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. 🙂

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.