Zheng Wei: Orientation and Clubs at Yonsei

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.

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This time, nothing fancy. (Yes, that’s a typo on the banner)

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.

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Hi. Yeah, it’s pretty cold

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.

And so!

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.

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Yeah. Club things. left: the club booths in the backdrop of terrible air quality in Korea middle, right: the application form and test for club entry.

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!

… anyway.

… 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 🙂

ZhengWei

Zheng Wei: Arriving at Yonsei in South Korea

Hello!

This is my first post for Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea.

I apologise for this coming really late on in the semester, my laptop had an issue and I couldn’t get it fixed until like almost a whole month later. Yeah… things have been hectic… not great.

Anyway! so!

The semester period for Yonsei works just like our semester in Auckland, only that there’s no mid-semester break (!), and lasts 16 weeks rather than the 12 we have (yeah, that means 2 weeks of break gone and 2 weeks extra for the semester).

So! Let’s start before I even entered Korea (it was a pretty long process getting here in the first place), so for all of you considering exchange, here is a quick checklist of things you must get out of the way!

  1. Degree planning
  • This is to ensure that you won’t end up affecting your graduation timing and can find the courses suitable for credit transfer with!
  1. Research on the universities you are interested to do an exchange with
  • This is important for credit transfer! I came on a late exchange in my final (3rd) year, so it was slightly trickier to get done and still graduate on time!
  • Make sure you go to the 360 International Office to check on this as early as possible.

I landed in Incheon International Airport on a chilly Saturday morning, when the temperature was still hovering around 0deg Celsius! The winters in Korea go down to -15deg Celsius or more, and this being late winter meant that 0deg was a normal (or even warmer) temperature for the locals to be experiencing.

Not me though!

I flew to Seoul from Singapore, and the average temperature there is like, 28deg Celsius. For the whole year.

And so the journey began!

Not until after I scrambled to grab my layers of warm clothing and getting fascinated with the mist I got from my breath.

Incheon International Airport is located a good 40 minutes to 1 hour away from the city centre in Seoul, with transport options being by taxi, airport limousine, or rail. It’s been voted as one of the best airports in the world for quite a while now, and it’s honestly really modern looking:

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Pretty fancy. (Though I’m not too unfamiliar with this kind of fanciness, having been used to Singapore’s Changi Airport)

My university campus is located in an area known as Sinchon (pronounced as shin-cho-own), well-known for being a popular space for the university youth in Seoul. This is largely attributed to the fact that besides Yonsei, two other universities (Ewha Women’s University and Sogang University) surround this area as well. As a result, Sinchon has become one of the hubs representing youth culture and can be found to be populated with young adults pretty much all day (and all-night even, even up to 4-5am in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays).

Even though I had known for a long time that Korea was the place I wanted to go to for exchange, the proximity of the campus to Sinchon was the main reason why I decided to go with Yonsei! The other two South Korean partner universities affiliated with UoA are Korea University and Seoul National University, and both are located a lot further away from, let’s say, an area where you can find a lot of things to do.

Incidentally, these three universities (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei) with affiliations to Auckland are actually the top three universities in Korea. This is often referred to as SKY, with S from Seoul, K from Korea, and Y from Yonsei. In Korea, entering a SKY university has immense implications on one’s social status and future career prospects, … let’s just say this influence is a lot more powerful than most of us can possibly imagine. I’ll leave that to you to read up on if you’re curious about it.

As a result, high school education in Korea is typically extremely stressful, with only the very best of the best performing students (top 1%!!!) in the notorious “college entrance exams” (College Scholastic Ability Test) able to make it to the SKY universities. Yes there’s a strong sense of elitism here, but I found it important to let you know about this, because it is such a big concept over here, even if it’s almost unnoticeable to unsuspecting foreigners sometimes. It’s sometimes also hard to imagine that the students belonging to what appears to be a vibrant university culture went through … pretty … challenging days… just a few years prior.

Keeping this in mind, I came to Yonsei with some sort of expectations that the academic load could end up being much higher than what I had been used to before, with the students here also feeling the impacts of those stresses.

I moved into my dormitory, a single room, a place which I will call home for the next four months! It is conveniently located on campus, and is a pretty chill spot, away from the main buildings, and from the main roads. Walking around the campus for the first time, you could literally feel the sheer size of the campus – this was something that you just don’t really feel used to going to the City Campus in UoA all the time.

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It’s actually a lot more pretty than these. (Unfortunately, I haven’t taken a lot of photos of the campus yet)

I can’t wait to see how this place transforms with the change of the seasons.

That’s all for now 🙂

ZhengWei