Day 1 (5/12/2022): Off to Korea!!
This awesome trip started with a funny welcome: our flight was delayed for about 2 hours. The great thing was that this flight has so far been my most comfortable one! I enjoyed watching three films, getting some good sleep, decent food provided by Korean Air and the epic views outside the window. The only funny part was that I looked for where to plug in my headphones for a long time and eventually found out that I had to plug them into the front of the armrest. It was already 10 pm when we got onto the taxi to the dorms, and it took us another hour or so to get there. On the way, we saw the main gate of Korea University. Everyone got super excited and looked forward to seeing its beautiful campus and studying there for the next couple of months. Although I knew how cold it was, I was still surprised to see some leftover snow around the dorms as I just came from summer in New Zealand. Our residential adviser Victor welcomed us at the counter. I was surprised that Victor spoke very good Chinese, too. Same as I expected, Jackson was my roommate, as we were the only two males in the group. It was also great to see the bedding already there. So I went straight to bed after having one of the quickest showers in my life.
Day 2 (6/12/2022): The first day was a bit overwhelming but fun
Day 2 also started with an epic welcome: snow at 8 am! Despite seeing a little bit of snow the night before, I was still surprised to see more snow straight away. As it was the first proper day in Korea, things became a bit overwhelming. Everyone else had their placement tests in the morning and was super quiet. No one mentioned going to breakfast, and I tried hard to gather a couple of people to try the cafeteria for lunch. After lunch, we went to Daiso (a supermarket for daily stuff) just down the street. The street was named after the nearby temple (Gaeunsa, 开运寺). I didn’t urgently need anything, so I just looked around. It was really reassuring to see the self-service machines in multiple languages. I remembered where it was and decided to go again later. We then went along Anam Road, got to Korea University’s main campus, and saw the iconic buildings that we were so excited to see. We also tried to find the university store but didn’t find it. We found out later that we were actually very close. The whole group met again for dinner at Biya and had Budae-jjigae. The boss was a cute Korean dude who kindly sprized some perfume (to remove the food smell on our jackets) at us before we left the restaurant. At dinner, Zoe asked me if I would be keen to go together to Myeongdong the next day with the group, and my answer was, of course, yes.
Day 3 (7/12/2022): Myeongdong!
Day 3 was a big day because the whole group was going to Myeongdong! Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was super excited as it was our first time going out of Anam (the area that we lived in). The group had breakfast at the cafeteria, where we could cook eggs ourselves! Before we headed out, a few others and I went to the cafe “The Coffee Bean” down the street. Zoe Lit and I both got Matcha Latte. I was simply surprised by its price of 7,900 won because a meal at the university cafeteria was only 5,000 (breakfast) – 5,500 won (lunch and dinner). On the way back, we went to the convenience store to get my public transport card and get ready to travel.
Soon afterwards, we arrived at Anam Station, just down the road. We took line 6 first, then transferred to line 2 and got to Myeongdong in about half an hour. On my way, my parents told me that Myeongdong was a famous shopping area with a night market, which gave me some ideas of what to expect. We spent the whole day there, going to various shops and seeing a lot of restaurants. The funniest part was that everyone became so obsessed with a perfume shop called “Lush” and went there three times! All the shop staff became best friends with us, making it the most memorable part of the day.
After some hours of shopping, we had a small break at a sandwich restaurant, which was above the street and allowed us to see the food trolleys being moved across the street as the night market preparation began. At the night market, I tried some big, juicy Korean grapes. The night market was so popular that It didn’t take too long for the area to become super crowded. I even lost the others for a minute, which really panicked me because the whole area was just packed with people. Luckily, I just kept going straight and eventually met up again with everyone else. It was also surprising that the area wasn’t pedestrian only – we still had to keep watching out for cars and motorbikes. Despite being slightly chaotic, it was great that we travelled out of our comfort zone and further stepped foot into Korea’s culture!
