Quick Update // Classes

Hello everyone! Sorry it’s been so long since the last post, but due to life, midterms, and who I am as a person, I haven’t updated as much as I would like to.

Speaking of midterms, I’ve had many questions about classes here at Sogang (or whether I’m taking any classes at all since I only post pictures of food on Facebook). This semester I’m only taking four classes: Korean Language, Victorian Literature, Topics in Western Authors, and Modern American Drama.

My Korean class isn’t technically a Sogang class; it’s actually run through the Korean Language Education Center (KLEC) on campus, which is a separate entity. The class has been a lot of fun, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot after only two months. My 선생님 (teacher) has been so nice and helpful to us students. He’s very good at explaining things in ways we understand, and he involves a lot of games (and even a few songs) to accompany the learning material. The class is structured in a very conversational way, meaning that after learning the alphabet we immediately jumped into creating basic sentences that would be useful in everyday life. There is also as little English spoken in the classroom as possible (which for us beginners means that there’s actually still quite a bit of English because otherwise we just sit there with blank looks on our faces). Sogang has its own textbook series to use in these classes, and I plan on finishing the units in my book after the class ends. I would recommend taking a language course to anyone planning on living in Korea for a period of time, because even learning basic things like simple questions and numbers has been really useful to me.

I’ve also received the question of whether my classes are taught in English or not. Since I am nowhere near fluent in Korean, yes the rest of my classes are in English. Especially since I am an English major taking English classes. For these classes, I have two American professors and one Korean professor. They are all great and I’ve really been enjoying their classes. They are also very understanding about missing class for things such as exchange student field trips. That being said, Sogang has an attendance policy where if a student misses too many classes (I think more than 5), they automatically fail the course. It sounds scary but unless you plan on skipping a lot of classes, it’s not a big deal.

My English classes here are fairly comparative to English classes at EIU. I would say that the reading load is perhaps more intensive, but that’s just English Major Life. The biggest difference so far was midterms week. At EIU, midterms aren’t a huge deal and tend to be just another test or paper due. Here, students don’t have class during all of midterms week (like my EIU finals) and my grades were much more dependent on how I performed on my midterms. I still don’t have all of my midterm grades back, but I think they went okay? We’ll find out soon…

That’s about all of the interesting things I have to say about my classes, except for the fact that I had to watch a performance of Death of a Salesman completely in Korean. It was actually pretty interesting, but it was probably even more enjoyable for those that understood what was being said. I was probably more proud of myself than I should have been when I picked up a word or phrase I understood.

Hopefully you will see another update from me soon, but I’m not making any promises as to when that will be since we saw how well that went the first time around. Also, it’s Rachel’s birthday today! So everyone go check out her video blog of our trip here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv_UOy467CV2dPNavFUkXqg

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Of Fish and Friends

Living in a city has been a very new and exciting experience for me. I grew up in a small town and my home university is also in a small town, so I’ve only ever visited large cities for a few days at a time before. I’ve found that I really enjoy living in a city so far, even with the differences from the small-town life that I’m accustomed to. Everything I need is within walking distance or is just a subway ride away. Seoul is never boring, so I actually feel compelled to get up on the weekends instead of enjoying a lazy day in bed.

If you have time to kill but don’t have a specific plan in mind, I recommend simply wandering the streets, because you never know what you’ll find! Last week I was wandering around Sinchon with some friends, looking for a specific restaurant to get dessert, and there were just random groups of performers dancing and singing in the streets. Seoul is also a relatively safe city; there hasn’t been a moment so far where I’ve felt uncomfortable while traveling.

Sinchon street jams

They nailed Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars!

We never found the original cafe we were looking for that night, but we finally ended up at a little cafe called Mango Six. There we had bubble tea and shared a dessert called bingsu, which is essentially shaved ice with a lot of fruit and syrup on top. We had mango bingsu, but the original bingsu has red bean toppings on it. It sounds really good, so I’ll definitely have to try that soon!

