Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Guide to Studying in Korea II

Somehow, I believe there are still many new things to see and experience even if we have stayed in a country for quite some time. This is now my fourth year in Korea and I have yet to visit the little Korean island called Jeju (제주도), a little less than an hour ride by plane from Daegu.

Hangang River Cruise in Seoul
Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju
I have seen many friends graduating one after another and it is always a bitter sweet moment. I am happy to see them graduating but I do not know what is next for me after my graduation.

There is so many possibilities and frankly, I am quite reluctant to make a firm decision on what's next after the hard mortar board placed over my head. One more year and I'm taking it one step at a time.


These days, Korea attracts a lot of students around the world for its decent and affordable education. A small minority of them are sponsored by the Korean government, and the rest are self paying students (mostly from the mainland China). Malaysia, as far as I know, is the only country sending students to Korea under the Public Service Department (JPA) or the MARA scholarships.

In my case, I am the Korean government scholar and when I first arrived to Korea, I was pretty clueless because I was never a fan of Korean dramas or songs. I was literally "lost" in Korea for a couple of weeks because I can't speak Korean, no buddy, couldn't use my laptop and I did not meet any foreigners (I was wrong though, after a few weeks, I met four helpful Malaysians) living in my university.   

The moral of the story- Some basic Korean language proficiency does helps but what's more important is your sense of adventure, never be afraid to try new things.

Living Cost

This is very subjective and it varies from city to city. In Seoul, a normal meal at the university cafeteria will be around 4000 Won (1200 Won for a roll of Kimbap but eating Kimbap everyday is just too much). In Daegu, it ranges from 2500 Won (A rarity these days unless at the cafeteria) to 4000 Won.

Nevertheless, living in the dormitory is much better because some dormitories (like mine) provide 3 complete meals a day at a lower cost (You have to pay for it in advance and the fee will be already included in the dormitory housing fee).

The Fee for the dormitory (at Kyungpook National University) is around 1,100,000 Won (or approximately 1,000 USD) per semester and this includes the food. Staying outside will cost you around 250,000 Won per month (excluding food) in Daegu but it can be more costly in Seoul. 

Most of the time, the 집주인 (landlord) will ask for a deposit (at least 1,000,000 Won but it is refundable at the end of the contract) as a guarantee.

For Malaysians, treat 1,000 Won as RM 1. This makes life easier if we do not convert the currency. OMG! One watermelon for 60 Ringgit (20,000 Won)? This is crazy! Well, some fruits in Korea can be very expensive.

The strawberries (spring), the persimmons (fall) and the sweet yellowish honeydew (summer) are very cheap depending on the seasons.

Housing: 150,000 Won to 300,000 Won per month
Food: +-200,000 Won 
Telephone bill: 15,000 Won (a normal phone) to 80,000 Won+ (smartphone)


Koreans generally love coffees. Hence, coffee shops are found all over the places. A minute walk from my dormitory, I can find at least 6 cafes. Although, I am not very fond of coffees, I wouldn't mind if people were to treat me with Starbucks coffee- I love it.

However, I would always order Hot Chocolate or Blueberry smoothie if I am with my friends. In a normal cafe, it will be around 3000 to 4000 Won. Yummy.

During exam weeks, it is also not uncommon to see students staying the whole day in the cafe revising. I find most Koreans especially those living in Seoul are very fashionable. Somehow most Asian clothing fit them perfectly.

Nevertheless, most overseas brands are very expensive because it is usually only one distributor monopolizing the business. ZARA, Guess and GAP are mark-up around 20-30% more than the usual price.

Sometimes, I have to wait for sales to afford one. 

However, you can get cheaper ones if you are to shop at hypermarkets (like E-Mart, Homeplus). Jeans is around 20 USD+ and shirts are affordable (maybe around 15 USD each?). You wouldn't be able find such price if you are to shop at Uniqlo (A pair of jeans is around 50 dollars+).

If you can, do not buy any winter clothing from Malaysia (unless if you are coming during winter) because you can get one in Korea similar in price, more variety and of course, better looking. :)

If can, buy the "Heattech" clothing by Uniqlo or equivalent (I am using one from Giordano). It does keep you a little warm as long as it is snugged tightly (fit) around your body. On the other hand, a jacket will be fine during spring and autumn. For first timer to a four season country, adjusting to the temperature can be a bit problematic so bring a thick jacket or sweater if you couldn't bear with the cold.

