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40 Days in Korea: Day 9.1

view from my room – and I so love it!

Day 9 in Korea? I’ve been here for 9 days?

And I can’t believe it.

Has it been 9 days already? It seems too fast!

Has it only been 9 days? I’ve done a lot and many… oh so many things have happened already! I’ve walked around Seoul (literally waaaallllkkkiiiing!) in the morning, at night, at midnight, at dawn – was even barefoot for some parts of it since my feet had bad blisters already because of a bad footwear; I’ve gone back and forth Seoul and Gwanju twice already; Lost left my bag on the subway train; talked to many Koreans; met strange Koreans; run out of money; took lots of photos; visited many places; ate the cheapest food (even though ‘cheap’ doesn’t seem to exist here); was mistaken as a Korean many times; answered a survey of some university students in Korean; lost my way; missed my bus stop; been stressed whenever my t-money sends off a beeping sound because of some error (aka my stupidity);  dragged my luggage all around Korea (like all around – Incheon-Seoul-Gwangju-Gwangju-Seoul).

Sorry, I was supposed to be blogging everyday, but something happened here and there and was only able to settle down and sit down today. Will try to write some back entries regarding my experiences for the past 8 days. Hopefully I can still remember what I did and all that jazz.

Meantime have to do some fangirling related stuff (stressed!) and watch a re-run of I Do I Do on the big television in our 휴게실 (rest room? I rather call it a lounge or something).

40 Days in Korea: D-day. Day 1.1. Good morning Korea!

I woke up seeing this view on my window. Pretty neat! Then I fell asleep again. And when I woke up it’s already bright.

The plane ride was okay. There were very few passengers (that’s probably why the fare suddenly got cheaper). There were just one or two passengers per row of 6. I have no one beside me.

Also the plane was bigger. It now looks like a plane. A small plane. Because last time I went abroad – to Taiwan, I felt I was just inside a bus.

When we finally landed, I was delaying things and I don’t really wanna go out of this gate.

I don’t know. Probably I was just afraid that everything will fade away when I step outside even before it started happening and everything will end up being just a dream. Oh no! My Sam Soon sickness is here again.

But I stepped out and somehow things didn’t fade.

But it didn’t turn magical either.

Okay, there were Korean signs everywhere and high class facilities. But I didn’t feel anything. I was expecting I’ll be super elated. But I was more excited when I arrived in Taiwan last year. Was it because I’ve been used to flying and going to other places as compared to the time when I was in Taiwan and it was my first time to travel abroad?

I spent a lot of minutes on the restroom – trying to freshen up and wake myself up. Maybe it’s the tiredness that’s why I am numb to excitement.

I went out and it there were not much people around anymore. Considering I was one of the last one to alight the plane, I also spent a lot of time in the restroom. Now where do I go next? A right, baggage!

So I just followed the signs and found myself in a place that looks like a subway station. A subway station inside the airport? Is it the AREX? I don’t know and I don’t care. I think I was lost. Then a staff went to me because I was probably looking like a lost kid. I told him, in English (because I don’t know how to say it in Korean) where the baggage claim is. And he told me to take the train. Woah! Cool!!! (Then I remember reading about it once in a blog – the train inside the airport).

After getting my stuff, it was kinda cool walking among many Koreans, mostly airport staff, that are talking to each other. A girl called out to her Unnie who was walking-running, asked her where she was going and the Unnie answered she’ll get coffee and asked the girl whether she would like one too. Did I just understand everything they said? Oh well, it was a simple conversation.

So I went out of the arrival gate and saw someone from CNU waiting for students. I ignored it thinking they were waiting for different students. Because I clearly told them in the email that I will stay in Seoul first and will go to Gwangju by myself on July 1st. They did receive my email, right? Right?

So now, to look for eggmoonrice – a good friend from the Philippines who’s taking MA in Kangwon National University in Chuncheon. She went home for a short vacation and unfortunately she missed her bus to Chuncheon so she ended up sleeping in the airport. But I can’t find her. She said she’s near the arrival but there were too many people. So I went to G25 first because I wanted to buy something.

