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By gwrobinkim

In South Korea, there is a very popular television program named 비정상회담 ("Abnormal Summit"). Loosely mimicking the G20 Summit, it features a panel who openly discuss a number of topics related to Korean culture. This show is unique in that the panel is made up male foreigners who live in Korea. Not only that, but they all speak fluent Korean. Ranging from nationalities (e.g. Italy, USA, Mexico, China, Ghana, and Poland - to name just a few), they also vary in occupations (e.g. students, professors, corporate workers). They're also diverse in their length of time in Korea ranging from 2 to 10 years. Despite purposely focusing on the differences in Korea and the panel's respective countries, the show also highlights the similarities in experiencing South Korea as a foreigner.

I was invited to an event at 홍대 (Hongdae) that was hosting four of the 비정상회담 ("Abnormal Summit") members to discuss "Peace and Citizenship," specifically targeting students studying abroad. Of course, I said heck yeah.

...continue reading "Abnormal Summit"

By jlee4946

Finals season at Seoul National University has arrived and this is made clear by the lack of seats in the library. Something interesting at SNU is that at the library, there's a machine that you log into with your student ID and reserve a seat on the 6th, 7th, or 8th floor for a certain amount of time.

One thing I've really come to like is that the library is incredibly spacious and has absolutely enormous tables that are big enough that you can spread your stuff out in your designated area even though you're sharing the table with up to 5 other people. There are different types of rooms, such as the reading room where you're not allowed to use your laptop to type (i.e. writing essays, doing research) since even the sound of typing on the keyboard is distracting, the laptop zone equipped with outlets conveniently located at every seat, the multimedia plaza (my favorite place) where there are INDIVIDUAL TVs (or 2-seater seats or even 4-seaters) you can reserve for up to 2.5 hours and an expansive collection of DVDs to rent movies from, the computer lab with computers at every seat, and there is even one of those typical red London phone booths in case you need to take a phone call on every floor.

I've been spending quite some time there because it is such a great study environment. I think people study at cafes a lot here but for some reason I always get distracted and since they play music it's not as easy to focus there as the dead silent library at SNU.

...continue reading "Already finals"

Even though I know I mention this nearly every week, it wasn't until this past weekend that I realized that my time in Korea is really almost done. In less than 2 weeks I'll be done with finals and in about 4 weeks I'll be back at GW. While taking the bus to school, I've had some thoughts that I thought (haha) I would share.

1) At SNU, there’s a person guiding traffic at the crosswalks for students to cross and it makes me feel like I’m back in kindergarten. Especially with everyone wearing their long parkas looking like children. Me included.

2) Sometimes I forget I’m in Korea and am fascinated by the immense number of Koreans around me. Then I realize I probably look like a foreigner to them but I also am a minority back in the US #identitycrisis. I realize this is actually a larger issue under the surface but even being in the US since I identified rather strongly as Korean (especially given that I'm Korean-American), it's interesting actually being in Korea and being perceived as "foreign".

3) Sometimes, I think there’s so much pressure to make the best of your time abroad but only in one sense - going out, discovering your new city and making new friends. Which I guess I’ve done to an extent but looking back at the past 3 months I’ve kind of just been wondering where the time has gone and what I’ve done with it. Especially because I have all my relatives here and yet even being in the same country let alone same city as some of them kind of still feels like it doesn’t matter because I haven’t seen much of them. Is it because I’ve never spent much time with them so it’s just awkward? I don't know.

...continue reading "Some closing thoughts"

By jlee4946

With nearly 3 months in Korea coming to a close, I think I can narrow down 5 of my favorite things to do here.

1. Coin Karaoke (코인노래방): As you may well know, karaoke, or noraebang, in Korea is extremely popular. However, something that's been of fashion or "유행" here is coin karaoke, where you go into the booths that can cozily fit 3 people and each song you sing is about $0.25, although some of them are $0.50. So even if you sing 20 songs, that's still only $5 and over an hour's worth of entertainment. Affordable and enjoyable, best of both worlds!

