Monday, October 20, 2014

Korea Diary | Pre-Trip Preparation

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The thing that I was meaning to announce, since way back when, was my then-impending Summer 2014 study abroad trip to South Korea. Yes, yes, I am many months too late now. But the next, long, series of posts will be a [photo] diary of sorts for my own reference or anyone else who may be planning a trip there in the future. Hopefully it'll come in handy to someone!

My memory of the whole process leading up to the trip is a bit fuzzy now. (Ah...the procrastinator in me.) But I'll try my best to share my experiences of everything that happened pre-flight, in Korea, and my return home.

For those that might want a much more detailed account (especially potential YISS applicants), click HERE! ~ Bestie's version of the our trip.

(More rambling and back stories. Feel free to skip over the rest of this if you'd like. But there will be some tips for fellow students. ^^)

As you may or may not remember from my past ramblings, I had been wanting to visit Korea for the longest time. Four years ago when I was applying to colleges, I also asked all the schools I was interested in about their study abroad programs to the country as well. (Even though the chances of me going were completely up in the air.)

Study abroad info brochures

After getting into college and being in a program that provides some funding for study abroad/research/etc., I couldn't wait to at least try to go abroad. BUT the caveat was...if I didn't meet the GPA requirements, those special conditions that I was entitled to would be prohibited for the time being. It didn't seem like a big deal at first - No biggie! Nothing to worry about!

First semester into my freshman year, my GPA was under the mark by (I think) 0.08. I was scared and a little devastated that it would have happened so quickly. The next year or so was spent dedicated to bringing my GPA up to be over the requirement. During that process studying abroad really didn't cross my mind at all, a luxury I thought I couldn't even consider. Sure, I could have went abroad with my own money but every little bit of scholarship and/or funding money helps and can't be dismissed.

I went to a couple of study abroad panels before and most students warned that transferring their major credits back was a pain in the butt. They mostly recommended taking the core requirement or general education classes while abroad. Problem for me was, I had taken most of those already which meant I couldn't really study abroad for a semester.

Until I met two classmates in my Spring of Sophomore year, who were set to go to Korea that Summer, I had forgotten about study abroad for the time being. I was honestly a little envious of them. However, by the time I found out they were going it was already too late for me to apply anyways. At least when they come back, I would have someone to help me through the process when time comes.

Fast-forward another school year, Bestie C and I talked (constantly) about how great it would be if we could go to Korea together. We'd been to multiple Study Abroad Fairs at our college throughout the years and this was the year that things seemed to finally coming together. We were both filled with schoolwork to do at the time but the potential trip lingered in our minds.

Since Bestie C is the more timely of us two, she had been searching possible options we could take and told me of the ones she was interested in applying for. I was pretty much up for whichever program that was the lowest in price and allowed the most traveling (alongside the courses portion of the trip).

Yonsei University YISS

In the end, we applied to Yonsei International Summer School (YISS) via direct enrollment on their website.
  • It was a program that past students at our school had gone to
    • Less paperwork
  • Other organized third-party programs to Yonsei in the Summer were all based around the same YISS program anyways
    • Less extra fees to third-party people
  • We could apply to go on their pre-classes trip to Jeju Island in addition to their one-day tours

Once we picked the route, we had to:
  1. Apply to & be approved by our school (a surprisingly long and detailed application)
    • General info
    • Few short answer questions: Why I wanted to go, what I wanted to get out of it, etc.
    • Program of interest
    • Pre-approved courses I was interested in
    • Professor's recommendation
  2. Apply with & be accepted by Yonsei
    • General info
    • Courses interested in
    While our school required much more work than originally anticipated, Yonsei's application was relatively simple and to the point (basic info and an application fee).

