Grad School in Korea: Visiting KAIST

After a less-than-academic week due to the typhoon and a trip to Busan for some seaside culture (read: delicious fresh seafood), our group bussed back north through Jirisan National Park and finally arrived in Daejeon, home of the famous KAIST. Full name: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

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…yeah, it’s that kind of school.

Our professor, Matthew Saxton, kept telling us that KAIST students are basically the Korean equivalent of MIT students in the U.S. It is a graduate school of small size and dynamic influence, which often sends sees grads employed at companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. We were there for a series of workshops and lectures in the Culture Technology program, otherwise known as What I Want To Do With My Life.

Our home for the three days we were there was the futuristic Guest House, situated in a giant, suspiciously clean office park/construction zone, right next to an empty exhibition center. The doors opened with magnet keys and required a button to be pressed on the inside if you wanted to actually leave. Once we left the door open too long and triggered an alarm when I tried to close it, which only turned off when I went outside and put the key to the lock. It made all kinds of whirring and beeping noises and I’m certain it was more technologically advanced than anything I own.

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Anyway, lectures.
It was great to be back in class after such a long break! We had five lectures and a workshop, with both our own faculty and KAIST faculty. Some of our KAIST lectures were in fact classes taught to KAIST students- in English. At KAIST, we learned, teachers get a pay boost for teaching in English and the entire business program is actually taught in English. Our lectures included topics like Sociological Ambilvalence and Social Networks and Music Information Retrieval. It actually reminded me quite a bit of the interdisciplinary classes at UWB!
We spent a lot of time talking and learning about networks, both in the sociological and technical sense. Also, I learned how the Internet works, which was definitely a highlight for me, because for someone who spends most of her life online, I sure as heck had no idea what went on there.
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A definite bright spot of the KAIST experience was working with grad students, many of which were conducting research on sites like Twitter and Facebook. One guy actually took the opportunity to interview us about the spread of Kpop in America, which is… Well, a subject that I have a, shall we say, somewhat large personal interest in. I would love to read his paper when he’s done.
The KAIST campus is large, thought he student body is rather small. Still, the cafe was always packed when we went (maybe because coffee there is a good 2,000 won cheaper than most other places…), and we saw more foreign students than we had seen at Kyunghee University in Seoul. Daejeon itself seemed a bit small, especially after being in Seoul for a week. We did venture out and find the college area though, which was packed with people, brightly lit, and full of delicious food. Pretty much the Korean standard. The thing about Korea, at least that I’ve found so far, is that the college areas are twice as busy as the U district in Seattle, and about ten times as safe. Seems like a pretty good deal to me. Our tour guide, who was a Culture Technology grad student, said that most students still go to Seoul on the weekends. I can understand that. No matter how cool your town is, it is certainly hard to compete with Seoul.
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The little bit of Daejeon that we saw was lovely though, and I’m sad that our lectures ended so quickly! It seems like most of this trip has been determined to give me a taste of Korea and make me crazy for more.
Well-played, Saxton. Well-played.