2. Claw Machine (인형뽑기): My favorite thing to waste money on in Korea doesn't even guarantee an end product. It's the stuffed animal claw machines that I rarely see in the US anymore. In Korea, however, there are entire rooms dedicated to these claw machines, in addition to a variety of selection at arcades. For me, the problem is when I first grab the stuffed animal, I do really well. I bring it really close to the drop box. But then that's where I struggle and spend 1000 won bills (similar to $1) one after another.

3. Street market (시장): So when I got notified that I didn't get a dorm assignment at SNU for the semester, I found a place to stay in a place called Nak-Seong-Dae (낙성대). At first, I was honestly kind of peeved because dorms are SO much cheaper, SO close to campus and just convenient as an exchange student. However, I'm so thankful now that I have my own place in Nakseongdae. There's a street market less than a 10 minute walk from my house filled with traditional Korean foods such as rice cakes and street foods such as spicy rice cakes, fish cake, kimbap, etc., fresh baked bread, even Japanese takoyaki, baked chestnuts, fresh fish, butcheries, sashimi and family owned restaurants. It's such a unique experience walking down the street with grandmas smiling at you that give you a few more pieces of spicy rice cake or people shouting out different prices for fresh fish.

...continue reading "Top 5 Things to Do"

By gwrobinkim

In my original post, I defined myself in my own words: a third-culture Korean American. After reviewing and reflecting on what I wrote in that post, I’ve realized how much has changed in the three months of being here. I still stand by what I said before, I still identify as a third-culture Korean American.

However, my time here has made me learn a lot about both my identity and community back home. And by “back home,” I mean that figuratively. Like most people, I have several groups of people that come to mind when I think about my community: my family, my university friends, my high school friends, and my middle school friends. Looking at this, my community isn’t centered in one area.

...continue reading "Defining Identity and Community: Mid-Semester Reflection"

Something that I've felt from the first day at Seoul National University is how crazy smart everyone at this school must be.

If you aren't familiar with how college applications work in Korea, basically there's this one test that you study for your entire high school career, called soo-neung (수능). It's kind of like the SATs in the US, except far more difficult and important since it's literally only given once a year so if you don't do well and want to re-take it, you have to wait an entire year. I've looked at the practice tests for the English portion, and honestly I don't even know what they're talking about. Additionally, unlike the US where nearly every school boasts about their holistic approach to scanning applicants, Korean universities rely heavily solely on the soo-neung score.

This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot recently, since this year's soo-neung was supposed to be last Thursday and all the convenience stores had huge gift selections to I guess either celebrate or console the kids that just took it. Unfortunately, there was an earthquake in the southern part of Korea the day before so in an unprecedented fashion, soo-neung was pushed to this week; this actually presents a greater problem because I've heard many high schoolers book legendary trips for after taking probably one of the most important tests of their lifetime but now they probably have to pay $100s to reschedule their flights and hotels...

...continue reading "Academics in Korea and SNU"

By gwrobinkim

I’m not a Korean, nor am I an American. I’m a Korean American, as I outlined in my very first blog post. But my experience here has been emphasizing more of that middle ground, even further between the Korean and American. What do I mean by that? I have so many more cultures and countries that have influenced my life and my personality beyond my Korean and American boundaries -- from each and every country I lived in and went to school in.

I guess I can’t pass as Korean.

Depending on the group of friends that I’m with at the time, I’m either the best or worst Korean speaker. When I’m the worst Korean speaker, I sit back and fit in. However, when I’m the only/better Korean speaker in the group, I’m often put in a sticky situation.

I’m pushed to order at restaurants since I can speak the language. Yet I feel instantly exposed when I notice the waiter hear my American accent or when they ask me a question I don’t understand and thus exploiting the fact that I am obviously not Korean. For example, I was at a smoothie cafe and was asked which protein supplement I wanted - I was so lost.

