Culture shock, or the lack thereof

I’m sure everyone has heard of culture shock, it is the difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture which differs greatly from their own. In general, people tend to go through four major phases when going through culture shock; the honeymoon phase, the negotiation phase,  adjustment phase and finally the mastery phase.

It differs per person whether someone goes through these stages and also to which extent one experiences these different stages. As I’ve spent my whole life in the Netherlands and even in Tilburg to be more precise, I expected to experience at least some culture shock in Korea. Especially considering the fact that the majority of the people here do not speak English at all. However, to be very honest I do not feel that I’ve gone through the honeymoon phase and the negotiation phase. During the first, the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, where the food, the people and their habits and all things involved in life seem to be perfect and amazing. In the latter, the differences between the two cultures become more and more apparent and these may also create some anxiety, replacing the excitement from the honeymoon phase. Issues such as language barriers, public hygiene, safety et cetera normally strengthen this phase and some people actually develop homesickness and feel very lonely during this period. As said earlier, I kind of feel as though I’ve skipped these phases. I might have experiences them simultaneously but I am truly honest when I say I was never truly blown away by Korea nor that I have ever hit a mental or physical wall here where I was, for example, disgusted or terribly disappointed by anything. I think this is due to the fact that my academic life here started pretty much right after my arrival and has continued without any real breaks here (we have no holidays longer than two days) and as a result I simply did not have the chance to experience anything in an extreme, whether that was a positive or a negative extreme. Of course I’ve experienced great things here and I’ve also experienced (and still am experiencing to some extent) homesickness (mostly due to the fact that my girlfriend is not here) but I do not feel that I have experienced these first two faces according to their definitions.

I quickly adjusted to life here, developed routines which I repeat day after day here (every week is roughly the same for me) and I got a feel of the way to treat the people here very quickly. I haven’t had any negative experience with any Koreans, as long as you treat them with respect (even if you don’t speak their language) they will do the same. Being friendly goes a long way. I have made some close friends here of who I feel they will remain friends even after my return back home.

The final stage is the mastery phase, in which one participates fully and comfortably in the host country. I guess I will never truly reach that stage during my time here, I can get along well in my daily life but it is still very obvious that I am only here for a relatively short time and I think to truly master life here you will need to at least have a basic understanding of the language and to a further extent the writing system. Pretty much everything is written in Hangul here which is impossible to understand without studying it. While it is relatively easy to learn to at least read it compared to, let’s say, Chinese (the Korean system is very organized and follows very strict rules whereas Chinese is almost pure memorization), I have not taken the time to actually do so, also due to the fact that I do not intend to return here after my stay.

While I am sure that some people will argue I am still stuck in a different stage (I am of course not a cultural psychologist), I do not care: I feel comfortable in my daily life here and everything is going quite perfectly. I guess just this fact means that I am in one of the final stages. Whether that is true or not, I am happy and that is all that matters, right?

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Things are heating up

Things are heating up, in two ways. First off, we found out the dorm has floor heating. This is quite nice in winter I suppose, but due to the fact that they simply turned it on throughout the building without an option to turn it off is a bit less pleasant. Second, midterms are coming up: I’ll have two next week and one in the week afterwards. Besides that, I’ve made some decisions regarding my future in the last week.

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog, and that has one simple reason: not that much happened. I went to a soccer match, South-Korea versus Poland which turned out to be free for foreigners which was a great surprise, but besides that it’s been same old, same old. I did have one exam already a while back, for which I got a 9,25 so that was nice. However, that only was the average of the whole class so it is not very special. Also, since final grades are given here based on a comparative scale, meaning the top-something percent will get an A or A+ and the next something percent a B or B+ et cetera, this result would not translate into a 9,25 back home. Besides the aforementioned soccer match, nothing major really happened, I’ve just been going to classes, socializing, doing assignments and studying. Next week I’ll have two midterms and the week after that I’ll have another one, so these days most of my time dedicated to studying. I’ll write an update after my midterms on how they went.

Besides the studying for my current programme, I’ve also made a decision about what I want to do after my bachelor. I’ve applied for a Research Master in Business at Tilburg University and have been busy with getting all the required documents for this (such as recommendation letters, a motivation letter, etc.) although the deadline is only February 1st. Most notably, I have been able to get a recommendation letter from one of my professors here, who is also the dean of the economics faculty here. I’ve also had lunch with him, which was very nice and something I normally wouldn’t do back in Tilburg, where I hardly ever had any real interaction with any of the professors.

I guess that’s it for this blog, maybe I’ll have some nice updates after my midterms, as I plan to go somewhere nice at least once to relax and wind down from these relatively stressful times.

