Experiences in Daejeon
8 september 2016
This time I am starting my travel blog in one of the libraries of KAIST university in Daejeon. More than a week has passed now here in Daejeon and I have experienced a lot of things already. The first thing I have to say about Daejeon and South Korea that it is so big and awesome. The campus of Daejeon is quite big, but also very quiet compared with the city, more on that later. So in this blog just random topics will be shown here and they are not necessarily in a chronological order.
I posted my previous blog just before the first session of the orientation days for the new students. It consisted of two days of presentations and education about several subjects: safety, (mental) health consultation, trips/activities for international students, sexual harassment, police, students clubs, a campus tour, etc. This was the first moment where all new (international) students came together, so a great opportunity to meet new people. In the beginning you are always doubting: I know some Dutch people here already, but how will it be to meet some new international friends? Will there be some groups formed quickly? You do not want to miss out on that of course, especially since I do not want to stick with the Dutch people only.
Luckily, KAIST has a buddy system where you will form a group of 4 students and get a Korean buddy. I already met some the Korean buddy and an exchange students of Mark’s group in Seoul, so that is a nice start. During the Orientation Days I had met already quite some new people, but still on a superficial level. From experience back in Eindhoven, a lot of people will have the same feeling. Especially if you come alone as an exchange student. Therefore I created and pushed to make a Kakaotalk (Korean Whatsapp) group for all exchange students so that no one will miss out on some stuff. Although it is also a lot of spam with almost 200 exchange students in there. ;-)
On the first evening KAIST even organised a concert for us! After a welcoming word of the president of KAIST, several music and dance clubs introduced themselves with a little bit. We saw a wide portfolio of classical, acoustic, rock, pop and acapella music. This was all quite nice and the we closed the evening with the cheerleaders. Unfortunately most guys got disappointed with the first sighting of the cheerleaders, at first only guys with a classical costume came it. It was weird and enjoyable at the same time. You can see the pictures yourself to form an opinion.
Directly on the day of my arrival on the campus I got a bike, as explained in my previous blog. You really need a bike here on the campus. It takes about 10 minutes to bike from one end to the other, so you can imagine that walking is not that efficient. This enabled me to explore the campus already in the beginning and I was surprised how many facilities there are here. If you want, you do not have to leave the campus for your whole stay here at KAIST. To list some facilities:
- There are 8 convenience stores on the campus. The one in my building is open from 7pm until 2am.
- There are 3 cafeterias and many other restaurants where you can eat very cheap (around 3 euros).
- There is a fast food place open until 3am.
- There is a beer & chicken where you can drink some beers. A pitcher of 3 liters is recommended to get some discount. ;-)
- In the dormitory there are washing machines on every second floor.
- There is a bank, a travel agency and a bike shop.
The last thing I want to elaborate is food. Since we do not have any kitchen or fridge in our dormitory rooms, we always have to buy our food outdoor. At first I wasn’t sure how I would feel like this, but now I can say that it is pretty nice! Although it makes you quite lazy (especially when I come back and I have to cook again), the food is cheap and good. As said before, there are a lot of restaurants here on the campus. I usually go to the building named N11. There is a cafeteria where you can buy as many dishes as you want and you will have a good meal around 3 euros. There are also some other restaurants there, a Japanese, Korean, Chinese and a Salad bar. They offer some complete meals for 3 – 5 euros. You can see some pictures of the food here below.
For breakfast the cafeteria always has some cereal, bread and fried eggs, but also rice and some salted meat. If you want, you can have a very heavy breakfast there. Right now, I found my way of eating habit a little bit. For breakfast I sometimes go to the cafeteria or get a yoghurt at some of the convenience store and for lunch there is a large choice. Currently I like having the Kimbap for lunch, some sort of sushi. All in all, there is a lot of choice for not so much money! :)
After going from Seoul to Daejeon, I thought I finally came into a more smaller and quiet city. However, I came to know that Daejeon has 1.5 million inhabitants! Even though the campus is quiet and calm, just a little outside it is full of neon light advertisement again. The last week I have biked around the neighborhood a little bit and went to the city center one evening. Just like Seoul, the city is overwhelming. The traffic is chaotic, there are so many shops, the skyscrapers are numbered here because they look all the same, and they have a tv screen of 50 meters hovering over a street with commercials. A river also flows through the city with a good bike path next to it, so that makes it a little bit easier to travel by bike. I will probably discover more of the city soon.
