Hello reader. During the summer of 2017 I departed Las Vegas, NV for Daejeon, South Korea for a 9-week internship at the world-renowned HUBO Lab at the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST), a top-tier international university. I left on June 9, and will return to America on August 14. This journal is used to document my experience, culturally, personally, socially, and academically. In addition to the 5 main questions that I have been asked to answer each week, I will add the following additions to my journals each week:
My first week in Daejeon has been quite amazing. I have met so many people, Korean and International, and everyone is very friendly and helpful. This week was full of getting settled into my dorm and the lab, shopping around for food and essentials, and exploring the areas around Daejeon.
I chose this photo of this huge dumpling stew as the photo of the week because of the story behind it. Blake, a new friend from France (Etienne), and I decided to go explore the area East of our dorm, about a 20 minute walk. There wasn't much besides auto-shops and farms, but we found this nice dumpling shop and decided to check it out. When we walked in, we realized that it was traditional style eating where you take off your shoes and eat while sitting on the ground. Also, we quickly realized that this restaurant wasn't very used to foreigners, and that they didn't speak any English at all. We sat down and they came over and started talking to us very fast in Korean, and we just agreed to everything they said, and they brought us out this huge dish of dumplings, vegetables, and meat. We didn't know how to cook it either, so when the workers and even the people sitting around us noticed this, they started to show us how it was done. It was so refreshing compared to the US where it is rare to help a stranger, and they were all so friendly. Also, the whole meal was very cheap, just costing 23,000 won (about $20) for a huge meal for 3 people. It was amazing. The whole encounter made me feel much better about being in Korea without knowing much Korean, and I also got to learn some new foods and customs in the process!
This week I met many Koreans inside HUBO Lab and around campus. Below are two photos, one of me with some of my new HUBO Lab friends in the lab, and one of some of us playing basketball. I was so happy that they had invited me to come play with them, because it was a very fun experience, and it helped me bond a lot with my new friends. It was a great experience.
I also met some great new Korean friends outside of the lab. I went to a local meetup called Stammtisch, which is meant for locals of Daejeon, Koreans learning English, and new people to the area to converse and exchange tips. I met a lot of new Korean and foreigner friends that gave me amazing tips for places to explore in the city and around the country, and we had some really stimulating conversations about world politics and such. This encounter was very easy to initiate, and felt very comfortable, which makes me very excited to go to the meetup every week. Now I also have a great list of places to visit and foods to try! Below is a photo of us at the meetup.
Something that I learned this week about Korea that I didn't know much about before is how students and younger people typically get around. In a big city like Seoul, there are subway stations and bus stops at every corner, but in Daejeon, we have been relying more heavily on the buses and taxis. However, for a local, walking around everywhere and taking the bus might get a little old, so most younger students seem to have a moped or motorcycle. Below is a photo of just the mopeds/motorcycles/bicycles outside of HUBO Lab, and it is a pretty astounding amount. I also learned that most people in Korea don't get there license until 20-22, whereas in America, pretty much everyone has their license by the age of 16. This is something that will take getting used to, not having a car to take myself everywhere, because I'm not really used to walking and taking public transportation back in Las Vegas.
My personal insight for this week was that I learned that I am much better being on my own than I had previously thought. Usually, I am someone that loves being around other people, even when working or having free time, except for in rare occasions where I like some alone time. I have always lived with other people in my home, whether it be parents or roommates, and I have always traveled with other friends, especially internationally. However, this trip was my first time travelling due to Blake arriving a week later than me in Daejeon. Thankfully, I did very well with it, and I got from Las Vegas to Daejeon without any problems, and spent most of the week by myself, setting up my room and getting everything setup in the lab. I am much more confident that I can be by myself and succeed, and I have found peace in being alone and having time to myself.
This week was mostly a settling in week, due to myself arriving on Sunday and Blake arriving on Friday. So far, I have done the following side projects:
While doing all of this, my new technical skill is programming in Python, as I have been using it a lot this week with Cozmo and some textbooks I brought to do some personal learning & development. I have also been observing and learning a lot about what HUBO Lab is working on, and their research process. They are developing new legs & ankles for HUBO, new series-elastic actuators to measure and respond to torque-control, and walking algorithms for advanced stability in uneven terrain.
