Reflection

I’m halfway through my time here.

Hallelujah.

I feel very guilty to say this, but I have to be honest–Korea isn’t somewhere I really want to live for the rest of my life.

Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophesy. I didn’t say this to anyone, but I was really scared of falling in love with another place I knew I would leave without a return date.

I shouldn’t have worried.  

Starting off, the thing I was looking forward to the most was speaking Korean, and my Korean skills now are worse than they were in the USA.  That’s kind of bad.  Furthermore, Korean culture continues to baffle me, and I can’t say that I’ve grown to appreciate its nuances quite yet. I’ve outgrown my K-pop phase, and now I find the new stuff somewhat annoying. I was also looking forward to commuting on the legendary subway, but it turns out that 9 lines with an average of more than 3 exits per station and multiple transfer points is just too intense.  

The food hasn’t stolen my heart–Korean food comes in three flavors: bland, too salty, and too spicy.  And there’s no range and depth to the spice, either–it’s all the same kind of chili sauce. I consider myself a non-picky eater, but there aren’t a lot of dishes that I’m really going to miss.

I’m also quite pressured these days with filling out ridiculous stacks of bureaucratic paperwork, sending emails back and forth with the home uni for coordinating my last year.  I’m really not sure what’s going on at this point, I’m SUPER TERRIFIED  that something’s going to go wrong, that I’ll miss a step and have to go back to California to finish after I worked WAY TOO HARD to make this happen. Yeah, I’m really lucky to have this opportunity, but it did come with a price tag.  Just saying.   Having this almost constantly on my mind, as well as the whole postgrad planning is incredibly burdensome.

Korea has been frustrating, disappointing, and stressful.  

Still, I know I’m going to miss Korea.  Not due to Korea itself, but because I made friends. I don’t know what’s worse, to be lonely or to have to part ways and know you might not ever meet again. I feel more included here than I ever have anywhere else, I already miss trabajar en conjunto and gotong royong.  

Going to the lantern festival! L-R, Rebecca, Manon, Alberto, Laura, Sandra, me
Rebecca and me
My new roommate, Giona.
Girl Trip to Gyeongju! L-R Wony, me, Brenda
Indonesian bros L-R Darien, Alven, Erickson, Rafi, Fred, Greg, Hansen, Dean

I changed rooms, and I really like my new roommate. She’s super funny and dramatic and I can say exactly what I’m thinking with her.  We talk a lot, and laugh hard and often.  I will miss her a lot.  I really like my computer science professor, too.  He does not endlessly repeat himself. He responds to my emails almost always within 24 hours.  I’ll miss him. I will miss my church here, too.

“Parting with friends is sadness.  A place is only a place.”–Frank Herbert

So, I’ll savor my last couple of months here with these people.  

And very much hope I will meet them again somewhere else!

stress-holic

It’s been a stressful week and some. Wheeeeeee…..

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks that I’ve been working in deep computer science.  I started learning how to code in Java using Eclipse, and last night I downloaded Android Studio.  I’m also slogging through an online course on operating systems to understand the whole principle and theory behind the Android Stack system, which is based on the Linux Kernel.  (I can’t help but think about popcorn).  Now I’m working through a video to learn how to program in C, because you need to know C to understand operating systems, and you need to know operating systems to maximize the power of Java, and you need Java to keep up with these computer science classes. (Also, today I found out that a working knowledge of C++ would be very helpful.)  I genuinely enjoy going to class and listening to the lecture and following along, and I LOVE the feeling of understanding what other people are talking about when they discuss their programming projects, but working through the material on my own is pretty boring.  I couldn’t even get through the whole programming tutorial video in one shot, and it was only 13 minutes long.  I don’t know how I feel about computer science.  I mean, it really is interesting and new, and I’m quite thankful the professor is really sympathetic and good at explaining things.  I also have a HUGE support network for when I get stuck.  It’s been a subject that’s challenging and stretches my capability, and for that I’m really happy.

But at the same time, studying computer science feels selfish and limited.  Despite the tantalizing in-field possibilities of improving upon the Android Stack OS, or designing a new and improved OS, or being able to move beyond the need for separate applications, or encrypting things, I struggle with the fact that no matter how far and advanced we can go in this area, it won’t make us less sinful, or make life better for “the bottom billion” (unless you count the large charitable donations that would be possible from the income of the production of such things), or give us better governments, or reduce waste, etc., etc.  Our interpersonal relationships don’t really get any better either.

