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An Intern Abroad in South Korea

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Posted on 07/01/2015

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NOTE: Windward development intern John Zavidniak is spending several semesters at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Here is his account of the experience so far.

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Yonsei University

My time in Korea has been quite interesting and a bit different from what I expected (though this has been the best semester I’ve had so far).

The Point System

What most surprised me at first was the strictness of the dorms. From the first day everyone is given 100 points, and various offenses lead to points being taken away. When you run out of points, you get evicted from the dorms.

Points are also quite easy to lose, and certain actions could get them all wiped out at once:

  • Entering the room of another gender is -100 points.
  • Smoking in the room or having alcohol in the room is -100 points.
  • Being on the other gender’s floor after 10pm is -50 points.
  • There were also some weird things such as singing in your room too loudly being -20 points…
  • And not properly separating your trash and recyclables being -10 points.

As a result of that, and due to the fact that Korean students who don’t live in the dorms typically live at home with their parents, there’s no concept of inviting people over to where you live to hang out.

Fun at University

Korean universities aren’t against fun though, and that’s best illustrated by the Spring festival most universities do.

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Han River cherry blossoms

At Yonsei, the university I’m attending, the Spring festival is called Akaraka and lasts for three days. The first two days involve the school clubs coming out and selling food and drinks, as well as performances by the various school music groups.

On the third day everyone gathers together into a giant amphitheater (including students from the rival university KU who sneak in), and the school brings in popular Korean music performers for a huge concert that lasts all day and most of the night and ends in a huge fireworks display.

Though the dorm itself wasn’t so great for me due to the strict rules (and I’m glad to not be living there anymore), its location was perfect.

About a 15-minute walk from the dorms is an area known as Sinchon. This area is surrounded by Yonsei and two other universities, each of which has a very large student population. Every night thousands of college students pour in from neighboring universities to drink, eat, go to the noraebang (karaoke), play games and have a good time. And the most amazing thing is that everything in Sinchon is extremely cheap.

Out and About in Korea

Along with the densely populated areas of Seoul, there exist places that have no development at all. The government has dedicated parts of Seoul to remain undeveloped and calls these areas “green belts.”

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A Seoul green belt

This actually was very surprising to me, because it means that it’s possible to hike on some pretty good trails without having to leave to city. This seems impossible when you consider the size and population of Seoul, but it was somehow done anyway. As a result, it allows for an easy getaway from the busy areas with little to no effort.

Outside of Seoul, I’ve visited the traditional city of Jeonju, the island of Jeungdo, the DMZ, Sokcho and some random areas just outside the Seoul metropolitan area.

Jeungdo is designated as a slow city, which means that the population is small, the environment is cared for, and most cars are banned from entering onto the island. To get around we rented bikes and simply rode to wherever we wanted to go. (It was a small island, luckily.) This gave quite a unique experience as well as a much-needed break from Seoul.

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Food in Sokcho

Getting to Jeungdo also allowed me to experience Korea’s bullet train, the KTX. The KTX travels at up to 188mph and is honestly the smoothest train I’ve ever been on. Even when traveling at such fast speeds, the train makes no sound at all and you can easily get up and walk around without problem.

But although Jeungdo was a great trip, Sokcho was definitely my favorite by far. It’s a small city on the East coast of Korea, right near where the 2018 Winter Olympics will be held.

The drive from Seoul to Sokcho takes about 3-4 hours, but is very beautiful, as you have to cut through many mountains and cross many rivers. From our hotel there was a beautiful view of both Seoraksan as well as the beach. Seoraksan is the third highest mountain in South Korea, is one of the national parks in Korea, and looks absolutely stunning.

The beach at Sokcho is quite nice too. The waves in some areas are big enough to surf (though no one was because the water was still freezing when I was there), and the water is a very deep blue.

Pretty much the only food eaten in Sokcho is raw seafood, which is all extremely delicious and very fresh. As with all fish markets in Korea, all the seafood is still alive before you order it. You simply pick what you’d like, and they kill it and prepare it right there in front of you. I don’t think I’ve ever had better seafood anywhere else.

More Adventures to Come

So far my time in Korea has been absolutely amazing, and I’m looking forward to spending even more time here. I plan to be here until  December, and I was definitely right about one semester not being long enough.

Thanks for reading,
John Zavidniak

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Author: Heidi V. Anderson

Heidi has been writing professionally about computers, technology and the Internet for more than 20 years. She lives in Vermont where she taps her maple trees for syrup and most of the year wishes it was just a little bit warmer out.

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