I’m Clare Davitt, the Fellow for Dean’s Initiatives at Simmons College in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. On Thursday, July 28th I’ll be traveling to Seoul, South Korea with five other graduate students and two of our faculty. Dean Michele Cloonan and Adjunct Professor Kevin Glick will each be teaching a course over our two week stay in Seoul at Yonsei University. Michele is teaching a course on Preservation Management and Kevin is teaching Records Management. Both courses will have students from Yonsei and Simmons participating.
I’ll be writing about our travels in Seoul and all the exciting things we’ll be doing. Right now I’m sitting in my office at Simmons and it’s awfully hard to imagine that by 5:30pm on Friday I’ll be in South Korea. It’s a 14 hour flight and we leave Thursday afternoon from NYC. When we return we’ll leave on Saturday, August 13 and land in Boston on the same day. I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around the way the travel time works. Today I was handed 1,000,000 won by Michele (the South Korean currency which is about $978 USD). The won is a far prettier currency than the dollar and luckily a million won is not quite the stack it would be in dollars.
While we’re there we’ll be visiting the Hansung University Digital Library, the National Library of Korea, the National Assembly Library, the Seoul National University Library, the Mapo Lifelong Learning Center, and the Korean Folk Village. And those are just our scheduled visits! So many other places to see and food to eat. I’m very excited about the food. I just checked the weather and it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit with 89% humidity and major thunderstorms happening. Sounds like the weather should be pretty interesting all around.
These postings will get more interesting in just a few days; check back in soon for updates from South Korea!
We’re here! We arrived Friday evening after a slight delay leaving JFK. The fourteen hour flight on Korean Air was actually pretty great if you leave out the having to sit for so long. The service was wonderful and we had our first introduction to Bibimap which is rice with all sorts of other fun thingshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibimbap. They even gave us an instruction sheet for how to eat it. We all watched many, many movies and tried to sleep for a bit.
When we arrived after taking an hour to get through customs and such we were met by Junjee (may be spelling her name wrong) a Library Science student at Yonsei who was wonderfully helpful and very patient with us. We took a very nice bus into Seoul (about an hour ride) and once we reached the main gate of Yonsei we took a cab around to the North Gate which is where our dorms are. The campus is far larger than Simmons, walking from our dorms at the top of campus to the main gate takes about 30 minutes. The dorms are pretty traditional, just like what I had in undergrad. Once we dropped off our stuff it was about 10:30pm and we were starving so we set off on our first adventure.
We left campus and walked back to one of the main streets, only 10 minutes or so from our dorms and played the “what do they serve and are they open?” game as we walked past various restaurants. We found a Korean BBQ where we sat outside around a circular table with a grill in the middle. None of us speak Korean (beyond saying “hello” and “thank you” but we have Andrea with her trusty Lonely Planet phrase book. Both Andrea and her LB have proved invaluable already. The menu was set, all we had to do was pick beef or pork. The lovely woman who served us was very tolerant of our lack of understanding. Her minimal English was far better than our Korean… Andrea and Chris became our grill masters as we consumed a huge plate of beef, lots of vegetables, garlic cloves and kimchi. We ate the beef and veggies and garlic on leaves of Perilla which were like mint but better:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perilla. We also shared a few Cass beers which were very light and fresh as advertised. There was spicy sauce to dip the meat in and a spicy tofu soup that was brought out still boiling. I’m a big fan of spicy food and found all of this to be delicious although some of it was right at the limit of what my mouth can tolerate. Our host was very helpful and once she figured out that our one vegetarian, Helen, would eat lots of kimchi she brought it out everytime her bowl emptied. The whole meal cost the six of us 99,000 won ($95 USD) which seemed pretty great considering the service and quanity.
By the time we got back to the dorms it was about 12:30am on Saturday morning. We all did a quick bit of computer time in the internet room (where I am right now) and toddled off to bed. Around 5:30 this morning we were woken by many Korean voices singing outside the dorms for about half an hour. Needless to say none of us were thrilled by this but we’ve since learned that it is not some sort of traditional morning activity so we shouldn’t have to worry about it in the future.
I’ve just returned from meeting with Jee Yeon Lee, the Chair of Yonesi’s Library Science program. She and her husband and lovely 7-year-old daughter took Kevin Glick and I to lunch at another Korean place near the school. We had tasty cold noodles, mung bean pancakes and dumplings while sitting on pillows on the floor. It was the first time I’ve taken my shoes off in a restaurant and it was rather nice. The servers were worried about Kevin and I finding things too spicy and brought us extra non-spicy broth. Jee Yeon and her family gave us an extensive tour of Campus and showed us around the liberal arts building where classes will be on Monday. Kevin, Michele (when she arrives on Monday) and I have all been set up with office space and computers and offered whatever assistance we may need.
