Due to some irresponsibility on my part, I was assigned a random roommate this semester. Having that awkward relationship where you know each other but not closely, our encounters were minimal with the courteous “Good morning”s and “goodbye”s. Then, it started one night with a short conversation about religion and why I identified myself as a Catholic Christian. I remember I was taken by surprise at first, not prepared to defend my beliefs but as the conversation progressed, we both became engrossed in the topic despite our differing opinions.
At first, it seemed like too much of a pain to discuss things that I often took for granted or never considered important, things that I never bothered questioning or took the time to wonder why I did them. But soon I began to appreciate these periodic, stimulating talks.
As I had more of these conversations with my roommate, discussing topics ranging from death to the social environment at KAIST, I began to realize the surprisingly low frequency of intellectual discussions in my everyday life. Busy with studying and attending group meetings, when I see people it’s usually an encounter that starts with “Hey, long time no see!” and then a quick exchange of personal updates of our lives, followed by “See you later!”
At KAIST, I rarely see people having these deep conversations in their free time. Why not? Some might say that since KAIST is an engineering institute, it’s not too surprising to see that KAIST doesn’t provide many courses that include any stimulating discussions like the ones I have with my roommate (and most of the ones that do are humanities classes). Others might say that with the busy lives that KAISTians lead, there just isn’t time to stop and think. Yet others might blame it on the Korean education system, which is primarily focused on memorization and reiteration by writing equations over and over again rather than questioning and pondering the problems.
I find that these mind-tickling thoughts should be common occurrences since I feel that we as humans should make it our duty to think and share our thoughts. Otherwise, what differences would there be between humans and apes? Instead of accepting everything like subservient beings, it’s healthy to question them every now and then.
Sad to say, I too am guilty, for the vast majority of my conversations is composed of small talk regarding gossip and dinner plans. In order to change this sad situation, I’ve made some plans to make myself more of an ideal person: 1. Read books, 2. watch TED and 3. discuss with friends over lunch.
The first is pretty self-explanatory. In KAIST, I don’t see many people reading books excluding the massive textbooks used in class. Recreational reading is a wonderful way of taking a breather from cramming formulas into our heads. For the second task, just the other week I attended the TEDxKAISTChange event hosted by the student group TEDxKAIST. My first (and hopefully not the last) experience watching a TED event, which had the central theme of bringing a change whether here in Daejeon or in nearby countries like Cambodia, was inspiring. TED is a series of conferences with one main purpose: to share “ideas worth spreading.” What better way is there to stimulate ideas than to listen to speakers share interesting perspectives? And the last is the most important: sharing and discussing with friends the jumbled thoughts in my brain. Whether it be over coffee or a meal, cutting down on the small talk and talking about the last book I read or the latest interesting TED video I watched is a great way of following through with the first two steps.
Once the spring semester comes to a finish, I’m ready to start the summer with a Kindle at my side stocked with bestsellers as the first step to fueling my mind.