I have had so many great foods this week, but the best so far was a meal that I had for lunch with two members of HUBO Lab in the West side of KAIST. It was a big stew (jigae) with beef, mushrooms, noodles, kimchi, and assorted vegetables. It was so tasty, and very filling. These types of stews are very popular in Korea, and are often served as a group dish. I also spent this time with my new friends discussing their lives in Korea, and my life in Las Vegas, and comparing experiences. Below is a photo of the stew.
This week in Korea I have learned a lot of new words and phrases, and I have especially had good practice with reading and pronouncing Hangul (the Korean alphabet). I think the most useful phrase that I have used this week is “kajuseyo” which is used to tell a taxi driver to take you somewhere, politely. It is very useful when using taxis, as most drivers speak very little English.
Bonus Tip: Korean taxis can be a challenge if you don't know how to say your location in Korean, or if your location is kind of obscure and far from the city like our dorm (Hwaam). The most useful way to combat this is to have both the address written in Korean, and a picture of the location on a map of the city. This has saved me many times when the taxi drivers in Daejeon didn't know what I was saying or where Hwaam is, so keep this in mind if you are ever visiting Korea.
I have explored a lot of the city this week, but by far the coolest place this week was Downtown Daejeon, in an area called “dunsandong” (“-dong” means area/neighborhood roughly). This area reminded me of visiting Seoul at night, with tons of people roaming the streets, bars and shops in every corner, and lights everywhere. Blake, an Australian friend (Rod), and I explored this area Friday night, and just walked around experiencing all of the nice places. We also had a fun experience with these Koreans that were walking around the street, and even standing on cars as they drove down the streets, dressed in zombie/joker costumes. They were advertising this nightclub called “Monster”, but it was really cool seeing all these young people doing something so strange in the streets of Daejeon. Below is a picture of dunsandong.
Currency Exchange: If you are travelling to Korea, it is best to exchange only some of your money (as much as you need until you can get to a bank) at the airport, and the rest at a bank. Most banks will do currency exchange, and they have much better rates than the airport. Also, their are many international ATMs around Daejeon and Seoul, so if you need to withdraw more money this is a good option too.
Phones/Data: Korean phone plans/SIM cards can be fairly expensive in Korea, especially for data. If you are planning on using data in Korea, I would check if your carrier has a good international program first, as these are often cheaper than the ones at the airport. If not, then when you get to the airport, you can get a WiFi hotspot (egg) for cheaper than a SIM card, but you will have to carry this around with you if you need data. Also, there is often free WiFi all over the cities in Korea, so don't worry too much about not having data.
Packing: Be very careful when packing for an international trip such as Korea, because it is common to overpack. If you think at all that you might not need or use something, then don't pack it. You can probably get it in Korea if needed. Clothes should be packed especially light, a week's supply is plenty. Toiletries are fairly priced in Korea, and even better in quality than in America. If you are staying for a long time in Korea (more than few weeks), things like sheets can be more expensive, but pillows, towels, etc. are fairly priced. Essentials that I recommend: a rechargeable battery pack for your mobile devices; a water bottle (they don't drink much water in Korea); business cards, as encounters with good contacts are frequent; a small wallet; a watch; passport/travel money holder.
Korean Language/Hangul: If there is anything you should learn about the Korean language before coming to Korea, it should be Hangul, which is the Korean alphabet. It is surprisingly easy to learn, and can be done in just a day (on the flight over even). Some key phrases to know as well: “ne” (yes); “aniyo” (no); “juseyo” (give me please; used for ordering food); “kamsahamnida” (thank you).
My second week here in Korea was amazing! I have met some awesome people, Korean and international, and I have gotten to explore parts of Daejeon and Seoul that I didn't even know existed! Most of my week was spent working on computer vision, and then exploring the nightlife of Korea during the weekend. I can't wait to see what else I will experience during my time here.
