Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To my fifteen-year-old self.

Hey, Katie.

It's so strange that people call you that, you fifteen-year-old, you. Most people don't any more. Prior to graduating from high school, you are going to decide that it would be symbolic and stuff to transition to a more mature name, recognizing your more mature identity. Maturity takes awhile. And over the next couple of years, it's going to be thrust upon you so hard, sometimes you won't know how to cope.

These last two years of high school won't be easy, but you've gotten this far. You are going to hate yourself for being incapable of believing what the people around you believe. You are going to feel so much shame for your identity, and the people that are supposed to support you won't always be there. In fact, most of the time, those people are going to be the catalyst for your internal hatred and shame. But it's important not to blame them. You and I both know they're just looking out for you, in a weird, twisted way.

Over the next three years, you are going to make incredibly close friends. These people are going to carry you through the hardest times of your life. And then, you're going to lose them. And that loss will be partially your fault. Those people will be invaluable resources to you, and you will love them so incredibly much, but you can move past them. You're stronger than you think you are right now.

Your capacity to make rational decisions is incredible--sometimes, the choices you will make astound even me. But making the most rational decision isn't always easy. You will alienate people. You won't have of the chaos and emotion and horrible mistakes that make life so beautiful. But ultimately, it's up to you to decide if that decision is worth it.

And I'm not saying you won't make mistakes. Because you totally will. You are going to hurt people--people you vowed to yourself that you would never hurt. And you are going to do things that you won't be able to take back, as much as you want to. And these are just some things that you're going to have to deal with, but once again, you're pretty damn strong.

It's pretty incredible, actually. How strong, and independent, and hard-working you're going to be. After you deal with all the crap that surrounds being an agnostic in a small town, you'll go to college. And the first semester is going to be awesome. But then, what will seem like the weight of the world is going to be thrust upon you. Don't worry, though. You can carry it. I mean, don't get me wrong, there will be people along the way to spot you, but you end up pulling through.

You cannot even fathom how awesome the person you will become in three years time is. Frequently, I think about you, my former self, and I wish that I could go back, and give you a good look at the person you will grow to become. It would blow you away. And I know you're pretty adorable now, but if I do say so myself, you are going to be so stunning. You're going to realize that there is nothing wrong with who you are, and that there's no point in hiding yourself.

I know you realize you live in an incredibly sheltered bubble, but your impression is nowhere near the magnitude of reality. You have not been told many things, and it's up to you to discover them yourself. Staying ignorant to the world is definitely easier, but you should never try to deprive yourself knowledge. Try to educate yourself as much as possible in every aspect of the world. Keep an open mind to new ideas. Be as loving and accepting as possible to anyone who needs your love and acceptance--there are more people out there than you'd think.

Hang in there, champ.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

the south korea diet

The difference between day #3 and day #10 of living in Korea--the top row would be from a week ago, and the bottom row, from today. Click to enlarge, if you simply must have a closer look.
Koreans are notorious for their concern for aesthetics and beauty. And in many respects, the stereotype holds true. Department stores allocate what seems to me, a girl who can't live with out her artificial face, too much area toward the cosmetic industry. Clothing stores sell only one size, not because the clothing is versatile, but they expect everyone to conform to the same body shape and ideals of what "beautiful" means. Always yearning to stay busy, fitness is glamourized, as far fewer Koreans lead sedentary lifestyles than their American counterparts. Out of fear of becoming "Korean black", countless people walk around with umbrellas in broad daylight so as to avoid getting a tan (ironically, I have yet to acquire sunblock here). Korea sets a high standard for their people, and many are able to meet that standard.

Stair-climbing machines in a park on campus
Although Korean society does at times ostracize those who don't conform to the template, fitness and health is a much more accessible concept here than anywhere else I've been. Although there are "junk food" options in convenience stores, the average cafeteria meal, always consisting of rice, kimchi, and some form of protein, is much more healthy than the pizza at North Avenue Dining Hall at Georgia Tech. And while the primary gym is expensive and has a lottery to determine eligibility of membership, nearly every park is adorned with fitness equipment, and nearly every residence hall has a gym with all of the machines you need to fine tune every aspect about you.

Some equipment in the main gym, which permits
 entrance based on a lottery system
As someone who wanted to form healthier habits, and become a better form of the person I am (or am leaving behind), Korea is an excellent place to establish a new lifestyle. I'm on track to get back into running 5Ks by the end of October, and hopefully from there, 10Ks by the end of the semester. Side note: people from outside of America get really confused when I refer to a five kilometer race as a "5K". This week, I'm cranking up the bodyweight fitness and ab work, hopefully undoing any damage freshman year at Georgia Tech may have done to my body. And even though I didn't expect to see visible progress after only a week of being here, I definitely have. But I guess that's what happens when you walk everywhere, eat only Korean food, dance like a maniac, and actually start putting conscious effort into your fitness.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the educational aspect

A few of my textbooks, and a couple handy Korean language tools.