My city, Daegu, is the third largest city in Korea. There are many places to enjoy and experience the culture, but being a student, like everyone, I have to watch over my spending. Korea has many cheap places to play sports (ex baseball), snooker, karaoke (노래방), and drinking.

Karaoke or Norabang is only around 20,000 Won for 2 hours (depending on the hours) but you can get a smaller room for 1,000 Won per 4 songs. Cheap huh? Besides Korean and English songs, there are plenty of Filipino (very old songs according to my Filipino friend), Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian (old songs too) songs available too.

Cinemas are everywhere. A ticket here is around 7 dollars which is almost double than to Malaysia. (TIPS: If you purchase a ticket for the first screening of the day, there is a discount, a ticket costs only 5,000 Won/less than 5 dollars, but you have to wake up early to watch the maybe 9 am movie!). I did that only once though (because of Milla Jovovich- the sexay Resident Evil zombie slayer. hehe).


One word - Awesome! In cities like Seoul, Daegu and Busan, public transportation there are very efficient, convenient and fast. Understandably, public transportation to places located at the outskirts are hard to find but overall, good. If you are staying in Korea (eg Seoul) for a week plus, it's better to use the transportation card (Seoul T-Money: 3,000 Won).     


Korean language is (depending on people, some find learning Korean easy in the beginning but in my case) difficult when you start but once you have mastered level 2, learning level 3 is surprisingly easier. I went out with many friends even though we can converse in only level 2 Korean.

In Seoul, it is more common to find more Japanese students at the language institutes than other nationalities but in Daegu, the majority of the students are from China.

Level 1 is about the Korean characters and very basic conversations. Level 2, 3 and 4 are all about commonly used grammar and vocabulary. Level 5 and 6 delve into more serious topics like opinions on politics, etc hence, expanding your vocabulary.

Frankly speaking, science subjects during the first year will be very difficult no matter which level you are in. My first year was tough because all scientific terms, books, lectures are all in Korean. And I did not learn any scientific terms (not even one) in Korean during my time at the language institute. I was starting all over again from scratch.

Time passes, and from second year onwards, English books are widely used. Koreans still use translated books (depending on the professor's permission) but most exams are in English. Alright... I chose classes that give English exams paper! Life was easier from then on... 3.77... then to almost 4... You just need to work a little harder and smarter than the Koreans. Nothing is that simple lah.

Depending on the professors, you are allowed to use electronic dictionary to translate the Korean terms during the classes or examinations. Some scientific terms cannot be translated by the dictionary. :( My phone's dictionary perform the same task in translating but the only difference is that you are not allowed to bring your phone into the exam hall.  

Vision Korea 2012

I have almost fulfilled the prerequisites to graduate from my major. Hence, I am now trying to minor in Business Admin. To minor in a particular field of study at my university, you need to complete more than 22 credit hours. I am not sure whether the same applies to other universities in Korea.

Internet is super fast in Korea. Streaming movies, downloading, etc are a breeze but there are many sites that are censored by the Korean Government. Anything to do with pro North Korea is censored. Try searching for "North Korea official website" if you are in Korea and you will know why when you click on that North Korean homepage.

The best part of your life begins during language institute (lots of field trips, free time), drops drastically during your first year, and improve as time passes. I believe as long as you have the perseverance, never give up easily and be optimistic in life, everything will be fine.


Scholarships are not easy to get in Korea. It is like a hit or miss, either you get it or not. A few Koreans I know work as tutors, waitress and even as convenient store employee. Some Koreans too work as staffs in their university department offices to pay for their education.

To obtain a scholarship from any university, you need to have good results. According to my university's scholarship guide, you need to be the top 7% of all international students to receive an 80% (80 percent deduction from your tuition fees) scholarship for the following semester (Top 30% only entitled a 20% scholarship).

My university's link (scholarship, admission info, application, etc): Click here

Study in Korea (Korean Government Scholarship, etc): Click here

Tip: If you love writing, try to apply to be a reporter at your university's English magazine. You might receive an additional 75% scholarship. If your academic results are good too, you need not pay any tuition fees.