I can feel that people are trying to figure me out. Am I Korean? Am I a Korean American? Am I an Asian that can speak Korean? I was at a street food cart with a friend (another exchange student) on our way to pick up our alien registration cards (identification cards for foreigners in Korea). I ordered our food in Korean and then continued speaking to my friend in English. The owner, curious, began to talk with us - asking us where we’re from, where we’re studying, what our majors were, etc. After conversing with him for a few minutes, he asked me why my Korean was so good.

...continue reading "Who do they think I am?"

By jlee4946

Something I've realized in Korea is that yes, I am actually here for school.

Being in a new place for such a short amount of time, I feel like there is a lot of pressure. Not only to focus on academics but also making new friends, trying new things, discovering new places, getting to know your "new home" country, something along the lines of trying to make each weekend worth it.

But ultimately, we are at school with classes to take and exams to prepare for.

The exam season is similar to that at GW, where most classes have a midterm and final with homework and assignments and quizzes all in between. Midterm season was at its peak around the 3rd and 4th week of October where it was impossible to find a seat at a cafe to study. An interesting thing to note though was that during the peak of exams, professors typically cancel the class before the exam. So if you have a Monday & Wednesday class with an exam on Wednesday, the Monday class would be cancelled. Maybe this is common practice at GW as well for some, but it was a new concept for me!

Another thing I found interesting was how in the library, if you want to take a study break and leave to get some food, you can trust that no one will take your stuff even if you leave your laptop open and your notes astray. Even if you leave for over an hour, your stuff will remain as you left it. I guess people really respect the mutual suffering they're going through.

...continue reading "Exam Season…"

By jlee4946

This weekend, I took a short trip to Sokcho, a coastal city in the northeastern region of Korea with one of my close friends from GW and one of my new friends from Seoul National University. We went to Seoraksan, one of Korea's most beautiful mountains and National Parks. It was really incredible since we managed to catch the end of the leaves falling and changing colors.

Seeing the leaves change colors reminded me of my favorite season - fall. But that also made me realize that my time here is already more than halfway over which really made me reflect on how so much has changed since I first got here. When I first arrived, the school organization that matches exchange students and students from SNU into buddy groups sent out the first group calendar filled with events to get to know each other for the month of September.

...continue reading "Change"

By jlee4946

As long as I can remember, I loved the metro (or the subway or WMATA or whatever else you want to call it). But I always hated taking the bus. Actually, more accurately, I'm scared of the bus. They're both forms of public transportation, but the main and most important difference is that the metro stops at every stop while you need to tell the bus to stop at the correct stop. As a result, I would always just take the metro even if it took longer than taking a bus.

However, things changed when I got to Korea and my roommate nonchalantly mentioned that to get to school everyday I would have to take 2 buses. I take the town bus #4 then transfer to #2. Now at first glance this doesn't seem too hard, but as my friends know from my daily Snapchats of me just barely missing the bus, this bus journey can take anywhere between 10 and 30+ minutes.

Nowadays, I don't mind taking the #4 bus because much less people take it and I can always get a seat. But the #2 bus is the one that apparently the entire school takes. During busy hours, it gets to the point that honestly, if you lose your balance you wouldn't even stumble because there are so many people squished together. It gets to the point where since the doors don't close if people are standing on the steps, people literally hang off the bars that are meant to just be held to stay balanced to ride the bus.

Okay, so you say, "Well yeah, it's Seoul with 10 million people." Alright, so it is. But something I genuinely worry about is if you're standing on the bus and the button to stop the bus is too far, what are you supposed to do? Do you try and reach the closest one? Do you ask someone to push it for you? But what if everyone around you has earbuds shoved into their ears? And better yet, if you're in the middle of a crowd, how are you supposed to get off when the doors open??

...continue reading "Overcoming fears…taking the bus!!!"