Well, yet another adventure in Korea has come and gone, and impacted my life in ways that I did not foresee. Each time, I am asked if I’m really going again, and each time I somehow manage to go again by finding scholarships and fellowships and saving my own money. And each time, people ask me when I’m going back.
The answer hasn’t changed: I don’t know. And that’s okay. I have my senior year of undergrad to finish, and my future to consider. It will probably be a good while before I can go back.
In the meantime, I’m going to reflect on the past two months as well as 2014 and 2015 before I start sharing more focused posts.
This fellowship was very different from the two previous times I’ve gone to Korea. In 2014, I was an exchange student for a semester and took courses like a normal student at Yonsei University. I lived in the dorms, I made numerous international friends, and I finally got to test my Korean skills in a truly Korean environment. I took intensive Korean and my skills improved rapidly. I attended countless concerts and special events, traveled deep into the countryside, and even got really sick several times from overbooking myself for classwork and for fun things. Most importantly, I went on mini-excursions on my own all around Seoul in an effort to find ‘me’. It was a period of immense growth and one of the best times of my life.
And attending 연고전 redefined my concept of “school spirit”.
I spent summer 2015 at Yonsei as well, but this time as a student in the International Summer School program. This meant that I lived in the exact same dorm as before, attended courses in the same buildings, and met a new group of international students (primarily from the U.S.). Again, I took intensive Korean, but I suffered from a severe drop in confidence in my language skills as most of my classmates were native speakers who had grown up in the U.S.
As in 2014, I attended concerts and events and traveled out of Seoul, this time on a brief trip to Boseong’s green tea fields. I spent much of my time in Cafe Noriter in Edae. For summer 2015, Korea to me was in some ways different from before, but still so much was the same – perhaps too much. Instead of being pushed out of my comfort zone, I simply returned to the one I had built the previous year when I was an exchange student.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a fantastic time.
But let’s talk about 2016 now.
For the past two months, I was not at Yonsei. I did not live in a dorm. I entered knowing only one student in my program at Sungkyunkwan University. I attended no concerts. Yet for all these differences, it was the right way to spend my third time in Korea. At this point, I have already attended so many varied cultural events that the ones offered by my program or that friends invited me to were ones I had already attended in past years.
A quiet summer evening on SKKU’s main campus
I realized a new dream, one that I fulfilled throughout June and July: that of feeling truly like I was living in Korea like anyone else. I was independent, and yet also a person absorbed into the existing millions. While it was far beyond my comfort zone, I was simultaneously scared and thrilled to be pushing myself again. My schedule was my own; my mealtimes were dependent on me alone. I did not have the community that a dorm provides, and I lived a long bus or subway ride from SKKU. I wasn’t taking intensive Korean – in fact, I only had one course on human rights, and it was incredibly intensive and informative. I wasn’t interested in making friends during my program because I already had people I wanted to spend time with and places that I wanted to go. Things were very, very different.
And I drank a lot of coffee.
And I loved it. I lived in cafes, I studied on my own schedule. I commuted on sweaty buses with the rest of the teeming masses of students and workers in the morning and evening because I could no longer simply walk out of my dorm and into the next building for class. I bought books at Kyobo and wrote poems in pastry shops, and after a while I started running into people in my neighborhood that I recognized. I became a ‘regular’ at cafes and restaurants, someone who was recognized and welcomed a bit more than the general groups of strangers. Where I lived truly began to feel like my town – or perhaps, in the style of Korea, I should say it was ours.
Rain or shine, Hongdae was home.
Also, the most thrilling and different thing from my previous two experiences in Korea was that this time, a language exchange friendship of the past half year blossomed into a dating relationship and that deeply affected how much I practiced speaking Korean and how much I traveled around Seoul and the surrounding regions. As a result, I also experienced a variety of things that I would not have imagined, like attending a Korean wedding, meeting my Korean boyfriend’s family after he told them he was dating me, and learning more about Korea’s couple culture firsthand (ㅎㅎㅎ couple shoes, anyone?). It also vastly increased the stares – a mixed-race couple rather than simply a foreigner draws even more attention ㅋㅋㅋ
Of course, it also changed how I felt when I had to leave at the very end of July, as it was no longer just about leaving Korea, but rather about leaving him…
At least he’s transferring to a U.S. university a few states away. I’ll just listen to Roy Kim’s 롱디 on repeat until I can visit him!
Anyways, I just want to say thanks, Korea, for another incredible time. I look forward to returning someday soon and in the meantime, I promise to improve my Korean.
읽어 주셔서 감사합니다!