one girl's journey across kpop paradise

Monthly Archives: August 2011

So I just wrote a post yesterday about the not-so-great things that happened so far, but today I really hit an all-time low. The past couple of weeks have been tough, but they hit me all at once, so I couldn’t really respond. But today, I just cracked. Like, want to sit at home, curl up into a ball, and cry.

Not knowing Korean is not only inconvenient, but really frustrating. I can’t communicate with anyone, and the second I speak English, they know I’m foreign. I hate the feeling of being foreign. It makes me feel really upset about myself. And the blank look I give Korean people when I can’t understand what they’re saying is really getting old. I’m sick of having to resort to that. Feeling embarrassed and sad about my current predicament is really getting old. I’ve been trying to learn Korean, but no matter how hard I try, it feels like I’ll never get fluent, or even good enough.

My KUBA buddy/group (the organization that helps study abroad students adjust to life at KU/Korea) never contacts me. There are 9 or 10 groups, and my fellow study abroad students from other groups always tell me how their buddy wants to hang out and shop with them and their buddy calls/texts them daily about how their day went and that their groups has weekly events…and what does my buddy/group do? Absolutely nothing. I’m really, really upset about this. Added to the stressful course registration situation and the not knowing any Korean and being a foreigner, this really tops the cake.

I’m really worried that I’ll resort to being anti-social like I tend to get when I’m feeling stressed or unhappy about my situation. I don’t know what to do. I hope this feeling will go away or I’m really going to start having problems. Sigh…

So I had to make a post about all the bad things here. It’s Tuesday and it’s only been two days since classes started, but it’s been a nightmare trying to get everything sorted.

KU has only been accommodating exchange students for six years, versus Yonsei University, which has been accommodating foreign students for over 25 years. So KU’s Center for Global Studies department (the one that helps us get everything we need to get settled here) is not too organized or experienced. Thus, as study abroad students, we’ve not received the best and most up-to-date information. In addition, KU accepted about 1000 exchange students this year and they’ve only had 500 in previous years, so I think they were really unprepared to accommodate so many foreign students this year. This resulted in many classes being really full.

I haven’t attended any of my courses that are taught in English at KU yet, so I’m going to just comment on the Korean Language courses. I decided to sign up for Korean Language for Beginners I and Basic Speaking for Korean Language. In both classes we had to take a placement test to place us among the other students in this class. The Korean Language for Beginners I had over 150 students registered, so the teacher decided to split the class into 5 or 6 groups, or “streams,” depending on their Korean level. I ended up getting an interview and getting into the “most advanced stream” but she said it’d be a bit difficult for me. That’s okay – I’m planning on working really hard to improve my Korean. As for the Basic Speaking class, there was a very simply oral quiz that placed us either in 1) no knowledge of Korean language or 2) very little knowledge of Korean language, which was a lot less stressful.

If you know consonants and how to make basic sentences only, you should take the beginning Korean classes at KU. The Beginning II class actually requires you to know a bit more Korean – they don’t speak English in class at all, so be prepared if you are trying to take anything higher than the very basic Korean Language courses – they will make you take a placement test.

The only Korean I know is the basic stuff I learned from – a great resource, by the way. Very easy to understand and really helpful information. However, I’ve never taken an actual Korean language course at school or anywhere – I’m totally self-taught up until now, so my Korean is very, very basic. I can say simple sentences like my age, my ethnicity, what country I come from, and basic sentences in present, past, and future tense.

I’m taking two Media classes at KU – Popular Culture and Understanding Digital Society. I have yet to take them, so I will update with reviews of these two classes. In the meanwhile, I’m living off of $2 meals at the school cafeteria – it’s pretty cheap (not delicious) and studying Korean in my spare time. There are a bunch of parties at clubs that sound interesting, but all of them have cover fees (from 10,000-30,000 Won – waaaay too much), so I’m not even going to bother.