It is very warm and very humid but not raining and no flooding that we’ve seen. Everyone we’ve met has been very kind and helpful even when none of us know what we’re saying to each other. It always amazes me when I travel what can be conveyed with gestures and facial expressions. The students are off exploring downtown Seoul right now and we’ll meet up for dinner this evening. Tomorrow will be more exploration and then class starts on Monday. I’m taking lots of pictures and once I have assistance from the wonderful Yonsei students I’ll be able to upload them at the beginning of next week. It’s now 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon and I’m going to go off and explore a bit myself. More updates tomorrow!
Right now it’s 10 to 8 on Monday, August 1st and the students start class in an hour. How did we get here? Let me catch you up. Saturday afternoon, when I last left you, I went out and wandered the main streets right outside the main gate of Yonsei. There are so many stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and people it should feel overwhelming but it really didn’t. That’s something that keeps striking me about this city, there is more going on here than anywhere I’ve ever been in the world and yet it moves easily and without a feeling of confusion. Sure there are motorbikes roaring down small side alleys and thousands of people on the sidewalks but somehow it doesn’t feel like too much or like it’s all in chaos and confusion. While it’s clear I’m in a place that is very foreign to me I’ve also felt remarkably comfortable, even with the extreme language barrier.
Saturday evening was an example of the language barrier issue. Things we’ve learned so far:
1. Don’t point at things on a menu, you’ll be understood to be ordering it.
2. Vegetarianism is not well understood here or at least it can be hard to find.
3. Drawing a question mark doesn’t get across the idea that you were only asking questions not trying to order.
4. It gets easier to walk out of restaurants in search of more understandable menus after you’ve done it a few times.
5. When someone crosses their arms in an ‘x’ in front of them it generally means that whatever you want is not an option.
We have however always ended up finding tasty food to suit everyone’s needs. We’re hoping that after meeting the Yonsei students today they’ll adopt us and lead us to more fun food.
Sunday morning the rain started and the umbrellas popped up.
First we had a breakfast of waffles with ice cream and cake (these are the perks of being “grown-ups” traveling) before we ate a feast of tasty food at the food court in the Hyundai Department store. We had squid rings on spicy rice veggie patties fried in egg, sweet potatoes glazed with so much honey they hardened to the container, pork buns, sujebi (kimichi in dough), stuffed shrimp and veggie buns. Then we moved on to Dongdaeum Market. We arrived in the the rain to discover most of it was closed on Sunday. It was still fun to wander through the “Tourist Fashion District” which is made up of lots and lots of department stores with street vendors selling meat (my favorite so far is essentially meatloaf with sweet sauce on a stick) and pineapple and kiwi on a stick outside while rock music plays from various locations. The fashion on the locals is very fun to watch, lots of high heels and neat hats. Cheonggyecheon Stream also runs through the city near the market. It was very lovely even in the rain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheonggyecheon
After a round of crepes wrapped up in a cone shape with various tasty toppings (like chocolate and peanut butter or custard and strawberries) we got back on the subway to Insadong. Side note about the subway here-it is so clean and well run it is reason enough to move to Seoul. The system is huge but very clearly laid out and the subway cars are very wide and comfy. When you buy your subway card (much like the Charlie card in Boston) you can get any money back that you don’t spend on it and also use it at vending machines in the subway as well as other places in the city. It’s a really, really great system. Added bonus is that various bugle sounds and other music plays to announce the arrival of the trains.
Insadong deserves its own blog entry and will get one when we return to it. It is a super neat district full of antiques, fans, calligraphy art, handmade paper, tea houses and so much more. We went to a lovely tea house that was so excited to see us they moved a group of locals out of their private room and ushered us in. We were pretty embarrassed that they moved people on our behalf but weren’t able to protest. They wouldn’t let Chris and Lori order the same thing because they wanted us to try as much as possible. It was pretty grand all around.
Back to Yonsei to meet Helen for dinner. Helen spent the day wandering on her own and will be doing a blog about all the neat stuff she saw and did. Dinner was a feast as usual and we did finally try Soju, the local liquor which is pretty strong and one small bottle was shared amongst us to general enjoyment although some found the alcohol taste far too strong.
That more or less brings us up to Monday morning and now I’ve got to run off to meet up with the students and Kevin for the first day of class. Michele arrives late this evening and tomorrow night we have a big welcome dinner with everyone. As always, there shall be much more to come.
I’ve just returned from one of the best days yet of our short time in Seoul. It’s Tuesday evening, 9:30pm and tonight was the big welcome dinner for all of us Simmons folks. But I can’t start there, I need to go back to Monday first.
