Category Archives: General Posts

Complaints on placement test

The Korean language placement test turned out to be a completely useless thing. On Monday all of the international students went into separate classrooms and were handed this packet of papers about 20 pages long. It started out so easy and I felt so confident! Then I turned the page, and the next page… four pages in and I didn’t even know what was going on anymore. I was thinking, “is this even Korean?” nothing looked familiar. I was writing random things and guessing un-educatedly at the multiple choice and then they called me in to take the oral portion. It was abysmal. I was nervous and managed to spit out how long I’d been studying Korean, where I was from, and that I had a pencil (yeah). She told me to just stop taking the written test and turn it in. Turns out a lot of people made it about 3-4 pages in as well so I didn’t feel so bad.

The next day we got our placement results and I was actually placed into the absolute beginner class. Don’t even get me started on how it doesn’t make sense to put anyone in there if they can at least read the alphabet and form basic sentences. Laura and Haruka were both in my class and we got in there and, yes, were learning the alphabet. The next day they told us to be patient if we wanted to change classes and we learned how to say our names. I was getting pretty depressed because my main goal in coming here is to actually learn Korean and at that point I’d neither come into direct contact with actual Koreans nor was I going to learn anything in class. Anyway, after some pestering me and Laura moved up to level 3 which is perfect, we are reading passages and having conversations about them which is perfectly comfortable and not at all deserving of being placed in level one. (bitter) The course is actually too advanced for me, but I don’t mind working harder in order to learn something.

I actually ended up changing the rest of my courses as well, so all of the classes I attended last week were not actually classes I will be taking. Essentially this will be my first week, but I got into a pre-modern Korean history class (we were learning about neolithic man today; very pre-modern) and an awesome pop-culture class where we watch Korean dramas and movies and talk about movie stars. It’s going to be an excellent semester.

Buying a cellphone

Today I went to a cool place with Laura called Techno-mart. It’s a huuuuuuge building attached to Gangbyeon station (line 2). Each floor specializes in some kind of electronic equipment (games, cameras, phones, televisions, computers etc etc).  It’s actually built into the subway and a lot of it is underground.  It was intense.  I went to try and get my cellphone working which is a long and complicated story that is to frustrating to re-live again.Traffic at Techno-Mart

I arrived on the 6th floor, greeted by a sea of cellphone booths saying “Anycall” and “KTF”, wondering what was the difference.  At first I went from booth to booth trying to utilize what limited Korean I have, but most people dismissed me immediately on account of my being a foreigner and obviously  not speaking the language.  Most people just waved their hands to pass me on to the next booth.  Although I felt like it was admitting defeat, I ended up asking people “do you speak any english?” (at least I asked that much in Korean) until somebody said “a little.” 

My biggest problem was that I was trying to find out if I could get my American-bought Samsung phone, which I had purchased being told would work here, to work on the network by purchasing some kind of pre-paid sim card.  After being sent all over creation, including to the KTF customer service (where they prepay minutes and help with service contracts) and being told “NO” with that often-seen symbol of crossed-arms and a smile, I wandered out looking defeated.

Then a man approached me in perfect English asking if I needed help.  He explained that while I could get a sim card, pre-paid is not an option anywhere.  So technically my cellphone could pick up the network (we tested it out with a sim card), I couldn’t get a plan.  He ended up selling me a cheap(ish) prepaid cellphone for 60,000 won which charges 10,000 won for 30 minutes, and 60 won per text message.  So I’ll just text message most of the time.  

A caution to foreigners wanting to buy a cellphone– have your freaking foreigner ID card or passport on you!  I didn’t carry mine around because I don’t want to lose the thing, but I ended up having to go back to Yonsei and fax the information and get the security guard to call up KTF and get it to work… bit hairy ordeal, but now I have a cellphone.  

The guy was incredibly nice and helpful.  His English was great even though he said he never went to college and has never been abroad.  I’m so impressed!  And kind of surprised that he’s working that kind of job, considering how crazy competitive I’ve heard the job market is here for English speakers.  

After all of that we didn’t have the time to look around any more, but I hope I get the chance to later.

좋은놈, 나쁜놈, 이상한놈

AKA The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

Myeongdong at nightI’ve been to a few places away from campus and even been adventurous to go out on my own a few times. One of my favourite places is Myeong-dong, a really upscale shopping district geared toward younger people. There are actual sidewalks and nice architecture, and a lot less neon than Shincheon. I could never afford to do actual shopping there but there is nice eating and the movie theatre is there.