Bingsu

I also recently experienced my first visit to COEX Mall in Gangnam, and I think I can safely say that it is the largest mall that I’ve ever stepped foot into. Along with the dozens and dozens of stores, it also has a movie theater and aquarium! We didn’t have time to stop and watch a movie, but we did spend a couple hours in the aquarium. The aquarium was really interesting and had historical and scientific facts about the areas and animals along the way. Not only did they have the usual sea-dwelling creatures, but there were several land animals throughout as well.

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Rachel and me with our accidental photo-bomber

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Aquarium Squad!

There’s also the SMTown store/studio/theater in COEX for all the K-Pop fans out there. They had a lot of merch and items that were picked out/inspired by the artists, but a lot of it is fairly pricey. You can also pay to have your own “studio experience” where you can tour the studio, learn a dance, and even have a professional photo shoot done.

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After seeing cool modern parts of the city, last weekend I also had the opportunity to visit one of the historical sites in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace. Gyeongbokgung was originally built in the 14th century as part of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. Although much of the palace has been destroyed or remodeled from its original state, restoration efforts are continuing to preserve this amazing site. The palace is right next to a beautiful mountain and the Blue House where the current President resides (we only got to see those from a distance). The group arrived just in time to watch the changing of the palace guards. We were led around the palace grounds by our Korean HUG buddies (who are all fantastic), and everyone had a great time, even if it was pretty cold that day!

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My classes are going really well so far, and I really enjoy all of my professors. When I’m further into the semester I’ll update everyone on what classes are like at Sogang. Next week some friends and I will be visiting Jeju Island over our Easter break, so be prepared for a lot of pictures!

My First Few Days in Seoul

The first few days here in Seoul have been very eventful. My first full day here, I had the task of figuring out where to make some purchases to make my room livable. Luckily, there’s a store close to campus called E-Mart that has almost anything you could ever need. Really, everything. Its multiple floors house a grocery department, household essentials, clothes, shoes, bathroom necessities, bedding, a food court, and probably more things that I didn’t have the time to see. The blanket and pillow that I got were very reasonably priced, but I’ve been told that E-Mart is not the best place to go for cheap school supplies, so I haven’t actually bought most of those yet.

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E-Mart!!

The trip to E-Mart was my first experience with the city bus system. As someone who grew up in a small town and goes to school in a small town, public transportation is a new thing for me. Luckily, I’ve met some awesome people here to travel with. Even though they have as much knowledge of the streets of Seoul as I do, at least we can all get lost together! The buses can be a little confusing (and occasionally take you to the other side of the river before you’ve realized you’ve gotten on at the wrong stop), but many of the signs have English on them and they’re still perfectly navigable. You can pay for the buses with cash or with a T-Money card, which can be purchased at convenience stores. 7-11 is strangely popular here. T-Money cards can also be used to ride the subway. The subway system is actually easier to navigate than the buses, so I would recommend using the subway for traveling around the city unless you’re claustrophobic.

On Saturday, I traveled to Sinchon with some friends to try and get SIM cards for our phones. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to buy them that day, but we did get to see a really cool street performance! There were a bunch of teens dressed up in traditional Korean wear and dancing to music up and down the street. I have no clue what they were advertising, but I got a sticker! They looked like they were having a great time, and I had a great time watching them. We ended up ordering EG SIM cards online and were able to pick them up the next day. It was super simple and mine has been working great so far in my iPhone.

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They were having a dance battle and it was great

One of the major differences I’ve had to get used to with the food here has been the fact that there aren’t many “breakfast” foods. Although I wasn’t a huge breakfast person before, I started to miss my pancakes and eggs. Some of my friends were feeling the same way, so on Sunday we adventured to Gangnam–and no, we did not see Psy–to Butterfinger Pancakes, where we had to wait about half an hour to be seated because the line was pushing out the door. Normally I would hate to wait that long, but we took a tour of the surrounding block to kill time, and the French toast was definitely worth it. While we were eating, it started to snow, and none of us were prepared. My friend Bridget is from Australia, so I got to see her witness her first snow! She was so excited when she made her first snowball. It was adorable. That night Rachel and I visited our first bar with more of our friends. We just wandered across it, so we weren’t sure how it would turn out, but it had a very chill atmosphere and we had a good time

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Worth it.