    I can't say this is true for every applicant or even every year, but it seemed like YISS accepted both Bestie C and I as soon as they received our application fees.
    Baruch study abroad approval
    Yonsei University YISS 2014 acceptance
    After receiving approval and acceptance on both ends, the next steps were just the nitty gritty, logistical things (not really in any specific order):
    • Making sure our potential classes would be transferable
    • Applying for
      • Study abroad funding/grant
      • Dorms or hostel (up to you)
      • One-day trips
      • Classes
    • Wiring
      • Tuition + extra trip(s) fees
      • Dorm fees
    • Buying
      • Plane tickets
      • Travel insurance (required by home school)
      • Packing related things
    • Medical stuff
      • Filling our emergency/medical forms for our home school
      • Tuberculosis reports for dorm check-in
      • Recommended immunizations
    • Having 1 copy of all your important documents handy for yourself + 1 for your family
    • "Get out of airport & into the city" plan
    • Visa?
      • This really depends on your home country
      • For USA students, it isn't necessary for a short stay
    • And the works

    Pre-Arrival Tips:
    • Apply early so you can be accepted early & therefore buy plane tickets EARLY
      • Summer prices are super duper pricey
    • Try your best to wire anything in won if possible!
      • Overages and shortages due to exchange can be a pain to deal with there
      • Make as little wires as possible
        • Fees are usually pretty hefty & the whole process requires at least 3 independent wires (application fee, tuition + trip fees, dorm fees)
          • Ex: Chase had a USD $40 charge each wire
    • (Probably obvious but...) Pack light if you plan to buy [a lot of] stuff
      • "Use up & throw away" products OR Travel-sized versions
        • There are plenty of stores by Yonsei to get anything you'll need
        • But!! Might as well pack those already used bottles of amenities from home to finish instead of buying new ones there and potentially not finishing them
      • Less clothes is probably just enough
        • Dorms have laundry rooms
      • If you really plan to shop ~~ bring 1 big suitcase + 1 carry-on or medium-sized suitcase AND stuff a duffel bag in your suitcase just in case you need it on your return flight
        • Do think twice about bringing big suitcases though because it harder for taxi drivers to get it into their small cars ... some drivers will be super accommodating while others will probably mutter and get mad at you
          • If you don't mind, go for it!
          • Van services is available but requires reservation. Unless you have the Korean skills to call and request, it's a more difficult option.

    Something totally optional, but a thing we both decided we wanted do, was getting Korean won to bring with us to avoid the said terrible airport exchange rates. We both "exchanged"/bought won via Chase and had enough to last our 50 days there. (I don't recommend Chase that much though, at least not a big sum. Their rates were well below the typical day-to-day exchange rate at the time. Although...both of us did end up using our debit/credit cards as well. We wanted to be sure that we had enough "emergency cash" on-hand until we left.

    Let me tell you, card swiping is super convenient in Korea!
    • Most places, more likely than not, allows card use
    • Most of those places also don't require a minimum purchase or charge extra fees for card use
    • MAKE SURE ~~ The card you want to use DOES NOT have foreign transaction fee
      • If it does, know what it is and swipe wisely
    • Call your card or ask representative at a branch to have them call and let the bank know that you will be using the card out of your home city/country
      • Avoid a frozen account

    If you do need more won/cash while in Korea there are a few options:
    • Have your home currency with you?
      • The friends we met at YISS had good experiences exchanging their currency in Myeongdong and Jongno
    • Don't have any more cash of any kind?
      • ATMs are pretty much everywhere
      • Be careful of your bank fees
      • There are more Citi banks locations than Chase (if that is of help to anyone)

    Korean Won front
    Korean Won back
    How pretty is the Korean won?! Granted, we did get new bills. But still, they were so colorful and vibrant in color. It is hard to tell in my photos but the bills actually increase in size in correlation to their denomination. That was hard for me to get used to but it's a neat concept. If you exchange money anywhere, I would recommend to just get mostly the smaller bills (1,000-10,000 won). I found that most place will look at you "funny" when you use the 50,000 won.

    There was a pretty big hiccup along the way that almost hindered/stopped our trip but luckily things worked out in the end! Otherwise, I wouldn't have such lovely stories to share soon. ^^
    Anyways...Get ready!! I'm committed to starting and finishing this series.

    I may also do a few more detailed posts on tips but we'll see!

    (Super side story about something that did not work out.)

