Ewha Woman’s University
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, let me first defend myself.
The ISEP network (the program I applied with) only has a select number of AACSB schools on their list of globally accredited institutions. In order to take any business courses while abroad – at least ones I wanted to transfer – I had to ensure the school I was applying to met this requirement. As it turns out, Ewha Woman’s University is one of the only institutions in the network on this side of the world that meets the criteria. My mistake was not saving enough electives so that I could give myself some latitude when choosing my courses. Suffice it to say that coordinating my class schedule with Ewha and IPFW has been, well, a bit cumbersome.
Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to document my travels chronologically. My only qualm with this logic is that my whole experience has been a tad bit scrambled, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t follow a strict timetable. In this way, if you the reader are able to stomach this than I will be able to provide a more perfect portrait for your viewing pleasure.
Well, I’ve been here for roughly three weeks now.
I arrived at Incheon International Airport (ICN) on February 23rd five unfortunate minutes after 0600. Arrival was much simpler than my departure however, primarily because they didn’t tear open my luggage looking for contraband. I am grateful the O’Hare TSA decided to bust open my bicycle case in search of …neatly packed drugs inside of my bike tubes? Too much shampoo? I don’t know. Regardless, I can’t fault them because the last thing I wanted was an eventful flight. A turbulence, sickness, Ted Kaczynski-free flight is my favorite kind of flight. Ultimately I was a good sport about it and was happy that the TSA agent and I could at least make small talk, as he himself was an avid cyclist. He seemed like a good dude – apparently he does a two hundred mile ride around Chicago annually for a Multiple-Sclerosis charity event. It’s amazing what you can learn from people if you’re patient and gracious.
I’m getting side-tracked.
My arrival was not without a hitch, however. Before I left I received a message from Ewha offering to set up exchange students arriving at similar times with a shuttle service. The dormitory wasn’t open for move-in until the 23rd, so naturally most of us arrived the same day. I happened to be the only one flying out of the Midwest (USA) in the morning though, so I was the first arrival of the day. I originally thought I was going to shuttle with two people from China named Wei Wei Wei and Wing Ming Tong (yes that is only two people). After waiting in front of Lotteria at the airport baggage claim for an hour it became apparent that I was not, in fact, waiting for Wei Wei Wei and Wing Ming Tong. The gentlemen I met from the shuttle service quickly left in search of my travel mate(s) shortly after I found him. I can’t remember his name now, but lets just call him “Mr. Shaolin” for all intensive purposes. Thankfully some other Americans going to different schools were waiting for others to arrive as well, I presume under similar arrangements made through their respective host institutions. I struck up a conversation with a girl from Missouri who was going to be studying education at Yonsei – a hop, skip and a jump from Ewha – in preparation to teach English there for a year.
By around 8:45am my travel companion finally showed face. Not to be unkind, but this girl looked utterly frazzled. A student from Northern Arizona University, this girl flew in from Vegas and had some serious issues, not personally, but with her landing and customs experience. A brutal mid-flight storm, semi-malfunctioning landing gear, and a two-hour scrutiny of all personal belongings in customs had her feeling a little bit salty – Lawry’s! When Mr. Shaolin came back, we crammed our gear into the back of the least glamorous air-ride equipped van in the parking lot and set out for Ewha.
On to the campus!
I didn’t think we were at the right place when the strictly Korean-speaking driver finally booted us. Having spent considerable time obsessing over the pictures on the school website, I was sure of it. I was aware that Ewha was the name of both the neighborhood and the university, but I didn’t think “Ewha Elementary School” was exactly the kind of reputable business education I had sought out in Korea’s very own Gotham City. So here I am toting around this monstrosity of a bike case, my backpack, and luggage uphill and downwind of that lovely big city stench. It’s kind of like driving through the country in Northern Indiana, or really any farm country, except the smell isn’t cow manure.
Eventually we spotted some other tourist-types with luggage and annoyed faces. So together we set out West – and eventually – we struck gold. The housing office is in the bottom of the Graduate Student Dormitory complex, which as it turns out, is next door to the elementary school. Only a slight oversight on my part. Apparently the campus of Ewha includes the elementary school, high school, and university.
From what I understand, the university is the only gender-prohibitive piece of Ewha (at least for domestic residents). Signing in was pretty seamless. They gave us an Orientation packet, which included: one student handbook, a student ID, a building key card, one locker cabinet key, and the numeric passcode to each of our rooms. Most male international students stay in the International House and Annex Building, which is next door to the Graduate Student Dormitory. I was unaware of this, so when I found out that I was one of two males staying in the Graduate Student Building I had to slow it way down. Apparently Ewha’s housing application (for any students interested in applying, it is a colossal pain, so make sure to coordinate with Meg in the study abroad office) automatically decides which building when you choose double room instead of single. I chose double room, because $1,000 extra dollars staying in my pocket? I think yes.
My roommate Rafael is from Brazil. He is a pretty cool guy, but he clearly misses his beaches (no pun) and sunshine. He’s an invaluable resource, having already spent a semester here at Ewha. He’s an architecture student who religiously plays DOTA or something. Regardless, he shows me something cool usually – whether it’s a cool shortcut, how to use the Seoul metro, or where I can find affordable food on campus – which makes acclimating to the culture much easier.
