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Adventures in Korea

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One more update – Studies

I was asked to summarize the courses I participated in Korea, here goes!

I chose my courses first time in spring 2010 when I applied for exchange.  I had to apply again in fall 2010 and reselect the courses. The usual problem of not having updated course listing made it pointless – had I known they only offer logistics courses in English during fall semester, I would have gone in fall, but then again it didn’t really matter to me what kind of studies I was to take – I wouldn’t have been able to credit any courses as my obligatory courses in Finland anyways.

So, the final selection of courses happened during Christmas holidays in Finland – in this web service that really, really needs some serious developing. Not that this really is a problem specifically to Ajou – the quality of all solutions related to course administration was poor in Canada, is ridiculous in Finland and makes no sense in Korea.

I decided to choose six courses:

  1. Korean language 1
  2. Ecodesign 1
  3. Ecodesign 2
  4. Introduction to Information Security
  5. Contemporary Issues in Korean Culture and Society and
  6. Biological Wastewater Management

During the course drop period I decided to drop the culture course (it was way too much work and not too much in my scope of interest either), Korean language 1 (Too slow, I learned more drinking with my choir mates) and Biological Wastewater Management (my math level was way below Koreans, I had no means to keep up. This course was basically calculations after calculations).

I ended up with three courses and one club. I think four courses is well enough for exchange students. At least for Finnish students – we are not used to so much homework. The courses are really time consuming in Korea. And your club also takes quite a deal of your time – they are your Korean contact and you need to socialize.

Ecodesign 1 and 2 – first one being theory course and the second a lab course. Professor Lee is a leading researcher in the field, speaks excellent English and demands that from his students (have an English- English dictionary with you in class if you want to impress him), and very demanding. He really appreciates thinking outside the box, so don’t stick to your old ideas. The topic of the course was green design – mostly re-designing and calculating the CO2 imprint. I found the course inspiring – although my Korean classmates were afraid of the professor, he is very demanding.

Introduction to Information Security  by professor Tufail was also an excellent choice. Professor Tufail is a young guy who really can emphasize with students and is understanding, if you have some exchange student stuff going on. Let him know your absences beforehand though, just to make it easier for you both. The course outline is very clear, the coursebook excellent and the exercises reasonable and easy. It’s very easy to get good marks on this course and it’s useful basic knowledge on IT security.

Glee choir – my freetime activity, was my savior. I signed up on during the week they were advertising and they really took me in well. They practice once a week, 3 hours a row plus the separate themes practice a couple of hours a week. There are a lot of guys and a little less girls. People hang out in the club room all the time – they spend their nights there too, if they miss their bus or are too drunk to go home. I really, really recommend them. I just met a couple of glee members a couple of weeks ago – they came to Finland ^^.

One more thing about courses – you need to keep an eye on the course dropping dates – they are really strict.

Culture shock

Hey, someone has been bullshitting me about this culture shock crap. I didn’t get any symptoms during or after my exchange. No wait! I got a bit irritated once. No wait again! I didn’t remember how to use my credit card here in Finland, and I still hand everything with both hands.

No need to describe me the phenomenon – I’ve been through it over and over again. Surprisingly enough, I got the biggest shock when I moved to my university town Jyväskylä, in my own country! Had I been a bit weaker specimen of my species, I would have needed medication. Have a Prozac and smile! I quite a shock with Canada too, after most of the exchange students I knew left after the first semester and the rest of us got tired with each other. I only stayed three weeks in Japan but got a shock worth mentioning – didn’t speak with my travel mate for a month. But no shock with Korea. Nothing.

This time I was pretty sure I would only stay there for 5 months, nothing was for forever, I had nothing to get excessively irritated over. And on the other hand, the life I came back to in Finland was good to begin with: friends, family, well paying job, summer. I know I can go back to Korea whenever I want to.

I must confess I took precautions to bypass the culture shock. The Japan experience was a great help. I knew my weaknesses and how to get over them.