On Monday we finally had our exchange student orientation. Up until this point we had been given free reign to do what we pleased and had to figure out a lot on our own. After the orientation, which consisted of a lot of school rules, we broke off into groups to tour Sogang’s campus and eat dinner. It was very cold out so the tour was pretty short. The groups were led by H.U.G. buddies, which are members of the H.U.G. (Hands Up for Gathering) club on campus. This club connects international students to students from Sogang. Although I didn’t get to meet my buddy that day, the buddies who

Korean bbq

Yummm

led my group were great and very helpful. My group left campus to eat Korean barbecue after the tour, which was a cool experience because there was a grill on the table and we cooked our own meat. The H.U.G. crew also threw us a welcome party at a nearby bar called Barfly. Everybody had a really great time and we met a lot of cool people that night. Most of the Sogang students I’ve met so far are really nice and welcoming, and I’m really looking forward to meeting more of them and attending more H.U.G. events.

As you can see, I’m having a great time in Korea so far, and I can’t wait for more adventures!

 

Next Stop, Seoul!

On Wednesday, I prepared to get on my first flight for a solid 13 hours of what I hoped would be nice, restful naps and movie-watching. I was so excited to finally be on my way to Korea with Rachel that I was barely even worrying about the flight. I can nap anytime at home and school, so surely napping on the plane shouldn’t be a problem, right? I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first few hours were fine. Rachel and I had met three other students going to Sogang University already who were just as excited as we were. We found various ways to entertain ourselves and were really excited to see that The Scorch Trials was one of the movies included on the list. We put on our complimentary slippers and sat back to wait for the plane to break through the clouds. During takeoff, I was really happy that I had a window seat. The view going up was neat, and I looked forward to watching the plane burst through the clouds.

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Above the clouds!

I changed my mind about an hour later. Rachel and I had the inner two seats in our row, and there was a very nice man sitting in the aisle seat. We found out that his daughter actually graduated from Sogang, so he was very excited to learn that we were going to study there. The only problem was he never got up, and we were way too awkward to keep climbing over him. I don’t know how he managed to stay sitting for so long, but I was dying. We also had our window cover down most of the ride so the light wouldn’t bother the other passengers, which meant I didn’t get to see much after that first half hour of flying. Next time I’ll remember to grab an aisle seat (like everyone recommended) because it would be very worth it.

The flight accommodations themselves were actually pretty nice for such a long flight. We got slippers, a blanket, and a pillow for all of our napping needs (if I had been able to sleep at all), and the staff was very nice and helpful. The food wasn’t bad either. My first meal was bibimbap, which is a Korean mixed rice dish, and the second was a pasta dish. I have nothing to compare it against, but I would give Korean Air a solid 9/10 for service.

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Landing at Incheon

By the end of the flight, I was tired and ready to be back on the ground. The last two hours of the flight were the longest two hours of my life. I was worried I’d start off my trip in a horrible mood, but as the shoreline came in sight, excitement overshadowed all
of my other emotions. The months of waiting were over, I survived my flight, and the plane swooped in to land just as the sun was beginning to
set. It finally hit me–I was in Korea!

The following hours were a mad dash to get through customs, find our luggage, and make it to Starbucks so we could be picked up by a guide from Sogang. Then we had an hour-long bus ride and walked the final few blocks to the school with all of our luggage in tow. We made it to the dorm 15 minutes before check-in ended, and I was herded off to my room without even knowing which floors Rachel or my new friends were on.

We eventually found each other and set off on a hunt for food. It was late and we were tired and hungry, so we thought we’d leave trying a Korean restaurant for the next day. We ended up at Pizza Maru just down the block from our dorm, and even though we didn’t know Korean and the pizza guy knew almost no English, we were able to get our cheese pizza. No matter where you are, everybody speaks pizza. After eating our cheese pizza with corn on it–which was unexpected–we trudged back to the dorm ready to sleep for the next decade

Even though we took off Wednesday morning, we landed Thursday night. I had my first experience with jet lag when I realized that even after being awake for a solid 26 hours, I still couldn’t sleep. That first night was rough, but when I woke up to my view of the city the next morning and thought about all of the great experiences I’ll have here, I knew it was all worth it.