My studies are already sponsored by the government so I am not entitled for the 75% scholarship but this is a good way to get free education in Korea for students without any scholarship.    

The Korean government has strict regulations on working part-time for the foreign students and since I haven't work part time before, I cannot comment on this. For some Malaysian students sponsored by the Malaysian government, a handful of them are doing the "Halal" Tour (a tour catering for Malaysian Muslims to Korea, a niche market). All I can say is that they are earning huge sum of money from it.

It is very easy to succumb to the temptation of getting easy money, but as a student, I believe that if you can juggle between both work and your academic obligations, then, go for it, as long as it is legal and within the boundaries of law.

If you want to work but is not so fortunate to get a job, try to apply for part time job at your university's lab, department, etc. The minimum hourly wage is 4,860 Won per hour. (However, if you are working at some restaurants, you might be paid less. Sadly, some employers do not follow the government's directive.)


Spring is cool and refreshing and if you are allergic to pollen, it can be a big inconvenience. Summer is hot and humid (very similar to Malaysia but Daegu is hotter than Malaysia during summer) and yes, we have typhoon in Korea (occurring almost every summer). Autumn is similar to spring. In between seasons, it will rain quite frequently, so be prepared with an umbrella.

Winter is dry and freezing. What makes winter unbearable is the wind factor. The chilly wind does make your ears "numb" so it's good to have ear muffs and muffler to cover your neck but I felt beanie is optional.

Getting a Job/Graduate Studies

To get a job in Korea, it is advisable to graduate from a Korean university. Many companies in Korea require their foreign employees to be at least proficient with conversational Korean. From my conversation with my friends working in Korea, landing a job here without any Korean proficiency is quite difficult. Unless you plan to work as an English teacher, the probability to get a job here is low.

If you are graduating from Korean university, every year (around early October) in Seoul, they will be a career fair for foreign students in Korea. Students can also try applying for internships (and this may lead to full employment after graduation) at every semester.

Link for the 2012 International Student Career fair here (Note: many companies' job offers have already been removed from this homepage). If you plan to further your graduate studies here, you can refer to any Korean university's homepage and find their graduate admission procedures. Scholarships are available but the most rewarding scholarship is from the Korean government.

The merits of graduating in Korea lie not in the strength in their education (not perfect in my opinion), but in the chances of working for a numbers of well known companies headquartered here, learning to adapt in a homogeneous, hierarchical society and experience living in one of the most successful Asian Tiger economies.


In between my free time, I contribute articles for the Korean food (Check them out at the link here) blog. For half-a-year too, I worked as the ASEAN-Korea weblog correspondent, writing articles about my country. I have to admit due to deadline constraint and my other commitments, they were not as perfect as I wanted them to be.

The poem "If" by Robert Frost still holds true to this day and it is one of my favorite poems till this day. I am neither the first to step foot on this Land of Morning Calm nor I am regretting my decision to study in Korea.

Honestly, Korea is still not a preferred destination for education to most people, and I can understand the many reasons behind it. In my case, I love to walk on any untrodden path (the path people rarely take) and enjoy the nice scenery along the way.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

"If" by Robert Frost

May you have a fantastic 2013 and best of luck!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Of Snow and My Thoughts

During my first year in Korea, every time it snows, I would stop all my work and look outside for a while. The following year, snowing became so common, I ignored it and continue on with my life. The last time it snowed was during the new year's day this year, and the timing was really memorable. New year = First snow of the winter season.

At first it snows like this...

After some time...
This year was a bit different. It snowed just now, during my exam week (less than 3 more days before the D-Day). Snows reminds me of many things- that some things just don't last long, just like snows, they melt as soon as the weather turns a little warmer. So I am never easily be disappointed with many failures. I take life easily (and positively). :) 

This may be the second last winter of me living in Korea. My clock now resets whereby I have another year to go before seeing my last snow here. This means time is running up! :( It was an irony because when I first came to Korea, I never even thought of staying in Korea this long even though I was awarded the government scholarship. 

Reason is that I was still awaiting the result for the admission to local university. I applied for medicine. Of course my result was not an "excellent" one but well, who cares? Hehe... After almost 4 years in Korea, when I think of my final year, next year, I feel a little sentimental to be leaving the place I have known for so long, friends I have met and the memories this soon.  

