Lumping it all together!
Student Life: Kyunghee University
My first month of Korean classes has been pretty intense but at least I feel some improvement. It is only level 1 out of 6 levels to proficiency, but we have gotten through the basics: family, places, dates and time, common verbs, introductions, shopping phrases, talking about where your live, hobbies, present tense and past tense.. Then through in the various ways you can speak – informal, more formal, even more formal… The hardest part is honestly time! In Korean there are two sets of numbers and for time you use one form for the hour and the other for minutes! Ughhh…. Anyway, our midterm is this week over two days – it will be rough!
We have class 5 days/week, 4 hours/day and there are I think 15 of us in the class. Mostly from Sweden, we break the standard of classes mostly being from China or Japan. Kyunghee must have some kind of connection to a Swedish university because I have no idea why we have almost all the Swedes in Seoul. I am also the oldest in the class – they refer to me as 누나 (nuna) 언니 (onni) which means older sister, because that’s how you address people in Korea… Age is a very important factor that determines how you can speak to someone.
Class is split into two parts, the first half grammar, and the second half alternating between speaking, reading, writing and listening. I have a glimpse of Korean education now and I think it is full of lectures, tests, and memorizing – even for language not as much practice. We parrot phrases and do a lot of srillingut not as much speaking practice as I would like. I know it is a beginner level but from experience, I know there is still more we could be doing. I like both my teachers though!! We have lots of homework every day (I don’t know what MY students used to complain about!!) and have to watch videos that are on the online course part too. So time-consuming! Overall, I am satisfied with it though. I think I will have a good base to start trying to practice and pick up more, but I am not sorry I won’t be continuing for another semester either.
There was a protest one day outside the main gate that turned out to be a protest against the teachers who were against a new decision by the government to make national standardized textbooks. Strangest thing to have people actually in support of that, but it turns out Korean modern politics are a disaster anyway. More on that later.
Culture life: Hi Seoul Culture Festival — Not what I expected to see (fire dancers and live painting), but it turned out I was looking at the 2014 schedule. Instead, I got to watch some breakdancers dancing to Classical music, and some other performers swinging around on a giant ladder!
Hiking life: Ansan night hike with Seoul Hiking Group
Another highlight is when I met up with a friend to go to a jimjilbang, or Korean bathhouse. It was AMAZING!!!! No pictures to share, but you can see the website in English for Silloam Sauna. And maybe because I have been in Europe for a while, but it wasn’t so bad adapting to being totally naked in the bath area. First you strip down and go to shower and if you want, you can get scrubbed down all over for extreme exfoliation by an ajumma (old woman) and a shampoo, facial and massage for about 60,000 KRW or less than $60. Then you can use the variety of baths – jade, charcoal, mudwort, massage, cold – and wet saunas (with salt to rub on yourself inside). We spent a good hour and a half or so trying those, then it was on to the dry rooms, aka “fomentation” rooms. The internet has no explanation for this translation, but basically they are other rooms to give you a health boost. Hot saunas all decked out in jade stone, loess balls, or just super hot, and cool down rooms with charcoal, oxygen pumping through the room, or the ice box, which does not feel cold at all after being in such hot rooms. I want to go back again. They also have a restaurant, sleeping rooms, with a separate snoring room, game room, ping pong room, gym/fitness room. If you forego the scrub and massage, it only costs about 12,000 won to access it all!
Otherwise I think I have mostly stayed up to date on that… Meeting people through Couchsurfing, hiking groups, and an adoptee organization called Koroot (they hosted the makgeolli workshop and I have stayed in touch with a few people since then). Great contacts and good to relay travel stories, compare how we are finding life in Korea, and of course adoption issues. Apart from the adoptees, I also have met some girls who grew up for their early childhood in the US, then moved back to Korea, had to go to international schools because even for them integration was difficult in the school system, then back to US for university. Unfortunately, even as much as they seem more American culture-wise than Korean, visa issues for the US are so complicated that they don’t have much choice in home now. Lovely immigrant life. On that note, watch this TEDtalk on home, being a local, where you are from, etc. And of course, some other Koreans are filling me in on Korean politics and culture. I will have to write more about that separately someday. So interesting!
This weekend was Halloween and it is the first time I celebrated in so long! Halloween is not celebrated in Spain – the costume excitement happens around Carnival. Here however, there is a massive population of American expats and Koreans also have gotten into it. I started off Saturday working at a school’s Halloween party for kids, making dirt cake, mandarin jack-o-lanterns and playing bingo at a home converted into library/school. Met some long-term teachers that are married with kids here in Korea (ahhh the lifer life) and I was happy that 2 hours of fun is the closest I am getting to teaching again for now.
Then at night the adult celebration with some friends coming from outside of Seoul! We went to Hongdae and after wandering into a cat cafe just to pet a cat and leave without getting actual service (in our defense I don’t know where the worker was), we saw some drum circles, people-watched and got some craft beer. Lots of good costumes out there, but I was happy with my warm pumpkin hat in the now freezing temperatures. Another year I will get the creative juices flowing again! At the end of the night, I successfully avoided getting ripped off by a taxi with my basic Korean skills, and was able to tell my nice and surprised taxi driver I found later on about the ordeal. Maybe that means I can survive here now haha.