I chose this photo for the photo of the week because it was easily the coolest thing that I got to see all week. This is a picture of me on the 122nd floor of the 555 m tall Lotte Tower in Seoul. This tower is the 5th tallest building in the world, and tallest outside of China and the Middle East. It was just opened in April, so I decided to visit it while on a weekend trip in Seoul. The view was amazing even with all the fog, and I can't wait to go back to get more pictures when it is less rainy.
So this week, I met a few new Koreans while out in Dunsandong, but for this section I would like to focus one that I met while shopping at E-Mart on Sunday. I was shopping with Blake and 2 other international researchers, and this guy approached us and started asking where we were from. We told him that we were from America and doing engineering research at KAIST and he started telling us about how he works in solar energy, and that he was actually meeting with the CEO of Huawei and the Chairman of the biggest solar company in China, Suntech. He then asked for our contacts and we went on our way, but it was such a great opportunity to meet him. His name has Sungwoo Kim, but unfortunately we did not get a picture together. This experience was so natural and easy because he approached us, and because he was so eager to talk about his business and engineering.
My new cultural insight for this week is about the Korean work schedule. Here in Korea, it seems that most people, especially scientists and engineers, work very late schedules. Most people don't leave their jobs until 8 or 9, and at HUBO Lab, they will go until 10 or 11 on average. Even schools go until late, especially English schools which will go until 8 or 9 PM. Koreans in general seem to be much more dedicated to their work, and their is much more cultural pressure to do well in your field than in America. Below is a picture of the bi-weekly HUBO Lab meeting, which didn't even start until 7:30 PM, and went until 9 PM. Again, this is a completely normal thing for them here, but thankfully it is also the schedule that I usually work at home. It just seems to be much more culturally present here in South Korea.
This week I learned that I am a lot more spontaneous than I thought. Usually, I carefully plan out a trip, and have all the details sorted out many days before leaving. But this weekend, I decided to take a trip to Seoul, and left in just 2 hours with some international friends from my dorm. It was spontaneous and had almost no planning at all, and it worked out so well. I had such a great time in Seoul, and not having to plan it out so carefully made it that much more fun. I am now going to apply this philosophy to the rest of my time here in Korea, and I am going to try to be more spontaneous, and just live in the moment, because the experience is much better that way.
I still did not have an official project this week, so I spent some time working on my computer vision and ROS skills. So far, I accomplished:
I also have been shadowing and working with other HUBO Lab members on their projects, and trying to gain as much knowledge from this lab as I can.
My food of the week was from Friday night, when we went out to gungdong, which is the area between KAIST and Chungnam University, which is very close to KAIST, and had some Korean barbecue. Blake and I went out with 3 other guys from KAIST, and in total we ate 3 kg of meat. It was so delicious. Below is a picture of the food.
My new Korean phrase of the week is actually two phrases which have similar meanings: “isseoyo” (to have) & “eopseoyo” (to not have). I have been using these phrases a lot this week to communicate with banks, and restaurants when they or I do not have something. Something interesting about these phrases is that in Korean, there often isn't a way to just add a negative to a phrase, so instead they use a different verb altogether for the negative of that action.
This weekend I got to explore many places in Seoul. Specifically, I explored the areas of Myeong-dong, Itaewon, and Jamsil. The last one though was the most fun, due to getting to see the Lotte Tower. As shown in the Picture of the Week, this tower was absolutely breathtaking. Below are some more photos taken at Lotte Tower.
Great places to see in Seoul: Myeong-dong (shopping, restaurants, street food, lots of lights); Hongdae (lots of students, good nightlife, lots of bars and clubs); Itaewon (foreigner district, restaurants and bars from around the world, very popular at night); Yeongdeungpo/Yeoido (great shopping, nice parks, fireworks festivals)
Rain: During the Summer in Korea it rains a lot, and of course is very humid. Definitely bring an umbrella, and bring lighter clothing if travelling during the summer. It get very humid, especially during the monsoon season.
This week I had a lot of traveling, and overall a really busy week. I went to a robotics conference, URAI 2017, in Jeju island, which is located south of the Korean peninsula. Then we left the conference early to show Alex and Tristan, who were visiting for the week, around Daejeon and Seoul. This was probably one of my best weeks yet, and I had a great time showing other DASL members what Korea has to offer.
