On the 30th of August at 12 PM, I had my first encounter with the new culture by doing something I had been looking forward to for the past 14 days – taking down my trash. Afterward, I met up with a girl from CBS who I had met at the info meeting, and we explored the area where we had both been self-isolating.
To much surprise, we found out we were actually living in a very nice and busy area despite the COVID-19 restrictions.
During our first day, we took full advantage of being able to eat out and treated ourselves to some retail therapy. That day we walked 18km, which seems like a lot more after barely walking at all for 14 days.
In the evening of the next day, we moved to our dorm as the first day of school, the 1st of September, was not far off. When we arrived at the dorm where we were supposed to stay, the rooms were so small that with the suitcases in there, we were just barely able to fit both of our feet standing up. We therefore quickly made a gameplan and called another dorm we had been looking at and they agreed to check us in on that same night.
We then walked over there with all of our luggage and sat outside waiting in the dark for 45 minutes for the manager, who was very sweet, and helped us settle in. Even though this was quite a chaotic start to my new everyday life, I now live in a really nice dorm straight across from the school.
One good thing to come from COVID-19 is that there are far fewer exchange students living here, so you know everyone, you don’t need to lock the door, and there are fewer girls to share the showers with.
Even though I did not experience the difference while self-isolating, since I arrived on the 15th of August, South Korea has gone from level 1 social distancing to level 2.5. This means that you have to wear your mask at all times, and that 12 types of high-risk businesses, including nightclubs and karaoke rooms, are closed. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned, and restaurants and smaller eateries can operate until 9 PM, and then only takeout and delivery are permitted.
This does, of course, put restrictions on some of the experiences but after spending every day in the same 15 square meters, just going outside is wonderful. Ignorance is bliss and since I haven’t experienced everything being open, I don’t miss it as much – yet.
Due to the stricter social distancing measures, all lectures are being conducted online, but the canteens, the library, study rooms, and various shops on campus are open.
However, when entering the school, you have to pass a heatmap, get your temperature taken, sign in with all your personal information, and put on a sticker that indicates that you have completed this process. To make the most of the situation, I have purchased a Korea University mug that I drink my coffee from during the online lectures, and I try to focus on the fact that it is nice to be able to wake up 15 minutes before the lectures start.
I also have a really bad sense of direction, and since the school is really big, I’m also saving a lot of time and stress just having to switch between different zoom rooms.
Most afternoons are spent enjoying the weather, working out on the rooftop, exploring all the different areas, and seeing the different tourist attractions, which are, due to COVID-19, completely empty, leaving room for great self-timer pictures.
I’m very grateful that, at our dorm, everyone is in the mindset of getting the best out of the situation, which, even though cases are going down, is really refreshing.
Some of the people here are now taking their second semesters at Korea University so they already know a lot of the areas and different trips. On our first weekend here, we went for a beautiful hike, with our masks on, at Bukhansan National Park, where from the peak you really get a sense of just how big this city is.
This coming weekend, we are having a dorm dinner and going to a huge indoor sports center to play padel tennis and other sports. An extended weekend trip to Jeju Island and Yangyang-gun while the weather is still warm are also in the making. It is so nice to be active and doing stuff again.
It will be a long time before I’ll have a take-away and Netflix night in. However, after just being out for less than two weeks, those 14 days in self-isolation seem really far away, and the fact that I have basically been here a month is crazy. This just confirms that, despite everything, going on exchange was the right decision.
I am super excited to further explore the country, try more Korean food, and adjust fully to everyday life here.