. When I woke up, it was time to go meet my Korean friend, Soojung. She had ridden the bus and the subway for an hour and a half just to come visit me because it was my birthday. Soojung's pretty much an angel. She even brought me a delicious blueberry cake that we ate with Serena. I couldn't have more than a bite but it was delicious. Soojung also helped me get money from a different bank because I hadn't been able to withdraw money from the ATM on campus earlier and I was completely panicking. She also took us to the mall and asked about a Ethernet chord for poor Serena, who has a Mac computer. We couldn't find one anywhere and Serena still doesn't have internet but Soojung tried. After cake and shopping, we went to a Japanese place for supper. Soojung wanted to take us to different, better, one but it was pouring and I didn't have an umbrella. The food was really good and I could eat a bit more. Overall, the day started out rather crappy but Soojung pretty much saved the day. 


The delicious cake Soojung brought me. 
All three of us. I couldn't take the picture because my arms are too short so Serena had to take over.
Just me with my cake. I don't look too terrible in this picture but don't be fooled, it was hot and humid out.

Today was my first orientation. It went from 10:00-16:00 but we read the sheet wrong and Nicki, Mara, Serena, and I were ready at 8:30. That whole thing was a mess because all of the buildings have been renumbered here so all our maps were wrong. Eventually, we were directed to the correct building but we met a couple cool people on the way, including a hot French man that we're calling for Serena. The orientation was just a lot of information thrown at us at once but I tried my best to absorb it all. Serena probably got it all anyway; she's more OCD than me. Serena says she's worried about me finding my own way since I've just been following her around but I believe that getting lost is an adventure of itself. There was also a super attractive Korean photographer there so that was cool. Honestly though, the guy that ran orientation was really good at English and he was super funny. The orientation process was really long but necessary, I guess. 

Orientation room. 
Banana milk! Orientation provided us a Coke and sandwich, which tasted funny so I only ate the meat, but I got banana milk during a break. I've seen it in a bunch of dramas and commercials, so I wanted to try it. It wasn't great but at least I can say I've had it.

After orientation was over and we had our pictures taken for our alien registration, the four of us headed to the mall again to buy some necessities. I got to use my Korean to ask the workers where the hand soap was. I was super proud of myself. We got a bunch of stuff, and I spent a ton of money, but we needed it all. We got sunscreen, hangers, toilet paper, etc. After shopping, we ate at the same kimbap place for supper and I just got a thing of rice because I'm still recovering but the pork cutlet kimbap that we all shared was super good. I'm used to eating at 17:30 at home but everyone here eats around 20:00, it's totally crazy. Another American foreign exchange student, Sonnet, joined us for supper which was awesome. 

I'm back in my dorm now, blogging, and we're going to bed soon because we have class registration early tomorrow. Final thoughts? Well, it's been difficult so far (especially without my phone) but I'm excited for everything that we get to do soon. 




Saturday, August 23, 2014

Night Before

Well. I'm irritated. I can't think of an easier way to say it so I'm just going to put it out there. I'm so irritated, I want to pull my hair out.

I've been pretty calm the last few days. It'll come out later so I'm just going to say now that I have some issues with anxiety and, as such, have been freaking out basically the whole summer. But the last few days, I've been calm and not panicking at all. My mom and I got all my stuff packed in one checked suitcase in less than two hours, which is absolutely amazing. I finished working at both of my two jobs. My sister and I got our nails done and then she painted my mom's and my toe nails. The Vikings even won their third pre-season game.




And then I got an email from United Airlines informing me that my first flight to Denver had been delayed by two hours. Two hours! That would mean that I would miss my connecting flight to San Francisco and then my flight to Seoul. Great... That's the mood I'm in right now. I may or may not have to spend the night in the San Francisco airport as I wait for the next flight to Seoul 24 hours later. I'm not very happy. But I am trying to calm down because, although I might not be able to meet the Konkuk students at Incheon because of this major inconvenience, I'll make it to Konkuk some way or another. My father is also flying with me all the way to San Francisco to make sure I get on that international flight so at least I'll have him. 

I leave in about four hours so I'm going to nap for a little bit. I won't get a lot of sleep but I think I'll need a little re-charging. Hopefully, I'll be able to sleep on the international flight but we'll see. I've never been able to sleep on a plane before. Night everyone~