Precaution number 1: Make sure you get enough food.  – As I have been living with myself for good 27 years I know for sure the monster inside me wakes up when I’m hungry and tired. I knew Korea (like Japan) is and was a nightmare for a vegetarian, and I was a vegan. VEGAN! Nothing, nothing from animals I ate. I asked tips from other vegetarians in Korea (didn’t help that much) and for the first weeks I just tried to slowly accept the local cuisine. No heavy drinking, no heavy sightseeing, no “let’s experience everything new right now” attitude. Just chillin’. It paid off! I had to make compromises: trying to stay vegan without understanding Korean would have been too hard, and I also started eating food with meat broth or chunks of meat in  – luckily I had carnivorous friends, who bravely suffered my share of meat.

Precaution number 2: make friends. Lotta was a great help – I’m slow and lazy to make friends so I just let Lotta do the filtering and collected the prize.

Precaution number 3: don’t stay too long. Two semesters in Canada was a bit too much. Three weeks backpacking in Japan was too much. One semester in Korea was just enough to leave me hungry for more. I didn’t have enough money to stay longer.

Precaution number 4: don’t expect. Don’t expect anything from the country or the people (yourself included). The experience is offered “as is”. Most of the ridiculous stuff can be explained logically when put in the cultural context. People in most cases are not better or worse than you, even if they act differently. You yourself are responsible for your mistakes or successes. If you expect too much, it’s your fault you get disappointed.

Precaution number 5: accept all the weird invitations. And here I don’t live as I preach. I didn’t go to the host bar, even though my friend kept asking me to go. Nor did I go to the Wedding Cafe. Maybe next time?


Maybe it hits later, the shock. But honestly, I’d like to think, patting myself to the back, that I’ve achieved the cosmopolitan attitude I’ve been striving for… or is it because I’m happy with (or full of) myself that I don’t need to stress over irrelevant stuff? I’m pretty sure the wanderlust hits me sooner than the culture shock.

PS. Yesterday I sent the final documents to my coordinator. Soon it’s officially over.

Leaving home


(some of the farewell presents)

Whoa, dudes! I had the most amazing farewell party on Wednesday. Even the police dropped by (it’s not that anything seriously dramatic happened, the upstairs neighbor just didn’t like our mixed choir). I love my friends, even those bastards who “had something better to do”. Like work. Who works in the middle of the week, I ask ya? Anyways, thank you everybody! Now I feel like I can screw up and ruin my reputation overseas all I want, and come back like nothing happened.

This is my last night home (still a couple of nights in Finland though). I’ve been scanning the remaining documents, writing down addresses and doing things I should have done days ago. Like laundry. And packing. It feels ridiculous to pack thin shirts and sunglasses while the climate here in Yli-Ii is arctic. It’s minus 31 and getting colder. I just burned my hand with a door handle and if you’ve ever experienced minus 30 you understand why I say it burned. A freezing cold metal surface burns the skin just like hot iron. Stupid, stupid me! I wonder how the weather is in Korea right now? Should be some plus 4 degrees.



(My visa arrived on Wednesday!)

Things to ponder:

  1. I’ve lost my mp3 player AND my headphones. Who was stupid enough to steal such crap? Was I wise enough to just lose them somewhere?
  2. I still haven’t made any plans for the first week – I’m thinking about the Korea Rail Pass, Pusan area and stuff, but can’t make any decisions. The least I should do is to get accommodation for the first night. Not a good idea to sleep in the park in wintertime.
  3. Tomi’s farewell party on Saturday and I should wear something red. Is plastic bag okay?
  4. DID I FORGET SOMETHING! I’m sure I did and it’s something crucial and I’m gonna die as soon as I step out of the plane. Yeah right.

Yes, thank you, I’m tired. Happy travels, me!

Wrapping things up: Goodbyes pt. 2

I’ve been doing quite a lot of miscellaneous stuff this weekend.

