September~November: Diary

Apologies for not posting for the past couple of months – I’ve been so busy with university that I’ve not really had a lot of time for anything other than studying, especially in recent weeks. However, I’m now on a much needed two week break from classes, having completed my first semester and passed Level 3 of Korean. I moved last week, too; I no longer live in my beloved Hapjeong, but am closer to my school, and share an apartment with one of my best friends here in Korea. So, now that things are finally settled – for the first time since arriving in Korea five months ago, my clothes are finally out my suitcase – and I have some spare time, I thought some updates were long overdue. Despite being so busy with school work, I’ve still managed to pack a fair bit into the past couple of months; some of these things warrant separate posts, which will hopefully arrive in the near future, while a select few I have condensed below into a kind of visual diary, along with a quick summary of each event. Sadly, most of the photos were just taken on my phone (things have been so busy that I didn’t get much of a chance to use my camera), so apologies for the quality.

September

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just a fraction of KU’s incredible campus

IMG_20150914_231159 So, first and foremost, I started studying at 고려대학교 (Korea University). Everything about the university, from its beautiful campus to its amazing teachers, captivated me immediately. My university in London is very small (we’re talking two buildings), but this place is enormous, and feels so much more like the typical university experience I dreamt of than the one I was provided in London. It’s the kind of place where, just wandering around exploring the campus, you will stumble upon a basketball game. We even have our own ice rink, which I still can’t really comprehend, having come from a uni where we barely even have our own sports teams.

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Beginning classes here was a little daunting due to the considerable differences from the format I had become used to in London. Back home, we would naturally use English whenever we wanted to ask something or to communicate with one another when we couldn’t use Korean, but in my class, this wasn’t an option. Most of my classmates were Chinese, with others coming from Japan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – plus my friend Shahin, who I know from London. Amongst the 15 of us, this made Mandarin the dominate language, and though some of the others knew English, we all had to use Korean from the start. As a result, my Korean level has improved dramatically since; somewhat inevitable, but very welcome, after using nothing but Korean for four hours of classes every day, as well as living here.

During the second week of classes, the annual 고연전 (koyeonjeon, Korea/Yonsei Games) were held, and as one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, these will be covered in their own post. On the second day of these games, I was also fortunate enough to attend Super Junior’s 10th anniversary concert/event, which, bizarrely enough, was held at my university. Three members have since enlisted in the army, making the total number of enlisted members five, and thus this ‘Super Camp’ was effectively the last whole group event for a couple of years. Naturally, this was very sad, but I was very lucky to have been able to attend, and as always with them, had the best time.

The following weekend, a few friends and I decided to check out an exhibition of 100 Doraemon (a famous Japanese manga/anime cat) figures at Yongsan station. It was pretty adorable, and inside one of the cafes at the I-Park Mall, there were cute themed food and drinks.

October

The most notable event of October was that I got a teaching job at a hagwon (after school academy) one day a week. This was initially very daunting, as I had never taught before, but several weeks later, I now feel a lot more comfortable. The children, though demanding at times, are very sweet, and the owners of the hagwon are lovely; on the more trying days, I’m always presented with a big pot of English tea to help me get through my classes. Below are a few pictures from our crazy Halloween lessons, where the children were given far too much sugar, and I was made to wear some ridiculous costumes.

I had another K-pop heavy weekend at the start of October, beginning with a festival at a resort in 평창 (Pyeongchang) to promote the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics. A few weeks before, I had happened upon a web page for the festival and discovered that for ₩5000, foreigners could get a return bus from Seoul straight to the concert area, as well as great seats for the concert itself. I didn’t need telling twice, and I instantly booked myself a ticket and informed several of my friends about the deal. One of these friends was Anna, who I met in November 2013 at a Super Junior concert in London and hadn’t seen since. She was due to arrive in Seoul to start studying just before the festival, so things worked out perfectly and we were finally reunited.

Despite being early October, the weather in Seoul was still pretty warm. Out in 강원도 (Gangwon-do), however, the temperature was much lower, and the actual concert was held at a winter sports resort at the top of a mountain. None of us had really considered this, and once we stepped off the bus, were taken aback by the bitter wind that was blowing. There were still a few hours before the event was due to start, but thankfully as we entered the site, we were given heat packs to keep us warm. Despite the cold, the concert itself was fantastic, featuring artists such as BTS, Shinee, M&D (inc. Heechul from Super Junior!), Got7, and Ailee.

