Life in Seoul #7: Daehak-ro, Ihwa Mural Village, Dongdaemun

I wish I could walk to Bali

With the aim of releasing stress after midterm exams, I went to visit Ihwa Mural Village last Friday. I saw the reviews about this  residential area on other people’s blog, and I thought it would be interesting to see by myself. Plus, I had a good time wandering around Gamcheon Cultural Village in Busan last year (even though I forgot to write the story on this blog :p) and I wanted to check out the “Seoul version” of that village.

Getting off at Hyehwa station, and getting out through exit 2, I found myself walking on Daehak-ro (or Daehangno), which literally means “University Street”. The street feels so artistic, partly because of the red shades of fall season.

Daehak-ro (1)
Daehak-ro (2)
Daehak-ro (3)

For some reason I saw many groups of high school students in their uniform walking along the street. I assume there were doing campus visit because the university entrance exam will be held in November.

Korean high school students

After walking for about 5 minutes, I found signs showing how to reach Ihwa Mural Village. Anyone can easily follow the signs, which I think lead to some different points. Apparently the way I was taking led me to Naksan Park first. From here you can see Seoul from above. The sky was not so clear when I was there, though.

Naksan Park
Seoul from above

After walking up for 3-4 minutes I finally arrived at the mural village. Well, I don’t think words can describe the village better than pictures, so here you go…

Ihwa Mural Village (1)
Ihwa Mural Village (2
Ihwa Mural Village (3)
Ihwa Mural Village (4)
Ihwa Mural Village (5)

Getting back down, I initially had no idea of where to go next. But then I saw a sign saying “Dongdaemun Historical Park”. Without further thinking, I just walked down the street following the signs.

Cheonggyecheon

And, here’s where I ended up shopping at! Dongdaemun! (p.s. the shopping malls in Dongdaemun actually sell similar pieces of clothes, so make sure to check out different places before deciding to buy anything. That way you wouldn’t be upset of finding something cheaper than what you just bought :p)

Dongdaemun area
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Kuliah di Negeri Orang: Full Time vs Exchange

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Februari 2014
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Februari 2014

Alhamdulillah selama masa kuliah s1, saya berkesempatan untuk merasakan kuliah di dua tempat yang berbeda dengan status yang juga berbeda. Post ini sekedar sharing pengalaman yang saya alami selama kuliah di negeri orang baik sebagai full time student ataupun exchange student. Semoga bermanfaat!

1. Pendaftaran

Untuk proses pendaftaran, tentunya masing-masing universitas dan negara punya sistem yang berbeda-beda. Kadang ada orang yang bertanya ke saya, “gimana sih cara kuliah di luar negeri?”. Hm. Itu pertanyaan yang jawabannya bisa lebih panjang dari tugas kuliah. Pesan saya sih, rajin-rajin lah mencari informasi dari internet atau sumber lain seperti kedutaan. Bertanya ke teman yang berpengalaman tentu boleh-boleh saja, tapi usahakan saat bertanya sudah ada gambaran mau belajar apa di negara mana.

Saya sendiri mendaftar ke Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) lewat kantor perwakilan yang ada di Indonesia. Persyaratannya waktu itu (tahun 2011) adalah nilai TOEFL, rapor dan ijazah SMA, dan essai. Setelah mengumpulkan berkas ada proses wawancara via telepon dengan admissions office APU. Untuk lebih lengkapnya lihat di sini.

Sedangkan untuk pendaftaran exchange ke Korea University, saya mendaftar lewat academic office di APU. Universitas saya memang mengadakan seleksi exchange ini tiap semester. KU adalah salah satu pilihan tujuannya. Jadi bagi yang berminat mengikuti program seperti ini memang harus up to date soal program di universitas masing-masing.

2.Persiapan sebelum berangkat

Yang paling penting sebelum berangkat merantau ke suatu negara pastinya membuat visa alias izin masuk ke negara tersebut. Bagi yang dapat beasiswa untuk biaya hidup, biasanya pembuatan visa lebih mudah. Tapi bagi yang harus menanggung biaya hidup senditri (termasuk saya di bulan-bulan pertama) pembuatan visa ini bisa menghabiskan segentong air mata hahaha. Eh, tapi serius, “hanya” karena gagal menunjukkan saldo sekia di bank, keberangkatan kita bisa gagal, walaupun sudah diterima universitas. Karena itu, bagi yang ingin kuliah di luar negeri, pastikan orang tua menyanggupi untuk mengusahakan pembuatan visa ini. Banyak trik yang bisa digunakan, kok. Tapi saya nggak akan bahas di sini ya hehehe.

