Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 8: Errands

Pretty lazy day today.

Woke up late, mailed a letter, made some ramen for lunch, met with with Sam and her friends to try and get my alien registration card (the line was tooooo long, doing it later), got bought more dorm essentials, made spaghetti, did laundry, and just chilled.

Very uneventful, exactly how I wanted it to be after the long day yesterday.  Back to sleep!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Day 7: Don't Protest in Korea

Oh boy, this was a long and eventful day.

Got up earlier than I wanted, chilled, got some breakfast from the convenience store, and then went to the bus stop.  Today was the "city tour" put on by KUBA, meaning lots of exploring and talking to exchange students.  We split into multiple buses and then got put in smaller groups on the bus, and off we went to Gyeongbokgung Palace, which is the Royal Palace.  It's incredibly beautiful, but with the strong winds today most students were incredibly cold.  It was quite fun, especially because my group kept going off in all different directions and our poor buddy had to keep rounding us up like little kids, before someone wandered off again.  We gave him a hard time about it, but our buddy did a good job making sure no one got left behind.

We also went to a museum that is inside of the palace area, which was super interactive and just really fun.  Then, we started back to the bus to continue onto lunch.

Before I continue, let me explain how the KUBA groups operate.  Each group has a picket sign that has that group's slogan on it, and the KUBA members hold it up so all of the exchange students can follow and find their group.  Well, as we were separated by buses today, each bus had one of those signs.  I was in bus 1 (which had the same leader as group 1, which I am also in).  The leader is super fun and has a mini megaphone he uses to call us over (saying "One night, this way", as "one night" is our slogan).  He then holds up the sign and a large horde of foreign students flocks to him.

Well, as we were walking to the bus, following his calls of "one night", we were stopped by the police and not allowed to go to the buses.  Apparently, they thought that we were protesters.  And protesting the government is a big no-no.  So, we all had to stand outside in the horrid wind with the bus right beside us while the KUBA members tried to explain that no, we're not protesting, we're just foreigners.  They finally agreed and let us on the bus, but then a policeman came onto the bus!  We were all super surprised and just confused before he smiled and just took a picture of us before heading off :P

After that fiasco, we bused down to Insa-dong for lunch.  We had a traditional Korean meal, so we sat on the (heated) floor on mats, and we all ate communally.  So we each had a small bowl of rice of our own, but otherwise everything else was shared and you'd just grab a piece to eat.  It was just fun reaching over everyone and having a meal like that.

Shared between four people
After lunch, we went off with our buddies to explore Insa-dong.  There was an old shopping area which was just super cool, like a wrap around mall that went up 4 stories.  At the top there was a "couples area", where couples would tie little trinkets or things to the wall - I don't know why but it seemed super popular.  Everything in that area was coupled themed with hearts everywhere, which was pretty interesting to see.

Part of the wall
Our group then went to get tea, which was crazy expensive and we had to buy it or we couldn't sit there, though to be fair we did take up like half the shop so I understand making us buy things.  We then went back to the bus and went to the last part of our program, "Nanta".

Oh, how to explain Nanta.  It's like Blue Man Group meets comedy meets cooking show meets audience participation meets traditional Korean drum beats meets drama.  It felt like a 1.5 hour long Aimachi show that involved real cooking, it was so great.  Like, if I ever wanted to make a career out of drumming, that is how I would do it.  It was so much fun, they rocked the audience and played some super clean beats (with knives! and pans! and everything!) and actually had food on the stage and cut it up to the beat and cooked things and had people come on stage.  It was just so wonderful and so much fun, I'm really happy I went to it.

After that, we were herded back onto the buses to go home.  I was so tired, I practically fell asleep on the bus.  I went back to my room, stopping only to get some snacks and drinks to settle my stomach - Korean food hasn't been sitting too well, and usually by the end of the day I feel a bit sick until I get something relatively tasteless and dry to just sit in there.  Most exchange students went off to a giant club party in a different suburb, but knowing me and knowing how I don't enjoy things like clubs or loud music or super crowded rooms (all of which are main parts of that party!) I decided to stay in and just relax.  Super tired, going to just sleep and enjoy not having any solid plans until school starts Monday!

