Earlier this week, the Fellowships Office called up Matt D’Arcy to find out how he’s doing as a Fulbright Student Scholar in South Korea. Prior to starting the Fulbright grant, Matt had spent a few months there as a Critical Language Scholar (CLS). And a good thing too: with his prior preparation plus the few months of immersion, he is able to get around easily, although he is continuing to learn and expand his vocabulary.
Currently, Matt is living in Seoul, where he shares an apartment with a housemate. It takes him about 10 minutes by train or walking to get to the Fulbright offices, popular nightlife areas, as well as the Space Systems Research Laboratory of Korea Aerospace University where he is conducting his Fulbright project. “The public transportation system is extremely efficient throughout the country,” he says, noting that Korea has designed smart phone apps specifically to sync with public transit activity, which is further aided by fast Wifi on-board (and dotted all over the country) that comes with monthly cell phone plans. This makes for a very technologically savvy population.
“You can literally press a button on your home screen and know exactly how long you have before the bus comes, which is great when it’s raining because you won’t have to wait around and get wet.” Due to the reliability of transportation, Matt has traveled quite a bit. Recently, he went on a farming trip to help some members of the Korean Peasants Association harvest their crops, and attended a conference in Jeju Island which he describes as, “Mountains, volcanoes, beautiful forests, and black-rock formations all over.”
These excursions provide welcome reprieves from the demanding, but exciting work, at the lab. Over the past few months, Matt’s been hunkering down and learning a lot of new things, for instance, “software for satellite simulations and math analysis, computer programming, and micro-controllers.” He was also part of the lab team that went to a facility at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) to test the behavior of a satellite when it is subjected to different vibrations, as would happen during a rocket launch.
Matt admits that, even as a Drexel alum, he struggled at first to adjust to the work culture at the lab. “Most of my colleagues live in the lab during the week, and the graduate students there often put in 18 hour days. I put my mattress pad there and if I stay late for a lab dinner, soccer, or crunch time for a project, I will stay put,” he tells us. Not surprisingly, it has been very important for him to establish a good balance between work and personal/social life – after all, he is also there as a cultural ambassador! Many colleagues have now become friends, and while lab work continues to be demanding, he stays on his gym routine, sets aside time to travel and explore, and hangs out with his Fulbright community regularly.
Fulbright offices vary widely from country to country, but the one in South Korea seems especially proactive about making sure the Scholars feel connected. A couple of weeks ago, they organized what Matt calls “a legit Thanksgiving” – turkey and all, which we imagined must have made him homesick. But Matt is loving it in Korea. He feels safe there, where people seem to look out for each other, and is especially enthusiastic about the food. Meals are quite inexpensive and healthy at his university, averaging about $1.50-$3.00 per meal, not to mention, “I’ve gotten so used to rice, if I don’t have rice in the morning it doesn’t feel right. These days, a meal without rice is a day without sunshine,” he grins.
So is there anything he does miss in the US? “Aside from family and friends of course,” a huge grin, “Reese’s peanut butter cups.”