As our first week of freedom drew to a close and our impending classes loomed on the horizon, I began to settle into a more regular routine. The reality of classes beginning daily at 9am and my insistence on receiving a nightly eight hours of sleep meant I began to closely watch my bedtime in the days leading up to Monday. However, this didn’t end up being much of a problem, as at around 7pm each day I became acutely aware of how much we’d been walking, as illustrated in the below screenshot of my health app from the first week of being in Seoul.
So, my days began to look something like this. Around 7am, my alarm would go off (or, rather, my watch would buzz, as I was very cautious not to wake my roommate who somewhat sensibly did not have a morning class, although these efforts to be quiet were probably in vain as I crashed around getting ready for the day). I’d then shower, get dressed, make myself presentable, and head off into the (usually negative) temperatures to meet my friends.
Breakfast began to take the form of one of a few options. First up, the convenience store, very close at hand, for a combination of gimbap (“convenience store gimbap is so unhealthy!” remarked my teacher at this idea), bread, rice, or some variety of instant beverage. Second option, a meander down the road to one of the few options open in the morning. Korea, unlike New Zealand, does not tend to open its cafés and eateries until a bit later on: it seems that Korean people don’t seek out their caffeine fix early in the morning but rather leave it until a bit later on in the afternoon! So, this option normally entailed a bagel/sandwich shop or bakery down the road. Third option, which took me until Week 3 to work out the logistics for – was a bag of cereal I bought at the local mart and my litre of soy milk, which as I write this is residing outside my window on the window ledge in the harsh elements. When you don’t have a fridge, you have to use some ingenuity (or, in my case, using a tip from a friend). So far, nobody seems to have objected to the bottle sitting happily on my window ledge!
After wrapping up breakfast, it’s up the frosty slope towards the Korean Language Centre. As temperatures never seem to be above zero here, the snowfalls linger for a while in some combination of snow piles and ice. I am proud to say that I haven’t had any disasters in the snow, even if I did trip up the subway stairs yesterday in the complete absence of both snow and rain! The Language Centre is only about ten minutes away, along the road behind the dormitory. It’s always a relief to enter through the door and immediately begin to defrost, before making our way to the classroom for a brief catchup with friends before lessons start.
Classes, for me, have been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Those in my class come from a range of countries, and throughout the weeks we’ve been able to learn about each other, our traditions, and our different approaches to life. Everyone in my class is very friendly and despite our language barriers, we have a good time! Interestingly, I’ve made good friends with Mandarin Chinese speakers as well, which has had a few benefits: a.) I’ve been able to practise Chinese a lot, which has been a nice surprise, b.) I’ve been able to communicate more easily despite my *halting* Korean, and c.) I’ve realised that my Chinese abilities are stronger than I had initially thought!
Classes keep us occupied from 9am to 1pm each weekday, which although seems at first like a long time to sit and focus, goes surprisingly quickly. Lessons are engaging and immersive, and by the end of a day, my brain is solidly in what I term as ‘Korean mode’. It’s a very rewarding feeling to see this happen, and I have already seen my confidence grow so much in the three weeks of class we’ve had so far.
After class, I keep myself free – as at one of the breaks during the day friends undoubtedly plan something to do after class, which usually involves a meal (as we’re all a bit hungry after four hours of education) and then some variety of hanging out. Usually, this takes us right through until dinner time, for which I normally return to the dorm to eat at the canteen. The canteen food has been very reliable and consistent – and usually surprisingly delicious! I’ve found that I’ve appreciated having soup with every meal more than I thought I would – it’s very warming to sit down to this at the end of a day! There is usually a variety of side dishes, coleslaw, and various mains which we help ourselves to, buffet-style.
As dinner draws to a close, it’s time to study and revise the day’s content. Vocabulary comes thick and fast, and it’s imperative to review this so you’re not hopelessly lost the following day. I usually review the words we’ve learnt using spaced repetition, before typing out any grammar notes and other important information into my OneNote notebook, and looking back through the textbook at what we’ve covered.
By this point, I’m always ready for bed and a nice early night (which often ends up being not so early by the time I’ve caught up on messages from those back home, sorted out my photos (my gallery is staggering under the weight of them all), and got myself all ready for the day to come!) However, I’m loving this newfound lifestyle and the connections, memories, and experiences I’ve already made – it’s truly been an eye-opening experience, and it’s only been just over three weeks!