Casually in Korea

What with all we’re hearing in the news about North Korea and Donald Trump, I figure it’s good to post about the other 99.99% of things going on here in South Korea. 

We just finished celebrating Chuseok, which is like Korean Thanksgiving. All my favorite coffee shops were closed over the weekend so families could reunite across the country. Luckily the woman at the register let me into my favorite grocery store as they were closing up on Thursday so I could grab some veggies. 

Today was Hangul day. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, 한글, has its roots in education equality: King Sejong had it created as a simpler version of Chinese, which was so complicated it made literacy for non-elites hard to achieve. Hangul is really easy to learn (it took me under an hour), you can find lots of resources online!

We have off school tomorrow, which is nice as the Minerva version of midterms is right around the corner. I expect the rest of Seoul start getting busy again tomorrow and the next day, as everybody returns from spending the weekend with their family. 

To celebrate, two friends and I went to a cake shop, Dore Dore, in a hip part of Gangnam. Sugar is not my thing, but they enjoyed guessing which flavors belonged to which layer of the rainbow cake they got!

Life keeps on here in Seoul. I’m so glad to be a part of it. 🙂

Portugal’s approach to the war on drugs

This is a really interesting causality analysis comparing the U.S. approach to the war on drugs and Portugal’s decriminalization of drug use… it’s especially meaningful to me having grown up in Tucson, Arizona near the border, lived in Panama for a year for high school student exchange, and worked with people coming from Central America seeking refugee status from the U.S. government.

I think that if the results from Portugal are replicable in another study that follows typical, empirical criteria for attaining accurate and confound-free results, we should adapt this model in the U.S. to start decreasing the amount of money poured into the war on drugs, extending lifespan and improving quality of life of those suffering from addiction, and ultimately decreasing the prevalence of hard drug usage overall.

Sunny weather

One year ago today, Dean Chandler arrived in Berlin to greet the class of 2019. Today, it’s her last day in Seoul visiting the classes of 2019 and 2020. About 20 of us gathered to wish her goodbye over fried chicken. Maybe she’ll be in London next year…. 
The weather today was soft, the sky sunny; it was the perfect temperature. By nightfall, autumn had made itself known. I sat outside on Bitter Sweet’s fake turf, watching the cars go by for a little bit, thinking about how perfect days like these are too often spent indoors and are never fully appreciated. Then I went inside so I could see my laptop screen better. 

At the cafe next door.

My evening was made perfect too, despite the sudden chill of nightfall, by a long discussion with Vini, Julia, and Anna. These are the deeper connections, the longer conversations, the natural pauses and the run on sentences and paragraphs and pages and lack of HC and LO scoring that aren’t fulfilled by class. My classmates, however, are more than adiquate to round out my human interactions and persuit of knowledge. 

And now it’s time for bed, and there is so much to look forward to. 

Here’s to warm weather. Last as long as you can. 

The $6 Coffee

[Day 11 in Seoul. Status: Haven’t heard much about North Korea in the last couple of days.]

Today I purposefully sought out a $6 coffee.

(I would have titled this post “The Most Expensive Coffee I’ve Ever Consumed”, but on my way here I ordered coffee in the Shanghai airport and it cost $9, so that title is out. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

Some universities have their Greek Life culture, others their football pride culture. Here at Minerva, there’s quite the coffee-shop-studying culture, in that you can regularly see students going out to study at cafes and regularly hear discussions about which coffee shops are the best/unusual/cheapest/have blocked us due to extreme quantities of internet consumption and regularly happen upon other Minervans at coffee shops around the city. My point is that, while I’m sure there are lots of students who don’t go out to cafes every day, you don’t often see them for obvious reasons. (#attentionperceptionbias.) It makes you want to go out as well, especially as we don’t have any common spaces in our residence this semester, as our residence is a hotel. (And we have no campus. New reader? Confused? I go to Minerva.)

And so today found me venturing out from our hotel after class and lunch to find a quiet place to camp out for a few hours and get work done.

Seoul is full of cafes. Unfortunately, they all are pretty expensive. While you can get a cheap ($2-3) latte at take-away open faced or two table places, any larger area will charge easily $5 for a simple drink, and ice and milk will raise you another dollar.

The reasoning I’ve heard for this is that in this city, you pay for the privilege of parking your laptop for hours in their space. In the 24 cafes, I’ve even heard of people sleeping at the tables.

It makes sense, although I have to wonder how San Francisco, Tucson, and the rest of the United States keeps coffee shops open and running considering they charge half the price. However, the priciness of coffee shops doesn’t mesh well with Minerva, as there’s simultaneously pressure to go out to coffee shops both as a social and academic thing to do, and a lot of students under economic strain.

More than 75% of our students come from outside the U.S., and all admissions are need-blind. This means that something like 80% of our student body is on financial aid. A push to spend $5 regularly on coffee is not really what we need––or what we can afford.