So in these regards, I think computer science falls short.

Computer science is far, far more interesting than either of my law classes.  Law encompasses everything I don’t like about being a liberal arts major: long, wordy texts that say almost nothing,  and details that aren’t applicable in more than one situation.  I did a presentation on distinctiveness in trademarks, and I read through an abridged law case where two companies were using the same word to sell their products, one had put a trademark on that word and had brought the other company to court for using it, etc., etc., and I just thought this whole thing was incredibly stupid, like, don’t these people have better things to do with their time and money….staying awake in that class is really, really hard….

In my trade law class, due to a misunderstanding on my part, I ended up as the team leader for a group that can apparently only read and write in English, but not speak very well.  (I thought I was in a group with a bunch of Chinese students.)  All the theories I’ve learned about group dynamics just doesn’t seem to be matching up with reality these days.  Furthermore, this professor spent four hours over two weeks repeating the same five points on how to make a presentation.  I leave you to your thoughts.

Trade theory and architecture are pretty much entire classes based on research projects, so that’s great.  As long as I keep up, it will be fine.

Recently, I’ve been working on my networking, and I’ve discovered some opportunities to connect with some in-industry professionals here.  It’s super exciting.  Also overwhelming.  Because when I log into LinkedIn and check out activity in the groups I follow, or specifically look for people to try to connect to, it just comes crashing in on me like a big wave of never ending work. Network to find your next internship which will hopefully pay. So have your cover letter and resume and CV ready, and make sure it’s up to date….aaahhhhhh….I really, really hate doing this kind of thing, ESPECIALLY with the knowledge that no one really reads it, it’s scanned for grammar and format errors, which just kills me inside. I mean, I seriously think about turning in a Microsoft Word generated resume template with my name at the top with my phone number to see if that gets me any farther than the real thing…

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately.  Not so bad, right? Here is the problem:

I don’t want to be a computer programmer.  I really don’t want to be a lawyer.  I have no plans to be an architect.  I’m pretty certain I’m interested in sustainable tourism entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia, but unfortunately, I’m not actually taking any classes for that, so I keep getting asked “Why are you in these classes that are completely unrelated to your actual major and career plans?”

I’m just tired of answering that.

I’m tired of these repetitious introductions and salutations with people I don’t know and may never see again.  It’s great to be friends on FB, but there’s more, I swear there’s more than that to define and solidify a meaningful human connection, and I want it.  I want to spend time with the people I already know and who know me. I want to speed up this “friend making process” to make deeper connections already…it’s only been three weeks that I’ve known anyone though, and you can’t rush a strong friendship, and so I’m in this dilemma which is really bothering me.  It kills me inside to know that at the end of this semester, I will probably never see any of these people again, and probably not really keep in touch with any of them.  It’s hard to face the prospect of that process again, because I’ve done it  every semester since I started college in Taiwan.

I think that the stress and accompanying dissatisfaction about all of the above has forced me to reflect more deeply about what it means to be a human BEING (as opposed to a human DOING).  Also, observing the other exchange students who are seemingly quite relaxed and un-bothered by academics or post-grad prospects makes me really jealous.  I’ve been spending my free time this week hanging around a group of Indonesian exchange students who are content to just sit around a table in a group after dinner and not really do anything or say much, but just low-key enjoy each other’s company.  I. just. don’t. get. it.  I hung out with them for about 30 minutes in this “state of being” two nights ago and it was really nice….until I had to go back to studying.  I couldn’t do nothing every night of the week even if I wanted to.  Super American of me….(this reflection deserves its own post.)

I’m trying to be less hectic, I really am. I want to really enjoy my student life instead of worrying about the next step all the time. I’m tired of feeling like I have to have something to show for every hour that I’m awake.  I think though, that keeping myself busy and engaged is a fundamental part of who I am.  Still working on balancing everything out, but you know, maybe the constant, almost frenetic energy and enthusiasm is a gift.  Maybe the capability and desire to know a lot and do a lot is something that I should develop more, instead of trying to convince myself to do less.

