Are you looking for a cultural shock? Are you looking for a safe travel destination? Do you like yummy spicy food? And do you like challenges? Seoul is this and much more. Time goes quick, and this city offers such an impressive variety of activities, sights and gastronomy opportunities. As every cosmopolitan centre it is almost impossible to get bored, and by the way locals know how to entertain themselves if you know what I mean. However, keep in mind that the main challenge will be the language barrier. Quite an unexpected issue that each of us realized ones here.
That is to say that socializing becomes arduous, but not impossible if you are firstly breaking the ice. Generalizing is never an optimal way of describing someones culture, but I have to say that people are really friendly. Keep in mind that one common characteristic is shyness while speaking English due to the fear of making mistakes, be the one starting the conversation! For this reason consider taking a basic Korean course, here at Kookmin University you will have a couple of options such as a semester course (if it fits with your schedule) or shorter options but do not rely on the contacts on the webpage and visit the Global Center, Room 205 ones here. Are you asking yourself why you should start writing down info about where to find what even at Uni? Well be prepared to walk in a big campus where a map is needed in order to find your lectures and any facility like the dozen of coffee places, minimarkets, fast food and food courts.
Before figuring out Uni you will need to understand how public transportation works, do not worry is not a big deal. In fact subway, bus and trains are very efficient and unbelievably clean. Ones you will have a few points of reference you will be golden, and I warmly recommend to download any of these free city e-guidebooks while looking around, here instead some free ones about South Korea. If you can not leave without a weekly contact with nature this must be the place. Not referring to Sorrentino’s movie but to an amazing variety of hiking and climbing possibilities at half an hour to one hour from the city center where public transportation will bring you. And here comes the best, our partner University is located at the base of the Bukhansan National Park so you will have the best view from any of the buildings, especially the library. Our referent and great local support here, Prof. Uhm, took us for a couple of hours hike starting from the College of Design, worth it go and a habit to get during fall.
What about the courses and the quality of teaching? Let us say that the academic system is very different over here, being a 17000 students Institution means rough competition and even the enrollment requires a lot of attention. Make sure to read carefully all the guidelines you will receive before the semester start. This was the first year of partnership between the two Universities so I am confident next year’s experience will follow a smoother flow for all the fellow students choosing this amazing location. Within all campus faculties the College of Design is the jewel in the crown when you ask feedbacks outside the Uni. Due to this keep in mind it will be hard to get a spot and the standards will be quite demanding. MM, MCM and Journalism students are under the same major of Communication here, so the lectures will be the same. So far so good, I am really enjoying the level of teaching and the workload is fine seen we have a limited number of course. Local students are instead taking an average of 8 courses and having weekly assignments and team works (we do too) makes it quite tough. On the third week of October we will have our mid term examination period, followed in December by the final one. Lastly, classes are mixed with both local and other international students so you will have the chance to meet other peers which are non-German-speakers. Our 17 people group is housed all over the city and we are following different courses, this means that if you are planning to travel alone you will experience a lot more not being all the time with your European fellow students. Of course this does not mean avoiding each other, but not even hanging out on daily bases.
Back to the housing issue, Seoul is not cheap and I would compare it with Munich. University dorms are really cheap but keep in mind a few things: you will not have cooking facilities and you will share a 4 people room. Furthermore I warmly suggest to not choose those on campus but instead pick those in Gireum with less rules such as early curfew. You will be checked regularly to ensure your room is clean (decent) and you will truly need to follow rules otherwise you will be kicked out. If you are a 3-4 people group will be realtively cheap to rent a room within a guesthouse. If you are looking for an apartment make sure to have a local buddy helping you out because nothing is translated in to English. This is to say that if given the option from the University, do apply for the global buddy initiative do it, it is great to have a local friend that will help and show you around.
The Student Union building hosts all campus clubs offering all sorts of activities. You should just walk by and ask to be admitted, not all of them are easy to join. For instance the Tennis and climbing ones require a good level, but martial arts are also starting from a beginner level. Being and outdoors junkie meant of course joining the second one mentioned here above, I can tell you that this was the best idea since I got here. Getting in touch with the locals and being taken camping, night hiking and climbing while making new friends is really amazing.
Had the chance to experience quite a bit after my first 3 weeks in South Korea, and I am already questioning if I will manage to see everything which is on my to do list, I am loving it! Some of MHMK fellow students have started blogging sharing tips and experiences, worth checking, and do not forget to check the blog, on next post you will find a Korean receipt to try at home, a comparison between lederhosen and hanbok, and a must see and do guide.
Ps. If you are still wondering what was the title about, well this means Hello Seoul in Korean ;)