All of us international students, whether study abroad, exchange, or full-time, were invited to the International Orientation.
I was expecting quite a lot initially, with activities like introductions to the school, campus tours, interaction and games among the things on my mind.
These expectations were quickly put out after it became apparent that none of that was about to happen (it ended up being a 3-hour lecture, with various speakers). While that was disappointing, it was also where I managed to meet up with a few familiar faces.
Amazingly, I met not only a peer from my high school, but also a junior; one on exchange from Canada, and the other from Singapore.
These were people I hadn’t spoken to for years, and…with them I managed to meet a whole group of students from Singapore, my hometown. This was the first sense of familiarity and support I felt since all of my time was spent alone prior.
I’m not sure, it always feels really cool to me to meet someone, unplanned, in a foreign place. Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, that was really nice.
With the start of the semester, the entire campus came to life, and this once again filled me with excitement.
It’s kind of an unconventional way of thinking to bring to an exchange programme, but to me the major aim of my time here is really to immerse myself…in the university life. It feels strange to a lot of people I’ve spoken to that I don’t really have much desire to travel and sightsee…but it was the case for me, because to me it felt that if it was about sightseeing, I could always do that by myself… in the future. The university experience was the one that I knew, and recognised, would only come once. An important factor here was that while many of the peers I met here came with their friends (and hence spent a lot of time with them exploring instead), I came to Korea on my own (I am the only student on exchange in Yonsei for this particular semester.). You may probably notice this in my future posts, but if it appears so, this is a major reason why I decided to focus a lot of my attention on the local students, rather than the international ones.
Without any real notice, one day the main wide walkway in the campus was filled with booths – this was the equivalent of the clubs expo for Yonsei.
Unfortunately… and this is probably going to be a recurring theme throughout the rest of the blog posts… most of the Korean students don’t seem confident in speaking English… or even try to interact with international students at all.
This language barrier issue has been something I foresaw a long time ago and, having already picked up quite a bit of the Korean language prior to university through exposure to Korean media, I took classes for this period of two years (I really worked on it!) right before coming to Yonsei.
Unfortunately… (again…) my level of Korean, while decent, is nowhere close to the fluency and speed in which the locals talk to each other with. This is very likely going to be a recurring issue as well…
As someone who has this strong desire to integrate into the university community here, and majoring in media… I instinctively tried to look for clubs that were in any way related to media activities.
(pardon me if I forgot some of their names, they were mostly in Korean).
The first club I tried to join was a club that made videos (documentaries, really) about marginalised groups (focusing on specific subjects) within the Korean society, with some added focus on the elderly and young. This really interested me, because I realised that it was not only an awesome chance to put into practice and develop my production skills, but at the same time do some good for the society too.
I was very quickly rejected for not being able to communicate and type in Korean quickly, and also because the club required all new members to commit to the club for at least three semesters.
I’m not too sure why, but this was really odd to me – considering that the maximum length of an exchange is usually two semesters, this time frame requirement simply appeared to be deliberate, effectively blocking out exchange students. When asked why, the student manning the booth simply said that it was club regulations and had to be maintained without giving any other explanation.
Unfortunately… (yet again!) this was to become a recurring theme as I attempted to join several other clubs, as the Yonsei Video Arts Centre (YVAC, the official student club which covers campus wide events and subjects) rejected me quite crisply. This was a huge blow to me…
A major objective of mine coming to Korea was to work in media, with the local students, and be involved in events happening on campus. I had a similar objective back in Auckland, but this club didn’t exist (there aren’t really any huge campus events anyway), but I ended up joining like 9 (yes, nine!!!) student clubs last year and covering their events instead.
To me, this was the biggest (and best) opportunity to fulfil this objective, but it fell apart so easily… more on this next time.
A third club was the photography club Yonyoung Photography Club (연영회), which had a two semester restriction, but still appeared to be ‘half-open’ to me, accepting my application form… what?
Yes, an application form.
Club entry here requires one to fill in a (simple) application form and go for an interview (!) before they deliberate and decide on whether you can join the club. This is pretty different from stuff that goes on in Auckland!
… I didn’t pass the interview.
I was a wreck during the interview because of how nervous I was (three interviewers, three other applicants, and everything was in Korean), and couldn’t express myself properly in Korean (ended up speaking English awkwardly), so… that really didn’t go very well.
The amount of commitment that was asked from these clubs was to be something that led to my inability to do that same crazy thing I did back in Auckland.
I did, however, end up joining three other clubs! (these interviews were so much more chill). The first is called ‘Impact’, the Yonsei table tennis club – no further elaboration required on this!
The second is called ‘Prometheus’, a film club – watching, discussing and even making films together (I belatedly realised the film-making thing only happened during the summer break, which meant I wouldn’t be around by then).
The third is known as ‘The Yonsei Annals’ – *the official English press of Yonsei University*.
This was even harder to enter, combining a more detailed application form, a written test, and an interview, but I made it! I entered the club as a Contents Team Member, and we’re supposed to… make videos.
Yeah. That’s huge.
There’s going to be a lot for this in the future.
Till next time 🙂