I’ll leave off here, I need to go get more caffeine. I have a lot of work to do. 🙂

 

The problem is what kind of interesting

yep

So it’s come to my attention that I just might have a little bit of an unhealthy obsession with words that I don’t understand.  I have two examples for you.  The first is from my now soon-to-be dropped class. I had signed up to take structural planning in addition to the architectural engineering because I thought they would make a nice pair.  Here’s how it went:

Professor: Makes class introduction and calls attendance entirely in Korean.  Has to call my name twice, because I didn’t recognize it in Korean.

Professor (on finding out I’m a foreigner): This is not English class.

Me: I know (smile smile)

Professor: Why you here?

Me: It seemed interesting.

Professor: (laughing) I don’t think so.

Professor: There will be a lot of calculations.

Me: Well, math in Korea is the same as math in America.

Professor: (laughs)

(continues to discuss syllabus, 100% in Korean)

(me, smiling and nodding along)

After class:

Professor (calls me over to his podium, speaks in halting English): This is not the class for your major.

Me: That’s okay.

Professor: This will not help your career.

Me: It will increase my general knowledge.

Professor: ummmm….this class is for 4th year, almost-graduated students in architectural engineering.  There are many pre-requisites.  Why are you in the architectural engineering department anyway? Who sent you?

Me: Well, like I said earlier, I’m a foreign-language major back home, a business major here, and I didn’t enough business classes, so I chose this one.  Ahh, so there are prereqs? Oh, okay.

Professor: Why architectural engineering?

Me: (lamely attempts to express something about civil engineering and buildings)

Professor: Civil engineering is in a different department.

Me: I’m interested.  Where should I go?

Professor: (laughs nervously, looks around)

Me: What class should I take?

Professor: I don’t know. A class for first years?

Me: Okay, who’s the department head?

Professor: Uhhh….(asks lingering student, who procures a name and a class recommendation for me)

Professor: This one! Maybe you could take this one! It maybe isn’t English though.

Me: Thanks.  You know, I think I’m just gonna head back to the international office and drop this class.

Professor: (facial expression of incredible relief) Yes! Good!

Me: Thank you very much.

Professor: Yes, okay.

I find this episode kind of hilarious.  A little sad, but still, really funny.  What I find even more entertaining is that even after this experience, I continue to agree to attend lectures that I won’t understand.  Today I went to check out the church, and it was pretty much deja-vu.  I went to the designated pick-up spot for new students, and explained in halting Korean who had invited me, and then one of the people there said to me (in English) “She invited you to the Korean service.  If you want, you can go to English service.”

Me: It’s okay.  I’m in Korea, I should learn more Korean.

Her: It will be very difficult for you, the words…

Me: That’s okay. (smile smile)

Even though you know what happened, I’m going to tell you because I think it’s hilarious.

Pastor: starts off with a reference to Doraemon.

Me: smiling, because I understood Doraemon

Pastor: continues talking and waving his hands and getting agitated

Pastor: tells a joke or makes a reference to something funny, audience laughs.

Me: chuckling because everyone else is doing it.

Pastor: calms down and continues speech.

Pastor: starts getting agitated again and crescendos up to literally shout at us in Korean, THE PROBLEM IS…….

Me: nodding, but no idea what the problem is.

Pastor: keeps going at fever pitch, tells another joke

Audience: laughs

Me: laugh because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do

Pastor: calms down for about five minutes. Tells another joke. Audience laughs.

Me: laugh because I can’t understand a single thing and this is starting to strike me as just absolutely funny.

Me: starting to think this is going to be the end

Pastor: gets going again

Pastor:….WHAT KIND OF…..WHAT KIND OF…..WHAT KIND OF….

Me: completely lost.

Pastor: speaks for about ten more minutes and then concludes.

AND THEN….

They showed all the names of the new first time visitors on the screen in the sanctuary, and then asked us to stand up, then sang a welcoming song for us and gave us bags of candy.  Then they ushered all of us greenhorns into a hall, where we broke into small groups and introduced ourselves and waited for the senior pastor to come and educate us on Christianity 101.  At one point, the pastor asked everyone to close their eyes, but of course I didn’t understand him, and I just kept looking at him and wondering why he was just staring at me.  Then someone at my table told me in English what was going on.  Then, at the end of this “mini lecture”, we were ushered into yet another small group room where something else was introduced.  It was probably about church, but really, I have no idea.

