Minerva Chapter 2 | Seoul- 10 mins
A quick recap of what my semester in Seoul, South Korea, looked like at Minerva outside of academics. For me to remember and for you to enjoy.
Arriving in Seoul was so surreal - I can still vividly remember the train I hopped onto from the Incheon International Airport into the city. I was definitely bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The residence hall was directly on a hill in Yongsan-Gu, and before I even knew it, I was celebrating seeing friends, walking through the city, and exploring a whole new world. My roommates were Alexander Wu and Ba Thien Tran, two of my best friends at Minerva. It was awesome.
The first week my Korean friend, Junyoung, had a table booked at a night club in Gangnam for us newcomers - it was a mental night. Walking through the nightclub, I felt like I was teleported to another dimension. I stood out as a white, blond guy completely out of his depth in this new, beautiful culture. The day after we had a sweaty day at Hanyang University sorting out our Alien Registration Cards, before the first week of classes started. It was a tough time balancing the workload and exploring the city to start with.
Some of the beautiful moments I remember were going to the top of Namsan Tower with my friend Chris. Sitting out at the swingset taking a break from coding with Samad. Sorting out a civic partnership with SK Telecom and the Finnq team. Eating new foods at Myeongdong market. Meeting new Korean friends on a night out and them taking us to eat mussels at a Korean spot in Itaewon. Checking out a Berlin-esque yet Korean shisha barwith friends (even though I don’t really smoke). Loads of chicken eating with Janghoon.
I went to a de-fi crypto conference. I strangely met Brittany Kaiser and ended up at the same table as her at a nightclub - an odd occurrence given my experience with Cambridge Analytica folk already. Listened to Vitalek. Went out for meal with Junho, a friend from Eton, sick Korean barbeque place in Gangnam near Trade tower.
I remember having a few crazy nights with friends celebrating being in Seoul and exploring the club-scene. Pink Elephant in particular was a fun spot. One of my Korean friends was passed out on the side of the road after that night and we had to carry him home. They drink a bit too much in this country.
I explored the city: I went to a cool LoFi cafe and the city center, touring the Finnq headquarters. My Mom and Dad came! We visited the palaces with these funny middle school tour guides. Went to dinner with Charlie (Dad’s friend). Went to Hongdae with Mom and Dad and bought some cool Korean clothes and other novelties. The food was fantastic. Also cruised around Itaewon and climbed Namsan. We then travelled to Busan, where we enjoyed the weather, ate yummy food, saw the beach (although the water was cold) and went to some seafood markets. Before Mom and Dad left I had a really nice dinner with them and friends.
To finish off the month I went to the SK Telecom HQ and had a future of 5G tour that is given to all important diplomats that visit Korea. The futuristic vision that they presented to us that 5G would unlock was incredible. For Halloween we went to an international location with some of my friends from Princeton who were visiting for an acapella tour.
We celebrated my friend Kuba’s birthday at the beginning of the month at a Korean chicken place one night. The weekend after we went to the east coast of South Korea for a Buddhist temple stay. We stayed in temple housing on mats on a wooden floor and meditated for several hours. We also did 108 prostrations and made prayer beads for each prostration. This reinvigorated my love of meditation. It was genuinely one of the most soothing experiences I have ever had. My grandmother unfortunately passed away while I was there and being able to meditate on her and the finiteness of life was incredibly impactful and sad. Fortunately I was there with friends.
The next week my roommates and I met up with our friend Janghoon who had left Minerva. We ate at an all-you-can-eat Kroean barbecue place in Gangnam and saw his office! Start-up life for him seemed challenging yet fun. I had heard about the Seoul water polo team training and was curious to check it out. Wu joined me and we ended up needed membership to the club to play. Screw that. We decided to sneak into the pool area, quickly change behind some pillars, and hop in. We ended up playing water polo but Wu didn’t even realise that one of the rules is to only pick up the ball with one hand! It was hilarious given we had previously tried to persuade them to let us play because we were “experienced players”. Good one Wu.
I then ran the half marathon I had signed up for with some other Minervans. My time was 1 hour 37 minutes. It was hard but so rewarding. I felt like I had torn my ACL and literally couldn’t walk properly for a week. We had a Friendsgiving party the next weekend which Minerva hosted - it was super wholesome. Then the next day I visited my friend Petter’s improv night and watched him perform, it was hilarious.