First month in Korea

In the last few weeks, not much happened for me. Life is going its steady course and time goes quite quickly. I had my first exam in the morning, so now I also have at least a bit of an idea how the exam levels will be here.
FC Seoul

Two weeks ago I went to a match of FC Seoul, the number one football (or should I say soccer?) club of Seoul and last year’s champion. This year, they will probably end up around fourth place and to be honest, the level of the match was surprisingly low. The way they played was quite physical and it seemed like the referee got a big wad of cash shoved into his hands before the match. Level-wise I would compare it to roughly the middle to bottom teams back home in the Eredivisie. Also something interesting to see was that they played in a stadium which was built for the 2002 World Cup (which took place in South-Korea and Japan) and therefore had 60000 seats and was simply massive. However, since football is not that big of a sport here (I think it ranks about third after baseball and then basketball here), only 10000-15000 seats were filled, resulting in a very desolate stadium and a weird atmosphere. A nice result of the large capacity and low demand, however, was the fact that tickets were quite cheap: 14000 KRW or about 9,50 euro. It was a nice trip and the stadium itself was very impressive. Also funny was that every time the opposing team had a corner or a free kick, the big screen would show “Vuvuzela time” and everyone was making as much noise as possible to distract the opposing team.

Movie
The day before the soccer match we went to see a Korean movie (I think it was called Blue Salt/Hindsight) which in itself was an okay movie. It was basically a mix of action and romance in the same way that you see in movies from the west but everything of course took place in Korea. It was quite interesting to see some things which I recognize from my life here, such as the drinking culture, general environments and habits and of course Seoul itself.
Same old, same old and exams
For the rest of the weeks, I basically just followed classes and did not much else. In the weekend I studied quite a bit since today (Tuesday) I had an exam of which it was pretty much unknown what to expect. We did not have any practice exercises or slides, just the notes we made during class and the book. Thankfully the exam itself turned out to be quite easy, but that is not always a good thing here, since you  are graded according to what the rest of the class did. This means that for this particular exam, the person who gave the best answer of the group to a sub-question gets full points and the rest gets a lower amount of points depending on how their answer compared to the best answer. For some other courses your final grade is distributed according to a scale, meaning that the top something percent get an A or A+ and the next something percent get a B or B+ et cetera. While this increases competition, I don’t really like this system, since it does not really promote cooperation; why would you help others if it only increases their chance of overtaking you? Plus-side of this, however is also that if everyone messes up and the highest grade is a 6.0, that person would normally get an A or A+, which translates into a 9 or 10 at Tilburg University.
Busy schedule
I am afraid I will not be doing too many interesting things in the coming weeks, since the work keeps coming and we will not have a single holiday until the end of semester. Thankfully I have Friday off every week, so I can still make time to do fun things. I am planning on going to the zoo here soon, so hopefully I will have some interesting stories soon!  Thankfully we play soccer with a group of people from the dorm quite often and we found a group of Koreans who visit the field every Sunday, so we can have some matches every week.

Another week in Korea

Caribbean Bay

Today, I went to the biggest water park in the world: Everland Caribbean Bay. There I experienced firsthand what recreation in Asia can be like. First we had to travel for about 3 hours (due to our own bad planning) in the subway and a very crowded bus. Then we arrived in the park, where we paid the discounted fee of 18000 KRW (about 12,25 euro) instead of the normal 50000 KRW (about 34 euro) since it is Chuseok (mid-autumn festival) and we are foreigners (we even had to bring passports to prove this). Once in, it turned out to be quite crowded, which is something you can expect for anything here. This would normally not be a problem, but for some reason about 80% of the slides were closed. Therefore, the very few slides which were open had humongous lines in front of them. We decided to wait in line for one, called the Aqualoop; a slide where you first drop 18 meters and then go into a closed looping. It takes about 5 seconds in total, we waited for one hour and fifteen minutes (also due to the fact that two of the four slides from this particular one were closed). We also were not able to go into the wave pool, since you had to buy a life vest for 6000 KRW to be allowed to go in, something I as a greedy Dutch guy was not willing to do. Furthermore, this pool was also filled to the brim with people, so it was not possible to swim; only to float. I filled the rest of the day by eating a burger, floating in a different pool and sitting in the hot tub. I lost track of the rest of the group and travelled home by myself, this time taking one hour and a half. Overall, the experience was a bit disappointing, especially since they advertised the pool as though it was in its normal situation. I can’t imagine paying 50000 KRW for this, and then having to pay more for things such as the wave pool and beds.

Last Saturday I also went to one of the biggest music stores in the world! While it was different than what I expected (I expected one big store, while it was more of a collection of small ones), it was still very impressive to see two floors full of instruments. I also bought a relatively cheap guitar, for 85000 KRW.

