건국대학교 축제 Konkuk University Festival
May 16, 2013
Yesterday, May 15, was our university’s foundation anniversary, and how does Konkuk celebrate 82 years of existance? If you guessed festival, you would be right. The Konkuk University Festival occurs every year on the day of it’s foundation anniversary. This is typical of Korean universities. Schools will celebrate their foundation day with a festival every year. Konkuk’s festival typically last 2-3 days. This year the official dates of the festival were Tue. May 14 to Thur. May 16. During this period there are generally no classes, the final decision still rests with the professor therefore, some students still have class during this time. I, unfortunately, had two classes in which the professors did not wish to cancel class during the festival, however, the classes finished early so I still had time to enjoy the festival afterward. The festival, which was student organized, included many booths serving food and drinks as well as various performances throughout the day. The food booths featured a variety of food from barbeque, chinese food, nachos, smoothies, fresh pineapple, and even lemonade stands for relatively cheap prices. From every direction, students would shout and attract attention to their booth in order to persuade passerby to stop and purchase the items they were selling.
Students cooking and selling food
I tried patbingsu(shaved ice) and some candied fruits
Throught the day there were also performances put on by students. The students would show their talents in dance, song, and even comedy performances.
A group of students dancing to Psy’s “Gentleman”
The Simpsons family made an appearance
A traditional event that happens during the anniversary festival at Konkuk boat rides. At Konkuk there’s a lake in the middle of campus, normally it is off limits to people due to safety reasons; there was a student before who went into the lake while being very drunk and drowned (true story). In the middle of the lake there is a small island; there’s a story about how a couple went to the island and fell in love so, during the festival there are boats that couples can take and visit the island. There are many couples that do this during the festival but it’s not limited to just couples and many students will take a boat with friends and go see the island.
There are many fun activities and events to do during the daytime at the festival, but it’s when the sun goes down that the party really gets started. There were many tents that were empty during the day, but during the night they were filled with students drinking and blaring music. Some food stands open during the day closed and mini bars were set up among the food stands with students serving as bartenders. While students are not allowed to have alcohol in the dormitories, during festivals the school will provide you with alcohol; cocktails, beer, soju, they had everything prepared. The festival at night time was dramatically different from the day, but still just as much fun. Because it was so dark, sadly, I couldn’t take good pictures of the night scene at the festival.
As soon as the sun sets students flock to these stands to drink
Each day of the festival ends with a K-pop concert. The concert features some not so well known people as well as famous Korean artists. This year’s famous acts were Exid, Beenzino, Girl’s Day, and Epic High; If you’re a K-pop fan you might have heard of these names. Many people came to enjoy the concert.
The stage during the day
and during the night
What I learned from this experience; Korean anniversaries in university are a big deal and Koreans love to drink. Festivals lasting 2 or 3 days are held every year to celebrate the foundation anniversary of a university and they’re replete with entertainment, food, music, and beer. It’s not only Konkuk University who celebrates in this manner, but the other large universities in Seoul do it as well. For the next few weeks, festivals like this one will be occurring throughout universities in Seoul; maybe I should go visit another university’s festival and compare. What do you think?
What better way to end a festival than with fireworks
경주 My trip to Gyeongju
May 13, 2013
Last weekend I went to Gyeonju as part of an ISA excursion. Gyeongju is located southeast of Seoul and takes about 4 hours to get there by bus. Our group departed Seoul at 7am on Saturday and we arrived at Gyeongju at 11am. The ride to Gyeongju was long but the scenery was filled with mountains so it was very picturesque. Because of the mountains there were also many tunnels that we passed through. Since it was a long ride, I brought a book to entertain me, but I mostly napped during the 4 hours it took to arrive at Gyeongju.
Mountains on the road to Gyeonju
We stopped at a rest stop after 2hrs
When we arrived at Gyeongju the first place we visited was Seokguram Grotto. We still had to travel another 50 minutes upon entering Gyeongju to arrive at Seokguram, so we did not get off the bus until approximately 12pm. Seokguram Grotto was built by Prime Minister Kim Dae-seong in 751 and is designated as National Treasure no. 24 in Korea and named a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1995. Inside the grotto there is a giant Buddha statue; it is carved out of granite and is surrounded by other figures. It was really magnificent to look at, but unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed, so I wasn’t able to capture it.