Also, I can't believe it was only a week ago that I left the US for Korea.  In a few ways it feels shorter, but in most ways it feels like it was so long ago!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 6: Dongdaemun

I got to sleep in this morning, which was GLORIOUS.  Texted a few people to figure out plans, and ended up meeting Jo and her friends for lunch.  That was an overall good time, just eating and chatting with some new people again.  We then went to the school to explore and figure out where our classes were (well, they did that, I didn't bring my schedule so I couldn't really check it out).  Everyone went out for coffee, but Jo and I left them to go to Dongdaemun.

Oh man, it is such a fun area.  The malls are like 7 stories, and inside it's just hundreds of little stalls where you can buy whatever, haggle prices, and just see everything.  I ended up buying a backpack that I needed and a shirt that was on sale ($10 is super reasonable to me).  We also just stopped at a cafe to chat - I got a mini jug of mojito which was AWESOME - and we got a crepe from a stall on the street which was honestly better than any crepe I've had before.  That may turn into the Quetzal cafe of Korea for me.  On the way back we stopped and got some ramen and just ate it outside, which was really nice.  That's so much cheaper than eating out but it still tasted pretty good.

Just going to turn in pretty quick tonight, the KUBA city tour is tomorrow and I know that's going to exhaust me to no end.

Inside of one of the malls

Eating ramen!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 5: Bureaucracy

Second day of orientation.  Woke up a bit early for it (thankfully not as early as I have been), and then merged with a group of students going down to the orientation.  It was essentially 2 hours of them teaching us how to do paperwork.  Oh my goodness it was bad.  There were so many forms, all of which were in Korean, which is understandable.  They had a powerpoint that was supposed to help us figure out the sheets, but I swear it was one of the most confusing things ever.  Not to mention the fact the presenter kept flipping between then so even if you managed to decipher what it was trying to say, you still couldn't fill in anything because he'd change the slide and you wouldn't know what to fill in.

The buddies helped out, but it was just a stressed event overall.  So many papers were signed and dated and signed again and it was just a giant mess.  Afterwards, we had to sit around for like 40 minutes until lunch, so that was a pretty big waste of time.  We didn't do anything during that time, everyone basically sat on their phones because we weren't supposed to leave.  After lunch, Jaemin took Sam, Fuka and I to the school store, and then to the post office.  I couldn't just buy international stamps; apparently they have to weigh all the letters so I'll have to go back later.

After that, I just went back up to my room to chill out for a while.  I didn't really trust myself to sleep, so I just read things online.  At 545 I met my group on campus before we all went out for beer and chicken.  It was actually a pretty fun time, just talking to people in the group and hanging out.  We were taught a few different drinking games but not everyone could get a handle on them so we didn't play them for that long.  Then it was just sitting at the restaurant, trying to talk to talk to people around me over the loudness of everyone else talking and yelling.

The whole group left the restaurant at like 830, and went off to another bar.  Jo (Hong Kong) and Katherine (USA), two girls I had been talking to the whole night, went off with me instead, thinking to find someplace quieter to chat.  We actually ended up shopping for a bit, before heading back to our dorms.  Tomorrow is a free day so plans are up in the air - I've talked with a few people about going out with them, but as no one has given a set time or place or firm confirmation that it's still happening we'll have to see what happens!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 4: Orientation!

I actually slept till around 6 this morning, and then basically just messed around on the internet and talked with people from the states online until it was time to get ready.  This might end up being a good habit to get into, so that I can keep up with people at home and get used to waking up at a real time for when my job starts in August.  Jasmine, Heidi and I left around 830 for orientation, stopping at a convenience store on the way to pick up some breakfast (I had a kimchi rice and tuna thing, wrapped in seaweed, it was actually suuuper good).

