Sogang State of Mind

  • Photo by Photo by Jenna Gibson for Seoulist

    Photo by Jenna Gibson for Seoulist

  • Photo by Photo by Jungho Kim for Seoulist

    Photo by Jungho Kim for Seoulist

On any given weekend, crowds converge on Sinchon Station, heading for the area’s numerous shops, cafes, bars and eateries. With Yonsei University just north and Ehwa Women’s University just northeast, Sinchon’s crowded streets are packed with young people sporting collegiate fashion, filling the air with an almost visible buzz. Hongik University’s vibrant nightlife to the east completes this trifecta of playtime for Seoul’s youthful population.

But sandwiched between these busy neighborhoods, the oft-overlooked Sogang University remains an oasis of calm. Despite being conveniently located near three subway stations (Daeheung, Sinchon and Ehwa), it lacks the crowd-pleasing array of brightly lit boutiques and coffee shops packed one atop another—which honestly could be a big part of its charm.

I took a tour of Sogang’s campus on a perfect walking day. The fall air was fresh, and the clouds allowed just enough sun through to warrant taking off my jacket as we walked over carpets of bright yellow leaves.

The university is compact, but not cramped. In between a maze of buildings, tree-lined sidewalks open into grassy areas perfect for a picnic in the spring or a stroll in the fall. There are benches and walking paths everywhere, making the campus perfect for people like me who are addicted to walks, or for Sogang couples escaping their studies for a quick date.

“I think Sogang is a very peaceful university,” said one of my guides, a business student named Shin Bo-ram.

My other guide, engineering student Mok Won-je, agreed.

“Other universities are much larger—Yonsei, Seoul, Korea University. But here it’s nice—you can walk easily,” Mok said. “I don’t know why [it’s so quiet] …we don’t have many loud people,” he said with a laugh.

Photo by Jungho Kim for SeoulistExams had just ended when I visited, meaning students were out enjoying themselves after spending countless hours preparing. The campus was empty and quiet. Usually there might be a few more people around, but the university is still relatively quiet on the weekends, especially compared to its neighbors. Sogang is small—they only admit about 1,600 students each year, Mok said. And many of those students live all over the city and don’t spend their Saturdays on campus, he said.

Only a few years ago, Sogang was actually closed to the public, separated from the city by a wall and gates. But a few years ago the walls came down, and now everyone can enjoy the beautiful space that was once blocked.

My favorite part of Sogang was off the beaten path—literally. Behind the campus church, hidden among the trees, a stairway leads to a labyrinth of trails that twist up through woods so thick it’s hard to see any of Seoul’s ubiquitous high-rise apartments.

Silence reigns here—the only sounds I could hear were the soft crinkle of leaves beneath my feet and the occasional clink of a bat as the Sogang baseball team continued their game below. Even the ever-present rumble of cars and trains is muted here.

Be sure to take your time and meander along the trails. If you run into a dead end, turn around and go back. Just keep heading up—the hike is steep but short, and those who find their way to the top are rewarded with a nice resting place and a view of Seoul and the Han River peeking through the trees.

Just off campus, the street is filled with plenty of cheap eats. In Meokgeori Donggaseu (literally, Pork Cutlet Eatery), right across from the university’s main gate, a baseball game playing on a TV in the corner kept students entertained while they enjoyed their food. The furniture is worn here, and the décor, well, nonexistent, but the kimchi fried rice and tonkatsu were more than good enough for me. And at around 5,000 won per meal, the price was right, too.

At night, with Sinchon buzzing nearby, Sogang students, many wearing a telltale letterman-style jacket to ward off a fall chill, head into some of the small cafes and bars lining the neighborhood’s streets. Coffee Break, just north of the main gate, is a popular destination dressed in a sleek black and white interior almost reminiscent of turn of the century hotels with crown moldings and wrought iron lanterns. Moving a bit closer toward the lights of Sinchon, I opted for One Tree Hill for a post-dinner drink. The café is attached to a bakery and features plenty of seating and unique menu options like red ginseng lattes and black sesame smoothies. You can always find students huddled over books in the back room, where the lighting is dimmer but the tables are wider.

Photo by Jenna Gibson for SeoulistBetween Coffee Break and One Tree Hill, tucked behind a bright boutique pushing cell phone charms and accessories, a man takes a few swings in a batting cage surrounded by vintage arcade games. Bring your 100 and 500 won coins and defeat some digital bad guys. All in an afternoon’s work.

Last but not least, a visit to this neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without stopping by Soomdo, a café/art gallery with quirky décor and a dessert menu that’s to die for. The head baker here trained at the Cordon Bleu in France, and if you’re ever lucky enough to be there when fresh scones are coming out of the oven, you’ll wonder if she learned witchcraft, not baking. The place is only a few minutes’ walk from Daeheung Station (exit 1), and its events, from film screenings to art installations, are also worth a visit.

The Sogang stomping grounds are off the beaten Sinchon track and may not be as flashy as their northern neighbors, but take a stroll on the quieter side for a restful afternoon to escape from the constant motion of Seoul life.

Jenna Gibson

About Jenna Gibson

Originally from Minnesota, Jenna moved to Korea to teach English at a middle school in Cheonan upon graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She loves traveling around the peninsula, especially via train. Check out stories and pictures from her trips at her blog.

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