In Korea # 001: In Korea, you can leave your things anywhere without worrying that it’ll get lost. No one will care.

The G25 near the arrival is quite small. I wanted to go to the beverage section and it’s not possible to drag my trunk all the way inside. So I just followed what everyone did and left it outside the store.

Ignoring the hunger, I went straight to the beverage section and bought my first purchase in Korea – Vitamin Water.

Any Kim Sun Ah fan would know why I want to buy this. 🙂

I went around the arrival area and looked around the information area for some stuff that I can get. Like some brochures or postcards or maps.

Then I saw eggmoonrice pushing her trolley. We had breakfast together – kimbap. And it was very delicious. There were kimbap in the Philippines from Korean restaurants but nothing taste like the one in G25! Haha. I think I can eat kimbap everyday!

In Korea # 2: In Korea, I can eat delicious Kimbap everyday!

We took some photos together then eggmoonrice needs to head to Chuncheon right away. She already missed a few days worth of classes because of her vacation in the Philippines and now she is running very late for her classes. I sent her off, and again, just leaving my luggage somewhere in the arrival area.

We were both thrilled that both of us are in Korea now. That I AM in Korea now. Though I still didn’t feel anything special. Probably because we were just together a few days before in the Philippines? The airport looks nice. The bus terminal in the airport looks cool and definitely not something you’ll find in the Philippines. But still it doesn’t feel Korea to me. I don’t know why. I thought maybe when I’m left alone everything will start sinking in.

I went back to the airport.

I don’t know what to do next.

I was initially planning on going to Incheon city hall, then around the area. Afterwards heading to Ganghwa and touring around the area. Then go to Seoul in the evening. But I wasn’t bale to finalize my plans before I left and I don’t know exactly where to go. My laptop’s battery is dead too and I don’t have a cellphone.

I decided to just go around the airport first and wait until 9:00am when the banks are open (because I have to withdraw some money). I was able to check my facebook briefly and a friend informed me that Kim Sun Ah has an ad somewhere in the basement. So I head to the basement and looked around. Pushing my luggage sometimes. Leaving it somewhere at other times.

I didn’t saw Kim Sun Ah’s ad (but I was very near it! 😥 ). But I was able to go around the airport. There were many other things I want to see in the airport but I wasn’t able to write them all down. So I decided to just look for them on my departure. I’ll just be early in the airport so I’ll have time to look around.

I decided to go back to the arrival area and look for an outlet to plug my laptop so I can start deciding what to do… when I heard my name being paged. Darn! Were they waiting for me? Today?

So I went to the information desk and told the lady there that I think I heard my name was called – in Korean! Success! She understood what I meant. And for some strange reasons, I didn’t have a hard time talking. She called someone informing them that the person they are looking for came, then she told me to wait.

Darn! What do I do? And how do I explain? I knew it! They probably either didn’t notice what I said on the email or didn’t receive it. But I remember them replying to it.

A staff from CNU came and I greeted him and I apologized – in Korean. He was surprised that I can speak Korean. Then I tried explaining the situation.

At first there was supposed to be a service from the airport to CNU. But eventually we were told that someone will just show us the way to get to an airport limo until Gwanju Terminal. Or if we are coming from Seoul, we can take the express bus. So I decided to spend a few days in Seoul first before coming down to Gwanju since they are not going to pick us up anyway and I don’t need directions on how to get to Gwanju. I could just ask around.

So I explained to him about it and he called someone, probably someone from CNU. He looks worried at first when I told him I’ll be going around Seoul on my own. But after talking to me in Korean for a long time, I think he realized I’ll be okay. I also said I wasn’t able to contact anyone since I don’t have a phone (then he asked me don’t I have an iphone? What? Is it required to have an iphone now? – And later I realized that almost every Korean uses a smart phone now so it was not really strange that he asked me if I don’t have an iphone. O.o) and I told him I’ll contact them as soon as I have my 선불폰 (prepaid phone) which I’m planning to get in Seoul. He taught me how to use the payphone. Then he left me alone. Hooray!