3. Biaya kuliah (dan beasiswa)

Seperti yang saya bilang sebelumnya, proses pendaftaran universitas di tiap negara itu berbeda-beda. Begitu juga dengan beasiswa yang ditawarkan. Beasiswa ini bisa datang dari universitas, perusahaan, foundation, ataupun pemerintah negara tersebut. Bagi yang mau ke Jepang misalnya, ada MEXT Scholarship (a.k.a. Monbusho) dan Mitsui-Bussan. Di Korea sendiri ada Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP). Saya ingatkan sekali lagi, rajin-rajinlah mencari informasi.

APU sebagai salah satu universitas swasta di Jepang punya program tuition reduction alias potongan harga untuk biaya kuliah, dari 0% sampai 100%. Beasiswa ini bentuknya bukan berupa uang tapi langsung berupa potongan tagihan. Pada dasarnya tidak ada syarat tambahan untuk beasiswa ini, tapi APU tidak pernah menjelaskan apa yang menjadi pertimbangannya. Jadi jangan tanya saya karena saya juga nggak tahu hehehe. Untuk biaya hidup, ada beberapa beasiswa yang bisa di-apply setelah sampai di Jepang, seperti Honors Scholarship dari JASSO atau beasiswa dari pemerintah Beppu city dan Oita prefecture. Alhamdulillah beberapa tahun terakhir Honors Scholarship sebesar 48,000 yen diberikan ke semua mahasiswa baru selama 1-2 semester.

Sementara di untuk exchange program di KU, ada dua beasiswa yang ditawarkan tahun ini yaitu Global Korea Scholarship dan Global KU Scholarship. Namanya memang sangat mirip sampai-sampai orang international office pun sering salah sebut. Yang pertama sumbernya dari pemerintah Korea dengan besar 800,000 won per bulan. Sementara yang kedua adalah beasiswa dari KU sendiri. Pendaftarannya di buka beberapa bulan sebelum program dimulai.

4. Kerja sambilan

Banyak negara, termasuk Jepang dan Korea, yang memberi izin untuk bekerja part time sambil kuliah. Nah, tapi perlu diingat, untuk bekerja diperlukan yang namanya work permit. Biasanya proses pembuatan work permit cukup makan waktu. Karena itu, untuk yang ikut program exchange, terutama yang hanya beberapa bulan, bisa jadi work permit baru keluar saat kalian hampir pulang dari negara tersebut.

Saya sendiri pernah bekerja sebagai tukang sapu kelas (walaupun gabut hahaha), penerjemah, dan guru bahasa Inggris selama di Jepang. Alhamdulillah pendapatan sekitar 650-850 yen per jam cukup untuk makan dan keperluan sehari-hari. Sedangkan karena alasan di atas, ditambah bahasa Korea yang masih sangat kurang, saya tidak membuat work permit di Korea.

5. Jalan-jalan

Nah, kalau buat saya, ini yang paling penting dalam kehidupan sebagai mahasiswa. Selama tinggal di Jepang, saya biasanya membatasi jajan dan tidak belanja pakaian (karena memang nggak suka juga sih) selama 4 bulan kuliah. Nah, saat libur kuliah sekitar 2 bulan itu lah saya “ngehedon” dengan jalan-jalan ke kota-kota lain. Hal ini didukung juga oleh tempat tinggal saya yang jauh dari pusat-pusat keramaian. Tapi selama di Korea, rasanya sangat susah untuk menahan diri nggak ke mana-mana karena saya tinggal di ibukota Seoul. Jadi deh hampir setiap weekend saya pergi ke luar Seoul. Tapi tentunya saya tetap ingat prinsip hidup sederhana dan hemat, dong. Kartu pelajar dan paspor adalah dua senjata yang ampuh untuk menghemat biaya perjalanan, karena beberapa tempat atau alat transportasi punya diskon khusus untuk pelajar dan/atau orang asing.

“Jadi intinya, enak nggak kuliah di luar negeri?”

Waduh, ini sih lebih susah dijawab dari pertanyaan pertama tadi. Yang pasti, dengan tinggal jauuuuh dari orang tua saya benar-benar bisa belajar mandiri. Kadang saya ingin skype ke rumah, tapi keluarga sedang tidak online. Kadang saya dalam keadaan darurat dan butuh sesuatu, tapi chat whatsapp saya baru dibaca beberapa jam setelah dikirim. Selain itu saya jadi lebih tahu kebiasaan orang-orang dari negara-negara lain, dari yang baik sampai yang buruk. Mengenal suatu budaya dari orangnya langsung pastinya jauh lebih seru daripada melihat di TV.