My KNU Times juniors

Like you and me, we may have many dreams. Dreams of what we want to see or become in the future. Some hope to become wealthy, others may want to get a job in well-known companies. Who doesn't? What I am worrying is whether I will love or enjoy what I am doing in the future. I am afraid of putting the importance of money before my interest. 

Not to offend anyone, but after living in Korea and mingling with the foreigners. I found that most Filipinos communities in Korea (of all the other foreigners) prefer living permanently in Korea. Many if not all Filipinos I met hope to settle down in Korea after they graduate, etc. In my humble opinion, this is not wrong but it will exacerbate further brain drain in Philippines. 


Malaysia is facing a big problem too. Everyday is about politics and every news here revolve around politics. What saddens me most is that "ethnic race" is always part of the main discussion. I know it is tough to govern a multicultural country but isn't ethic minorities or majority are citizens too? 

Such negative impressions of the "injustice" from the ethnic minorities, as well as the dissatisfaction of the country's unequal wealth pie felt by the ethnic-majority are detrimental to the nation growth. Then what is the solutions? Malaysia needs to tackle the root cause of it- too much racial elements that were allowed to permeate here and there.

We have a race (and politically) based newspapers, multiple education systems (National, Chinese, Indian, etc), race-based political parties, a race-based armed regiment (e.g. Royal Malay Regiment), different admission processes for certain races, ethnic based quotas, and so forth. Wouldn't it be great if we are matured enough to see the benefits of uniting all Malaysians regardless of ethnicity? Let's start with the overhauling our education system first.

It would be nice to see a single unifying schooling system that all races can be uniquely interested in- classes that are taught fairly and admission to the universities are based on one's own merits. As expected, weak/poor students ought to be given better opportunity to attend additional classes and if needed, other supporting measures in the form of small allowances were given to ensure that they are able to buy books, uniforms, decent meals and attend classes.  

Teachers need to be trained as professionally as possible. Instead of allowing good but retiring teachers to retire, the government can recruit them to train the new teachers. Since the public perception of teaching is not glamorous, attracting bright students to become teachers is difficult. Government can give more overseas scholarships to bright students (interested to become a teacher) on the condition that they will come back and teach the students.

Once in a while, government scholars like from the JPA (Public Service Department) should be given the chance to teach temporarily so as to inspire the younger generations to dream big. Public universities and government's pre-universities that have admission based on ethnic backgrounds needs to be abolished or lowered (albeit temporarily) to ensure students are able to compete academically with each other. Admittedly, weak students need to be given additional support to improve themselves and they should not be penalized if they failed to meet the expectation for the first time.    

When fairness prevails, more Malaysians regardless of ethnicity will consider this country as an ideal place to settle down. This means no more infighting, more local investments, better opportunity for self improvement and the country prospers.
Nevertheless, I also knew such things are difficult to achieve. When the time comes, not necessarily with better education, but with more maturity and experience, Malaysians can live in a better place than before. I know we are not living in an idealistic world but I always hope for the best.

Some of the "supplies" from home
Snowing makes me miss home but I know I have unfinished tasks to achieve. What I need now are self motivation, strong determination and a good cup of hot chocolate. I usually prepared months before the exams when I was in high school, weeks before I took the pre-university examination but last minute during my university life. Sometimes when I think of it, life in university can be so fun :) 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Getting ready for exams...

My exam is just around the corner. I have lots more to cover but hopefully, I would be able to complete all my revisions before end of next week :) Procrastination is my biggest enemy. Distraction is second. 

Favorite soundtracks during exam week.

Chevaliers de Sangreal from the Da Vinci Code

Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne

Time (from the movie Inception) by Hans Zimmer

Brothers (from the movie Pearl Harbor) by Hans Zimmer

Tennessee (from the movie Pearl Harbor) by Hans Zimmer

Autumn is now over and in less than 3 weeks, my forth year in Korea will be almost over. When I looked back at all the resolutions I made last year, I didn't achieve them all- I sleep late everyday. I am grateful I am able to sleep at 2 something am and wake up at 8 am everyday without fail. Hope to change this after exam. One more year to go here in Korea and after this, what's next for me? 


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"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning" ~Winston Churchill~