I opened my laptop again. I think it’s too late already to plan a trip to Ganghwa. Besides I don’t have much money with me yet. Also the stupid luggage I’ve packed are all so heavy, it’s difficult to move them around. I decided maybe it’s better to stay in Seoul with my friend. But I can’t contact my friend and I told her I’ll be in Seoul the next day instead. So I guess the best thing to do is to get my phone and I can work from there.

So I head to the AREX (and checked the basement one last time for Kim Sun Ah’s ad that I didn’t see). Was surprised to see there’s a CGV (moviehouse) inside the airport.

In Korea # 3. There’s a moviehouse and a spa inside the airport.

I went to the AREX. But I don’t know what to do. I want to take the commuter train – the cheapest way to Seoul. But was afraid I might take the incorrect train. Also I don’t know how I can get to Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station.

So I went to the information and, in Korean, asked how to get to Dongdaemun History and Culture Park station while showing her my map. And I was told my map was old! Darn stupid map! So embarrassing! So she gave me a new subway map (yey!) and showed me the way. Get off Hongik University station and transfer to line 2.

Then before getting in, I told her I want to take the commuter train and asked her if I’m in the correct area. And she said yes (apparently the KTX is on the other side).

Wow! Just wow! I was able to get all the information and directions I need and all was in Korean! Just wow!

On the way to AREX, a kid noticed my Sam Sook stuff toy and started small talk with me, asking me if it was my doll. Cute!

And since I didn’t prepare for the trip, I don’t know how the subways work in Korea. So I had to ask which side goes to Hongik University station to an ahjumma and I was told where.

So far so good. I’ve been speaking purely in Korean after eggmoonrice left. And I survived!

40 Days in Korea: Why am I in Korea right now?

So, I’ve been blogging and ranting about crazy preparations and I’ve been here for 9 days now yet I haven’t properly blogged why I’m here.

I’m here for the 2012 Chonnam National University’s International Summer Session. Although it’s a bit similar to an exchange student program because there are classes and you can earn credits that would be reflected in your transcript, it’s different in a sense that you don’t belong to the real university classes. It’s a special summer program for international students. Students can chose classes and can will also have an opportunity to join the cultural excursions.

Here’s CNU ISS’ website: http://international.jnu.ac.kr/SummerSchool/Sum_01/Pages/Sum_01_01.aspx

A good friend who’s currently on exchange in Seoul National University told me about this program. I applied immediate and was nominated by my university. That’s why now I am here in Korea.

The summer program would only run for a month. I decided to take Study of Korean Culture (since I’m interested in Korean culture) and Understanding Chinese People and Culture (since I’m taking Mandarin, I thought it would be really helpful). But I opted out of the cultural excursions. The selection was good and worth it, but it’s too expensive for me. Besides I want to explore on my own and mingle with the locals.

Since my home university is in partnership with CNU, CNU waived the tuition and dormitory fees for me and another student from our university. We have to pay for our own air tickets and we don’t have any allowance for meals and other stuff.

It took me a long time thinking whether I’ll join or not. Of course I wanted to join. But buying tickets and saving enough pocket money is difficult for me. I also feel guilty of spending too much for this program instead of using it for say, paying debts and having our house fix or getting a refrigerator since ours was broken.

It’s also going to be difficult for me since it’s not vacation in the Philippines right now. So basically I’ll be absent for a month in all my classes in the Philippines. So I’m just making it hard for myself. I will have to study here, then study for my classes in the Philippines too – by myself! And by the time I return home, it’ll be midterms week!

I must be crazy to take this program. But I’ve always wanted to go to Korea. And this is my chance. So I just closed my eyes and decided to take the chance.

