Hello! I’m back again to share my unconventional experiences during GEXP. As mentioned in my previous post, I went to KAIST for GEXP and greatly enjoyed my time in a club there!
But contrary to what one might first think of when the word ‘club’ is mentioned, I actually mean a student club and not a partying club.
During my time at KAIST, I was fortunate to be accepted (yes, there was an interview) to Silver Lining, KAIST’s international volunteering club. One of the rare clubs to accept foreigners (not to mention exchange students), Silver Lining was a wholesome community to be in.
Initially, when I was first applying for GEXP, I looked through the different clubs available in each host university to better guide my decision. Personally, I’m someone who treasures student life and co-curricular activities greatly. Having previously served and led volunteering events and clubs during my polytechnic days, SUTD’s very own Rotaract Club (Community Service Director and President) and SUTD’s Student Government (organised the Blood Donation Drive 2022) and Student Association Council (as Community Cluster Rep), KAIST having volunteering clubs was something that I really looked forward to, and something I mentioned during the GEXP application process.
To my surprise, during the introductory briefing when we first started our semester, as part of the introduction to student life in KAIST, 5 clubs shared about their activities and recruitment process. However, most of these clubs were unfortunately not open to us joining, some even requiring a minimum commitment of a year for members.
I signed up for Silver Lining almost immediately. I filled up a Google Form that was filled with many questions to ask me more about myself, and was surprised to hear that I had to go through an interview as part of the recruitment process even after completing this form.
I made it through the first round of shortlisting and got through to the interview stage, during which 3 committee members took turns to ask me about my reasons for joining the club, my ideas for future events, and more about my responses in the Google form.
During the interview, they told me that they actually had 70+ signups! Eventually, around 40 people were accepted into the club. I later found out that the membership was semester/term-based, and there was a membership fee (15000 won, around $15 SGD) to be paid to join the club. Korea also has a national volunteer portal where you can search for volunteering activities such as volunteering at an animal shelter, or track your current volunteering status. For exchange students, you can’t create an account unless you get your Alien Residence Card + link it to your phone number, so there’s really not much point to it unless you’re staying for more than one semester.
For those not so interested in volunteering…some of my friends later reached out to individual clubs that didn’t conduct a sharing during the briefing but weren’t allowed to join the clubs because they were not Korean citizens (fun fact: Koreans raised abroad weren’t even allowed to join the club). With that said, I do think it’s worth a shot asking around!
During the first few weeks of GEXP, Korea still had rather strict COVID-19 regulations, such as having to wear a mask when interacting with the children or on public transport/private hire taxis. Naturally, this affected the volunteering landscape too, and Silver Lining’s activities were also affected. Volunteering sessions for the first 2 months were solely children-related, where we would conduct simple science experiments and teach them science concepts. These children were typically in elementary school or middle school, so it was really similar to the YEAH Programme that I used to lead in Rotaract Club back in Term 1 and 2. However, this also meant that the children didn’t really have excellent English abilities, and this meant that we had always to have a Korean speaker with us when volunteering to serve as the translator. Nevertheless, I think it was really nice how we got to put our skills and knowledge to good use and come up with new experiments for the children to learn from. Some examples included catapults, trying to make paper float on water, balancing dolls, and more.
Interestingly, I also noted that the volunteer management team in the EXCO was often not present for the events, and most volunteering sessions were really just run by the volunteers that chose to attend. I suppose it’s also due to the fact that the sessions could sometimes clash with lessons (unlike SUTD, there isn’t a dedicated day for fifth row activities) and the fact that there are 3-4 centres to visit every week. As such, the way they track attendance of the volunteers is by asking them to take a picture with the exterior of the volunteering venue, as well as pictures during the event!
Apart from this, Silver Lining also offered opportunities to volunteer at an animal shelter through the 1365 portal. Unfortunately, this only started close to the end of the term, so I wasn’t able to volunteer there due to the lack of time.