Gonna go sleep now ~

So today we went to Seoul Comic Con 2011 (right off the Hangnyeoul station) and then Coex Mall! It was a lot of fun. I’d gone to Otakon (only the largest anime convention on the east coast) a month ago, so I wasn’t expecting much out of Comic Con, but surprisingly enough, I still had a lot of fun at the con. There wasn’t much going on (read: nothing going on), but there were two huge Artist Alleys that kept me and my friend Jei very amused.

We took pictures of sooo many artist posters…here are a few!

And then we took pictures of lots of cosplayers. Here are some good ones:

The Artist Alley stuff was way cheaper than I’d seen at other conventions, so I kind of stocked up. I bought a Miku/Vocaloid fan, a Reborn/Vocaloid folder, a cute cat mug, and a cute cat bag. I’ll update with pictures of them later.

And then we decided to go to Coex. I was so overwhelmed – it was really nice and modern inside! The Uniqlo was underwelming, though. Not that impressive. I liked the big bookstore and the many food places ^^

And at the bookstore, almost all the books were covered in plastic wrap, so we couldn’t read them. I did find one Japanese makeup book, and there were some really cute looks, below.

These are so cute, aren’t they? I want to look like that ^^ Makes me want to go to Japan. Okay, it’s like 4 AM now…going to sleep! See ya!

So following that depressing previous post about how much KU/Korea sucks, I wanted to write a post about what I liked about Seoul so far. Seoul is split up into many different neighborhoods. Seriously, they’re all different and I’ve really enjoyed visiting all of them. I’ll do a small review of what these neighborhoods are like.

Myeongdong: The quintessential chic shopping locale. We went at night, and the lights were beautiful. It consists of long streets intermixed with smaller streets, and the stores are located close together. It was similar to the nice upscale shopping districts of Shanghai. The clothe stores are rather expensive, however, and I found many stores whose clothes I loved but were waaaay too expensive for me. I will definitely be making a visit or two back to Myeongdong because I really enjoyed it (as an avid shopper).

Namdaemun: This place is a market (open from morning until 5 pm) – some open stores and some closed stores. No upscale designer clothing, but a lot of cheap stores with bags, kpop paraphernalia (that were actually quite expensive), and street vendor food. Fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t come back regularly.

Apgujeong: Similar to Myeongdong, except more Beverly Hills. Supposedly a lot of celebrities hang out in Apgujeong. There’s a SM Everysing here and I plan on coming back later to audition :) The SM Everysing building is really pretty and it has a lot of noraebang rooms that are just gorgeous. I will update everything with pictures once I get my lazy ass back in gear and start taking pictures once again.

Itaewon: This is the “foreigner’s district” and to be honest, I was quite disappointed. It looked, as my friend Jei said, like New York City – at the dirty parts. There were a lot of American food chains, like Taco Bell, Subway, Outback Steakhouse, and since I’m not a bit fan of American or fast food, I’m not a huge fan of the place. One good thing is that they do speak English better in Itaewon than just about anywhere else in Seoul. It’d be good to come back here if I start getting homesick.

Like I said, I’m being so freaking lazy about taking pictures because my camera’s heavy to carry around, and it’s just annoying taking pictures when I’m trying to go around and enjoy everything with friends. So I’ll take pictures later.

Here’s a picture my friend Carol took of us trying to get drinks at a vending machine at a temple in Busan (forgot the name).

I just have to start off by saying that the past couple of days have been so intense. We had orientation with KUBA (Korea University Buddy Assistants – they’re pretty much required for exchange students), who showed us around and helped us get basic things, like cell phones and bank accounts and student IDs. I don’t feel like going into detail about what this week has been like, because it’d take so long, so I’m going to sum it up into a list.