I’ve been to see two movies (one was at another theatre), both Korean. I wasn’t able to follow most of the dialogue at all but it’s very easy to figure out what’s going on anyway. Yesterday I saw a blockbuster-style movie called “The Good, the bad, and the weird” which was a chinese western, if you’ve seen the Jackie Chan movie “shanghai nights” or whatever it’s called it’s a very similar feel of humor and direction.The Good the Bad and the Weird movie poster

If you are interested, you can see the trailer here. It was actually a really awesome and hilarious movie and I didn’t even see it with subtitles. It starred three of the most famous A-list stars here, all really good actors, and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s about three guys who are all trying to get to this spot marked on a mysterious map. They all have different motivations, though nobody even knows what’s at the place. The three main characters all interact in hilarious competition though there’s a whole lot of other people trying to get there too (the Manchurians, and the Japanese army). You can probably tell who is the good one, the bad one, and the weird one- hahahah.

Shinchon and the subway – 신촌과 지하철

street vendorShincheon is the name of the part of Seoul near campus which has a really big night life.  I will describe a  little bit of it to you. Because it’s near campus it’s got a ton of businesses packed in together but there is a limited selection in the kind of things there are to do.  For whatever reason there are at least 15 drug stores all together around the closest intersection, and a million bars, coffee shops, karaoke bars, and “pc rooms”. There isn’t a lot of shopping to do right by campus but there is close by.  At ni

Shinchon backalley by day

ght time street vendors come out with their carts selling food and tons of cheap jewelry, socks, and accessories.  I have been out almost every night and the streets were just packed with people.  Apparently the thing college students like to do most all day is sit at coffee shops buying REALLY expensive coffee (5 dollars on average for something very simple) and talking, and then when they are done they just go to another coffee shop and do the same thing.  At night everyone seems to just drink a lot.  But there is a lot of cheap eating and an AMAZING bakery that I must admit I’ve hit up at least 3 times in the last week.

shinchon presbyteriam church and drugstore

After Susie opened my eyes to the wonder of the subway the city got even more amazing.  First of all, the subway is actually a mall. Underground there is a whole new selection of shops and restaurants and coffee shops to choose from.  The grocery store is there– a real one, with tons of fresh produce and meats etc Around campus I’ve only been able to find convenience store type food and fruit that people are selling out of produce carts.  The subway system itself is very simple.  You can charge either your student id, bank card, or even cell phone charm and then you just wave it over the gate and it’ll deduct a flat rate of 900 won (90 cents).  Depending on how far you ride when you get off you wave your card again and either get charged nothing, or maybe 100 or 200 won if you rode very far away. The same card is used for riding the busses and even most taxis have a reader that you can pay for your ride with your subway card.

First impressions

Yonsei (main campus)

Yonsei University – Main campus, seen if walking north up main road

I have officially been here for one week now, and my impressions of Seoul have only improved since I arrived. Because classes don’t start until today I had the entire week to explore the city to the best of my ability and get some errands run. The first few days here everyone tentatively tried to make friends with other people in the international dorm since these are the people we’ll be in close quarters with for our entire stay. Last Tuesday we had orientation and were introduced to a bunch of clubs on campus that are oriented towards the international students. The faculty are all extremely kind and helpful and the Korean Yonsei students that are in the international clubs are really friendly and outgoing as well. I was sitting at orientation watching these introduction videos being overwhelmed by the “korean-ness” of it all, which I don’t really know to explain, other than that it was exactly what I expected. I love all the English catch-phrases that are used everywhere in slogans and sign-age that probably sound cute to Koreans but are often silly to me. Everything here is packed full of extremely positive, light-hearted and ‘cutesy’ messages. The night of orientation they were having a welcoming party and it was really strange to attend a school sponsored event where they offered us shots. The legal drinking age here is 19 and I think you have to be 19 to be an exchange student, but that was still pretty bizzarre.

I hung out with Laura, my roommate Haruka from Japan, and a girl Susie across the hall who is American but speaks Korean fluently. Susie has been incredibly helpful to all of us and helped me when I was trying to open up a bank account, showed me how to ride the subway etc etc. It’s hard to sleep in here at the dorm because there is construction outside that starts at 6:30 every morning as well as the sun always comes up and shines directly on my pillow at roughly 7:15. As a result I’ve been up and ready for the day extremely early and spent a lot of time exploring campus and the areas around the campus.

The campus here is so beautiful. It’s got a lot of beautiful landscaping and is a lot more lush than I thought it would be, though for the most part the rest of Seoul is pretty devoid of plant-life. People who live in roof-top apartments grow a lot of plants (you see that all over the place) and some people who are lucky enough to have houses have “yards” which are actually patches of grass planted on top of the first floor (a lot of the older houses have a tiered design, it’s kind of difficult to describe). Susie actually took me and Laura to meet her grandparents which was one of my favourite experiences so far. They were soooo kind and completely adorable. Her grandmother kept offering us bananas and apples and trying to make us stuff our faces. They live in a really nice older house with a yard as well. On Thursday there were graduation ceremonies at Yonsei so there were street vendors all around the gate selling flowers and people walking around in the Yonsei robes etc. I’m not sure if they traditionally do graduation at the end of the summer or if it was just a small portion of people graduating after the summer, but I’m pretty sure their school year goes from fall to the end of summer, without a break, unlike ours.