I chose this picture for the week because it shows how ahead Korea and Seoul are in terms of modern architecture and trying to create modern sustaining cities. This is an overpass in Seoul Square, right in the middle of the city, that has been converted into a pedestrian walkway with a garden of local plants and other greenery. This is a brand new installation, and it shows how Korea is thinking forward to create cities that are integrated with nature, and how they are trying to preserve their flaura even in the densest area of Seoul. I love bold architectural moves like this, and it was a really cool sight to see. It left a lasting impression that showed just how beyond the US is in terms of modern city planning and sustainable architecture.
This week I went to a robotics conference on Jeju island, and I met so many new Koreans and other international researchers. However, one of them was a cool experience to run into. While presenting Hyunhee and Jean's paper at URAI, a professor came up to me and started asking me questions. Later, he told me that he was actually the PhD advisor of a postdoc at our lag, Giho Jang. I thought this was a cool person to meet out-of-the-blue, and I got a picture with him to show. He was a really nice guy, and it just shows how connected the engineering world really is. Below is a picture of us.
So during my time in Korea, I have been noticing a lot of these shops in downtown areas, where it is just dedicated to a bunch of those claw machines where you try to grab stuffed animals and other prizes. Apparently these are actually a new fad sweeping Korea, where they open huge stores of these machines, and just leave them open pretty much 24/7. Gambling in Korea is illegal for Koreans, however foreigners are actually able to gamble at the few casinos that exist throughout the country. So these claw machines and other arcade-style games are a way for Koreans to be able to gamble in a fun and safe way, and are actually really cool to go and play during a night out. Below is a picture of one of the shops.
This week I had a very busy week of travelling, taking 2 planes, 5 trains, and countless subways all across the country. This made me realize how much I really do like travelling, even if I am only spending a couple hours in one city. I may have been tired after this very busy week, but I am very excited to continue travelling all over Korea, and even travelling to new places around the world in my future. Below is an interesting picture of one of the trains we took, where we bought tickets with no seats, but we found a car in the train where people just gathered to sit and enjoy the AC. It was an interesting experience to see what kind of different travel options Korea has, and how different travel here is than in the US, and especially Las Vegas.
This week the main objective was to present at URAI 2017, and to network with other roboticists at the conference. I had a great time hearing form all of the speakers, and seeing all of their paper. I also got to see my first paper being presented, and to present my other lab members paper at the poster session, which actually won “Outstanding Paper”. Below is a picture of me presenting that poster at the conference.
This next week I will be starting on a project with Blake and two international members of HUBO Lab, working on real-time mapping and footstep planning for DRC-HUBO. I am excited to get this awesome experience at HUBO Lab.
I had so many great meals this week, especially in Jeju where I had a lot of Jeju black pork and fresh fish. However, the best meal I had was actually in Seoul Station while waiting for our train to Daejeon. We went to eat at this half-and-half Korean and Japanese traditional restaurant, and I ordered this huge plate of pork katsu, filled with cheese. It was amazing. Below is a photo.
These week I did a lot of intercity travel within Daejeon and Seoul, and I used a lot of great words that I have come upon that are good for both subways and taxis. The first is “yeok” (station), which is very useful for telling landmarks for taxi drivers to drop you at, or when traversing the subway system in Seoul, or taking a train across country. If you are travelling in Korea this is a must-know word.
The other words I have used a lot are “wenjjok” (left), “oreunjjok” (right), and “yeogi” (here). These are especially useful when trying to direct a taxi driver to a specific location when you are close to your destination.
The new place the I explored this week was Jeju island, a resort island south of the Korean peninsula. This island was amazing, similar to the climate of Hawaii. Although it was rainy all week, and we didn't get to see the beach, it was still an awesome experience, and I hope that I will get to go back before my trip here is over. Below are some pictures of the scenery and the main city in Jeju island.
Taxis late at night: This weekend, I had a hard experience trying to get a taxi in a very popular area of Seoul, “Hongdae”, at 3:00 AM. It was pouring, and the taxis were all full. It took us 40 minutes to get a taxi back to our hotel. A good way to get around this is to use a taxi hailing service such as Kakao Taxi, which I would have used if I had a Korean phone number. This makes the experience much easier, and guarantees a taxi in situations such as this.