And orientation, oh boy. So many foreign students!  I met so many people before finding my KUBA buddy - an actual KU student who is the main contact person for 3-5 foreign students.  She was super nice, and I met two of the other students she's a buddy to, Sam from the Philippines (who studys in Illinois) and Fuka from Japan.  We all stuck together for most of the day.

The main lectures in orientation were pretty boring, and most people seemed to be falling asleep.  It was mostly just information about the school and different stats about it.  We were divided into 7 groups (my buddies and I are in group 1), and we went to lunch.  The limit was 5,000 won (a little under $5) for what we could get - I only spent like 3,800 and was full, which shows how cheap university meals are here.  We then learned our group's "cheer" - apparently it's something we'll be doing a lot, seeing as how KUBA and the groups have events every Saturday which I'm definitely going to go to.  We got registered online for the school's online system (like blackboard or D2L essentially), and then went on a campus tour.  It ended with people registering for the city tour on Thursday (which I obviously signed up for).

My buddy (Jaemin) took Fuka, Sam and I to the store to get a SIM card for our phones.  I actually had to leave them there and come back by myself as I didn't carry my passport with me - that's just not something I'm in the habit of doing, as an American.  I did get it, so now I have a Korean number and data, which means I can be on all my messaging apps ALL THE TIME :P  It's just nice knowing I can be in constant contact with people if I need to be.

Got some snacks (800 won for a package of 9 cookies, that's like LESS THAN 10 CENTS A COOKIE I LOVE IT), chilled, and then met up with Sam and Fuka for dinner.  We were walking around and actually ended up meeting Sam's friends from her boarding house (she doesn't live on campus).  So we all went around for a while before going to a chicken and beer place.  It was super fun, just chatted with everyone, Fuka and Sam taught me some Korean, talked with two girls from Peru and a guy from France, and just had a great night out.  We all have so many places we want to go see, and we said we'd all go together, so I hope that pans out in the end.

Fuka and I walked back since we both live in the same dorm - her English is understandably not the best, but I told her that her English is better than my Japanese, so she thought that was funny.  I'm going to help her with English, she's going to help Sam with Japanese (she already speaks some), and both of the will help me with Korean, as their scores ahead of me.  I'm pretty excited, it sounds like I have a lot of people to lean on for help with the language.  Back at the dorm, Jasmine, Heidi and I talked about language and accents and complained about the dorm, as some people have TWO bathrooms and a living room and not bunkbeds but pay the same amount, which is duuumb.  But anyway, it's nearing 1030, so I'm going to just going to review a bit of the Korean I learned today and turn in for the night.

It's still weird that it's Monday night here when my friends and family in the US are just waking up for the day.  It's like I'm in the future and all I can say is the 23rd is a great day so enjoy it!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 3: Buying Sheets

Of course again, I woke up much earlier than I intended.  And, that meant it was early afternoon in America so I was able to skype Joe for a while, which turned into his friend sharing screens with me in google hangout so that I could play video games with them all online.  It was an absolutely wonderful start to the day, being able to hang out like that.

My roommates had woken up by then, and the four of us decided to go out again.  We stopped to get breakfast and then walked around the school's campus a bit.  There, we ran into a few other groups of foreign students who were also wandering around, which was really nice.  We spent a fair amount of time trying to find our way back to the dorms, but in the end we managed it.

Chilled in the dorms for a while more, Heidi, Jasmine and I decided to go out shopping again.  We stopped to get some lunch at a Japanese style restaurant which was really nice - it's so much food though!

Only $6!
We stopped at a small store that carries lots of knickknacks, and a large collection of stuffed animals which seriously had me tempted - $35 to $45 for a giant stuffed bear sounds like a great deal to me~  After that, we decided to try to find a store that sold sheets, as Heidi and I both are unimpressed with the quality of the bedding we rented (Jasmine has her own with, which I'm super jealous about).  Sofia had said there was a "Home Plus" by a different subway station, and that they sold sheets.