To finalise my project for Finnq I pulled an all-nighter with Chris and Samad and ended up with a Eureka moment at 4am. We finalised things and then submitted out project that morning. It ended up going super well. Later that week, I went on a date with a Korean girl called Joan and we ate some moving octopus which was really fun. I had another night out with some guy friends which was super fun, but unfortunately someone stole my coat from the bar I was at. It starts getting really cold at this time in Korea, so I bought a new one from a coat store pretty fast. It is a Korean-styled puffer jacket that is really long, so my family now call it the “sleeping bag”.
We pitched the outcome of our data science project for a few executives at Finnq and SK Telecom at the SKT headquarters. They seemed to be super happy with the outcome. To celebrate, they took us for a chicken and beer party meal (called a chimaec).
More fun birthday parties happened, we celebrated, and then work hit me in the face. I still managed to keep up the straight A’s and started on my final projects. I was working on a synthetic matching paper for my statistics class, a shortest distance algorithm evaluation for my algorithms class, and some tricky problem sets for my calculus class. One of our directors at Minerva, Hannah, also came to visit. We went for a walk together through Namsan one early morning. It was really nice.
Myeongdong market, one of my favourite spots, I visited a couple more times. Also, we got bingsu at Sulbing which is delicious (if you have never had bingsu you should totally try it). I got invited by a Korean photographer that I had met to do some modelling for her new gallery. It was my first time modelling and it was a crazy experience. Thank you Liz :)
I then explored an ancient temple dressed in Hanbok with Han and Li-Lian. It was super jokes. We ran to Continuum, a Minerva event, which was lovely as well. I gave a speech for my class to commemmorate the times we had in Seoul. The next day my friends and I competed in a Minerva talent show as a group of 4 whistlers. We didn’t do so well (tried whistling shallow by Bradley Cooper), but everyone thought it was hilarious. Turns out its really hard to whistle when you’re laughing.
To finish off my time in Seoul I finalised my projects on my 20th birthday. That night my friends got together and we all went to Octagon, one of the world’s biggest nightclubs together! It was an insane end to the year. Before leaving, I had a final, surreal day with with Jun and Samad, bought presents in Itaewon and had a nice bao dinner. And that was the wrap on Seoul.
It was a really transformative experience living in Seoul for 4 months. Now, of course it was fun and I learnt a lot academically, got to explore the city, and more. However, I think it was the things that are more implicit that really impacted me. Here were a few reflections I wrote on the flight back:
- I really feel like I understand Korean people and the way they live life. By the end of it, I really did feel proficient in navigating the city and social interactions with people, even though I don’t speak their language.
- I am much more focused on enjoying academics and then playing hard in my free time. If I’m doing something interesting, like implementing a cool algorithm (e.g. Dijkstra’s), I really felt myself getting into it and enjoying going the extra mile. No matter the work, anything can be fun with a positive attitude and people you love around you.
- I really felt the power of being able to mold my own existence. Life is like a playground is actually true. I now realise that I can push and pull levers in my life and there are consequences, whether they be good or bad to all such actions. Anyone I interact with, anything I do, makes up the person I am. I care less about the small things and more about what makes me happy. I also care less about what people think about me and more about how I feel about myself.
- I now understand the power of unconventional experiences. Throwing yourself into something, whether it be a date, a trip, or an event, with an open mind anything is possible. You control the world around you as a result of your decisions. How you spend your time is important, but it shouldn’t be too intentional all the time. Sometime just see where life takes you.
- I like doing cool shit. I think I’ve gathered this from Wu the most. Fighting against the conventional grain of life can be goddamn hard. I came to Minerva, yeah, and perhaps that is a bit different from most people. However, I still feel like I’m conforming to a system. Applying to internships, worrying about the small things. I need to take life by the reins and dictate who I am and who I want to become. If I want to live a life worth living, I should swim upstream. Control the things around me, rather than letting them control me. The risk of failure is much less daunting than the risk of not making the most of this temporary and fragile, yet surreptitiously fantastic and meaningful life that I live. What’s the worst thing that could happen? There’s no reason not to make the most of the amazing journey I get to call my life.
This is a habit for every Minerva semester. Stay tuned for 5 more chapters.