Trains: One of the most popular modes of transportation across the country in Korea are the numerous kinds of trains. They have high-speed trains, the KTX, mid-line trains (ITX and SRT), and then the low-price train, Mugungwha. There are very many options, and after taking all of them I can say they are all much better than travel in America. The Mugungwhas are much more convenient, as they go more often, but they have bad AC and no WiFi. The KTX is good if you can spend the extra money, because they have free WiFi, nice AC, and they travel much faster than the Mugungwhas.
This week was mostly focused on my new research project, and working on Blake and I's startup. It was a very rainy week, but during the weekend I got to travel to Daegu, about two hours Southeast of Daejeon. It was a cool city to visit with lots of young people and a very large and vibrant nightlife.
I chose this photo because it was a really cool thing to go see, and something that is actually surprisingly popular in Korea. This photo is of a “cat cafe” in Daegu, where you can go in and hangout with all of the cats and have some coffee or tea. In this cafe, there were over 20 cats to play with, and they were very cute. The smell in the cafe was a bit off-putting, but it was still a really cool experience. In Korea they have a very fond affection for cats, and even on KAIST campus there are resident cats that are taken care of by the community, and live throughout the campus.
This weekend, Blake and I went down to Daegu to meetup with two guys who are starting an English translation start-up focusing on academic publishers. This aligns with our interest to start a similar service for academics, so we decided to meet with them to see if we could work together. We had a great time with them in Daegu, and will hopefully be partners in the future. Below is a picture of us together. The two guys were Jongoo and Junnyeong, from DGIST, a new technology university outside of Daegu.
Something that may surprise you about Korea is the way that they socialize, and especially the way that they drink. When socializing, they are almost always drinking, and if they are drinking, they are almost always eating as well. Usually, when going out for a night, you will go have dinner with some soju and beer, then go to get an appetizer with soju and beer, and then go have a late-night snack with soju and beer. It almost endless, and unless you are drinking at a club or maybe a noraebang (karaoke), there is always food involved. Honestly, this is a great experience, but it can make you very full by the end of the night, and it definitely costs a bit of money.
This week I learned that I actually love seafood, whereas before I was indifferent about it. When I was younger I did not like seafood very much, and hardly ever ate it. As I get older though, I like it more and more, especially sushi and shellfish. After having a lot of great seafood this week, I realized that I may be a seafood lover after all.
This week we met with Mark, Minkyu, and Joonha to get working on our footstep planning project. we split up the preliminary research, and fir now we are figuring out what our capabilities and limitations are for this project. So far, we have decided to work with PCL to get the point data for the footsteps, and to use some kind of cost function to find the optimal step. The main advantage of our planner will be that it is scanning in real-time, and that it will be able to plan 4-5 steps ahead and update these steps as it gets new information. For the next few weeks, this will be our project, and we may even continue this research when we return to Las Vegas.
The food of the week was this amazing shellfish stew that we had in Daegu. It was a big pot with all different kinds of shellfish, a whole chicken, hard-boiled eggs, vegetables, and potatoes. It was so delicious, and very fresh. the restaurant where we had it is apparently very popular in Daegu for this stew, and I can see why because it was delicious. Below if the photo.
After a lot of great food this week, I felt that a good word to know for this week is “mashisseoyo” (delicious). This is a very good word to know in order to complement the amazing food that they serve in Korea. If it was especially delicious, you could add “aju” (very) to the beginning to emphasize how delicious it was.
The new place that I explored this weekend was Daegu, which is a large city Southeast of Daejeon. It is about 2 hours by train, and had quite a lot of young people living in it. This is due to the city having 18 universities. The largest area in Daegu is dongseongno, which is actually one of the largest towns in Korea. It is filled with many shops, restaurants, clubs, and bars. There were a lot of young people walking around, and Blake and I got to experience a good amount of shopping and nightlife during our time in Daegu. Below is a picture of some of the shopping area.
