Hello! My name is Elizabeth, this is going to be my blog. I read some of the previous scholar’s blog posts, and they all wrote in 3rd person. I simply cannot do such a thing, so unfortunately you have to bear with my 1st person writing.

First 2 Weeks (May 28 – June 11) : My Quarantine Experience

We arrived at the quarantine facility pretty late — around 8PM. Unfortunately, if you arrive after 6 they don’t feed you dinner. Fortunately, they do provide ramen and snacks instead. This means my first meal in Korea was instant cup ramen, which I enjoyed because I was hungry. The hotel room was really nice, and the toilet was the most high-tech piece of technology I have ever seen in a bathroom. They fed us 3 times a day, each time giving a short announcement on the intercom. The food was fine — not the best but not bad either. It was usually cold by the time we got to eat it, since they had to deliver everyone’s food before giving the announcement.

Figure 1: View outside of my quarantine room.

I greatly enjoyed the view out my window, seen in Figure 1. The window could be opened, meaning we could get fresh air. I had a boat dock right outside, which meant that I could see people working there. I did better than expected with the isolation associated with quarantine. During quarantine, I spent a lot of time studying for my research, watching K-Dramas, and playing video games. It was fun, but I was glad when we finally left.

Excursions: 

  1. The Great Escape

After being locked in a room for 2 weeks straight, me and everyone else in the NSF IRiKA group were not in the mood for staying indoors. Busa and I dropped our suitcases in our apartment and almost instantly hit the road, hardly even saying hello to our new roommate. 

Figure 2: View from the top of Lotte World Tower. In this picture is Busa(left), Ryoma(center), and me, Elizabeth (right).

The first place we visited was Lotte World Tower. This building is the tallest building in Seoul, and has 123 floors! While that is unfortunately not a prime number, it’s still very cool! They had an area with a glass floor, where you could walk over and look down. The Lotte World Tower is very beautiful, with various statues and art pieces on every floor. The entire building is gorgeous, and I would definitely recommend people to visit, even if you don’t want to pay to see the view from the top. (Tickets are cheaper if you go in a group! Only $20 each 🙂

After leaving Lotte World Tower, we met up with Matt and Nat and decided to try and find the “Gangnam Style Hands” statue. Our attempts to locate and find the statue without having proper cell connection led to us traveling to one location, asking a local if they knew where we could find the hands, being told it was in a different location, and traveling to that location. Repeat that for about 2 hours and, eventually, we managed to locate the hands. After such trials and tribulations, the hands looked golden and glorious. 

Figure 3: “Gangnam Style Hands” statue AKA the GOLDEN HANDS, pictured here is Nat(left), Busa, me, and Matt(right). 

  1. From Gangnam Style to Gangnam 

Opposed to what most people would think, the “Gangnam Style Hands” are not in fact located in Gangnam. While we did visit Gangnam in our Great Escape, it was only a quick stop to try and locate the hands. Thus, after a week of working within Korea, Busa and I decided to spend an evening exploring that area. The area is filled with a lot of cute shops, and has a great atmosphere and good food. I would recommend visiting there and just walking around, even if you don’t have a destination in mind. We found an entire shop dedicated to just selling stickers; I didn’t even know there was such high demand for stickers! There was also a cool arcade we visited, where we spent too much money on claw machines and watched a dude be a pro at dance dance revolution. 

  1. From Future to Past

The day after visiting Gangnam, we decided to go and visit Gyeongbokgung Palace the next day. We rented hanboks, which were surprisingly inexpensive, and explored the palace. 

Figure 4: The gang in front of Gyoungbokgung Palace. Pictured here: me(left), Nadia — Busa and I’s roommate(center), Busa(right), and Ryoma(back).

Entrance into the palace is free if you have a hanbok on, so be sure to try to do that! The palace was incredible, with a lot of intricate details everywhere. We had a great time, so I would definitely recommend visiting.

After seeing the palace, we visited Insadong which is relatively nearby. It wasn’t very busy when we visited, I presume because of the pandemic. It had a lot of incredible hand-made crafts — for a surprisingly cheap price! If you go here, make sure to bring lots of cash — most venders don’t accept cards, and you are going to want to buy many things. I bought a beautiful hand-made clay teapot for only $6! This was also the first place we saw street performers; there were artists, musicians, and magicians. 

In the Research Lab

Busa and I both decided to locate the buildings we will be working in the day before our first day at work. Getting to work and back home is pretty easy with the shuttles, just make sure you don’t get on the wrong one! I went on one that took me to a different campus accidentally, and it took me 2 hours before I was back home. Everyone in my lab is very nice. I think they are just excited to have a foreigner working with them.

So far, everyone speaks at least a little English — a lot more than I expected. I’m in a software engineering lab, so everyone is usually working quietly on their computers for most of the time. The only other person currently in my lab is Jenny, a TA for a different professor. She is very cool, and wants to go to America next year to get her Master’s degree. Everyone else in the building is a professor; they are all very friendly. 

Remembering names is a lot harder than I expected, no one will slow down and tell you their names. They will just say their name once very quickly, and if you don’t instantly get it they will just give you a nickname instead. I don’t mind, but I do wish I could call them by their real names. I’ll probably have to go through and ask them again. 

Everyday we all get lunch together, usually from the cafeteria at my building. After we eat, we get coffee/teas from the cafe nearby. Lunch in total usually takes about an hour.

As for research: most days they tell me to study YOLOv3 and things relating to object detection algorithms. I have been watching a lot of videos and reading papers. My mentor also gives me a few lessons on it, which is very helpful and I appreciate it a lot! The professor I am working under went to the University of Florida to do research before, so he is excited to have me in his lab. I have managed to get YOLOv3 running on my computer, and am working on testing it out on various videos/images. Apparently, I will be working on creating a self-serving convenience store, where shoppers can simply take items off the shelves without needing to scan it. 

Figure 5: Running YOLOv3 on a photo we took together. 

That’s all from me, thank you for reading my blog post! It is a lot of fun here.

Current Takeaways: 

  • All food in Korea is good!
  • Make sure you get a sim card ASAP
  • Use Naver Maps (instead of KakaoMaps)
  • A lot of people where can speak at least a little English and everyone is really nice, so don’t be scared to ask for help if you get lost