Geese! The KAIST mascots. They treat the roads here in KAIST like their grandfather's roads.

Hello! I’m Ivan, a third year ISTD Junior who will be blogging about my experience in KAIST, Daejeon, South Korea for the next four months! Daejeon is an hour away from Seoul by KTX and the 5th largest city in Korea! My korean friend tells me the locals call it the ‘no-jam’ city because it there’s nothing fun in the city and students only come to KAIST to study. We’ll see 🙂

Settling into KAIST was a relatively quick process. After collecting our information package from the international center, it was a five minute walk to the Hweemang Hall, home for the next four months here in Daejeon.

Double room at Hweemang Hall (sink and mirror not in picture)

I arrived in KAIST in the morning of the orientation. The orientation programme lasted 2 days. Most of it was administrative, but there was also a buddy programme that we indicated interest for during the application process. Four international students were paired to a Korean buddy. They gave us a personal tour of the campus and also, we had to organise a ‘city tour’ to go explore daejeon together for a day. Several clubs also introduced themselves for international students to join. Not all clubs here are open for international students unless you can speak Korean. Oh, also KAIST helped us open a Woori bank account which we could use through our student ID card, just like SUTD’s super card!

The campus here is huge! Not as huge as the campuses in the States, but a lot of walking involved. It takes me 15 minutes to walk to the nearest academic building from hostel. And classes are distributed around campus so I’m clocking in my 10,000 steps on the daily. The campus has a bike shop selling second hand bikes for 80,000W (and buying them back for 15,000W) but it was a bit too costly for us. I also don’t see myself cycling in the winter.

The library, the newest building here in KAIST

Over the weekend, I had my city tour with my buddy group. We visited the Hanbat Arboretum, a huge botanical garden near campus with a bunch of free natural science museums. After walking for quite a bit, our buddy brought us to have Korean bbq (samgyeopsal). A block of meat costed 10,000W which is pretty affordable. Of course, we had somaek (soju + beer) with our meat.

Hanbat Arboretum, a bigger botanical garden with nicer weather.
Korean bbq with my buddy group from Singapore, Switzerland, China, and Korea!

Here’s some information for my christian brothers and sisters out there. On Sunday, I also attended the KAIST International Chapel (KIC), the international non-denominational christian church here in KAIST. It is super convenient to be able to attend service here in campus and the community were super welcoming to us. Most of them were doing their graduate studies or working in the labs here in KAIST. The community was very diverse but we were able to fellowship together easily. Also, the service was bilingual! They alternate between english with korean translation, and vice versa. There’s worship and a sermon, followed by lunch together and bible study after. The bible study does go deep into the verses which I was pleasantly surprised by!

Monday and we had our first classes. For the first week the professors did not teach much as most students were course-shopping. However, there are immediately noticeable differences between the education here in Korea compared to back home in SUTD. First of all, all lessons are lectures, with no tutorials! Also, nobody talks in the lectures. At all. Except the professor. I am taking text mining, AI-based software engineering, and intro to computer vision, and intro to Korean 1. The professors go through the material at a good pace, and in english (thank god). And the material is genuinely interesting!

We have our meals in the cafeterias where food is cheap (4,000W – 5,000W) and portions are huge! We also have our dinners outside campus at Yuseong-gu, where there are plenty of food options and also some retail. It’s kinda like a mini myeong-dong. There’s kbbq, spicy chicken feet, pig trotters, jjambbong, and FRIED CHICKEN and much much more. Some restaurants are prepared for international students with english menus but most are in Korean. Still, we managed with our rudimentary Korean.

Breakfast at W2-2 Cafeteria for 2,500W. Here in Korea, its rice, rice, rice.
Soba noodles at N11 Cafeteria for 4,000W
Pig’s Trotter. We accidentally ordered more than we thought we were ordering. It also came with surprise yukhoe (raw beef) (not in picture).
Free flow kbbq with our NUS and NTU friend for 9,000W! Also free flow oil!!
Chicken Feet. My spice tolerance peaked on day 3.

The weather right now is rainy, an end of summer pour. Near the end of week 1, there was news of typhoon Lingling coming to pay us a visit here in KAIST. Thankfully, she changed her mind and curved her way away from us. Just for one day, we got strong winds and a medium pouring of rain (Seoul got it worst) but the next day, it was back to light showers. I’m looking forward to the start of fall with the cool weathers.

Yuseong-gu, where the kids hang out after school ends
Daejeon National Museum, better than Singapore National Museum cuz it has dinosaurs.
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