So, off we went on the subway.  We went the correct way and got off the subway and the store was no where in sight.  We wandered, nothing.  Searching it on the smartphone was of little help.  I ended up asking a worker in the subway station how to get to it (after being coached on how to properly ask it in Korean).  He responded in broken English, so we got lost again before finding the store.  And you know what?  Closed.

So after that completely productive trip, we went back to our city.  Heidi went back to the dorm while Jasmine and I hit up the dollar store again.  I think I'm finally getting close to having everything I need to live comfortably, or at least I hope so because I've already spent a fair amount of cash on things.  I went back to the dorm alone, stopping at a convenience store to grab some ramen and snacks for dinner.
Of course, seeing as how I decided to plan ahead for dinner, that meant my body wasn't going to play along. At barely 830 at night I'm already turning in for bed.  I guess this means I'll be getting up early tomorrow too...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day 2: Translating the Toilet

After only 11 hours of sleep, I woke up again pretty early in the morning with nothing to do.  I didn't want to walk and around and explore the waterfront because a) my shoes are not meant for that and b) I didn't want to get lost when I was still at the hotel.  So, just took a slow morning to wake up.  Had some tea and snacks I had gotten the night before, called home to let them know I was alive, and just chilled at the hotel.  It's a pretty foggy day, but the view was still pretty nice.

View from my porch

After that, I still had about 2 hours until my shuttle back to the airport, so I decided to try and figure out the toilet.  This is the part about being an exchange student a lot of people don't understand - even the simplest things, the parts of every day life we assume everyone should know, can be a challenge.  It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out the lights here (you have to leave your card in a thing by the door for them to work and they're all controlled by this little box I didn't want to touch at first because I was scared it would like, set off an alarm or something).  The shower was easier, but there were like 4 different knobs and that was confusing at first.  But the toilet.  I mentioned it yesterday - here's a picture of it.

I managed to find the flush button, which was actually located on the side, and the bidet (the picture was pretty great for it).  I tried to translate it via google translate, which seemed like a mistake, so I tried to find a dictionary app but all the ones I found didn't work for some reason?  Trying to find it on the laptop didn't work either, so that's fun.  Ended up just writing them down in a notebook and hopefully I'll be able to figure it out later :P

After checking out and getting a shuttle back to the airport, I met up with a friend, Cole.  He did his Rotary exchange to Korea the same year I went to Belgium, had come back for a year of university, and just hasn't left yet.  He gave me a card to get on the subway which is GREAT, got me through the subway all the way to the dorm, helped me get checked in, showed me a good place to eat, and showed me where the dollar store and a convenience store were.  SO MUCH HELP.

Super good food!
Then, I finally met two of the four other girls I'll be living with.  The setup is that there are two double bedrooms (I'm in one) and a single room that all share the same toilet/shower.  So we'll see how that ends up...  But anyway, I talked a bit with the two of them (one from Finland [Heidi], the other from New Zealand [Jasmine]) and we ended up going out to the dollar store to get essentials.  Apparently Koreans tend to use the little hand towels as real towels so they can use a new one every day, so the biggest towel I could find still feels too small to me - hopefully I can find a bigger one!  Returned, and I finally unpacked my stuff.  Everything fits pretty well, though I think I'm going to buy my own sheets as the ones I rented through school seem... not completely clean.  There's a stain on the pillowcase so I'm just not going to use that tonight.