Campus, Classes, Conversations
I had serious trouble accessing the network that Ewha uses before I left. It made things like accessing my university e-mail really difficult, especially for pertinent information like visa requirements and the course registration schedule. They warned us that MacBook users would run into problems when trying to access their accounts, but man was it a colossal pain. Anyways, at Orientation they told us that we could circumvent any issues by simply using the campus PC’s. Little did we know, February 26th would highlight just how hipster the exchange student class of 2016 really was.
It was a bloodbath.
At precisely 9:00am the course registration period opened. By 8:00am however, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that eager foreigners occupied every computer on campus. Anticipating the masses, I was prepared and arrived early. I was thrilled to find out quickly that the previous user had set everything in Japanese, of all languages! It took some time and elegant guesswork to sort that one out. Fortunately I had done my homework, class list in hand. By 9:05am, every single class I had selected was at capacity. Fortunately, I got them all.
Is a corporation a person? I like that idea.
I ask because my classes are all in buildings named not after people, but rather Shinsegae, Posco, & Hyundai.
Anyways, the campus is elegant, modern, and well put together. A renowned French architect designed the ECC (pictured above), Ewha’s money shot, so to speak. It is one of the coolest complexes I have ever been in. It is propped in front of the main gate and welcomes visitors with sky-high walls and other visually appealing aesthetics. The complex itself is underground. The campus bookstore, Shinhan Bank, some classrooms, an auditorium, a movie theater, coffee shops, administration offices and a plethora of study spaces are all housed in this one-of-a-kind space.
Everything I’m taking course wise lines up particularly well with the classes I would take this semester if I were at IPFW. All of the professors have a strong command of the English language, which makes life infinitely simpler for me. Much like IPFW, they all have impressive resumes. Come to find out, this is the last semester my Financial Derivatives professor will spend at Ewha having accepted a teaching position at Harvard. Naturally he pushed his future colleagues expensive textbook on us. A small price to pay for a resource of that caliber. My International Business Management (IBM) class is really interesting, too. For me it was important to take classes that weren’t plain vanilla (Rocks for Jocks, Underwater Basket Weaving, etc.). I thought the prudent thing to do would be to seek courses pertinent to my major that possessed a component of globalization. It’s probably easiest to learn about the Korean stock exchange, legal system, and corporations in Korea, huh? Unlike most of my classes – where I am either the only male or foreigner – IBM has a multitude of diversity. I made some friends in there from Switzerland that are well-educated, funny, and not to be underestimated. Like myself, they are a little bit older than most 18-22 undergraduates. The only difference is that they have already started their careers for quaint little firms like UBS, and are taking a leave of absence to study and travel. It’s best to dust it off and hope that soon we’ll be colleagues. Remember, I think: humility.
The other night I went out with one of them and met two of her friends studying at another university. We took the subway from Ewha Station to Euljiro 3(sam)-ga and walked to Myeongdong to meet them up for street food before hitting the bars. My encounter with Swiss nationals can be summed up by the following: they are tall, good-looking, well-dressed people with deep pockets. Thankfully, they were down to earth enough to go bar-hopping all night with an American. When spring finally comes in full force, the rooftop bar we started off at in Myeongdong will be much better. That’s another thing, land is a hot commodity here in Seoul, so there isn’t really anywhere to build but up. It’s not uncommon to eat Bibimbap on the second floor, take an elevator to a bar on the third floor and drink, leave that bar and elevator up another floor, order drinks in the bar on that floor, and take the spiral staircase to the rooftop patio. When you’re done, you can grab an ice-cold beverage cheaply in the convenience store from the first floor to sip on for the journey to the next bar. At one point we went to this bar that was pretty swanky. We had to laugh after we ordered from a skimpily dressed waitress and glanced over at the piano player sipping single-malt scotch with one hand and confidently running a smooth melody with the other. In the corner, some Wall Street types were furiously generating a mountain of cigarette butts and intensely hammering out the details of some deal – at least in my mind. I’m not sure what the equivalent of the Triads or Gambino Family is in Korea, but I’m not ruling that out. We ended the night at a hole-in-the wall eating fried chicken, drinking Cass, laughing and telling stories. Because the lines don’t run after midnight, I split a cab with Tina back to Edae.
Today I went to the movie theater on campus to see London Has Fallen. Fully expecting a Korean voiceover, I was pleased to find out that the film was in English with Korean subtitles.
The movie itself was about as good as you would expect, per Rotten Tomatoes. Cheesy explosions, disappointing acting, tons of action and f-bombs. In summary, a jaded Middle Eastern arms dealer plots the assassination of major world leaders at a state funeral. He is only partially successful; the whole movie revolves around the head of security detail for the US president who attempts to recover him after he is kidnapped, as the barbarians responsible for the attack plan to broadcast his execution live on Youtube but encounter problems turning on the Internet after coordinating the most comprehensive terrorist attack in history. Skip to the end of the movie, a drone can be seen hovering over the location of the arms dealer in the Middle East. As hellfire rains down on the terrorist mastermind, the voice of Vice President Morgan Freeman can be heard saying with charisma, “And May God Bless the United States of America.”
The screen goes blank, and is met with instantaneous applause. As I joined in I must have shed a single tear – three shades, equal parts red, white, and blue – as a bald eagle broke free from the projector and soared over the audience, stretching it’s enormous wingspan, shielding all patrons from adversity to come.
I think I like it here.
Next up: North Korea