Entrance to Seokguram
The stone designating Seokguram as a World Heritage site
We made our way up to Seokguram Grotto
The grotto was colorfully decorated with many lanterns
Inside is the granite Buddha
Lanterns and a mineral water fountain at Seokguram
Our second stop was Bulguksa Temple. Like Seokguram, it was built in 751 by Kim Dae-seong and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The original temple was burned down during the Japanese invasion; it was then rebuilt in the years 1969-73.
Entrance to Bulguksa
These four warriors guard the entrance
Dabotap Pagoda at Bulguksa national treasure no. 20
After a brief pause for lunch, our third stop was Gyeongju National Museum. The main hall was unfortunately closed for renovation, but I was able to see the art hall other smaller exhibitions halls. The Divine Bell of King Seongdeok is also found here.
Largest bell in Asia the Divine Bell of King 성덕
Miniatures of the two pagodas in Bulguksa are at the museum
Inside the art hall
After we left the museum we headed to Anapji pond. This is where the royals held parties back in the day.
One of the pavilions at Anapji pond
The pond and some fishes we found in the pond
Our last last of in our tour of Gyeonju was Cheomseongdae Observatory. Cheomseongdae Observatory is National Treasure No. 31 and is the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia believed to have been built somewhere between years 632-647 during the reign of Queen Seondeok in the Silla period.
The dunes in the background are actually tombs of past kings
Near the observatory was a large park. There were many trails that were great for bike riding. We couldn’t venture too far on foot, but we managed to come across some pretty flowers in the park.
After a long day, it was time to go home. However, we could not leave before first trying the famous Gyeongju bread. It is a bread filled with red beans inside. Does it sound weird? It was really delicioius and sweet, but not extremely sweet. With Gyeongju bread in our hands our group boarded the bus for the 4 hour long ride back to Konkuk campus. It was a long day but we got to see many cool places, so it was fun.
중도에서! Halfway Checkpoint!
April 28, 2013
Midterms are done, so now is time to rest; well for a short period anyway. Today, the last Sunday of April marks the 9th week since I left the US, which means I have 8 weeks left until the semester ends. The first half of the semester really flew by and the second half will likely be the same. With classes and the planned excursions it feels like I have no time at all. Oh, I forgot to mention my new volunteer teaching job that is sure to take up my time. Last week I started working at Konkuk Middle School, helping students with their English. If you had asked me two months ago if I would ever consider being a teacher, my answer would most probably have been no. But now, I’m teaching English to Korean middle schoolers. I have 6 students, and from now until the end of the semester, I will meet them once a week on Wednesdays for an hour and a half. I met them for the first time last Wed. so I can’t tell you much about them yet. For the first day they listened really well, but were a bit shy when speaking. If I’m lucky, they’ll continue to listen well and not cause trouble, but who knows how things will change in the next few weeks. It’s my first time attempting to teach in a classroom so it’s a learning experience, but I think it will make the rest of my stay here interesting. In the next two months I will be taking excursions to Gyeonju, Busan, and Jeju Island. I’m certainly looking forward to the excursions and the rest of this semester.
저는 학생이에요 [Jeonun haksaengieyo] Student life
April 21, 2013
Another week has gone by and next Monday will mark my eighth week in Seoul. Life at Konkuk University is not too different from my life at Stephens. I may be living in a different country right now but I’m still a student. This semester I’m taking five classes; Korean Language 1, Trend Study, Identity Design, Understanding Global Culture, and International Management. Excluding Korean class, two of my classes are taught completely in English, and two are mostly English but sometimes the professor will change to speaking in Korean. Even though, part of the class is in Korean, I still understand most of the material covered in the lecture so the language barrier isn’t that bad.