Monday was the first day of class for all five of the students and Kevin as the professor. Andrea and some of the other students will blog about their in class experience so I’ll leave that to them. I spent the day getting settled into the library science office where I have a desk and computer and multiple Yonsei grad students who are constantly available to help me. I feel rather like visiting royalty. There were many things to be ironed out and technology to deal with. I got an international cell phone set up through the campus international cell phone office. I’m so grateful such an office exists for folks like myself.
Much of my work day was (and will be) spent emailing to the GSLIS office about our goings on and talking with Kevin and the students about how class was going. There was initial concern about how much the Yonsei students were comprehending but by the afternoon session it was clear they were going to be just fine. The Simmons students are being wonderfully helpful to the Koreans and vice versa. The Americans are offering assistance with understanding the readings while the Koreans are helping us understand the country and find more great places to eat. We’re also hoping for some night life this weekend.
The students from both countries had a lot of work to do after class so the evening was a quiet one.
Today they had class in the morning and then we got a tour of the Yonesi University Library. There are two libraries on campus, the Central Library which is currently being renovated to reopen next year and the new library which was built in 2009. The new library is amazing. It is incredible. It is everything I think a library should be and more. It was funded by Samsung so it has some crazy cutting edge technology going on. There are at least 10 interactive touchscreens that display everything from the map of the campus and library to over 1000 newspapers from 27 countries in 42 languages. It is a beautiful building in many ways as well as being usefully and logically set up. The librarians had a huge hand in the design of it down to adding shelves that slide out from under the main stacks so you can rest your heavy books while browsing. All the furniture and shelving was specifically designed for the library and prototypes were displayed before the final building was done so students could vote on what the furniture would be like.
There are study rooms, class rooms, a theater, a film/sound/photography studio, and a rooftop garden/cafe/open space. There are “intelligent tables” where students can play games, do interactive work, and watch movies. There is a digital koi pond where when you touch the fish they swim away and butterflies flap and fly. There is a variety of green space inside complete with crickets chirping. The entire library collection has RFID tags (radio-frequency identification) including DVD’s so that the collection can be continuously checked to see what is in and what is circulating. It is the first library in Korea to have this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio-frequency_identification#Libraries
You can explore the library through their virtual tour and learn more here: http://library.yonsei.ac.kr/main/main.do?sLang=en
I have a bunch of pictures that you can check out here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65914161@N03/sets/
I’d apologize for all the geeking out about the library but I’m not actually sorry.
This evening we had an incredible dinner with faculty from Yonsei and Simmons as well as graduate students from Yonsei and all of the visiting Simmons graduate students. It was great fun and great food. That about wraps it up for tonight but stay tuned for more on Thursday after we have our first class in the Library classroom and visit the National Library of Korea.
Apologies for going so long without updating, I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath.
It’s been a very busy week here and suddenly it’s Friday morning and we leave tomorrow! I know it’s cliche but it is nonetheless true: I don’t know how it went by so fast! It’s a grey and humid day here which is one of the main weather experiences of my time in Seoul. I can’t say I’ve gotten used to it exactly but it certainly is something I’ve come to expect. One of my strongest memories of this trip will be of the sea of umbrellas that seemed to be everywhere we went.
To catch up on this last week: Michele’s class started on Monday and finishes today. There will be blogs from Andrea and others about the class. Monday afternoon I took time off and went back to Insadong with Lori and Chris (who didn’t take Michele’s course). Much shopping was done and many gifts acquired. We also had an incredible vegetarian dinner at a Buddhist restaurant called Sanchon. It was a 20 course meal including the tea and it was quite lovely. We had no idea what we were eating much of the time but it really didn’t matter. The dishes kept coming and we kept eating.
At 8pm the lights suddenly dimmed and in the center of the restaurant a woman in a traditional costume appeared. What followed was a variety of beautiful performances of all types including an elegant crane dance, a fan dance and drumming. It was a really neat evening.
Wednesday I went to Everland with Chris and Lori: http://www.everland.com/MultiLanguage/english/index.html It was a day of regressing to our 12-year-old selves as we experienced a very fun day of amusement park rides. We rode the steepest wooden roller coaster in the world, I went upsidedown on more than one ride (a first for me), ate lots of frozen goodies and saw a fantastic light parade and fireworks show. We did choose not to try the peanut butter roasted squid which is a regret we’ll just have to live with.
Yesterday was a day of work and class and then we visited the National Archives in the afternoon. That was a very cool site visit as we saw both the digital preservation aspect and the traditional conservation side as well. We got a full tour of their facilities and a lecture from the director. We learned about their disaster preparedness and saw restoration occuring on presidential papers that had recently been damaged by the flooding of the Han.