Korea is a lovely country, and cultural immersion is an invaluable experience. But first and foremost, I am a student, and I am here to study. Luckily, my experience with professors here is evidence of them being much more approachable and informal than professors in the United States, or at least at Georgia Tech. For instance, on one of the first days in the country, I was hanging out in a park near the international building with a few other students, and we were approached by two professors of Biotechnology, who proceeded to buy us coffee, and give us their contact information for future reference. As much as I love my professors from home, I have never experienced or heard of anything close to that amount of hospitality on behalf of a professor in the United States.

This semester, I'm registered for 18 hours, 15 of which count for credit at Georgia Tech. I don't think it will be too bad, though--the courses seem fun (at least for me, they do), I don't have a lab, and none of the courses as of yet seem to require anything near the time commitment that Georgia Tech's CS 1371 (an introduction to computer science for engineering majors that primarily taught MATLAB) required.

Without further ado, the courses I attended today:


In my first class at KAIST, it was simultaneously shocking and completely expected that I was not only the only foreigner, but also the only female in the class. Consequently, the professor felt the need to single me out and ask me details about America and challenge me to cite statistics about the average American vocabulary or GDP per capita. I mean, I like attention and getting to know my professors, but not when I feel like I'm annoying the rest of the class solely because of my nationality. On the plus side, there's a kid with blue and white hair in the class, so I don't feel nearly as outlandish.

The professor is pretty great--he studied, taught, and worked for awhile in the United States, so he's an affiliate of American Nuclear Society, and makes frequent trips to Atlanta, California, etc. His teaching style is exciting, and big on the conversation, which is definitely a positive thing, as far as staying awake is concerned. The actually class is an introduction to fluid mechanics and thermodynamics with nuclear applications. Because at Georgia Tech, thermodynamics is typically taken concurrently or prior to fluid mechanics, and at KAIST, only fluid dynamics is offered this semester, I thought it was in my interest to take this course, even though it technically does not transfer to Georgia Tech. Also, I'm pretty interested in researching with the professor of the course, so it would be awkward to try to weasel my way out of the class. And, he managed to incorporate full-slide picture of Harrison Ford into a presentation on nuclear energy, so the class promises to be exciting.


I'm definitely going to have to go out and buy something to keep myself awake for this class. The professor is understandable and considerate, but the class doesn't feel like it's tailored to the individual student. Of the classes I've been in thus far, it feels the most like a Physics or Calculus lecture at Georgia Tech--a big, impersonal class.


This course is equivalent to Mechanics of Deformable Bodies at Georgia Tech. At KAIST, they expect you to have a background in fluids (which I'm taking concurrently), and to have taken a prerequisite akin to Statics. Although, my Statics professor at Georgia Tech didn't do the greatest job of preparing me comprehensively, so I'll have to review a bit harder than the other students in my class in order to be completely secure in the material.


Based on the material, this was the next logical course after Georgia Tech's KOR 1001 and 1002. And, as with any language course I take right after a break, I understood about 70% of what the professor said. Interpret that as you may, good or bad. I definitely think I'll have to put quite a bit of effort into this, but it will be more than worth it, considering this class has the most immediate effect on my life, what with the living in South Korea and stuff.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

a taste of night life

I should preface this by saying that I don't really drink. During the school year, I didn't go out a whole lot, as I was working weekend nights at a bowling alley on Georgia Tech campus, and had much more important concerns (i.e. maintaining my GPA) than partying. But, boy, do I love to dance.

the area near Galleria Time World, that looks absolutely stunning at night
And dance I did. Along with a bunch of international students, I went to a "western bar"/club in downtown Daejeon called Sponge. For those curious, the drinking age in South Korea is twenty, but not in the Western sense of age conventions. To calculate your Korean age, add a year to the age you are or will be turning during the year. For instance, I am eighteen years old outside of Korea, but will be turning nineteen in November (yes, I'm young... moving on). That means I am twenty in Korea, and can legally buy or consume alcohol, should I wish to do so.

Anyway, Sponge. We arrived by ushering slightly less than fifty international students onto two Daejeon city buses, exiting at the stop near Galleria Time World, a massive department store akin to Macy's in New York City. When we entered to the sounds of Caravan Palace just before 9:00pm, there weren't too many other people inside, allowing our lot to occupy the billiards tables, and snag a few booths. But as the night went on, the bar populated, seeming much less like a bar, and more like a club. Now, I don't have much experience with clubs elsewhere in the world, but from what I heard from the other internationals, South Korea blows them out of the water. With the progression of the hours, the music shifted from quirky electroswing to a smattering of American tunes from the early 2000s, rap, and Korean Pop. And believe me, you do not understand the wonder that is Gangnam Style until you have danced it with a room of drunk Koreans. Not that I was keeping count, but I'm pretty sure I danced with someone from every continent, and about fifty percent of the countries in the EU.

And while the music at times felt like it belonged at a junior high dance in 2005, many aspects of Sponge were nonetheless iawesome. Around 2:00am, the bartenders staged a "cocktail performance", beginning with acrobatics with bottles, and progressing to fire breathing. It was, needless to say, impressive. Although, there are very few moments when South Korea is not absolutely awe-inspiring.