Korean Blog

Posted: March 5, 2014 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: March 6, 2014 at 6:40 am

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By Karen Rosenblum, associate professor of sociology

Karen Rosenblum is currently teaching at Mason Korea in Songdo. Here she shares her initial thoughts during the first week of classes at the new campus.

Karen Rosenblum, professor of sociology

Karen Rosenblum, professor of sociology

These are just first impressions from orientation, but the Mason Korea freshmen seem charming, sharp and excited. The same can be said for the six Mason exchange students, several of whom dropped in to visit during orientation. The freshmen have come from Korean high schools, as well as international high schools where instruction was in English; all are Korean citizens. Many have had extensive experience living elsewhere in Asia, sometimes with family and sometimes on their own; several have spent years in the United States or Canada. Those I talked with seem to have quite deliberately chosen the Mason Songdo program — they wanted to live in or return to Korea, but they also wanted an American education. I was surprised by their comfort in talking with the American faculty — there were lots of laughs.

The campus and greater Songdo/Incheon Free Economic Zone have also been a surprise to me. The scale of things here is simply vast. While intellectually I understood this was a “new city,” the reality of that takes a while to sink in. There are huge parcels of empty land — flat because this is reclaimed tidal flats facing the Yellow Sea — interspersed with towering office/research buildings with underground parking, so it is hard to tell how many occupants there are, and fairly empty six-lane roads, except for the big construction trucks.

Across the street is Yonsei University, one of Korea’s most prestigious universities, which has a large campus of about 15 buildings for its freshmen and international students. All of this is traversed by a local bus, the 91, which in 10 minutes takes us past rows of high-rise apartment buildings to the subway; in another 10 minutes we are in downtown Songdo — still smallish, but with restaurants, bars, grocery stores, a huge new Lotte Mart and South Korea’s tallest building, the 68-story Northeast Asia Trade Tower. (I realize I will need to expand my vocabulary beyond the words “huge,” “vast” and “towering.”)

On campus, the part that is built is, indeed, fully and completely built out — even to the naming of rooms. This quadrant — there will apparently be several more — includes two residence halls (students give the rooms excellent reviews), a faculty apartment building (apartments are spacious and modern, even including an alarm clock built into the master bedroom lighting plate), and three connected academic buildings.

The center of campus seems also to be built, with a huge six-floor combination student union and library where Mason offices and classrooms are located, an equally huge auditorium and an even larger 21-story guest building. The master plan for the final campus and its several universities calls for 25,000 students, but in this part of campus there are so far only about 250 (mostly State University of New York at Stony Brook students). At first, I thought students would be dwarfed by the scale of things, but as they settle in for the night and I watch the dorm lights go on from my apartment window, things look pretty cozy.

And with that, I bid you good night from Mason Korea.

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

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