After the tour of the National Archives we headed back to the city for our farewell dinner. As Jee Yeon said during her toast-it seems like yesterday that we just had our welcome gathering. It was a very fun evening and as usual, many tasty dishes were consumed. After dinner a bunch of us went out for drinks and we discovered through Juhee, one of the Yonsei students who will be at Simmons this fall, that we could order fresh pineapple juice with soju in it. It was a very tasty discovery.
Now it’s Friday morning and I’m in the office wrapping stuff up and contemplating what I’ll eat for my last lunch and dinner in Seoul. Far too many good options. Tomorrow morning we fly back to Boston. We leave Seoul at 10:30 on Saturday morning and we land in Boston at 5:30pm on Saturday evening. It’s like time travel!
Overall this has been a fantastic trip. We’ve learned a lot about library and information science in Korea, we’ve eaten incredible meals and we’ve made great new friends and colleagues. It’s been interesting to be here during such tumultous time in the world with the riots in London, international stock markets plunging up and down and a multitude of other chaos. I don’t think it’s possible to understand a culture, a city or a people in only two weeks but I do feel I’ve gained much from my little glimpse into life in Seoul. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here and I look forward to coming back next year to continue the connection between Yonsei and Simmons.
Friday afternoon we celebrated the last day of Kevin’s course and Chris Carter’s last class ever as a GSLIS student. Two gorgeous cakes: Green tea sweet potato and a fresh cream cake with berries were consumed by students, faculty and staff with great enjoyment after the guest lecture ended. Then the students and I went off for a night of shopping, consuming far too much chicken in various forms and a little soju enjoyment as well.
Saturday was a long day spent at the Korean Folk Life Village: http://www.koreanfolk.co.kr/folk/english/main.html We saw various traditional performances, wandered among the traditional houses from different regions of Korea and I particularly enjoyed their Folk Life Museum. It was set up as a calendar year, starting with New Year’s Day and ending at the end of December. Very informative even if only parts of each exhibit were in English.
Saturday evening we were wiped and headed to a very tasty Italian place right by campus called The Kitchen. Had my first real salad since we got here and very good pasta.
Sunday everyone went off in different directions. I went to Itaewon which is an international area near the US military base. I saw more white people than I have the whole trip. I can’t say that was my favorite part. I did have an amazng Turkish lunch and went to a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jjimjilbang which is a Korean spa. It was fantastic. For only 8,000 won (about $8 usd) you can stay all day/night, use all sorts of services and just nap on warm floors if you’d like. I really enjoyed Itaewon overall, especially once I got off the main drag. There are African, Turkish, Pakistani, and Chinese restaurants to name just a few. People from all those countries and more live in the area. There is also a mosque on the hill which I didn’t visit because I wasn’t appropriately dressed but they do normally welcome visitors. Itaewon is also known for being the only area of Seoul that is at all gay and lesbian friendly, the GLBTQ community is not one that is particularly welcomed in Korean culture at this point.
From there I went to Seoul Forest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seoul_Forest which wasn’t exactly a forest but was a very neat, very large park. A portion of it goes right down to the Han River which was really neat. There is a sculpture garden, lots of ponds, a huge deer corral and a concert venue. There was music playing as I left in the evening and lots of families sitting on the grass listening.
I went from the forest to Seoul Tower. In retrospect not the most exciting part of my day. Long lines going up and down and it really wasn’t that interesting to me. Some of the students had gone earlier in the day and they walked up the long, long hill in daylight and said it was very cool. I went up by taxi in the rain and by the time I had to stand in a line to go in the elevator and then wait again to go back down I was perhaps a bit cranky. It was pretty to see the city and all the lights at night but not really worth it in my opinion.
Today is Monday, August 8th and Dean Cloonan’s class just started a few hours ago. Three of the Simmons students are taking it with 13 of the Yonsei folks. We’re all looking forward to another interesting and fun week. We visit more libraries on Tuesday and Thursday and have our farewell dinner Thursday night. I can’t believe we’re already making plans for departing on Saturday.
I’ve added more pics to the food section on Flickr and a general file of photos of Korea. http://www.flickr.com/photos/65914161@N03/sets/72157627355259012/
Yesterday we visited the National Library of Korea and the National Digital Library. Both a very impressive libraries and the National Digital Library really redefines the traditional idea of what a library is. It has many of the same technologies available as the Samsung library here at Yonsei: touchscreens, intelligent tables, a plethora of online resources and computers, media labs, recording studios and more. There is a hallway that connects the NDL and the NLK and they talk about how it connects the digital and analog worlds.
We got a great tour of the conservation labs as well as an introduction to the rare books collection at the NLK.
Link to pictures of the National Digital Library and the National Library of Korea: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65914161@N03/sets/72157627234835623/
And here’s a link pictures of what you’re all really interested in-the food! http://www.flickr.com/photos/65914161@N03/sets/72157627355259012/