This week, I noticed something that might be helpful to the late-night traveler. The train schedule in Korea usually stops around midnight, and resumes around 4-5 AM. If you happen to miss the last train for the night, and don't have a hotel, there are a few options. One is to go to a jjimjilbang (sauna), where there are 24 hour ones that will allow you to sleep on the floor. If you think you can stay up until the morning, you could go to a PC bang, where they have good PCs available for only 1,000-2,000 won per hour, and are mostly open 24 hours, and serve food or drinks. Lastly, you could go to one of the many 24 hour cafes in Korea, and have coffee to keep you awake, and free WiFi. These are all good options if you get stranded, and it makes me fell much more at ease travelling late-at-night in Korea.
This week was a very eventful and amazing week with HUBO Lab. On Thursday we left for a conference in Gangneung, a city in the Northeast part of Korea. We spent a day at KIST learning from other labs on KAIST campus, and from other schools in Korea. On Friday we got to tour Gangneung, seeing a sprawling sheep pasture with beautiful views, and then going to the beach for a day of fun. We came back Saturday afternoon.
I chose this photo because I think it is one of the coolest photos I took this trip. This photo is of me at the very top of the rolling hills of a sheep pasture, outside of Gangneung. This photo captures the beauty of this area, and shows how diverse the landscape is in Korea. This is very surprising for such a small country, but there are forests, meadows, beaches, and urban landscapes all over Korea, bringing the best of everything.
This weekend I spent a lot of time meeting many different researchers from KAIST, Kookmin University, KIST, and Hanyang University. I also got to get to know many of the HUBO Lab members who I haven't spent a lot of time with, and the KI (KAIST Institute) researchers who are working with HUBO Lab. This was really great, and it made me feel like a part of HUBO Lab.
This weekend I also met two new friends in downtown Daejeon, Eunbi and Sua, two girls who are studying English in Daejeon. They were very excited to practice their English with me, and they gave me some good tips on places to see in Daejeon.
One interesting thing that I noticed this week was how Koreans act while on the beach. In general, it seems like people like to swim a little, and play in the sand, just like in the US. However, the lifeguards here don't let you go out very far into the water, and are very strict about you drifting too far from your spot on the beach. However, the most interesting thing is that everyone here is completely clothed while on the beach, even when swimming. It doesn't seem like tanning is a thing here, and swimming in the ocean can be down in anything besides pants. This is quite different from America, where mostly everyone is in just swim-trunks or bikinis. Below is a photo of this:
This week I learned how easy it is for me to integrate into a new group of people, and to work well together. This week my project got running, and the whole group was really good at working together and delegating work, even after only knowing each other for a few weeks. Hopefully our results are good at the end of the month. Additionally, I got to have some good times with HUBO Lab during the weekend, and learned how easy it is for me to integrate into a new group of people, even if I don't speak much of their native language.
This week my group started working on the PCL part of our project. Specifically, we are trying to combine our repetitive scans, filter the cloud, segment any planes in the cloud, and compute the normal of that plane, all in real-time. This is a heavy project to undertake, but with PCL it makes it much easier. Hopefully we will be able to complete this part of the project by the end of the month, and then we can get started on the real-time planning of footsteps for DRC-HUBO to follow.
This is the best meal I had this week. It was this amazing platter of fresh, raw fish. We ate as a large group in a restaurant, and they brought out five different courses like this platter for every four people. It was amazingly delicious, and very fresh.
I learned a lot of new Korean slang this week. The first phrase is hamo (definitely), which is slang from Busan. Another slang phrase from Busan is a pwabgessibnida (Nice to meet you), which is used as slang for “cheers” in Busan. Other ways to say “cheers” are chang (the sounds the glasses make), or tongbae (cheers).
The main place I explored this weekend was Gangneung, a very nice city in the Northeast, close to the city of Pyeongchang, where the 2018 Winter Olympics are going to be held. This city offered very nice forest, pastures, and best of all, beaches. Below is a photo from the beach:
The main thing I learned this week that is helpful to others involves when you are riding a bus for a long time in Korea. None of the buses in Korea have bathrooms on-board, so make sure you go to the bathroom before you leave, and especially whenever they make midway stops, as these will be your only chances.