  • I re-packed my tough-guy backpack – with the travel guides it’s 9,4 kilos. Still alright I’d say.
  • I gave the local registry office my new address in Korea, using Finnish Post’s on-line service. I hope they’ll send me my ballot papers for the election so I can vote in Seoul!
  • I made a travel announcement to the Foreign Ministry – in case of emerging crisis in Korea.
  • I met with Lotta. We’ve only met briefly in blog meeting before – now we had time for lunch.
  • I met couple of my friends in Jyväskylä to say goodbye and enjoy (weird) good music in Lutakko. It was awsum! AWSUM.
  • I went to meet my grandma, aunt and uncle in Ähtäri (to say goodbye – obviously)
  • I also made reservation for travel currency. I’m going to pick my money up from Helsinki central railwaystation’s Forex. Hopefully 500 000 won is enough to get started – that’s about 360 euros. Won bills are so small (50 000 won is the largest bill) I’ll end up looking like a pimp daddy with my money clip. I don’t want to carry too much money with me – I’m not trustworthy! Which brings me to…
  • Got a new credit/debit card. Debit from my account, credit from dad’s. WOHOO! PARTEE! Now I need to learn my PIN. It’s *****
  • Canceled my farewell party as I misread and messed up my schedule.
  • Made plans for new party and my friend’s party. He’s off to Shanghai. Wai cool!
  • Was that all? Hope so… more to come.

Oh, I really hope my Student Visa arrives by Thursday. I need to be in Jyväskylä on Friday at noon. And I really hope I wasn’t too sedated when I sent the papers. I already realized I forgot to sign one paper… I think I need to call them tomorrow to check if everything is as should.

I’m excited and nervous and haven’t got a clue what to do on the first week! Ideas?

PS. If I changed all my money to wons I’d be a multi millionaire. Is that cool or what?

PPS. Don’t go blaming me if you don’t get any postcards! I have received so few addresses from you I start wondering if I have friends at all. Forever alone…

How to apply for a Visa on drugs

Applying for Visa is hard. It’s even harder after being high on drugs for the whole week. Legal drugs, LEGAL! Good stuff nevertheless.

I got really, really sick on Monday night and the paramedics took me to the Oulu University hospital. I’ve been pretty much sedated ever since so my Visa application has taken few steps backwards. I was in no condition to form a coherent sentence, nor to fill difficult forms with too small blanks.

I finally got the papers from Ajou via Jamk on Tuesday. My dad brought them to the hospital next day but I was obviously too out there to ask for my passport and my passport pictures… and I was going under a surgery so obviously that wasn’t the day to do it. Today I got out from the hospital but didn’t still have my passport pictures with me, so I left the form-filling until I got home – where I instantly fell asleep after munching my long awaited pizza.

It was almost too late to send the forms today when my mum woke me up and told me to get to the business. I went through the forms and realized I should have asked for a Study Certificate from JAMK, so I send them an email and they promised to send it straight to the embassy. Then I realized I have two sets of forms in the envelope I got from Ajou. Hmm? Me and Lotta had been wondering where Lotta’s papers were, but the mystery was solved. They were together with my papers – addressed to my international coordinator (Lotta is majoring Tourism so another office handles her exchange).

So a priority mail to Lotta and a registered mail to the embassy with the Visa form, my passport, Letter of Acceptance and Invitation Letter from Ajou and 40 euros… and a registered return envelope so they will hopefully send me back my passport with the Visa.

They asked so many questions which make no sense to a Finn; such as: “who will pay for your trip?” – duh… me “Who will sponsor your Visa?” -duh… didn’t I just pay 40 euros for it? And then “your address in Korea” with a blank space so small my ID number wouldn’t have fit in it. I still scribbled my address-to-be there. Hope they can make something out of it.

Now imagine doing all this high on drugs. Luckily my mother was there acting as a voice of reason and toning down my illusions, which were rather… interesting – reading an urban fantasy novel on drugs wasn’t a best possible idea.

Insurance & good news & not so good news

Three topics today:

1. I need to prove that my insurance covers my health care in Korea. Today I sent them:

  1. My insurance contract (pages covering travel insurance). Mine is part of my home and personal insurance plan from Pohjola.
  2. Terms of Insurance
  3. Copy of my insurance card
  4. Insurance brochure (just in case, since it’s clearer than terms of insurance. It actually tells what my insurance DOES cover… ToI just tells what the insurance doesn’t cover)
  5. Contract and receipt for travel insurance for the exceeding two months. Finnish travel insurances cover 3 first months by default and you have to pay extra to get more months. Two months were a bit over 90 euros.

