I have been in Korea for one week now, and its been a big one. It has been challenging and tiring at times, but also really interesting and a whole lot of fun: exploring a new place, and navigating a foreign culture. Just after one week, I see how even small amounts of familiarity and regularity make a big difference to my experience of this place.
Myself and fellow Newcastle student, Liz, are the only Australian students here, and among very few native english speakers in a campus of maybe a couple thousand.
Thismorning I cleaned my room for the first time and things feel perhaps more permanent than they have all week. My mysterious chinese roommate is yet to arrive, and perhaps never will. Although I was initially keen for a roommate, I realise now how much I am enjoying having my own space. Eighteen floors tall, my dormitory towers over the southern end of the quite spacious ERICA campus of Hanyang University in Ansan (picture below). The seventeenth floor houses myself and about 25 other male exchange students.
The first few days were quite an intense period of adjustment. Looking for my place to fit in, and managing how to communicate well. As it turns out, my Australian english is harder for many Koreans to understand than even the more limited english of my Indonesian, Mexican and Brazilian friends. It seems that learnt english has slightly different phrasing and common words, which makes for some funny situations, when my english is not understood even though it is my native language. But it is not the amount of new people that is full-on, but the constant communication barriers involved in connecting, particularly initially, with Koreans and other exchange students. We can communicate most things fine, but it just takes that extra effort to understand simplified language and both explicit and unspoken cultural differences. It is also a lot of fun sometimes!
Where are you from?
What is your major?
How old are you?
What are your hobbies?
These kind of questions are necessary, an important and natural part of introducing yourself and meeting other people. The start of potential friendships. Perhaps the information itself is not necessarily necessary, but that basic early engagement is important, to build a foundation on which there can be vulnerability, trust and openness. I’ve spent most of the week meeting new people, and spending that initial time. I have a particular passion for connecting deeply, and I think I find it hard connecting on the surface with so many, and not knowing if the friendship will continue to grow or not. But thats just how it goes, some friendships do not continue. And that’s ok.
I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many lovely students and staff. A couple of new friends have been extremely helpful. The night I arrived, a smiley Indian PHD student appeared in the dormitory building, and offered his assistance with fluent English, Korean and understanding of campus life. He not only organised a temporary room for me, but took me into town for a potato pizza. The next day, he showed me the university bus system, went with me to buy some essential items and explained to me some of the basics of Korean culture and communication. I actually couldn’t believe how much of his time he was giving me. Since then, new Korean friends have taken us to their favourite restaurants and bars and helped us organise our administration stuff.
Classes were introduced this week and will be getting underway shortly. One of my subjects, Social Marketing, looks really interesting. It is about designing strategies to influence the behaviour of society, such as domestic violence, or skin cancer campaigns. I’m looking forward to studying media and public relations from a Korean perspective.
Here are some photos of my new friends, and life around the campus.
I hope you enjoy the photos!
Much love from Korea,