And now I am here. On my 9th day. Surviving, enjoying and loving Korea all the more. 🙂

40 Days in Korea: D-1 Departure

The last week before my flight to Korea has been tremendously crazily busy! With the visa application brouhaha, documents to complete, classes to take care of, things to buy, things to do, things to bring… etc etc etc.

I was still running everywhere the morning of the 28th (my departure date).

I attended my morning classes in our university. Had all my readings for my classes in the Philippines photocopied. Renewed a book in the library. Submitted last minute documents.

I also had some financial problems before my flight so I had to ask for help from friends. So I had to meet them too. I also met my friend’s mom. My friend’s in Korea and her mom asked me to bring her some stuff.

I managed to get myself a camera that day (yey!). I barely have money to survive Korea, but I thought believe it’s okay even if I won’t have enough as long as I have a camera. I must have a camera. And I managed to get one. A nice one. So I was happy.

I came home and started packing. Although I have sorted things that I’m planning to bring, I still haven’t packed them. Also I didn’t get to buy some things and decided to just buy them in Korea (wrong move! everything’s expensive here!).

So I started packing. But time was running out so I didn’t have time to sort my stuff again and lessen the things I’m bringing. I just stuffed them inside my bags before I miss my flight.

It was drizzling when I left. And my mom and aunt kept nagging me that I’m gonna be late. Oh well, it was stressful but at least I didn’t miss my flight.

I took a cab to the airport. My bags were very heavy but didn’t exceed the weight limit. Nonetheless they were heavy.

I went alone to the airport but was was met by my good friend Bukas na Espasyo and she treated me to dinner.

I’m glad to be back in the airport. And this time I’m not sending someone off, rather I’ll be leaving. Was I excited? I actually don’t remember being excited. I was too tired that day. And I also hate that I was not prepared at all.

There’s a small notebook I was preparing for my trip. To put phone numbers, exchange rates, people I want to meet in Korea, places I want to visit, what I want to do, what I want to eat – everything! As expected, I didn’t finish doing that. I also wasn’t able to email my friends that I’m leaving (the Philippines) and  that I’m coming (to Korea). Everything is just so fast and I was too tired to get excited. It was also a long day. I had a very early class (7:00am so I was awake by 5:30am). I had to travel from my university back home after my classes. I had to buy some stuff. And I haven’t slept.

But I was happy. Knowing that something’s good’s waiting for me.

Before boarding a Korean mother notice my Sam Sook (the Kim Sam Soon stuff toy) and called her kids’ attention saying it’s Sam Soon’s pig doll. I was happy to know that Sam Soon is still popular among Koreans (or at least to that lady).

On the boarding area, I was happy to know that the attendant was actually from the same university. He even interviewed me for a while.

Then he thought the one before me, a Korean girl, left her baggage claim tickets and he asked me if I can give it to her. I obliged and attempted my first ever Korean conversation. But it ended up that the baggage claim tickets were not hers. When I looked at it, it was actually… mine! O.o

I went in the boarding area early so that I can sit down for a long time and probably get to be online. I went to the restroom first. When I was inside the cubicle though I heard one airline staff asking the restroom staff if she saw any Korean inside (I guess they were making the last call for the flight before mine and was missing a Korean girl). The restroom staff said she saw one enter the cubicle. When I get out, the attendant went to me right away and asked for my boarding pass – in English. I showed it to her, then she returned it right away (after seeing that it wasn’t me she was looking for) and rushed our of the door.

Was I the Korean the restroom staff was talking about?

Then on the way to the boarding area, I was kinda lost because I can’t see our boarding gate. While trying to look around, another staff approached me, asked me if I was looking for Gate something something. And I nodded. She told me where it was – in English. In a slow English that Filipinos usually used when speaking to foreigners. But I’m not Korean!

Inside the plane, the airline staff handed my the immigration forms in Korean. I have to tell her I’m a Filipino. Even though I know Korean, I won’t be able to understand that complicated immigration form. The staff shyly laughed and handed me the English version of the forms.

I basically slept the entire flight. It’s about less than 4 hours between Manila and Incheon. I wanted to actually try to complete my travel notebook but I wasn’t able to do so because I keep falling asleep.