Words from a wise KU student:

  1. Don’t live in on-campus housing. At least, don’t live in CJ International House or Frontier House. I didn’t mention this earlier, but the walk up the hill to both is brutal (CJ being much worse). I dread the thought of having to walk up the hill once a day, and in reality, I go up it several times a day. There are plenty of off-campus housing options really close to main campus that are cheaper and better. Also, CJ is really far from main campus AND the science campus. The only redeeming factor is that there are buses that shuttle between CJ and the two campuses, but don’t count on them.
  2. Tell your KUBA buddy you want to look around for the best cell phone deal. KUBA buddies and exchange students are split up into many groups (there were 10 this year), and each group went separately to look for cell phones. Our group went to a cell phone dealer in the Science Library in Hana Square. Don’t go there. The prepaid phones are rather shitty. The truth is, if you don’t want to pay for a monthly plan, you will have to get used prepaid phones that may or may not work well. I have friends who bought used prepaid phones whose enter buttons don’t work. And they can’t even return them, since we didn’t get receipts. Be very careful. If you have a family member in Korea, make them buy you a phone on their plan.
  3. There is no online course registration at KU. That means, you have to go to the International One-Stop Center along with over 500 other exchange students who are all hoping to get into the same classes. I really, really hated this. A lot of the classes I got approved ended up being full by the time I could sign up, so I’m taking 2 Korean language classes. There’s an add and drop period, but that’s also done manually. I really wish KU would switch to online course registration like US universities do.
And one more thing that’s not KU-related, but very important nonetheless. Don’t underestimate how much money you will have to spend here, especially the first week or two. There’s no way getting around the fact that you will have to buy basic living necessities, like bedding, hangers, a hair dryer, school supplies, school textbooks, groceries, tissues/toilet paper, and so many other things. I thought I wouldn’t really need all this kind of stuff, but I was in way over my head. And the basic living necessities in Korea are really a lot more expensive than at home. Don’t expect to come here and be able to get away with not paying not much for food or anything else. I thought the clothes here would be cheap (so I didn’t pack that much), but like any other nice metropolitan city, most stores are rather pricey.

So much heavy stuff. I’m going to post a new post later with happy touristy things. For now, here is a picture of my friend Thanh and I in Myeong-dong in front of a Won Bin picture :)

Sorry guys – it’s been a while since my last update. I’ve been busy and also it’s been tough lugging around my heavy Canon camera everywhere. So I’ve been lazy about taking pictures. I’ll probably be taking more photos once classes start, since I’ll have more time to upload them on here as well.

One of the things I wanted to do most once getting to Korea was getting my hair done. I have really puffy and frizzy hair, so I hate it, and whenever I go to China, I get it permed straight so I don’t have to bother styling it everyday. Lately I’ve been straightening it whenever I go out, but since the power systems are different in Korea, I haven’t been able to use my straightener. The girls in Korea pretty much all get their hair permed, so I was interested in getting mine done as well. Since I’d gotten my hair straightened many times before, I decided to get a wavy perm this time.

I went to Juno Hair, which was recommended by Eat Your Kimchi, so I knew it would be a good place. I went to the Seoul location near the Seoul National University Station on Line 2. The directions I got for it were slightly wrong – I had to look for like 30 minutes before I found it, but it was right next to the exit. Go out exit 3, turn around and keep walking for a bit and it will be on your left. It’s on the second floor, so go up the stairs.

Thankfully there was a lady there who spoke English, so I could tell her what I wanted. She told me I should get a setting perm for the bottom of my hair and magic straightener for the top part, since my hair is frizzy. She ended up doing my hair. Also, there was another guy who helped out, and he did the shampooing for me. I forget both their names, but I’m sure there aren’t too many female hairdressers there who spoke English, so you’ll probably get the same person I did if you go. The guy who helped was really nice, and kept asking me questions, even though our communication was very stifled and awkward. But he was really cheerful and enthusiastic, so it made the experience fun.

In the end, I had my roots done (my hair is dyed a reddish brown), magic straightener on top, and setting perm for the bottom. It came out to 300,000 Won, which is a lot of money, but decent for the services I received. Here is a before and after:

Sorry the lighting is bad in the after shot, but at least you can see how soft and wavy the hair is :) I really like it – the only thing is – I wish the curls were less tight, but I think they will loosen up over time.