Our bus didn’t get back into Seoul until about 3am, but the next day, I managed to drag my tired body across Seoul to Gangnam, where another K-pop festival was happening. This festival was primarily comprised of Super Junior members, so naturally it was perfect for me. Unfortunately we didn’t arrive in time to be let into the small main area – although, frustratingly, arriving perhaps five minutes earlier would have done it, despite the fact that people had been queuing since the Friday night – but we ended up at the very front of the section with a giant screen, meaning we could still watch everything. I finally got to watch Henry perform ‘Trap’ – which, released on my birthday in 2013, was the first Korean song I learnt all the words to, and effectively cemented my decision to study Korean – so I came away very happy.

The next Friday was 한글날 (hangul nal, Hangul Day), which is a national Korean holiday to commemorate the creation of Hangul (the Korean alphabet) by King Sejong. My friends Sari, Hannah and I decided to spend the afternoon in 인사동 (Insadong); I’d assumed it would be busier than usual, but it was so packed that we could barely move. Nevertheless, we decided to queue for a while in order to wear traditional hanbok and take some ridiculous photos.

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I visited the DDP (Dongdaemun Design Plaza) a couple of times in October, and on both visits I was accompanied by my friend Hana. For our first trip, we went to view the famous LED flower display, which really does look spectacular.

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We returned a few days later for the final day of Fashion Week. I wasn’t planning on attending, particularly as I had midterms that week, but I received an invitation to a friend of a friend’s catwalk show, and the opportunity was too good to pass up. I knew Hana would jump at the chance, so asked her along too. The show itself was only about fifteen minutes, but we spent a few hours wandering around the site, admiring the crowds of impeccably dressed people. There were photographers everywhere, and much to my surprise, we were stopped on a number of occasions and asked if we could be photographed, no doubt because we’re foreign. And, of course, we spent a fair amount of time doing our best model faces and taking plenty of pictures of our own.

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Once my midterms were finished, I met up with my friend Anri, who is also currently studying Korean in Seoul at another university. We first became acquainted in January 2013 in Tokyo, and finally being able to meet her again after almost three years was wonderful. We’ve met up again since, and I hope to see her again before she returns to Japan early next year. We’re studying at the same level of Korean, and though she does speak English, we actually ended up using quite a bit of Korean – and, the second time, spoke entirely in Korean. Great practice! Plus we had the most incredible milkshake I have ever seen/tasted/experienced in my entire life, which I really feel is worth mentioning. I mean, look at it:

don’t even think about the calories
we couldn’t resist

Next came Halloween, and for once I decided to go all out and actually make an effort with my costume. I spent longer than I would care to admit Lichtenstein-ing myself up, ultimately decided I had done an awful job, but had no backup so went with it anyway. I met one other girl that night who had had a similar idea, and she pulled it off a lot better than I did. Still, it was a really fun night.

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November

The following week, I attended a small art exhibition in Gangnam that I knew nothing of beforehand, and by chance, saw a couple of rather relevant works:

Most of November, however, was spent studying for finals. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Kyuhyun (of Super Junior)’s solo concerts, the first few he’d ever done. They were held at the COEX SMTown space, in the teeny tiny theatre on the top floor. Having never seen inside the theatre, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was even smaller than I’d imagined, making for a truly intimate performance. In addition to singing, he spent a lot of time telling stories, and even spoke to members of the audience during a section in which he actually took requests for songs in the form of notes written before the show. (I totally missed the message board before I went in, meaning that I was unable to request anything ㅠ). And sadly, as with all of these events, photos weren’t permitted.

as usual, it was impossible for me to come away from a concert empty-handed

Other than that, I really was studying a lot. And if I wasn’t studying, I was probably working, or in bed resting, having been ill for the past month or so. It wasn’t a particularly thrilling month – that is, until exams finished! Every time a semester ends at the language centre at KU, there’s a special graduation ceremony; those completing Level 6 (i.e. who are now entirely fluent in Korean) don hanbok and receive flowers, there are performances from various extra curricular groups (I actually attended the Korean singing class during the semester, but by the end my throat was too painful and my voice too croaky for me to perform with the others), and certificates for everyone else – plus, of course, some obligatory group photos. Pictured below is most of my Level 3 class, along with one of our lovely teachers. By the end of the semester, we were all so close that it’ll be very strange to have entirely new classmates and teachers for Level 4.

And I think that’s pretty much everything. As I said at the beginning, there are some things from September to November that warrant their own posts, such as the Seoul Lantern Festival and visiting a puppy cafe (!), and I hope to have these up all in good time. And next semester, I’m determined to manage my time a little better, in order that I may fit in more activities and write about them as and when they happen, instead of months later. That might mean more posts like this, where I write a kind of diary about several things all at once, because it seems to be the most time-effective way to keep you informed. I do at least hope that, for now, this post has provided something of a summary of what the past few months as a full-time student have been like.

the neon lights of 신촌

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