The lectures aren’t too different from back home, I sit in class and listen, and that’s it. One aspect that is different from attending school in the US is that professors here don’t really give out homework assignments. Aside from reading chapters out of the textbook for a class, there are no extra homework assignments. What makes up the grade for a class is midterm, final exam, participation, attendance; if there is a homework assignment calculated into the grade it is usually 10% or less. The midterm and final are the most important part of the grade usually worth between 20 to 40% of total final grade. Another aspect of Konkuk U. that is different from Stephens is the class length. At Stephens classes are divided into 1 hr. or 1 1/2hr blocks, and meet 2 or 3 times a week usually, but here at Konkuk my classes (with the exception of Korean class) meet only once a week for 3 or 4 hours at a time. At Stephens there may be certain courses that might last that long, but not all, however, at Konkuk, it seems to be the norm. While there may be some classes that meet 2 twice a week, the majority will only meet once a week for an average of 3 hrs. at a time. At first, I liked the idea of having class only one time a week, but as I sit through a 4 hr. lecture class, I’m thinking I prefer classes at Stephens.
In each of my classes there are a variety of students, in a couple there are a majority of Korean students with some international students, in others, the amount of Korean vs. international students is pretty even. The majority of exchange students at Konkuk are from China so in the classes where there are more international students, it is usually that there are many Chinese students in the class. At this time, students are preparing for midterms. I still can’t quite believe that half the semester has already gone by, but that’s the reality. Starting Monday is midterm week and I have 5 midterms to study for. Only one of those is a traditional test, two of my midterms are in-class essays, and the other two are presentations. So, while Stephens is preparing for graduations and the end of the school year, I’m preparing for midterms…. To leave on a brighter note, it is cherry blossom season in Korea!
등산! [Deungsan!] Mountain Climbing!
April 18, 2013
My seventh weekend in Seoul has passed. Are you wondering what I do on the weekends in Seoul? Well, places to visit and activities are plentiful in Seoul, and I certainly have enjoyed myself going out and exploring Seoul, but for this post I will talk about the trip I took this past weekend to Dobongsan [도봉산 ]. San [산] in Korean means mountain and Dobongsan is a granite mountain that is popular among hikers. The scenes from Dobongsan are indeed dramatic; it’s surrounded by valleys and temples set in the valleys. Dobongsan is welcoming to anyone, whether expert or novice hikers; there are 37 different routes to climb, so one can choose the most appropriate according to their experience level. The trip to Dobongsan that I was a part of was organized by ISA [the program provider with whom I came to Seoul with] and consisted of about 20 persons. Since most of us had little to no experience climbing mountains, we took one of the beginner trails which was filled with many people; mostly older Korean men and women with only some younger couples and kids. Climbing Dobongsan has to be one of the most physically challenging tasks I’ve undertaken in my life. It took nearly 3 hours to climb to the top and another 2 hours to make it back down. There were several times along the way where I felt out of breath and wondered why I had agreed to come on the trip, but in the end I thought that my efforts were worth it. There were a couple of points where the scenery became clear and I could see the city of Seoul which seemed so distant. It was really great to get a breath of fresh air, and not worry about the stresses of everyday life. Climbing Dobong Mt. was a truly memorable experience and the feeling I had when I reached the top is something I could not describe in words.
A temple in Dobongsan
Making our way up the mountain
Scenic mountain landscape
Seoul city, can you see it?
Here’s a close up
Everything looks so small from up here
Since we went up, we must come down
He’s either really tired or really likes the mountain
A traditional Korean meal after the hike
April 11, 2013
If you were wondering how things have changed in South Korea after all the threats the North has been making, well, the answer is nothing has really changed. People still go about their everyday business and news about North Korea aren’t even in the headlines of newspapers. So while North Korea is busy threatening the South and US. People in South Korea, myself included, are busy going to school, work, or going out with friends and family to restaurants, movie theaters or the park. I was even able to go to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and JSA (Joint Security Area) between the two Koreas as part of ISA’s first excursion. Going to the DMZ was an experience that is difficult to describe in words. It was really fascinating but it was also really serious; armed soldiers were with us at all times and we were only given a certain time to look and take pictures. Pictures were allowed only when and where they guide told us we could take them, otherwise we were not allowed to take pictures and breaking of this rule would result in cancellation of the tour.
The picture above I took when we were at the demarcation line in the JSA. The gray building seen here belongs to North Korea and the blue buildings belong to South Korea. When our group was outside there was only one North Korean soldier present and he was looking at us through binoculars. If you can see the gray slab of concrete midway between the two blue houses, that is the military demarcation line that divides North and South Korea.
