Two years ago, I was in Daejeon for the first time. The semester and my university life had started, and boy was it awkward and messy. I first went to the orientation and tried to memorize all the information, but apparently forgot the part where I had to go to the OASIS office to get my folder with my ID card, health insurance forms, and other vital documents. Then I registered for the buddy program and went with anticipation to meet him only to see that he never showed up. Finally, after getting a bike, I zoomed down the road next to the Sports Complex and tumbled down the stairs at the bottom and if not for lady luck, would have started my KAIST life with a cast and several hundred thousand won in medical bills.
The beginning was not easy. I was entering a new stage of life in a country I left for thirteen years. It was weird for a Korean-Canadian who couldn't speak his own native language. The typical questions swirled in my head; "Will I survive? Will I find the right major for myself?" On top of that were thoughts like "I haven't been to this country in thirteen years. I've never been to Daejeon. Can I reintegrate? Will I learn quickly enough?" With so many worries and concerns, I was entitled to at least a couple of panic attacks. I had my moments. Going into stores fumbling whenever I tried to speak Korean, listening to the first five lectures in Calculus and dying inside, and trying to make heads and tails of the buildings, classes, seminars, clubs, majors, departments, protocol, and so on. I felt helpless.
But it was temporary. I had plenty of help to clear my thoughts. One was my mentor, who answered a lot of my questions, explained how I should plan my career and life, and told many humorous and informative stories that helped calm my nerves. The other was the international community. People from around the world, some who never spoke a word of Korean, went through the same situations as I did, yet were significantly more stable than I was. Instead of fearing the unknown, they charged right at it. They didn't know Korean, but that didn't stop them from finding alternatives or better yet just power-studying the language. Some of them had unique backgrounds and their anecdotes of their culture and academic experiences helped me to see that the world isn't scary, it's just big, and that size is a wonder to behold. With their words, suddenly KAIST was starting to look like home.
This fall semester is quite a stark contrast to the one two years ago. This time, I led a group of newcomers around, answered their questions, and gave them advice. The same road I nearly crashed and burned is an everyday path that I enjoy blazing through, and more and more pieces of what my life will be are starting to come together. School has started up again; returning students are adjusting their schedules and planning for future events and the newcomers are getting used to their new home and exploring around. If you are returning back, then welcome back and I hope this brought you back a little nostalgia, and for our new students, have nothing to fear. It seems daunting at first, but time and the people around you will help you turn the chaos into a wonderful memory.