Basically the insurance covers just sickness and emergency treatment, but what else would I need during five months? I hope they are okay with the documents and I don’t need to do any more rain dancing and shadow boxing or any other magic tricks.

2. My international coordinator (JAMK) told me she received my information package and sent it to me today! JAY! I’ll finally get my Letter of Acceptance and can apply for Visa. Niiiiiice!

3. I still haven’t received my student number and other information I need for housing application. The deadline is tomorrow 17.00 Finnish time, so I’m a bit nervous. Especially knowing how strict they can be with bureaucracy in Asian countries.

I made a mess

Oh man. I made a huge mess while I was trying to pack my stuff – just to check will it fit or do I need to re-think my high-flying plan: hand luggage only – screw check in. And I’m not talking about those cabin approved suitcases here, I’m talking about a normal high school kid’s backpack.

Yes, I do know it sounds stupid, especially for a woman. But I’m not that much of a woman. I’ve been doing fine with two sets of clothes for a month already. They are washable – clothes I mean, and I pretty much plan on getting ridiculous amounts of stupid fashion crap from Korea anyways. And yeah, it doesn’t seem desperate yet. My backpack isn’t even half-full and all my clothes and tech-stuff are in there already. Quite a bit of miscellaneous stuff is yet to be packed. It’s in the middle of the night and people are sleeping so I’m trying to keep the rustling and bustling noise level down. I’m going to publish this tomorrow after I finish packing and take a picture of what I’m taking.


Oh my, oh my. Look at this:


That’s all I’m gonna take with me (four pairs of shoes, including the pair I’m going to wear!) And it fit well in this:


I measured the backpack and it fit’s in the cabin regulations if I don’t pack the front pocket. And I don’t need to pack it, as everything fits well in the other two compartments. I didn’t put in my travel guides yet, but they turned out to be compact. Without the travel guides all this weights  only 8.9 kilos, which I’m happy to carry around while traveling. The weight is going to increase a bit, I still need to pack some papers and some souvenirs…

Yesterday I went to the bank to sign my credit card papers and to the pharmacy – only to hear I will get my Japanese encephalitis vaccination today. A day too late to get the second shot in time (there should be 28 days between the first and the second shot). To be honest, I regret getting that vaccination already. It’s bloody expensive 130 e per shot, two shots)  and the risk isn’t that high anyways.  I really need to be out and about every freaking weekend to make it worth it. But I went to get the shot today. Been feeling a bit dizzy afterwards, but nothing too bad. The nurse was nice and I’m sure I should know her somewhere (maybe an ex classmate from high school or something).

Still waiting for the Letter of Acceptance :S

Now it hit me

You’ve got mail!” said my email app. Or would’ve said if it was able to speak. Good grief, I’d go crazy if it was. Anyways, Ajou sent me an email stating I should get tested for tuberculosis, get a health insurance, reserve housing, wave my light saber, do a rain dance and practice yoga. The health insurance part I got covered ages ago, hope they’ll accept my all-mighty Finnish insurance of win.

They also suggested I might be interested applying for visa. WELL YES! The ever-so-slight problem is they are sending the Letters of Acceptance this week. Gee, thanks!  For the letter to arrive to my school will take at least 3 workdays and for them to forward it to me will take another two days. Then I’ll send it to the embassy – 2 more days -, they process it – one week -, they send it back – two more days. If everything goes right.

I ordered books from Lonely Planet (LP Korea, LP Seoul and Korean Phrasebook) for 40€. Quite a good bargain, but I have mixed feelings about travel guides. You see, it would be lot easier (and less to carry) to buy a smart-phone with travel guide applications. Then again, the tech-freak I might be, I don’t trust the smart-phone technology yet and I find it huge waste of money to buy crap. I might change my mind if I find something fancy and blingy (with English OS) from Korea – the land of Samsung and LG.

Be as it might, I’m excited and bit scared now. I haven’t learn the language yet. I haven’t even started, to be precise. But I got some info about vegetarianism in Korea ( from this nice guy of Internets, thank you!) Good news is – I’m gonna get thinner. Bad news – I’m gonna get hungry. Seems to be quite hard to find vegan or even vegetarian food over there.  So better eat a lot now!