Academics

Now let’s talk academics; I have managed to find my third course! The professors for all three courses I have right now (Game Theory, Environment and Resource Economics, and Investments) are very understandable in English and are very good teachers (one is even the head of the economics department!). The teaching style for my courses is quite different compared to the Netherlands: here we have two lectures which are exactly the same (so no division in plenary and smaller group lectures), none of the courses have an online component and none of the teachers use any powerpoint slides. This means that I have to study for the most part from my lecture notes (something I never actually made back home) and the books. This is very different from the way I studied at home, I skipped most lectures (I know, not good…) and just studied the slides which were put online. The groups are also quite small here, for two courses we have 25 students and for the last one we have about 70. For the smaller groups I am also one of the two-three exchange students in the room, and also one of the very few boys (I estimate about 75% is female). So far I haven’t really had any homework, but I assume this will start from this week on. My schedule is okay; on Monday I have class from 13:30 – 14:45, on Tuesday I have class from 10:30 – 11:45 and then a long break and then class from 16:30 – 17:45, on Wednesday I have class from 16:30 – 17:45 and my schedule on Thursday is the same as on Tuesday. I have Fridays off.

HI-Day Tour

We also went on a day trip with all of the exchange students and our Korean buddies (basically student mentors) on the third of September. We went to the Blue House (where the president resides), Kyeongbokgung Palace, the National Folk Museum, the War Memorial Museum and Itaewon (a big shopping district). Unfortunately they planned the whole day from 9:30 until 15:30, which resulted in a constant time pressure because we also had to travel to each destination. This meant that we hardly were able to go into the War Museum, I think I was in there for about fifteen minutes. Overall the day was very nice, though, and we saw some very impressive Korean architecture and nature. For pictures, I suggest you look me up on Facebook, where I uploaded all the pictures I have made so far.

The first week

The first week

 

My first week in Seoul is almost over, so it’s a perfect time to talk about my daily life here and the living conditions! Let me start off by saying this: the Korean people are great! Although my communication hasn’t reached any further than the English-speaking people at the University (the average Korean doesn’t speak a word of English), they are all very open, friendly and eager to help in case there are any issues. I have not run into a single person who could be described as mean or even unkind, this includes the random people on the street. I was a bit worried beforehand that I would stick out like a sore thumb in daily life and while I guess I still do, I do not feel like I am seen as an outcast or that I get weird looks. Of course, I guess that’s something you can also expect from such a international city. It’s starting to feel more like home with each passing day.

The Dorm

My dorm here is quite fancy, we (the room is shared with a great Dutch guy) have our own refrigerator/freezer, washer/dryer and desks and several closets. This is in the Koart Ville, which is one of the two dorms. I initially hoped to be put in the I-House dorm, which is only a five minute walk away from campus, but I feel very happy with my room and dorm at the moment since the I-House dorm lacks the personal fridge and washer and the rooms are a little bit smaller. On the other hand, I-House is newer and has its own ping-pong table so both dorms have their pluses and minuses. I am paying 1,4 million KRW for the four months I am here, which roughly equates to 225 euro per month including everything.

Traveling to campus

The biggest downside for the Koart Ville dorm is that it’s a bit further away from campus. Right now I have to take the subway, which is about two minutes away by foot, for 900 KRW per trip and then a SKKU Shuttle bus to campus, for 300 KRW per trip. Total traveling time, depending on crowdedness and sheer luck, can range from 25 to 35 minutes. It’s also to walk the final part of the trip, taking the shuttle bus out of the equation but this of course takes longer. The campus is also built on a hill, so in the early morning this is not preferred. It’s also possible to take a cab from the dorm to the campus gate, and if you travel with enough people this is actually cheaper. Thankfully I will receive some money from the Dutch government (roughly 86 euro per month) to compensate the fact that I can’t use my public transportation card from the Netherlands so the costs incurred by traveling are easily made up by this.

I have met a lot of great people, both Koreans (who are very eager to mingle with foreigners) and other exchange students and so far I have had lunch with others almost every day and everyone is very active, so there is always something to do. Thankfully the restaurants around the campus are generally cheap (and I mean cheap) and meals are good and filling if you know what you order (my only order I made by myself turned out to be pig kidney with blood sausage…) so it’s wise to bring someone who speaks the language.

Course issues

The biggest annoyance for me at the moment is that I have still not been able to register for the three courses I will need to do. The online enrollment system did not work for foreigners, and therefore all the available spots for classes were filled by Koreans. Therefore, exchange students have to register for their courses by filling in forms and this process has not gone perfectly for me. Hopefully I will be able to register for my final course in the next few days, since the deadline’s tomorrow (it is currently Thursday here). I am sure that I should be able to do this, since the people at the International Office on the campus are very helpful and everyone, including professors, know that exchange students have a lot of things on their mind (such as paying the rent in cash, registering as an alien at the immigration office downtown, taking care of courses, signing up for the gym, etc.) and therefore we get a special, lenient treatment.

I still have many more things I want to talk about, since in the last week so many things happened, but I will not do that in today’s blog. I’m sure I forgot to talk about a lot of things, but I will attempt to give a clear overview of my adventures here in Seoul. This Saturday, we will go with a big group to see some landmarks in Seoul, so hopefully my next blog will have a lot of great pictures!

About me

This is me:

I will go study here (At SKKU) for four months:

I will also go here:

I will leave on the 25th of August, so expect some more interesting content from then on!