I really enjoyed my Juno experience. If you want to go to get your hair done is Seoul, definitely go to Juno. There are a bunch of other locations in Seoul as well, but I don’t know them and I’m in no position to give directions for them.

Tomorrow we register for classes. I heard that a lot of classes are already full, so I’m a bit worried, but I’m sure everything will turn out fine. Hwaiting!


April 29, 2012: Here’s an update to the perm eight months alter.

Hey look! We found a sticker photo booth in Busan! We jumped at the opportunity and it was SO MUCH FUN! It was in a shopping area in Seo-myeon (or something like that) and the store had about ten+ booths. We picked one near the back – we picked a big one because there was seven of us. We ended up picking 6 shots, and picked backgrounds for all of them. After we were done taking the pictures, we went to this little booth next door to decorate the photos. It was the best thing ever! See, we wrote on ours, put sparkles and hearts all over it, added bunny ears, headbands, tiaras, you name it. The photo booths are from Japan :) All the high-tech, really cute photo booths are always from Japan. They’ve got it going on in terms of photo booths apparently. The whole thing costed 6,000 Won, so less than $6. Among the 7 of us, we spent around a dollar each for this. It was definitely worth it. I would totally recommend you do it if you find it in Korea!

I don’t have the pictures for this right now, but I’ll talk about the amazing video game arcades we found in Busan (I’m sure they’re good in Seoul too). All my dreams and fantasies about video game arcades in Asia were right! The one we went to was packed. There were a lot of boys and girls (mostly boys at specific games like DDR and both girls and guys at more popular games). There was one really popular game in the center of the arcade that was like one of those spin-around rides. The ride is circular with a row of seats along the edges, and people get to sit next to each other and hold onto the bars. The ride bounces up and down rather violently, but it doesn’t look dangerous. In fact, it looked really fun and we all wanted to go on, but the line was like 100+. We made a pact to go on it eventually. We ended up playing a shooting game, but it was in a dark booth, so we were secluded. It was so intense! And then we went one a ‘5D’ ride – it’s one of those rides where you sit on rollercoaster seats and theres a screen in front of you and the ride bumps up and down along with the screen, to simulate the experience of the real thing. I’ve been on tons of these, so it wasn’t that exciting, but the others seemed to enjoy it a lot.

And SK and I really wanted to try the Pump It Up (DDR with diagonal arrows), but there were a lot of guys at the three stations that acted like they owned the place. But whatever, SK and I still went up and played it. We didn’t really understand how to work the machine and this Korean guy there tried to help us out by picking the right stages and and levels. Luckily we didn’t embarass ourselves too much, and it was a whole lot of fun. I’d do it again gladly!

Okay, I’m going to try to get some sleep before we have another full day of activities! Just one more day in Busan before we go back to Seoul. As much as I like Busan, I am really excited to go back to Seoul to buy all the necessary essentials for living (we need pillows, hangers, hair dryers, etc) before we start Orientation and classes! I’m so psyched!

Until next time <3

Hey guys!

As you should know by now, I’m really pumped about being here in Korea right now. My study abroad group is currently in Busan on a cultural program (I call it a touristy vacation) before going back to Seoul for KU’s Orientation. I’ll put up pictures of Busan as soon as we get back to CJ, because my laptop’s back there.

But for now, there are some things about Korea you should know before you come.

