Did You Walk from Korea?

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Arriving in from the sweltering heat of a typical Korean summer, the crisp cool weather and matching blue sky which Boston greeted me with was the perfect weather for my start as a new graduate student.

And as a graduate student should be, I decided to be frugal and take the T (subway of the Greater Boston area) to my new home in Ashdown house.

That was the first mistake I made on my arrival to MIT.

From my recollection of my trip to MIT in March for the visit weekend, I knew taking the Silver Line and transferring to the Red Line to Kendall Station was a free ride to MIT and seemed like a no-brainer. But I had neglected the fact that there were two differences since that visit.

First, my dorm residence Ashdown House is much farther from Kendall Station than the Marriot, where I stayed for the visit weekend. Second, I was staying for 3 days in March, but this time I had bags full of stuff for the next 6 years. What began as a happy walk in the crisp autumn air and taking selfies around campus soon turned into a 30 minute intense workout of my biceps, triceps, and legs.

I was drenched in sweat as I arrived at the lobby of Ashdown and the staff asked me “Did you walk from Korea?”

My other mistake was not as physically intense, but things could have been easier if I had made just one mouse click before I left Korea. Most logins on MIT sites require two-factor authentication or a hardware device, usually a mobile phone linked to an account. It is called MIT Duo and we are required to set this up so that in the event that my password is compromised my account is still secure.

As I left my country I discontinued my phone number because I did not realize then that I would be needing it in the US. However, the process of obtaining a student ID requires DUO certification! The steps to obtaining a student ID starts with logging into the ISO (International Students Office) website and then registering for an orientation session.

I panicked. Am I not going to able to get a student ID?

But all was not lost, I could get a YubiKey (hardware token) from the MIT IST (Information Systems and Technology) Office in Building E17-106.

I arrived late on Friday and had to wait over the weekend to get my hardware token to login and register for an orientation session. Ultimately it took me over a week before I could finally get my Student ID. I later learned that all of this could have been greatly shortened if I had checked the “remember me for 30 days button” button on the DUO certification login page before I discontinued my phone number. One mouse click.

During the weekend, I decided to get a phone so I could register it for DUO certification the following Monday. I did not realize it then, but again a simple misunderstanding set me on a course to a lot of walking and hassle over the next few months. At the time several Korean students were putting together a group to get a discount on pre-paid phones. I opened my account as a post-pay account, as is the norm in Korea. However, I later learned that pre- and post-paid accounts are not compatible for group discounts because they are handled by completely different departments in the company.

To move to pre-paid and join my friends I was directed to go to a “core” customer service store located a 30-minute walk away. The core customer service store told me that it was internal policy to block new subscribers from changing their account, and guided me to call 611 after 1 month. I said sure, thinking that one phone call 30 days later will put everything straight.

As I recollect, it took more than 10 calls to get this straightened out. One of the main frustrations was that near the end of the phone call, the representative, let us say “Bob,” would say bye with a “please let me know if there is any other troubles”. Usually there would be trouble, and when I did call back I would have to navigate the automatic reply system, and hold tens of minutes to be connected to a representative. Not only that the representative would not be “Bob”, so I had to explain my situation again.

Lesson learned: do it right the first time, because the second time through will be rough, very rough with lots of walking and even more phone calls.

Last, a misunderstanding made me save a bit of money but lose much more. In Korea, we do not have savings accounts. The fact that an account with withdrawal can also earn relatively high interest was new to me. “By saving dust we can build a mountain”, is a Korean idiom that I had in mind as I set my direct deposit settings to route all of my stipend to my savings account and felt smart doing it.

However, the next month rather than some interest, there was a charge on my checking account of $12 for a “maintenance fee.” $12 was quite a big chunk of dust that was blown off my mountain. So I went to the bank to ask about this fee and I came to learn that my checking account required at least $250 in monthly deposits for it to be exempt of maintenance fees.

Some checking accounts have different conditions for avoiding fees, such as maintaining a total balance (saving + checking) of more than $10,000. Now I have reverted my direct deposit settings to move some share of my stipend into the checking account and the remaining to the savings account, so that maintenance fees do not occur again.

The above are some troubles and misunderstandings that I had on my first arrival to MIT. The extensive orientation events prepared by the ISO and Graduate Student Council will explain the most important things for incoming students but I hope my mistakes can further help the next student have a soft landing here.

I would like to thank Hyungseok Song, Sungil Kim, Jeehyun Yang and other Korean colleagues who shared their experiences and answered questions that made the first few months much smoother than it would have been without them.