In this blog post, I will talk about my arrival in Korea, some things you should keep in mind when you come here, and of course about aSSIST, the university I’m going to.
I left for Korea on the 23rd of August, it was a direct flight from Frankfurt to Incheon International Airport. So, Incheon is not directly Seoul, it is on an island which is located about 50km away from the city of Seoul. There is also another airport, Gimpo International Airport, which is a little bit closer to the city, but I think Incheon Airport is a good way to start your adventure in Korea, because it has also been chosen as the best airport worldwide for more than 10 years in a row.
I arrived on the 24th around noon, passed through immigration and got my luggage. Before you go through immigration, make sure that you filled in the little paper slips (arrival card, customs declaration etc.) you received on the airplane, because you need to hand them in there. But if you haven’t, you can still do it before you get in line. There are also some extra papers, in case you want to fill it in again.
The first thing I did, after I got my suitcase, was getting a T-Money card. This card is used for the subway, buses and you can also use it to pay the taxi or to shop at convenience stores like 7/11. Just load some money on the card at a machine, which you can find at any subway station and also use to reload your card. Now you’re ready to go. It is a pretty good and efficient system, in my opinion. Also, if you need cash, look for a Global ATM (those are also at most subway stations), because you will need some to put money on your T-Money card.
When you want to get from the airport into the city, you have several options: subway, bus, taxi or KTX (Korea Train eXpress). I think the easiest option is the subway. Taking the taxi is the most expensive, I guess, the KTX probably as well, and the bus might need longer due to the busy traffic. The airport railway train will take about an hour to get you to Seoul Station, or 50 mins till Hongik University Station, which is just two stations away from aSSIST.
When you arrive at your accommodation, you will probably notice the small area at the entrance, where people leave their shoes. In Korea, and lots of other Asian countries, you’re supposed to take your shoes off before you enter the living space. I think that’s quite nice, because it also keeps the apartment cleaner. Even in some restaurants, you need to take off your shoes, but those are mostly typical Korean places.
If you need something for your apartment or you might have forgotten something at home, like towels, tissues or whatever, I recommend you to go to your nearest Daiso (다이소). You can buy nearly everything there, kitchen utensils, stuff for your bathroom, decoration, snacks, pretty much anything to be honest. And it’s really cheap! They have a lot of stores all over the city, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one.
Next, I want to talk about the recycling system here in Korea, because it is a little bit more complicated than what I’m used to from Germany. There are things that you recycle and things you don’t. The recyclables are glass, plastics (also plastic bottles), paper and cans. You need to put them all in different containers. Then, there is food waste and general garbage, which is for anything that doesn’t fit into any of the previous categories (e.g. tissues, Q-tips etc.). For those two, you have to buy special trash bags at e.g. a convenience store in your area (ask for 쓰레기 봉투 Sseulegi Bongtu), because you can’t just use any bag you want, like in Germany. And yes, trash bags from your area, because you can only use the bags for the district you’re living in, otherwise the trash bags won’t be collected. For example, if you live in the Mapo district, you can’t use bags that you purchased in Gangnam. Also, some food wastes belong into general garbage, like shells, tea bags, bones, seeds, anything an animal wouldn’t eat. Plastic and paper recycling is also a little bit tricky. Plastic bottles or yogurt cups for example should be washed out before you put them in the trash, and plastic coated things are not recyclable and need to go into general garbage. The best way to know, if something is recyclable and in which category it belongs, is by looking for a recycling symbol on the packaging and in it it says which category it is for. If there is no symbol, put it into general garbage.
Alright, enough talking about trash. Let’s move on to the university.
So, the university is called Seoul School of Integrated Sciences and Technology, or just aSSIST. It is located in the Sinchon area in Mapo-gu, very close to Ehwa Woman’s University Station (이대역), which you can easily reach with subway line number 2, the green line. Hongik University (홍대입구역) is two and Sinchon (신촌역) just one station away, also with line 2. You can pay those areas a visit if you want to go shopping or find something tasty to eat. The street close to aSSIST, Ehwayeodaegil, also has a lot of shops, some street food, cafés and dessert places, where you can enjoy delicious Bingsu (빙수), which is shaved ice with various kinds of toppings.
The university consists of two buildings, the Finland Tower and the actual aSSIST-Building. You can go up the elevator in Finland Tower and just switch over to aSSIST. But there is no actual campus, like big universities usually have, but aSSIST is also just a small private university, and I’m already used to a small „campus“ from Berlin. I quite like the rooms in both buildings though, and the chairs are way more comfortable, than the ones at the macromedia in Berlin, to be honest.
There is also a nice little cafe next to the entrance of Finland Tower, where you can go in between classes or to do homework. It hasn’t officially opened yet, but we were still able to go and sit in there.The grades for the courses are based on various factors, like attendance, participation, midterms and final exams.
On our first day, we were introduced to some of the lecturers and shown around the buildings. We even got some goodies, like a bag and a card holder. The professors and teachers are really nice and we can even ask them for help with things that are not related to uni. After we had a look at the facilities, we were all invited to lunch at a Korean restaurant, where we had several stews, different kinds of meat and lots of side dishes. Of course, we all shared the food in the classic Korean manner. A little bit after lunch we had our first class, which was Intercultural Communications. The first classes we had mostly consisted of getting to know each other. We only have classes among us students from macromedia, and we’re only 11 people in the group. There are also students from China at our university, but they are mostly Masters and Ph.D. students. As the only undergraduates, we have separate classes because of that reason. We actually thought that there would be other international students with us in the group, so we were a bit disappointed that that’s not the case.
Since this week, were having Korean classes, organized by aSSIST, which are really helpful. You can survive in Seoul without knowing Korean, because a lot of signs are romanized and train announcements for example are in English, Japanese and Chinese as well. People can also kind of understand you when you talk to them in simple English or when you’re pointing to stuff and use gestures. But life is a lot easier when you can read the Korean letters and know some basic phrases. And learning the Korean alphabet is actually quite easy. The Korean class is also the only class, which is together with the Chinese students.
A week after our orientation day, we were invited to lunch again, this time with the Chinese, as an official start for the semester. And hey, who says ’no‘ to free food, right?
We also all went to the immigration office together, because if you’re staying more than 90 days in Korea, you need to apply for a so called „Alien Registration Card„. Yes, alien. It’s very important, the uni helped us with the documents and guided us through the process, so it wasn’t too complicated.
There are some other activities the uni has planned for us, like a morning walk along some well known spots in Seoul and a visit to the Global Culture Center in Myeongdong, where we can choose between crafting something using special Korean paper or learning some K-Pop dances.
All in all, I can say that the first few weeks have been quite eventful and have already given me an insight into the Korean culture. So, I’m curios about what is coming my and my fellow students way the next couple of months.