    Although I was really psyched about the trip, the idea of using the "precious" summer of my Junior year in college for something non-internship related burned in the back of my head. When I saw that Yonsei had an internship program during the summer (Korea Summer Internship Program - KSIP), I was really interested in applying. They had positions at a wide range of firms in many fields. But for my major/interests in particular, there were Korean advertising/marketing agencies, start-up tech companies, entertainment companies, etc.

    But...there were quite a few problems that came up when applying:
    • No one at my school, who studied at YISS, applied for this and of course got in before
      • Needed addition paperwork and approvals in order to get transferable credit
    • Trying to get my major department's approval for said potential credit transfer was a pain
      • In the end, the answer was more or less "We have no idea what it is you're talking about, so no."
    • Finding others' experiences in KSIP in the past years via the interwebs was unfruitful
      • I had no/limited work or internship experience to give me an edge
      Ultimately, I didn't get an intern position but that was alright. I would have been happy either way, honestly! I felt good that at least I (kind of) did try to get some work experience in, even if it never worked out. Bestie C and I did meet with a fellow student from our school who was going to YISS and received an internship offer. Plus while in Korea, we met a two new friends who also had research internships with KSIP. It isn't impossible to get in but it would be safe to say that the Korean companies' standards are quite high and competition for the limited spots (1-3 per company) is pretty tough. If you plan on applying, I wish you the best of luck!

      Sunday, September 28, 2014

      Wandering Tales | Bear Mountain

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      Besties and I had to make those getaway plans we always talk about happen before two out of us four parted for the summer. Since there was only a small time frame available, we were able to squeeze in a 2-night 3-day trip to Bear Mountain State Park (just a 1.5-2ish hour drive from NYC). I forgot how we concluded to doing something naturey but it was a much needed break for all of us regardless of where we were going. I think most city folk usually go to Bear Mt. for just a day-trip. But we really wanted to get away without being that far since it was our first trip together. Plus there is always the whole family-worrying issue.

      Although we toyed with the idea of staying somewhere through AirBnB, we ended up booking a room at the Overlook Lodge at Bear Mountain. It wasn't too bad price-wise and it was where we wanted to be. Our plan was to hike until we were all hiked out (at least that was my plan for the trip).
      Bear Mountain Overlook Lodge Entrance
      Bear Mountain Stone Cottages
      Bear Mountain
      Bear Mountain
      Bear Mountain
      Bear Mountain
      Bear Mountain
      In the end we didn't get to climb all the way to the top or hike the longest trail. But...the point was we did something we don't normally get to do. It didn't help our plans when the weather decided to be gloomy and rainy during our stay. Ehh, what can you do about mother nature? Next time! I'll get to the top, just you wait.

      Palisades Mall
      Palisades Mall
      Palisades Mall
      There really isn't much to eat at or right by Bear Mountain so we made a trip to the nearest (I think) mall to grab dinner. Sure, go and call me a city girl but this was the biggest mall I have ever seen. It had amusement rides and everything!

      The Cheeesecake Factory
      Palisades Mall Cheesecake Factory Steak Diane Herb Crusted Salmon Palisades Mall Cheesecake Factory Chicken Costoletta Palisades Mall Cheesecake Factory Pasta Da Vinci
      Steak Diane and Herb Crusted Salmon, Chicken Costoletta, & Pasta Da Vinci
      First time at the Cheesecake Factory! I have heard of the name here and there before but was never too interested in it, except to try their cheesecakes. The meals were too shabby. I wished there was one in NYC...

      Outback Steakhouse
      Outback Steakhouse Bloomin Onion Outback Steakhouse Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
      Bloomin' Onion & Crab Stuffed Mushrooms
      Outback Steakhouse Outback Steakhouse Porterhouse
      Soup, stuffed potato, & a porterhouse
      Eating at Outback is also another first. Even though there is one close to where I live, I never had the chance to go. I don't remember the meal being anything extraordinary. Probably was one of the better steaks I've had. But this doesn't mean much since I haven't many steaks before. All that I remember is this meal was very too filling, even after a day of hiking. Oh my poor stomach! It always has to handle whenever I overestimate what I can and can't eat.