Tapi yang namanya kesulitan itu pasti juga ada, apalagi di awal. Saya sempat frustasi karena sering “salah makan”, alias salah beli makanan yang ternyata tidak halal. Siapa juga yang nyangka snack cokelat bisa mengandung babi? Tapi sekarang saya senang-senang aja, tuh. Bukan senang makan babi ya, naudzubillah, hahaha. Senang karena jadi ada bahan obrolan kalau ada orang yang tanya kenapa saya nggak makan daging non-halal, kenapa saya nggak minum, kenapa saya tidak boleh pamer rambut dan kulit, dsb. Komentar dai para penanya itu justru sering membuat saya makin bersyukur jadi orang beriman.

Oh, kembali ke soal full time versus exchange, masing-masing pastinya ada plus dan minusnya. Bagi yang kuliah 4 tahun di luar negeri, kesempatan untuk pulang ke Indonesia dan bertemu keluarga pastinya tidak banyak. Kadang jadi sedikit ketinggalan berita-berita dan kejadian penting di Indonesia. Tapi enaknya kita bisa benar-benar belajar kebudayaan dan bahasa setempat. Sedangkan pergi exchange 1 atau 2 semester memang menambah pengalaman juga, tapi mungkin tidak sebanyak yang full time. Enaknya, kita bisa membandingkan sistem pendidikan dan lingkungan di Indonesia dan negara tujuan.

Mau kuliah di Indonesia atau di luar negeri, full time atau exchange, semua bisa jadi baik atau buruk. Yang lebih penting itu niatnya, kan? Ok deh selamat mencoba! Keep dreaming and praying!

Life in Seoul #6: Arirang Jeongsun Festival

Hotteok! (plus a glimpse of the venue)

Arirang Jeongsun Festival, a Korean traditional festival was held from October 9th to 12th in Jeongsun, Gangwon Province. I went to Jeongsun by taking the cheap and convenient Gangwon Shuttle Bus. With only 5000 won, I could get a round-trip ticket from Seoul to Jeongsun, accompanied with a nice guide with sufficient English ability. You can take the from near Gwanghwamun station and it leaves at 7 a.m. You can check here for more information on the bus, including reservation.

One thing that made me a little disappointed was how the supposedly 2.5-hour journey went longer to 4-hour. Nevertheless, the good weather–warmer than I expected–plus beautiful scenery around the festival’s venue made me super excited.

The first thing I did was just walk around the stalls. I found so many shikdang, or stalls selling traditional Korean food with all-you-can-eat system. The other stalls mostly sold agricultural products like vegetables or fruits.

One of the stalls selling… pumpkins?

Since I was already full with rice balls I bought in the convenience store, I decided to just buy hotteok or Korean pancake. There were some other snacks like waffle or dried squid. There were even the so-called “international stalls” selling Japanese takoyaki or Turkish kebab and ice cream.

The main attraction of the festival is actually Arirang (Korean traditional song) performance. When I was there on the 11th, I managed to watch a singing competition for foreigners. There were Nepalese, Chinese, and Japanese contestants, all with perfect Korean pronunciation (at least in my ears) and relatively nice voices.

One of the contestants

Besides the main stage, there was also a smaller stage with some seemingly professional arirang performers. But rather than watching the performance, I was amused by how halmeoni and haraboji (grandmas and grandpas) looked sooo happy watching it! Ah, I love cute elderly people. :p

Before going back to the bus at 4 p.m., I walked across the venue and found a nice, tranquil river. The clean water and bright sky were such an amazing combination.

Across the venue (1)
Across the venue (2)

The way back home also took 4 hours, but this time I was more “prepared”. And when the bus stopped at a rest area for toilet break, I ran to a convenience store to buy some snacks–just to kill the boredom LOL.

Overall, I would suggest you all–especially those who re-visit Korea–to try taking this kind of shuttle bus. Besides the one I was taking, there is one going to Jeonju as well. The atmosphere of smaller cities in Korea is really nice, especially when you’re bored with big city routines.

Life in Seoul #5: Eid al Adha, Seoul International Fireworks Festival

The fireworks (1)

So apparently there were some different decisions from ulama around the world on when the 10th of Dzulhijjah was. While muslims in Indonesia and Japan celebrated in on October 5th, we in Korea conducted eid prayer on the 4th. Nevertheless, I was so happy to be able to experience my first eid in Korea.