40 Days in Korea: Preparation – Korean Visa Brouhaha

I know it’s difficult for a Filipino to get a tourist visa. Just like what they say, “Been there. Done that.” I had my share of troubles in getting my Taiwan visa last 2010. I was going to Taiwan for a Kim Sun Ah fan meeting. I just quit my job because it was the year I decided to go back to school. I have prepared all the needed documents but I had to go back and forth because they keep requesting for more supporting documents, specifically financial supporting documents – even though I’ll just be there for 2 days and have a proof that I’ll be attending an event. Anyway, I eventually got my Taiwan visa the day before my flight and after many hair-pulling moments!

So I never attempted to get a Korean visa.

Even if I’ve always been wanting to go to Korea. Even if I’ve always wanted to attend Kim Sun Ah’s birthday party every fall. Even if I’ve always wanted to support Kim Sun Ah’s drama or movies when they are shown. Even if there were unbelievable low ticket prices during seat sales. I know I will never ever be able to get a Korean visa. Probably not until I graduated and got myself a stable position in one of the top 100 companies in the country and my savings in my bank account reached 7 digits and got myself an apartment and a car and a family. But while I’m still a student who’s only working part-time with almost zero savings (not just on my bank account but on my wallet too) and supporting my family and myself I will never ever get a Korean visa.

But this exchange student program came. Thinking that I’m gonna be studying in Korea I foolishly believed that it’s going to be easy to get a visa.

So, after buying plane tickets, I carefully prepared all the required documents. As of last month the listed requirements were: Passport, invitation letter from the Korean University, proof of enrollment in home university, birth certificate, fully accomplished application form, birth certificate and proof of financial support from parents (bank certificate, employment certificate, ITR).

I prepared the following documents (and added some for good measure): Passport, acceptance letter from the Korean university, invitation letter from the Korean university, certificate of enrollment from my home university, registration form from my home university, true copies of grade from my home university, birth certificate, application form (where I specifically indicated that it’s going to be myself and the Korean university who will be financing my trip), MY bank certificate (with a generous amount of money – thanks to a good neighbor who helped me gather funds), MY wage certificate (from my part-time job), my plane tickets (specifically the return ticket).

I did well, right?

That’s what I thought too!

When I went to submit my application to Window 1 (new applicants), I was asked to submit a copy of my school id, the school permit of some university in Korea (Note: He didn’t say 전남. He said some other university’s name, I swear!), my parent’s bank certificate and certificate of employment.

I knew it! I just knew it that they are not going to make it easy for me. I dunno, but somehow I felt like I will not be able to get my visa easily. I just knew it.

I didn’t argue with the name of the university anymore and I didn’t bother pointing out that it’s ME spending for my trip and not my parents (and that I am from a single-parent family and there’s no way to get my father’s documents and my mom doesn’t have a job nor a bank account). I can easily have my school id copied, but I definitely have to go back anyway since I need the school permit from Korea.

I asked some other exchange students from our university before and was told that window 1 is actually notorious for asking whatever documents he wants to ask. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why he is not reading the documents submitted to him. Aside from asking for my parents documents when it’s indicated that it’s me financing my trip, he said my university’s name incorrectly even if Cheonnam National University is one of the famous universities in Korea, and he asked for my birth certificate while he was holding it!

I was kinda pissed off at that time. And it’s not as if going to the embassy is easy. Their location is very far and is not very accessible!

Thinking about it now, it doesn’t look so bad anymore. But I remember that time I even declared a silent war with Korea because I was totally pissed off. Maybe due to too much stress at that time too.

Anyway, I went back after getting the additional documents that were asked of me. This time I went to Window 2 since I really don’t want to see Window 1 anymore. Windows 2 was better. She carefully read each of the documents I submitted. And she didn’t ask for my parents documents anymore, simply because she read my application form. HOWEVER, she asked for the MOU between my home university and CNU! Where did it come from? A few hours earlier than me another schoolmate, whose gonna be on a different program, actually submitted his application too and was not asked for it. Also my schoolmate who’ll be with me on the same program have submitted hers and was not asked for such additional documents.