Ran into the girl living in the single - she's from Mexico (Sofia) - so the only person not moved in yet is my roommate.  Jasmine and I went out to eat, and after searching and finding a place with a menu she could read easily (she knows quite a bit of Korean), we got our food and just talked, which was really nice.  Showered in our tiny bathroom that's going to make me appreciate the size of real bathrooms when I get home and got all cuddled up in my footie pjs.  It's only around 10pm here but I think it's about time for bed, it's been a pretty eventful day!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Leaving/Day One

So the night before I left definitely was an adventure.  My wonderful friend who was going to drive Joe and I to the airport suddenly had his car die at 9pm, when he was going to pick us up at 3.30am.  Luckily, he called me when I was going out for a goodbye dinner with Joe and my oldest brother, and after much convincing and a bit of bribery (and failed attempts finding other rides), my brother agreed to say up till 3 to drive us to the airport even though he works a 9-5.

While the baggage drop line was short, the line to get through security was long, like, waaaay past the normal gate and snaking around every which way.  It took about 20 minutes to get all the way through the line, which was a first for me.  Joe stayed with me as long as he could in the line, but unfortunately he couldn't come all the way through.  I ended up tearing up quite a bit in line, and more than one person patted me on the back and said it'd be okay :P

The flight to Toronto was uneventful, but at Toronto I needed to pick up my bags, switch terminals, drop off the bags again, and go through security again.  That ended up pretty close, with me reaching my gate just as my boarding zone was called.  I probably could have been there a bit earlier, but I had changed some dollars into Won and the baggage check clerks graciously wrote down a few phrases I'd need if I got a taxi to school.

The flight to Korea itself was so long. 13 and a half hours.  And I was in a middle seat, which makes it pretty near impossible for me to fall asleep, coupled with the fact they serve 2 meals and snacks and then drinks more often than that so I kept having to use the bathroom but the person in the aisle seat slept most of the time and I didn't want to wake her, so I was just sitting there with an extra reason of why it was hard to fall asleep.

But, the flight went smoothly (besides the fact my knees didn't appreciate being bent that whole time, and sassed me when I tried to walk).  I was able to connect to the airport wifi and call/text people when I was waiting to go through border control, which is sooo much better than having to wait until I get to a place I can set up the laptop.  This whole having a smartphone thing is pretty nice.

Once I got my bags, I tried using skype to call my hotel to send me a shuttle, but the wifi wasn't working that well where I was calling from so I just asked someone at an information desk to do it for me.  Got to the hotel, settled in, went to get some food (which was an... experience), and finally got to take a shower.  Honestly, showering after a flight is one of the most relaxing things ever, I'm pretty sure I almost fell asleep.  The hotel also gave me a cute little bag of things I might need (toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, razor, and so much more) which was great, but there was also one of those spa facemask things in there and I actually did fall asleep a bit when I put that on.

Which brings us to the present.  It's only about 730 at night, but I am so completely exhausted.  I want to translate all the words on the lights and toilet (THERE ARE SO MANY SWITCHES AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY DO but the toilet is heated sometimes and that is a luxury I can get used to) but I'm so tired I know I'd just be in a terrible mood if I tried.  Setting an alarm and a hotel wake-up call tomorrow, hopefully that's enough!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One week!

So, one week from today I leave for Korea.  I feel as if I'm planned out most of the things I need - I've registered for classes (ending up on the wait list for a few), gotten my visa and plane tickets, paid for housing, found a hotel for the first night, and I have a rough idea of how I'll get from the airport to the school (best case: someone helps me on the subway, worst case: taxi).  After being sick for a few weeks I've finally gotten up the energy to begin packing for the trip, a sharp contrast to when I went to Belgium and was obsessing over what to pack for weeks.

Speaking of Belgium, a few weeks ago (the beginning of me being sick, unfortunately), I was able to go back for a two week trip to visit everyone again and see the sights.  My lovely third host family let me live with them again and my fanfare welcomed me back to visit and go to 21 hours of Teerfeest this year.  It was a wonderful trip and I loved going back.  I also bought a camera nicer than a point and shoot from a friend, and have been attempting to take better pictures, so hopefully these turned out as nice as I think they did.



But anyways, a week until departure.  This time I know that I'll be floundering to understand the language and culture and nothing I do will prepare me for it, so may as well sit back and enjoy the ride.