  • The sayings are true: most girls in Korea are skinny, pretty, and stylish. If you’re a girl, be prepared to step up your game.
  • Some people disagree, but I think you should always underestimate the amount of English people in Korea speak. Work on your Korean so that you’re not embarassed when you’re trying to order food in a restaurant (I had a super stressful experience at a BBQ place yesterday and it makes me feel so motivated to work on my Korean). You can get by with annyong haseyo and kamsamnida, but Koreans appreciate it if you try to speak Korean.
  • Mosquitoes are crazy here. Four days in, and I’m already been feasted on by dozens of mosquitoes. If you’re going to be here in the summer at all, do yourself and favor and grab yourself a liquid plug-in mosquito repellant from the supermarket as soon as you get here or else you will look like you got attacked by the swollen chickenpox.
  • If you’re a crazy kpop fan girl and are thinking of coming to Korea just to meet your favorite kpop idols, then I recommend you rethink your priorities. It is hard to get into weekly concerts like Inkigayo, Music Bank and Music Core (you have to wait in really long lines along with fan club members, and the popular groups have so many members). Plus, big concerts are usually sold out months in advance. You should really get a Korean friend (or a friend who can read/speak Korean well) to help you if you want to go to concerts because you’ll need their help to get tickets online. I’m a crazed kpop fan girl, but I came to Korea for many reasons, so I won’t be so disappointed if I don’t get to meet my favorite stars (though I will be a little, haha).
  • Since there are so many people in the big cities in Korea (Seoul, Busan, etc), the cultural norms about personal space in public areas are much different than in the States, for example. People will push past you on the subway, people will bump into you on the streets and not stop to apologize, and most importantly, cars and motorcyles have the right of way in every situation. When crossing the street, walk in packs and don’t be the first one to start crossing. Another thing to note: cars and motorcycles will try to squeeze past you, even on the sidewalk. Don’t wear headphones when walking outside, because you need to listen for honks – that means there’s a vehicle behind you and they’re going to mow you down if you don’t move. People in Korea are used to this.
  • You may know about the different verb endings for speaking to people in higher authority or elders, but you may not know that Korea still very much pays public respect to elders. On the subway, for example, there is a section of seats specifically for elders, so don’t try to sit down on them (you will get dirty looks). Also, a common courtesy is to give up your seat (a normal one) if an elderly person is standing near you.

I’m kind of running out of things to put down, so I’ll update this post or put up a new one when I think of more. I’m in Busan right now, a southeastern port city in Korea, and it has been raining non-stop since we got here. It’s still beautiful nonetheless (lots of mountains everywhere), and a bunch of us want to come back later in the school year when it’s not raining to enjoy it more. More posts from Busan to come <3

Today was our first day in Seoul. As part of our AsiaLearn Bridging Cultures Program, we took a bus around various parts of Seoul. We went to the National Museum, the largest museum in Korea. And then we had lunch. I had bibimbap.

And sides.

And then we walked through the Cheongae Stream nearby; it was really pretty.

And then we went to the Gyeongbokgung Palace – it reminded me a lot of the Forbidden Palace and other ancient places in Beijing. I especially enjoyed the architectural details.

And then we went to dinner and for starters we had this seafood pancake thing. Mashisseoyo!

And then I had bibimbap ONCE AGAIN. Everyone got bibimbap this time. Ridiculousness. So much bibimbap. I will never eat it AGAIN!! …Just not in the next couple of days. I think I liked the dinner bibimbap better.

And it was our beloved Jei’s 21st birthday, so we celebrated it with a cake from Baskin Robbins. It was made of frozen yogurt, ice cream, cheesecake?, cherries, etc but it was soo delicious. We just dug in.

We were going to go to a noraebang for Jei’s birthday, but we were all so fracking tired by the time we got back to our dorm, that we just all bonked out immediately. We’re going to Busan in the morning, so we need to pack and then go to the train at 8 AM, bright and early!

Nightie night <3

This is my desk! I’m sitting next to the balcony (which isn’t very big, but you can walk out and see the city line). There’s a wardrobe to the right.

This is my desk, a bit unorganized at the moment, but it gets great sunlight! And the chairs are rolling; they’re pretty stylish :)

This is Christine, one of my suitemates. We have bunk beds! Warning: the bunk beds are a bit low, watch out for when you sit up – you might hit your head!

This is my wardrobe/closet. It’s pretty spacious, with not quite a full-length mirror. There are two rows of drawers on the bottom, and plenty of closet space. They don’t provide any hangers, so bring you own or be prepared to buy some. There is a convenience store right next door to CJ on the campus, so that’s a plus.

We’re off to a bus tour of Seoul soon, so be back later!