Today, I woke up at 4:00 AM feeling very rested after sleeping a full 10 hours. Despite my initial misgivings, the 2-inch thick mat (in Korean, it is called a “yo”) that is on my bed in place of a mattress is actually very comfortable – once I get to sleep.
I awoke inspired to write. For the first time in at least two months, I finally took the time to journal my experiences so far in Korea. I was immensely satisfied with my accomplishments of waking up early AND writing – two rare occurrences in my AL (after law school began) life.
I entered the classroom for my first class, Global Antitrust Law, at 8:00 AM, hoping to be early enough to meet other students before the class commenced at 8:30. No one entered the classroom until 8:35 when the professor entered and began talking to me about my interest in human rights. After fifteen more minutes, one other student appeared, and we discovered that the class just might be canceled if not enough students decide to attend (the minimum for a class to be kept is five students).
After the class, I went to the office and got a student locker. The first key I was given opened a locker that was already being used, so I went back a second time to use my new key. This was for Locker # 13… it is a good thing I am not superstitious because waiting on my locker was a heart-shaped sticky note with the words written in capital letters: “Happy White Day!”
I am sure it was leftover from last semester, but the irony certainly brightened my day. I so far was the only white student in all of my law classes, something that until that moment of reading the note hadn’t really affected me. But as I was standing by the locker, excited squeals, laughter, and giggles as only girls can produce were echoing around me, and I had that feeling of being an outsider. A white outsider. Race-consciousness is a funny thing: I have decided I will refuse to let it bother me and I will not let it bother my relationships with others, but for all that, it is still semi-alive, lurking somewhere in the back of my consciousness.
There have been many very kind students here – it is not that I do not feel welcome. Many of the girls have gone out of their way to do things like eat lunch with me, or show me a classroom, or translate Korean for me. I feel very welcome. But I do feel very different, and it is almost as though everything I try or need to do requires someone else to help me somehow. Being independent, I hate this because 1) it limits me, 2) it makes me look incredibly incompetent, 3) it reminds me that I am a complete rookie and outsider, and 4) it causes someone else to be burdened.
Today was yet another day of learning more options and how behind I am when it comes to human rights and international law. I’m taking mostly upper level electives in international law and it is therefore disturbing to think that I’ve not had any basic introductory courses in international law before jumping into all of this. It is as though I am way ahead of expectations for myself, considering my background and personal history and opportunities, but for where I hope to be or where I want to be now, I am very behind.
Or maybe I just feel that way. Who knows yet? I suppose that remains to be seen this semester.
Tonight after my last class ended around 4:15, I decided to be brave and try Korean instant soup/noodles. I bought a few different varieties at the convenience store and as everything was in Korean, I had no idea what I was purchasing. My first experience with the Korean version of Ramen soup was definitely not boring! Not knowing what was in the seasoning packet, I happily dumped all of it in the hot water/noodle mixture, eager to taste the yummy-looking noodles. I proudly trotted over to a table with my soup and took my first bite. I am not sure which happened first: my tongue feeling like it had been coated with jalepeno pepper seeds, or my throat feeling like fire was coursing down it. Swallowing the noodles unleashed a fit of unstoppable deep coughing. (In my defense, I still have a very bad sounding cough that I frequently had to suppress today in class…) I’m sure the other people in the recreation room where I was eating were getting immense entertainment by my obviously first encounter with Korean noodles. Determined that I was going to finish that soup for dinner or do without, I decided that I’d just try to avoid the broth and eat the noodles. After about five bites, my new plan seemed to be working – or maybe my taste buds had simply become numbed. Either way, I ate most of the soup and actually quite enjoyed it!
All in all, my first day of classes was a success. I was definitely reminded that I was not in Kansas anymore, but I don’t feel any desire to click the heels of my ruby red slippers. I like Korea! Happy White Day!