I come at this situation with a (long) problem statement:

Where else in Seoul can I find free / reduced price wifi, or even just places to be without wifi, as I can pull up class readings ahead of time? And how can we make this a sustainable alternative for those students who would rather not spend so much just to do their classwork and socialize outside of their rooms? 

So let the quest for answers begin!


Elsewhere in time and space…. 

Two days ago was Exploration Day, where small groups of students are sent out across the city for a day of fun and exploration. Here’s the snapstory I created along the way!

The Moral of the Story

[Day 5 in Seoul. Status: Not blown up by North Korea.]

I walked into a new world of Seoul today.

Before, I’d been staying mostly in my room, making familiar journeys to familiar places (namely, Daiso for household items and embarrassingly, 7/11 when I was trying to live on cheap rice triangles while my bank figured out the block they put on my card and I tried to figure out where the grocery store was).

Today, I stepped out after a successful first class with Prof. Doyle on Perception and Cognition into a side of Seoul I hadn’t seen yet: a place I would be calling home, a honorific I was exponentially growing more comfortable as we walked along streets lined with huge trees, past construction site, explored underground grocery stores 1000x better than the 24hr mart by our dorm.

Was it having a friend by my side when I’d been feeling so lonely that made my perception shift from slightly scared and worried about the days to come to so excited to explore and feeling capable of taking care of myself?

Was it finding a grocery store where I could buy items I had just this morning thought might be out of my reach until my return to the U.S., like coffee filters (#2), full fat and sugar free yogurt, olive oil?

I think it was the discovery of a small cafe with easy-on-the-wallet prices, easy-on-the-ears k-pop ballads, and very easy-on-the-eyes Korean men who jumped––to attention, out of a k-drama––when we walked in.

The moral of the story? When in a new country… surround yourself with friends, food, and fantastically attractive men.

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Mom, this photo is for you.
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Sunset … somewhere in Seoul.
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Part of a welcoming dance for us – the dancer wore a cap on their head that flew as they tilted and rolled their head!
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Part of the Seoul subway system on one of my new favorite apps.
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The Seoul subway.

My 5 favorite puzzles this summer

1. Coach Mechelle

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My mom has begun health coaching professionally! And as such, she needed somebody to help her with the finer details. Enter my return home for the summer. I’ve been creating social media pages, creating content, commissioning a logo, making banners (like the one above), ordering business cards, building a website, promoting her business… it’s been excellent lean start experience, and it’s been really good to practice working with somebody whose personality is so different than mine!

Plus, we use Asana, which makes me feel very official.

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2. U.S. politics

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Pod Save America, NPR’s 1A and Invisibilia, Washington Post, assorted articles from Pocket, and so many other sources are now available for me to explore, now that school is over. Were politics always this interesting and I was just blind to it all? Or is it just my luck that this administration came along now I have time+energy+interest to delve deep?

3. Blackbox

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I figured I’d like the game as soon as I saw “complex system” on the opening page. Complex Systems was my favorite class last year at school, influencing my decision to major in Social Science next year. This puzzle game has awesome, encouraging me to think about my phone in depth and search for patterns. But it’s not easy!

4. Design thinking for those who aren’t interested.

In May, I created and led a design thinking intro / sprint for high schoolers. In June, I worked with two others to create and lead an all day design thinking intro and workshop. In both cases, the youth were mostly there because of the adults: one was a school-sponsored activity and the other part of a career readiness program.

This offered a unique puzzle: how do you get those who haven’t sought out design thinking to engage in a process that requires such full-minded dedication? I’ve never experienced such a situation before at the conferences and workshops on design thinking I’ve been to.

…Still refining my answer to that question.

5. Korean

I have fallen hard for Korean. I want to speak Korean badly. But Phoebe, you may say, aren’t you just confusing your love for kpop boybands for the Korean language? To you I say, probably. But who cares why I love it? It’s a beautiful language spoken by beautiful people. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ XD

See that video below? It is GOLD. Luckily, it has subtitles. Not all videos do. For those, I need to speak Korean. Plus, translations aren’t perfect, and don’t convey tone and cutesiness and unusualness easily. So, I’ve gotta learn Korean so I get full cuteness!!

(I mean, there’s also the little thing about me moving there in August but hey.)

There’s been some progress; I’ve been dedicating 30 minutes a day to the language since May, and it’s paying off. I can’t wait for some more immersion in Korea, though.

Yep.

Beyond these puzzles, I’ve been spending a hell of a lot of time reading (find me on Goodreads), hanging out with family and friends, cooking, relaxing, reading, chilling, volunteering, traveling to out of state/country family… this was the summer I needed, after burning out during my year at the U of A and the research summer following, and only deepened by my most academically challenging year ever.

I’m happy. Hope you are too. ❤