Sunday, August 24, 2008

Give and take

My research period here in Seoul is (officially) over now, having handed in my visiting researchers report on Friday afternoon. We now have a few calculations to be getting on with over the next couple of weeks which, as always, may or may not lead to anything. Whatever happens, my time here has been lively and enjoyable, spending dozens upon dozens of hours talking with my collaborators in the two departments I've been visiting.

I'm now here for another few days before heading back to Spain via two days in England (just the way the cheapest flights went). I'm now couchsurfing in the South of the city and, as always happens with Couchsurfing, meeting some wonderful people. My host is one of the most exceptional people I've met, having such a diverse range of talents and interests that surprises never stop and we seem to be constantly discovering shared passions. My host's friends who I've met over the last few days here are also a great group, many of whom are couchsurfers themselves and it's been great to get some insights into life in Seoul as seen by the expat community, which is made up predominantly of English teachers. I don't particularly chose to spend all my time with expats, figuring that time in a foreign country is best spent finding out about life from the local residents, but on this occasion it has simply worked out that way, and it's one of the most lively intelligent groups I've had the pleasure of meeting.

(In fact, during a train ride to work, I was informed by a perfectly friendly Korean student that the reason many of the younger people I met claimed not to speak English, when really they did, was because Korean people don't like foreigners. Rather shocked at this I probed a little further and he, very frankly, said that Koreans don't like things that are different and they would rather spend time with people who were the same than with people who were strange and foreign.

My experience with those Koreans I've met has never matched with this opinion, but it was an interesting moment of matter-of-fact conversation. There are indeed many idiocyncratic aspects to modern Korean society but in my brief time here, none of these has made me dislike the place at all. I've discovered a lot by speaking with the expats who teach one-on-one with young Korean adults who often open up to the teachers with very frank statements about marriage, work, love and social life.)

Anyway, spending time with the couchsurfers and their friends here has been great and I'm continually being surprised by the fact that not only are people not silenced when I tell them that I'm a theoretical physicist, but more often than not I'm met with gasps of astonishment, followed by a flurry of great questions. Explaining physics to people with a genuine interest is hugely enjoyable and I've spent a lot of time talking with very intelligent non-physicists about many many fascinating topics over the last few days. The 'oh my god, I never knew that. That just blows my mind' response makes talking with such people so enjoyable, and thankfully I've had a lot of opportunities to get such reactions.

Getting people interested in science is a real buzz!

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