I told our program coordinator and she was also a bit annoyed. She doesn’t want me to go back and forth the embassy. So we asked help from a friend from the same university who’s working at another division of the embassy. She is not related to the visa division but since she works nearby, the document needed was forwarded to her. That way I don’t have to go back to school to pick it up. But my generous friend also offered to submit my documents on my behalf instead since it’s already cut-off time (instead of me going back to the embassy again).

So eventually, after all the brouhaha I got my visa after a week. Just 2 days before my flight. Stressed!

 

40 Days in Korea: D-6 Preparation

I don’t want to flip to the next page of my weekly organizer because it scares me. Once the weekend is over, all I can see are just a few squares before my departure plus all the things I have to do before I leave.

There are still a bunch of school documents I have to prepare before I leave. I’m still looking for funds!!! I still have a full work schedule. I have tons of people to email. My room’s a mess. I have 3 full chapters to read and 3 problem sets to finish in my linguistics class that I have to finish (unless I want to do the last one on the plane – no! not happening!). I haven’t chosen what clothes to bring (and I’m pretty sure the ones I’d like to bring will be in the laundry basket!). I still don’t have a camera (noes!!!!!!! 😥 )!!!!!!!!! I still haven’t found all the books and readings I’ll be needing on both my classes here and in Korea. I haven’t started packing (though I’ve made progress by sorting things I want/need to bring and shoving them on one corner of my room). I have a number of people and friends to meet. I have to make lots and lots of notes for my mom (how to use the ATM, how to rent a pc in an internet shop, how to operate the DVD player – at least I’ve finished creating her online accounts). I haven’t made my trip schedule. I haven’t written anything on my travel notebook. All these when my passport is still at the embassy and won’t be released until Tuesday afternoon.

Alright. i’m ranting nonstop. I should keep reading for my linguistics class first.

40 Days in Korea: D-9 Preparation

I should be excited. I should be very excited by now. But no. I’m not excited anymore. All the excitement has faded, thanks to the repeated trips to the embassy.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been going back and forth the embassy for my visa application and they keep asking for additional documents from me/my school/s. It just gave me so much stress for the past weeks that I even declared a ‘silent war’ with Korea for a day because I was so pissed off. I understand they deserve to ask for additional documents but do they have to do it one at a time? Alright, partly my fault, perhaps – if going from one window to another because the first person doesn’t seem to read my application form and documents AT ALL is my fault . Seriously! Asking for a document he is currently holding, asking for my parents’ documents when I clearly stated it’s CNU and myself providing for the trip, and asking for another school’s school permit when I have acceptance letters from CNU. But I think my biggest mistake is making a foolish assumption that it’s gonna be easy.

Will probably blog about this visa brouhaha later. I also found out, by asking around, that a number of exchange students from our university also had to go through the same hell-ish experience when applying for their visas.

All’s well now, I hope. Thanks to my university and a good friend for helping me out. I have yet to receive my visa next week and it’s not yet guaranteed that I will not get the dreaded “documents received” stamp. But nonetheless it was finally accepted and no more documents were asked from me/my school/s.

I only felt relieved for a couple of hours after confirming that my application is already in process. Stress, once again kicked in, after realizing I only have 9 days left. And I don’t know how am I supposed to fix my schedule and do the things I need to do before I leave. Not to mention the very little money I’ve been saving was now all used to go back and forth the embassy (which, unfortunately, is in a not so accessible location so I have no choice but to take a cab to and fro). School work’s starting to pile up and syllabuses are starting to scare the hell out of us. I am worried how am I supposed to study all these by myself – in Korea.

I hope my mood will soon improve… hmm… probably when I finally get my visa – which will be, surprise! surprise! 2 days before my flight. 😐

For now, I think I better cut-down on my sleep. 😦