Gyeryonsang National Park
Last Sunday it was the most awesome experience so far. We went with a group of 50 exchange students to Gyeryongsang National Park, which is close to Daejeon, to hike. You can find some information about the park here: http://english.knps.or.kr/Knp/Gyeryongsan/Intro/Introduction.aspx?MenuNum=1&Submenu=Npp . We decided to take the long route of ‘only’ 9.8 km which is scheduled to take about 5 hours to hike. Of course we thought that that was too much and we could easily beat that. We were so wrong. At the beginning we met a Korean guy who was willing to walk along with us as a sort of guide. He told some very interesting stories and he even sang us some Korean songs!
Anyway, full courage we started the hike and the first kilometers went quite fast. We came to a large Buddhist temple, where people could stop along their way to do their prayers/meditation. After that the route became very difficult and steep. We had to ‘climb’ for almost 400 meters to the top of the mountain via loosely stones. This was very, very heavy to do in a humid climate. You can see some pictures of me below to see the process and the sweat. Eventually we came to the first top of 776 meters, and it was completely worth it! After that we went to the second top with was even a few meters higher and then started our descend. In the end it definitely worth the effort and I also got to know a lot of other people. Since there are 20 national parks in South Korea, I will probably visit another one during my stay!
The lectures here at KAIST is like going back to high school. Attendance is mandatory and it influences your point, even though it is just a small part. Also we get a lot of simple homework which you have to do every 1 or 2 weeks. On the other side it forces you to keep up with the lectures and the reading. Since I am used to the freedom of Eindhoven, it takes some time to adjust.
The first week of the lectures is the add/drop period, so you are still free to choose some courses. In this period I happened to change my courses a couple of times, and in the end I will be taking 4 courses worth of 35 ECTS. This is quite a lot, but on the last day of that period I got to know that I can take Korean class anyway. I can still drop a course anyway before midterms. I chose the following courses:
- Fundamentals of Systems Engineering;
- Production Systems Design;
- Combinatorial Optimization;
- Introductory Korean for Foreigners I.
From what I have experienced so far is that the English for most Korean students is not so good yet, and that is possibly one of the explanations that they are shy to interact in class. Furthermore, the Production Systems Design class is given by an American. So that is why I am more surprised that he is giving out candy to the people who ask a relevant question. This is probably a way to stimulate Korean students to interact in his class. Lastly, the Korean class is so much fun. The professor’s nickname is ‘The Tiger’, and so far it is true. She is quite fierce, but also really funny and she stimulates everyone to really interact in her class. That is also necessary to learn a new language. ;-)
Random Habits of South Korea(ns)
- I really don’t know where to bike. Most of the times I have to bike on the footpath, but it is usually really small. Other times I had to bike on the road. Pretty confusing.
- People are not used to bikes. They usually walk just in the middle of a cycle path, if there is any, and won’t go away after ringing the bell.
- Koreans love noodles.
- Koreans sometimes sleep during the day in the middle of the library or wherever they are.
- The sleeping areas are strictly divided between female and male. If one of the other gender goes in the other’s gender dorm, they will exclude you from your room (that is at least what they say).
- Exactly, they have a whole system with penalty points. If you get 100 points, your excluded. Some things on the list:
- Don’t sleep too long in public area.
- Don’t leave your personal stuff in public.
- Don’t disturb your roommate after 11pm.
- Kimbap is the Korean sushi, it is delicious. You can get it here in the cafeteria for less than 2 euros! :)
- Most of the bicycles do not have a casket for the chain of the bike. This makes it dangerous for your leg/pants because you can accidently touch it thus leaving a mark of the oil.
- Some of the toilets are high-tech with a lot of buttons on the side. I am still afraid to use it.
- In general the Korean are very shy to approach you. If you by accident taken their seat at a baseball game for example, they usually too shy to say that it is their place and they will find another place.
- The tap water is Korea is not really drinkable. Therefore you can find everyone water dispensers that filtered the water.
- In some of the building on the campus they have charging machines for your mobile phones. You can put your phone in a secure pod and you can leave it there safely while it is charging.
- Life at KAIST is quite regulated. You have to keep to certain schedules if you want to make it here. For example, lectures are mandatory and also the cafeteria are open on just certain times. For most students this makes their lives regulated by the schedules, but there are ways to do your own thing.
For the upcoming 2 weeks I already have some things planned. Friday evening I will go on an activity planned by the International Student Organisation to an traditional outdoor bar called Pojangmacha. Next week there is the Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok. So we are free from Wednesday on already, so we have planned a trip to Busan. Since almost the whole country is having holidays then, it was quite difficult to find a train and accommodation. Therefore we could only take a train at 5:45am from Daejeon to Busan, but we are with dozens of exchange students taking that train. It will be a fun weekend in Busan, since more than 70 of us are going there! So, see you guys later! :)