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10 ways Korea is different than MCLA


1.       Mirrors, mirrors everywhere.

I’m serious; there are mirrors in all sorts of places here. Korea is a very image conscientious place. Both males and females can be found primping in the mirrors in the elevators and even at the mirrors in the cafeteria.  Back at MCLA I could leave my room and go to class in sweats (shirt and pants) and not have to worry about my image too much, because we have a small, laid back campus. Here, I have to make sure that I put at least some effort into how I look since if you wear sweats out in public, well, something is clearly wrong and you need help. Of course I’m that one American you can find at breakfast wearing sweats, looking all but dead to the world, staring lifelessly into the cafeteria mirror.

2.       Always carry your umbrella

This is a big one. The umbrella you choose, for one, says something about who you are. It’s like another accessory. It’s also a big help in the heat, rain, and snow. Say it’s 80 out and you’re at a baseball game (baseball is big in Korea). There’s no shade in your section and the sun is just beating you up, no matter how much sunscreen you reapply, all you have with you in your bag is your wallet, some swag you got before the game, and an umbrella. Well, pop open that umbrella and you have instant shade! Almost everyone here in Seoul when they’re in need of shade will open up their umbrella. It certainly saved me on a walking tour of Seoul the first couple days I was here!

3.       Hold your questions

Classes here at Konkuk University are pretty different from classes at MCLA. I think a big reason of that is classroom culture. Back in America if we have questions that maybe go against what the professor is saying, or is a bit more in depth on a topic, we can simply raise our hand and get our question answered. The student isn’t seen as strange, or going against the professor. Here, I’ve learned, asking questions in class is considered going against the professor and challenging them. The Korean students, once the class is done, will all crowd the professor and ask questions to get clarification then. Since I didn’t really know this going in I was asking my professors all sorts of questions (some weren’t really answered as the professors English is good but their comprehension needs just a bit more work). This in turn made the students question why I was even in the class—they considered me to be too smart on a subject I don’t know and was trying to understand more about.

4.       Time management

Going to a large campus here (there’s a “lake” in the middle of campus), means that I can’t just wake up 5-10 minutes before class and drag my butt there like I do back at MCLA. It takes around 10-15 minutes to walk to class depending on which building you’re in. Since I like to be early to class anyways I’ve found that on Friday’s when I have my earliest day I’ll get up at 8-8:30 a.m. and grab some breakfast, go back up and change into better clothes (primping!), go over a bit of work, and then grab some coffee at 10 so I can make it to my 10:30 class early. Since I have class 10:30-3 p.m. on Friday’s I have also begun to bring snacks with me so I don’t get hungry during lectures, or become late from grabbing a snack in the few short minutes I have between the two classes.

5.       Dorms

The Dorms here are pretty decent. I think they’re around the same size (maybe slightly larger) as the dorms in BT and Hoosac. I’ve got a bathroom and shower in my dorm room. When I first got to the dorms I was wondering what style they would be, and to my happy surprise I saw that I wouldn’t have to walk in the halls in squeaky wet flip flops. The only thing that could make it better would be if I didn’t have to go down to the first floor from the tenth to use the microwave!

6.       Life in the city

As I write this the train is, quite loudly for some reason today, going to the Konkuk University station stop. Yes, MCLA, the campus here has its own stop. A lot of Korean classmates of mine don’t actually live on campus, but instead commute to school via the subway. Because I’m in one of the larger cities in the world, pollution is definitely a thing that small town cities in the mountains don’t really worry about. There are a lot of hazy days and even though the neon lights at night are nice, I most certainly miss the Berkshires in the fall!

7.       Cafeteria

Since I got the meal plan I figure I should tell you all about it. It’s not buffet style. You load that plate up and sit your butt down if it’s good since if you go up again for anything but broth the cafeteria ladies will take what food you got back. They aren’t afraid to go there.  I never thought I’d say it but, guys, Aramark is actually pretty rad with the choices. There is a Corner A (considered more “American” but totally isn’t) and a Corner B (the more Korean side). I’ve honestly stuck to B more than A since 1) I’m in a foreign country so I should be trying their food and 2) it really isn’t American and I can’t hurt myself that way.

8.       Guards

There are guards outside the dorms to help and make sure everything is safe. They’re pretty cool guys, though they don’t know much English. They helped me out when I didn’t know that the Administration Office was going to be closed until Wednesday for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). They’re kind of the RASMs of Konkuk.

9.       Bowing

Bowing here is something that I’ve been doing a lot; and it’s not the serious bowing at the waist kind, more of a head nod. It’s a sign of respect and thanks, or for an apology here. So, when I got help from the Guards, bow my head. When I get raymon from the Kimbap Ladies, bow my head. When I look around a store and don’t buy anything? You bet your butt I’m bowing my head and saying thank you and goodbye. Back at MCLA and in America, we don’t really do this sort of stuff, so It took a little while to get used to it, but I’m sure once I’m back on campus for the Spring semester you’ll find me bowing my head in response to something!

10.   Party Culture

I haven’t actually gone out a club like some of the other friends I’ve made here, but I have gone to a pub in Gangnam where they had Butterbeer then went to a norebang (karaoke room). It was pretty rad. I can’t remember if The Parlor does karaoke now or not but even so it was way better than that since it’s just a room of you and your friends screaming out Linkin Park’s In the End as a multicolored disco ball flashes around the room. (Sorry not sorry, Jason.) The culture here is pretty heavy on drinking, since drugs are highly frowned upon and taken very seriously in legal aspects. Clubs can be found all around, but especially in Gangnam and Hongdae since those are considered the “young” districts. There are different types of clubs to suit your aesthetic and musical needs. I know one that there is this one place that has five different levels, and each one is a different music style. My friend said that it was “poppin’” and that I need to join them next time since the cover charge is only ₩10,000 ($10). 

Wanderlust has taken this author to 16 countries, most of them visited in some sort of Study Abroad: SAS SU14. Konkuk University for the Fall '15 semester. There's still plenty more to explore!
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