I went to Seoul Central Masjid, also known as Itaewon Mosque with my Malaysian friend early in the morning. The prayer itself started at 10. A little bit late, but I guess it was to let muslims living in the outskirts come as well. As expected I met a lot of Malaysians and other Indonesians. But what caught my eyes were Korean muslimah (muslim women) with their kids. Another thing that made me amazed was, subhanallah, the prayer was lead by a Korean imam. His recitation was really clear and smooth, and I bet I was not the only one being moved there.

The view from sisters’ floor

After the prayer, I was introduced with my friends’ friend, who introduced me to her friends (sorry for the confusion). Long story short, I had lunch with three inspiring Indonesian students (wait, I guess one of them is working now). Somehow I felt like meeting long lost friends despite the fact that I just knew them that day.

So this random encounters continued until I was introduced to another girl who apparently was my senior in high school. She asked me to go with her to Seoul International Fireworks Festival. As someone who loves fireworks, I had no reason to say no.

I was more than surprised to see how crowded the venue at Yeouido Hangang Park (one of the parks facing Han river)  was. Yeoinaru station, the station closest to this park, was even closed due to the overload of passengers. Some Koreans even build camping tents there! According to my friend, these people had stayed there since the day before, just to make sure they have the best spot. This is because the festival is held only once in a year.

This is just… 10% of the actual crowd

Indeed, the show was pretty cool. I liked the finale because it just felt different. Maybe because the sky literally turned red (my fave color!) for a moment.

The finale

Going home after the 1.5-hour fireworks show was much tougher than I thought. Knowing that taking subway might as well mean committing suicide, I followed my friend’s friends living in the same area and went home by bus. Another new experience for me who prefers taking subway most of the time.

Life in Seoul #4: Incheon Runaway

Incheon Asiad Main Stadium
Incheon Asiad Main Stadium

So, as I told you before, I got a free ticket to watch athletics on Incheon Asian Games 2014 (yeay! Alhamdulillah!). Since going to Incheon from Seoul needs some effort, and the game would start at 6:30 pm, I tried to find some other stuff to do before the game.

I stumbled upon a website which said that the Airport Railway would go to a temporary station called Yongyu Station, which is one station further from Incheon Airport (which means it’s so close to the sea). This is rather unique because it actually doesn’t look like a station at all. Stepping out of the train, we just had to go a little bit downstairs and there we are in the “outside world”. Even the card-tapping machine is located outdoors!

Yongyu Station
Yongyu Station

Not knowing where exactly to go, we just followed some old lady assuming that they would go to the best spot nearby. We ended up walking for around 1 km and reached a wharf. Apparently, we could took a ferry to cross the sea and reach Muuido Island, an island with beautiful beaches. The lady at the tourist information center just right across the wharf was nice enough to suggest what to do to us, in English. Unfortunately we couldn’t seem to go because of hour time limit.

On the way to the wharf (1)
On the way to the wharf (1)
On the way to the wharf (2)
On the way to the wharf (2)

Knowing that there was almost nothing to see nearby, and that the train back to Geomam (where the stadium at) was only coming once in an hour, we decided to head back. Before going to Geomam station, we stopped by at Unseo station so that my friend could check in to the hostel she was planning to stay at. Go here if you want to check the hostel out. I only saw a glimpse of it, but it looked clean and nice. Plus, it’s only about 5 minutes away from Unseo station.

According to the hostel owner, there’s a park with sea view in a walking distance. We tried walking there, but we didn’t seem to reach the park mentioned by the owner. It was okay, though, because we got to see local neighborhood which somehow looked European.

The neighborhood
The neighborhood

After eating Japanese udon for (very late) lunch, we headed straight to the train station. Alhamdulillah we could reach Geomam station before 6 pm, which means we could still take the free shuttle bus provided by Asian Games committee departing every 30 minutes. We found many foreigners on the bus–they probably won the free tickets just like I did LOL.

The stadium itself was pretty crowded with Korean small families. They brought their cute children to cheer for Korean athletes. Since I found no Indonesians in the list of finalists, I just cheered for random athletes LOL. Oh, and since it was an athletic game, we could see many different branches simultaneously.

Inside the stadium
Inside the stadium

I was never a fan of athletics, but it felt really great to see how the athletes compete. I even almost cried every time the medal-giving ceremony took place.