This table is used for conferences and talks between the two countries. As you can see there are microphones on the middle of the table that are turned on 24/7 so the government can hear everything that is said in that building. The microphones also serve as the demarcation line inside the building so one side of the table is South Korea and the other side is the North. Where I was standing when I took this picture, I was in North Korea.
This is “the bridge of no return” named so because during the Korean war in the early 50s, when the two sides had agreed on the peace treaty they gave the people a choice. They could go live in either South Korea or North Korea, but wherever the people decided to go they could not come back to the other side. This was the bridge that people crossed over 50 years ago. My visit to the DMZ only lasted a couple of hours but the entire trip lasted most of the the day from 11:30 am when we departed from Seoul until we returned around 6 o’clock in the evening. Despite feeling fatigued by the end of it, the first excursion with ISA was enjoyable and I look forward to the other excursions during my semester in South Korea.
서울 경마공원에 가자 ! [Seoul Kyeongmakongwoneh Kaja!] Let’s Go To Seoul Racecourse Park!
March 18, 2013
16 degree weather ( in Celsius) and free time, well you know what that means, yup HORSE RACE WATCHING!! As everyone knows, or should know, Sunday was St. Patrick’s day and the weather in Seoul was really nice (around 60°F) therefore, venturing out of campus seemed almost like an obligation. Where to you ask? You may have already guessed, but in case you didn’t I will enlighten you; this Sunday I was to be found at Seoul Racecourse Park and Seoul Grand Park, and what did I do there? Watch horse races of course! The majority of spectators present were middle aged Korean men but that didn’t stop us (group of foreigners) from going. I had never been to a horse race before and I’m not really knowledgeable about the subject, however just being in a stadium looking at the race track I was filled with an indescribable excitement.
Statue at the entrance and racetrack
Since I had never experienced this before, I didn’t know what to expect, so I found everything new and exciting. About 20 minutes before a race started, there was a presentation where people could see the horses who were going to be in the race. This is a chance for those who are betting money to check out the horses’ condition and then choose their bets.
Afterward, we proceeded into the main area where the race was going to be held. There was a jumbo screen where you could see the presentation of the horses if you didn’t feel like moving from your seat. After the presentation there was a wait of approximately 10 minutes; plenty of time to go place those bets.
The horses trotting to their starting positions
Horses and their jockeys preparing before race start
It wasn’t long before the race started, there was so much anticipation and talking among the spectators that the first time I missed when the horses left the gates. I could only tell after looking at the jumbo screen. Once the race started and during the first part of the race the crowd was quiet, then as the horses were nearing the last 100 meters of the race and the finish line, the crowd became boisterous. Everyone was rooting for their chosen horse to win. And just as soon as it had started it was over. The race had lasted less than 5 minutes. The crowd then became excited as people began talking about the race, some cheering for winning their bets and others disappointed. After a few minutes the murmur in the crowd subsided and then it was time to wait for the next race which started 30 minutes later. Since we couldn’t remain at the race park all day, we watched 3 races and then left to Seoul Grand Park. My first time watching a horse race left me with a renewed interest in horse racing. Who knows, maybe when I return to the US I’ll venture out to watch a race. Anyone want to come? ㅋㅋㅋ
경복궁관람, 북촌한옥 마을, 그리고 인사동Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, and Insadong
March 9, 2013
Like I mentioned in my previous update, I went to many places during my first week in Seoul, so this post will feature pictures of those places. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, these pictures are from my visits to Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong.
My admission ticket to Gyeongbokgung Palace
The entrance to the palace
Inside the palace
King’s and Queen’s sleeping quarters, the king’s is on the left and queen’s on the right
Hanok refers to a traditional Korean house, therefore Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood of traditional Korean houses.
Insadong is a charming neighborhood containing many traditional goods. There is the main Insadong Street and multiple alleys that branch off of it. In Insadong one can find many traditional Korean restaurants, traditional tea houses, and cafes. Also found in Insadong, are many galleries featuring traditional Korean art.
내 발이 아파요!! [nae pari apayo!!] My Poor Feet!!