Day 4 (8/12/2022): Having a break
After two days out, I got a bit tired and just wanted to have one day relaxing. I was surprised by the frequent use of cash in Korea, which made me a bit anxious because I didn’t bring much cash, and I failed to get cash out from the closest ATM. Eventually, I decided to ask around the group to see if anyone was keen to help me out with the ATM first and move on to other options if none of the ATMs would work.
Day 5 (9/12/2022): Dongdaemun
Day 5 also had a funny start, which changed the course of the whole day for me. At lunch, I met Miki, Wendy and Niki, who were talking about going to see padding jackets and asked me if I would be keen to come along. I assumed that they were going to the university shop to see the Korea University padding jackets and immediately decided to go with them. Turns out I missed the other half of their conversation: their plan was to see some ordinary padding jackets and do some more shopping. So we ended up in Dongdaemun and went to the Hyundai City Outlets. Despite seeing a lot of interesting small articles, I did not buy anything because I wanted to get iconic souvenirs. So I just had fun talking with Miki, Wendy and Niki and getting to know them more.
Around dinner time, we went to a different mall called Doota Mall and did some more shopping. What I found interesting about Seoul was that almost every area is a combination of “new” and “old”. We only needed to walk for five minutes after leaving the almost brand new mall, and the views around us would be totally different: narrow streets with old, small buildings and signs, giving 1980s vibes. I had the same feeling in Myeongdong and Anam, too. Although Doota Mall had lots of attractive restaurants on B2, we decided to go to Mum’s Touch, a Korean burger and fried chicken restaurant. In the end, we went to another supermarket near the train station and got back at night. A bonus for the day was that Wendy helped me with the ATM, and I finally got cash out!
Day 6 (10/12/2022): Gangnam!
Day 6 was again a big day because it was my first time going out alone in Korea. I planned to meet with Brendan (my Korean friend from Auckland) and go to Gangnam (south of Hanggang, a long way from our dormitory) together. I did a lot of route research the night before because I still didn’t have a SIM card and didn’t want to get lost. Luckily, the trip went smoothly despite being complicated. I took three different trains (line 6 → line 3 → Sinbundang line) to get there. Surprisingly, I had to pay again for the Sinbundang Line. It was probably special because it only ran in the Gangnam region. Although the trip took shorter than I expected, finding the right exit took way longer. Gangnam Station had 12 exits, and it took ages to find the one that Brendan wanted to meet at. Luckily I didn’t get lost and successfully met up with Brendan, who generously made plans (and paid) for lunch at a haunted house-themed Korean western food restaurant. Although an interesting mix, the food turned out to be awesome but expensive. As we left, Brendan told me to open a box near the counter with a sign that said “please open me” in Korean. So I opened it, and inside was a fake broken arm with sound effects. It wasn’t that scary at all, but I really liked it. It really added to the restaurant’s vibes! We then chatted at a cafe before going to the station, which was so big that it had a small shopping mall in it, separated from all the other small shops. We went to the big Samsung shop and saw many appliances that aren’t quite commonly seen in other countries, such as wardrobes with fans inside that remove the food smell on clothes!
Day 7 (11/12/2022): Laundry Time
After a week in Korea, it was finally laundry time. Laundry here operated very differently from UoA laundries because laundry costs were not included in the dormitory fees. We first had to get a laundry card at a self-service machine and put money into it. We also needed 500 won coins to get the small packets of detergent, and there was a machine in the laundry for us to exchange 1,000 won notes for 500 won coins. We could also use our own detergent. Zoe kindly helped me to get 1,000 won notes at a photo booth. We then went to Daiso again to get some more clothes hangers. Each washing would cost 1,000 won, and another 1,000 won for the drying. Although there was an English manual on how to use the washers and dryers, the buttons were all in Korean, and I still had to do a little bit of translating. But it wasn’t a big deal at all, and everything went smoothly. The only surprise was that the washers and dryers here took so much longer to do the job compared to New Zealand ones: 50 minutes for each washing and another 50 minutes for the drying, about twice as long as in New Zealand!