As an international student at UIC, I have had many first-time encounters with students from all over the world – especially Koreans. I realized that many foreigners face very similar questions during first encounters. This led me to request one of my fellow colleagues, Jaipriya, as well as one of UIC’s faculty members, Professor Hope, to share their response to commonly asked questions, in the hope of providing a wider perspective to those who ask them.
Where are you from?
Professor Michael Hope: I am originally from Melbourne but before coming to Korea, I have lived in Canberra for 7 years. Canberra is a very small town with only about 3,000 people, although it is the capital. It is surrounded by mountains and bushland, which is why I like Songdo. Songdo is a good transition to Korea but in terms of population or the degree to which people observe road rules, it is quite different. We lived at the bottom of National Park and I enjoyed walks being surrounded by kangaroos, horses, and all sorts of things. In Songdo, I don’t think I have even seen a squirrel.
Jaipriya: I am from India.
What brought you to Korea?
Professor Michael Hope: I’d be lying if I said it was anything other than work. I would have never even put Korea on the list of possibilities of places to go, but Yonsei is a big university and one of the few where I can actually teach Mongol history.
Jaipryia: I came to Korea three years ago because my dad got a job here. That is why my whole family came along.
Why made you choose UIC?
Professor Michael Hope: UIC is a very eclectic place. People here have many different disciplines. We actually have one other faculty member who teaches Mongol history! UIC is quite a unique place in terms of the people it takes in. However, in all honesty, I didn’t know that much about UIC prior to my arrival. I am glad I made the move across since Yonsei is very caring towards its faculty members. This is one of the few places where you can have a family life and see your children. That is another reason.
Jaipryia: I chose UIC because it offers good English courses and I wanted to major in International Studies. I looked at other universities in Korea but most of their courses were in Korean.
Do you speak Korean? If so, how did you learn it?
Professor Michael Hope: My Korean has gotten worse since coming to Korea. When I got the job, there was a period of abut 3 months before I left Australia, so I frantically tried to learn as much Korean as possible and I knew couple sentences. But I remember on my first day in Korea, I went to a shop with my phase book, thinking: “I am going to try this out.” I tried my best to speak broken Korean but the lady behind the counter told me that I could just speak in English. From then, it was a gradual process of decline of my Korean. I do want to learn Korean but I am not sure when I will find time, as I am currently engaged in learning other languages.
Jaipryia: I don’t speak Korean fluently; I am at the intermediate level. I started learning Korean through Korean classes at UIC—earlier, I had a tutor for a couple months.
Do you like Korean music or Korean TV?
Professor Michael Hope: I am not keeping up with my own country’s music and even less with Korea’s. I do not have much time to watch TV or go to the movies– If anything, I just watch the news. I have attended some concerts since coming here—for example, a few symphony performances. My taste is very eclectic; I like classical music or rock, metal which I do not think is very popular in Korea nowadays. I think I became a bit old-fashioned and I can’t really keep up.
Jaipryia: I do like some Korean songs, but I prefer Korean dramas. I watch them a lot.
How is Korea different from your country?
Professor Michael Hope: The formality. One of the Korean professors here had several Australian students and he came to me one day asking why they kept calling him by his first name. I had to assure him that they were not trying to be disrespectful. I myself had to get used to many things during the first year. Students bow a lot and call me “professor.” I myself went through a phase when I didn’t know when to bow so I just bowed all the time. Perhaps our sense of humor is also a bit different. I do have a few Korean friends and I find them very warm, supportive and we do joke around, but I am mindful that there is a difference in our sense of humor. People are different but in a good way, I would say. If you ask for directions in Australia, people will tell you; but here, they will actually take you there.
Jaipryia: For one, the transportation here is clean and easy to use. And I think the environment in general is safer than in India. You can go out at 10 or 11 at night and it is still safe, unlike in India.
Can you eat spicy food well?
Professor Michael Hope: Oh yes. It doesn’t apply to just Korean food —I can eat spicy food well. Before coming to Korea, I was very adventurous with food but unfortunately, a lot of Korean food doesn’t agree with me. I have become quite selective with the types of food I eat here but spice is not the problem.
Jaipryia: Yes, I can eat spicy food well. Even if I can’t I love it. I really like the Korean Tteokbokki.