A cute form of bonding that was organised was called ‘random lunch’, where we were randomly put into groups and asked to meet over a meal. This was formed twice over the whole term, and most times the group members would be highly varied. Though the groups that I was in only met once, I saw some groups meeting up really often – even going to the gym together! Perhaps it’s also due to the point system for completing actions together, but it was a really cute way of promoting interaction overall.
The Strawberry Party is KAIST’s signature event that has been held for more than 20 years. Every April when the campus brims with cherry blossoms, students, faculty, and staff gather together to share strawberries. Hundreds of boxes of strawberries are purchased from local farms, helping both the farmers and ensuring that there are plenty of delicious berries to go around. — KAIST’s website
During my time at KAIST, I attended 3 different strawberry parties, and I must say that I truly felt so healthy after eating so many strawberries in that period of time. Clubs typically organise strawberry parties as part of fellowship and bonding, and it’s a picnic-style event where we usually also get to eat pizza and play games while sitting on one of KAIST’s grass patches.
Silver Lining organised 2 days worth of strawberry parties, of which I was only able to attend one. It was so much fun chatting with the other members of Silver Lining while eating strawberries and pizza, and I would definitely do it again.
Another thing that was done as part of fellowship activities was membership training (commonly just known as MT). If it kind of sounds familiar to you, you may have heard it through K-Dramas such as Cheer Up. Though the name seems to imply that there’s a form of training of skills for members, there’s absolutely no such thing (for Silver Lining at least). It also cost around 40000 KRW, which was close to $40 SGD at that time.
As mentioned in the previous post, this MT was right in between 2 of the concerts I attended – looking back, I don’t really know how I pulled it all off. But I somehow did.
The MT was slated to be held at Daecheon Beach, which was more than a 2-hour drive away from KAIST. A coach bus was catered to bring us to the destination, and during the journey, we had a lot of fun talking to each other, using the Noraebang (Karaoke) system on the bus singing songs, and just chilling or sleeping.
Upon reaching Daecheon Beach, since it was mid-afternoon, my friend Grace and I started to look for food – and we managed to find a stall selling corndogs! My friend was really nice and treated me to a corndog. After finishing the corndog, we had fun playing in the sand and just talking to each other. Many even went deep into the water, but I didn’t since the water was really cold.
We then set off for the resort that we were staying at for the night – and I was surprised to see that it was really really far away from civilisation (~20km away from the nearest intercity bus station – and to get there, it would either involve walking close to 30 minutes before taking a bus to the station, or just taking a taxi (with a fare close to $90 SGD). Needless to say, my original plan of heading directly from the MT venue to Daegu was essentially for nothing. Initially, I had booked bus rides from an area near Daecheon to get to Daegu in time for the starting of the festival, since I was told that the MT venue was Daecheon Beach. Imagine how frantic and worried I was when I had to cancel all these bus bookings and find alternative plans as I felt us heading further into a super ulu part of Korea! It worked out eventually despite us missing a few performances, but it was a really wild weekend.
Anyway, back to what happened at the resort. As soon as we reached the resort, we got to choose our rooms, and I shared a room with Grace (all credits to her for choosing the room that could only accommodate 2 people instead of the one that was meant for 7+ people – this way the toilet wouldn’t be in such high demand).
We then started to prepare for dinner while talking amongst ourselves, with some members helping to grill food in the rain on the BBQ grill outside. The rest of us ate and ate and bonded, before taking turns to wash up from the day’s activities.
But alas! The day was not over even after dinner, and the night was still young. We continued playing games like Werewolf and Truth or Dare, with most members drinking Soju and beer while playing. We also went to light some fireworks in the slight drizzle, and it was truly a stunning sight to behold.
After the fireworks, we continued with more drinking and games. Grace and I eventually stayed until around 4am, before heading off to bed as the rest became more intoxicated by the minute.
And the next morning slowly kicked in, as I hyped myself up for the upcoming Daegu Hiphop Festival later that day.
Overall, this was truly a unique experience that I don’t think I’d be ever able to achieve without all my past life experiences. Though it was a wild weekend, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything else in the world.