******************************************************************************************Because it sounded interesting.  Because it would be a good experience.  Because it was foreign. It seems like these are my reasons for intentionally jumping into events and activities that normally end up as funny experience stories, but in the moment become overwhelming.  It’s like I’m addicted to being overwhelmed and these are my excuses to continue biting off more than I can chew.  Interesting–almost everything is interesting at some level. (Almost.) All experience is good.  And I don’t need to mention my love for everything foreign.  So I enroll in a full load of classes that end up being difficult and time consuming, as well as sign up for too many extra-curricular activities, in addition to checking out too many books from the library that I don’t finish reading because they’re printed in a language that I can read only very slowly, or the subject material becomes too deep for me to really understand.  After these most recent two experiences, I’m beginning to ask why do I have this addiction?  It does get annoying sometimes.

What I should start doing is categorizing all the “foreign experience opportunities” things that come my way into, “will be useful in career”, “will be useful socially”, “will be useful academically”, and maybe one for just “interesting”.

The problem is, what kind of interesting?

Thoughts on my first few days

As promised…

Hallelujah, I got here at last!

Where to begin? Of course, Seoul is an excellent city.  It’s very well organized, the people are not hostile to foreigners, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s really big, with lots of things to see and do.

I got to spend time with my friend Wony, which was definitely my highlight.  We met in the Model UN club at CSULB.  She was an exchange student from Korea, and we spent a lot of time together.  In fact, she even came to my house for a few days to do a San Francisco tour! It was really special for me, because after moving around and doing different things, I’ve made a lot of acquaintances that I’ve never seen or heard from again.   So it’s nice to be able to meet someone again even after two and a half years of irregular contact.  We went out to eat together, first eating steamed dumplings, traditional kimchee stew, coffee, and then bubble tea. (No, it wasn’t all at once. ;P)

But when I was wandering around looking at things on my own, Seoul struck me as almost too good.  Too organized.  Too efficient. Seoul seemed to lack its own distinguishing character.  Except for the fact that 7-11 sold triangle rice balls wrapped in seaweed (which, by the way, were very bad) and all the signage was in Korean, I could just as easily been in any large city.  Furthermore, the traditional Korean palace I visited was very Sinitic, with rather unimpressive decorations.  I didn’t think that there were many differences between that and the ones I’ve seen in Taiwan and China.  In fact, the ones in China are better because there are more animal sculptures.

All told, I wasn’t altogether sorry to leave.  I’m sure I’ll be back, because Wony is there, and I’ll probably want to go there with the other exchange students, but I look forward to exploring other parts of Korea.

As for my academics…

…I found out I uploaded the course registration form under the wrong number,  so I sent multiple emails to the coordinator who never answered, went to the orientation and asked the same questions in person, was told to check a website that I couldn’t understand, then finally, on the first day of classes, I went to the office as soon as it opened and was informed that all my course documents were missing and I should have received an email requesting my form last month, and in essence it’s none of the coordinator’s concern. Then he proceeded to tell me that everything I really wanted was full or cancelled.
So, that was my morning today. I was not very happy, I leave it to you to imagine.  But I eventually finished adding classes.  I’ll be taking architecture, intellectual property law, rules and theories of international trade, and mobile programming. Well, I’m getting my wish for new ideas…just not in the way I thought…I’m actually pretty excited about these classes, especially because they won’t necessarily be taught 100% in English.

And I am very pleased to say that two more of my wishes have come true! I met some other people who are interested in sustainable development, the developing world, and entrepreneurship, so I had lunch with one of them yesterday and I hope to continue these conversations through the semester.  I also got invited to a church this Sunday.  A bunch of students were passing out little goody bags with their information inside, and since they made a specific effort to recruit at campus, I think there will be many other college students. 🙂

I can’t begin to describe to you how happy I am to be a REAL EXCHANGE STUDENT this time, on the same page as all the other exchange students, included in the same social circle as all the other exchange students–I can’t overemphasize how amazing it is to be in a “regular” program this time, and be around people who truly, actually understand what it’s like to go through heaps of unending, paperwork to achieve their traveling goals.

And imagine…this is just the beginning….