March 1, 2013
I made it!! I finally arrived in Seoul after more than 20 hours of travelling. Thankfully, I didn’t experience any jet lag and adjusting to the time difference was easier than I thought. I’ve been in Seoul for three days now and during that time I toured the Konkuk University campus and attended orientations for international students. I have also been exploring Seoul and visited a few well-known places. ISA (the program I used to study abroad) took the students to city tours around Seoul. Our main method of transportation was the Seoul subway system and walking. We walked EVERYWHERE!!! After being on my feet all day for three consecutive days my feet were hurting so much that each step felt like I was stepping barefoot on gravel. Despite this, I had so much fun visiting each place as I got my first taste of Seoul.
One of the first places I went to with the ISA group was the N Seoul Tower. Seoul Tower, also referred to as Namsan Tower, is located in Yongsan, in the center of Seoul. It is a communication and observation tower measuring 236.7 meters. Since its opening to the public in 1980, it has become an attraction to visitors from all over the world and a landmark of Seoul. Restaurants, snack bars, shops, and performances can be found at N Seoul Tower.
The first step in ascending to Seoul Tower
The top of Seoul Tower seen behind Namsan Mountain, but how does one get up there? By cable car of course! There is also an option of hiking all the way up if you so choose.
Beacon Lighthouse next to Seoul Tower
Pavilion next to the plaza
The views from the observation deck in N Seoul Tower.
Besides Namsan Tower, I also visited Myeongdong, Gyeongbokgung Palace, the National Folk Museum of Korea, Cheonggyecheon stream and went to the Seoul Immigration Office in Omokgyo to apply for my alien registration card (required of any foreigner remaining in South Korea for more than 90 days). And yes, visiting those place required a lot of walking, not to mention standing on the subway ride for 30 to 40 minutes in order to get there, so naturally my feet were killing me by the end of each day. Out of all the places, I think I liked Gyeongbokgung Palace the most. I’ll post pictures of the palace and the surrounding area next time so look forward to it.
준비,시 작! [junbi, she jak!] Ready, Set, Go!
February 24, 2013
Well, the much awaited day has finally arrived. Today I will spend my last hours in the States and travel to South Korea! I have a long day ahead of me today. It is currently the early hours of dawn, and I’m getting ready for the two hour drive to the airport in Kansas City. Once at the airport, I will board my flight to San Francisco which departs at 6:25 a.m. I have a four hour flight to San Francisco and then a two hour layover. At 11:00 a.m. pacific time I will board my second flight of the day which will take me to Seoul, South Korea! [At last!] I will be travelling all day [It's a 12 hour flight from San Fran to Seoul] and arrive in Seoul on Monday the 25th. I have my camera charged and ready to take pictures as soon as I get off the plane. I will probably look like the stereotypical tourist taking pictures of everything, but that’s ok, I’m determined to capture as many details of my experience on film and share them with you all. This is it for now, but I’ll be back with updates soon. 조금만 기다려세요[jogeumman kidaryoseyo] Wait just a little longer.
안녕하세요! [annyeonghaseyo!] Hello!
February 17, 2013
Hello everyone!! It is almost time for me to set off on my study abroad adventure. One week from today will be the day I depart to the beautiful city of Seoul, South Korea. Seoul, the capital of South Korea and the home of more than 10 million people will become my temporary residence for the next 4 months. As I prepare to leave the US, I’m overcome with anxiety, nervousness, and excitement. I’m extremely excited to go live in a city that will be completely different to what I’m accustomed to and experience new things, however, that same thought also makes me nervous. I’m going to be in a city that is larger and has a greater population density than the places I’ve lived in, not to mention a different language, culture, and pace of life that I will have to adjust to. I have done everything possible to prepare, including learning more about South Korean culture and customs and even mastering Hangul, the Korean alphabet. I can now proudly state that I can read Korean, however, being able to read it does not mean I can automatically understand it [sigh]. Even if I can’t understand much of Korean, I have accumulated my knowledge of survival phrases (greetings, asking for directions..etc), so if an emergency should arise, I’m fairly confident in my Korean skills to ask for someone’s help. That confidence though, does entirely balance out my anxiety for the trip. What if I forget to pack something I need? Will I be able to adjust without experiencing extreme culture shock? This last week will be busy for me as I finish packing, do some last minute shopping and take care of other final details. Despite my anxieties I’m excited to study abroad in South Korea and even more excited that I get to share my experiences with you all. I hope you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.