Lost in translation

I asked our university library to buy a couple of good books. I’ve been hogging them ever since, but my time’s up, so I’m gonna buy my own copies. If you are interested in Korean language, suggest your library to buy these as well.

Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Pap/Cdr Bl edition (August 10, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804841004
ISBN-13: 978-0804841009
Product Dimensions: 10 x 7.6 x 0.5 inches
(details from Amazon.com)

Tuttle’s conversational language books are really good. Instead of formal language they concentrate on everyday language and situations. I think it’s crucial to know both, but you are in trouble if you don’t understand what normal people say. These books also have great cultural tips and good phrases to learn. And what’s best: the layout is really good and fast to read.

Korean Dictionary (Collins GEM) (Korean and English Edition)
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Collins (June 3, 2010)
Language: Korean, English
ISBN-10: 0007324723
ISBN-13: 978-0007324729
Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 3 x 0.9 inches
Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces
(details from Amazon.com)

You only know if a dictionary is good after you use it in real situation, so I can’t tell much. With the little experience I have I found this really useful (read: found the vegetarian and vegan words and phrases right away – grouped together!). Also, this one is very small and light, but still readable.

Joys of bureaucracy

Studying abroad means filling up so many forms, you get lost in your own head. Lucky me (not), this is not the first time I’m doing this, moving or going abroad.

Here’s what I’ve got done:

[x] Electronic application of exchange studies for sending University
[x] Electronic application of exchange studies for receiving University (twice *))
[x] Passport pictures, sent here and there
[x] Passport copies, emailed here and there, probably there is someone using my identity in Ulan Bataar atm – luckily my passport has a picture of an ugly maggot on it.
[x] Self-introductory letters, full of self praise
[x] Motivation letters (note: de-motivators are no good in this case)
[x] Recommendation letters
[x] CV’s
[x] Learning agreement
[x] Flight tickets, got them in August, €620 return
[   ] Korean visa, waiting for letter of acceptance from Ajou
[   ] Form of Travel, for Ministry of Foreign Affairs **)
[   ] Housing application, waiting for letter of acceptance
[   ] Grant application, waiting for me to do it
[   ] Course registration, waiting for it to open
[x] Travel insurance, two additional months = €90 ***)
[   ] Travel currency, waiting for… perfect time?
[   ] Studying Korean, waiting…
[x] Writing blog. No wait, it’s called reporting!
[   ] Other, specify_______________?

[x] Discussing my study plan with tutor teacher
[x] Studying like mad
[x] Panicking
[x] Procrastinating like pro
[   ] Bachelor’s Thesis, in process

[x] Denouncing my housing contract
[x] Informing Kela about it
[x] Stop receiving money
[x] Getting annoyed about it
[x] Selling my belongings
[x] Updating insurances
[x] Address changes, local registry office and post
[x] Checking vaccinations, no need for new ones
[  ] Inform Kela and local registry office that I’m going abroad for a while
[  ] Moving to my parents, I guess they don’t mind
[x] Doing all this instead of studying

*) I needed to apply for exchange from my school in spring 2010, when I also sent all the documents to the receiving university. Apparently applying for Ajou just once during autumn would have been enough, as I still needed to fill in the paperwork again this fall.

**) Considering the fact that Koreas are at the brink of war, it is a good idea to let the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have your contact information in case of crisis. It’s actually a good thing to do even if there’s no sign of arising crisis – you never know what’s going to happen (tsunami, anyone?) and your country needs to know how to contact you and get you out of the country.

***)  3 first months included basically in any travel insurance. Extra months seem expensive, but if you get hurt or sick and need to be transported to your home country, it can cost something like 30 000 €.

Just for curiosity, here’s what I did when I went to Canada:

[x] Receive e-mail about exchange opportunity in Canada
[x] Think it over, discuss with you bank (parents)
[x] Blindly pick a university from the list
[x] Get all the needed documents ready in one day (application, recommendation letter, study grant from school, CV, certificate of being rich enough to survive there, etc.)
[x] Kela business
[x] Visa
[x] Apartment from private market, paying it BY CHEQUE!
[x] Flight tickets
[x] Money
[x] Dad’s Credit Card!
[   ] Hesitate
[x] Go!