I’m starting a new section for my blog – story time! I hope you’re as excited as I am. I plan to share my personal experiences in Korea through sweet and silly vignettes, with a new post coming out every Thursday. Basically, it’s the blog version of #tbt (throwback Thursday). 재미있겠죠? 그럼 지금부터 해보겠스니다.
I will open with asking you this: which mountain is the best mountain for eating Continue reading →
During my third time in Korea, one of the things I struggled with the most was one of the simplest household tasks – taking out the trash. It may be second nature to Seoulites who are accustomed to buying the correct regulated trash bags in the right size, sorting out what goes in which bag, and then figuring out where and when they’re allowed to actually put the filled bags outside their homes…
This piece is part of Seoul Guide, a series of posts for foreigners trying to navigate living in Seoul, South Korea
Out of all the time I spent on preparing for my two month adventure in Seoul this past summer, I spent about 95% of it solely on housing. Like when I applied for a visa back in 2014, I felt like I was going to lose my mind – this time with the stress of securing safe, affordable, decent living conditions. On the bright side…I (re)learned quite a bit of housing-related vocabulary that I had been so sure I would never need back when I still took Korean classes.
There are several different housing options available for foreigners going to South Korea for study abroad Continue reading →
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.
Artwork in the GD-curated PEACEMINUSONE exhibit 2015
Artwork in the GD-curated PEACEMINUSONE exhibit 2015
Bus ticket from the Boseong trip!
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
Apparently this is my hundred-and-one-diest post! Should have done a giveaway or something…but I have no money to give away, so here’s my gift to you: how to get money (from people other than me).
No one knows better than I the challenge of finding, applying for, and receiving scholarships and awards to enable a study abroad trip. There are a hundred requirements to qualify, and even if you do, you have to write countless essays and wait in increasing panic and desperation for an email that says “OK, here’s your $$$.”
The stages of desperation…
The desperation gets real when you’re looking at fees and tuition totaling thousands and thousands of dollars. And they’re due in a week. And you have to provide a bank statement proving you have those funds to apply for a visa. And you own only two potatoes. But then the money comes and you could not be more incredibly grateful and want to write letters of gratitude to the providers and suddenly you dream of becoming rich so that you can donate massive amounts of money to help all the other people who want to study abroad be able to do it, too.……but finding the funding in the first place can be the hardest part, which is why I’m going to share tips and some specific funding resources that enabled my study abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul last semester. Continue reading →
Believe it or not, but I’m headed back to Seoul this summer – back to Yonsei University, in fact. I seem to be blessed with endless doors opening for me over the past two years and so I’m planning on charging full speed ahead (hoping that I won’t charge headfirst into a closed door anytime soon).
Yonsei University runs a summer program called YISS, or Yonsei International Summer School. It’s a relatively short program of about a month and a half that is geared towards international exchange students who come and take a Korean language course alongside one or two regular academic courses.
But beyond the classroom! Wherein lie the true lessons of life! And Korean. Because studying at KLI/YISS is all very well and good but speaking Korean with the convenience store clerk, or navigating the subways and bus routes, or asking for directions to a performing arts center to attend a musical – this is the stuff that truly challenges. That proves whether the classroom has provided the foundation and whether I trust myself to stand on that base of knowledge – and most importantly, whether I can lead myself and others through moments of challenge both great and small.
I wrote a post for my Reach the World classroom this past weekend about my experience at a temple in Seoul (Reach the World is a program that I joined via the Gilman Scholarship which is supporting my studies abroad; it is designed to connect world travelers and exchange students from the United States with K-12th classrooms). While I am constrained by space and writing level for those pieces – because I am assigned 2nd graders – I really wanted to expand on my experience on my seouldream blog. The temple stay indubitably ranks as one of my top three experiences in Korea thus far. I cannot think of a better way to have spent my weekend than to have lived in a Buddhist temple for two days and one night, and I hope that after reading this, you’ll want to experience it too. Continue reading →
Warning: this is rambling, a bit introspective, and entirely related to my experience of sounds in Seoul (If you want to read some points about concerts, albums and music stores, just scroll down to where it says Let’s talk about music).
How can NELL’s CDs be so pretty?
It took an unacceptable amount of time to rephrase the title for this post, so I hope you appreciate it in all its glorious simplicity and soul/seoul-iness. I am sitting here with three brand new albums (well, I was when I wrote this on October 16th) and feeling moderately victorious over surviving three of my four classes’ finals (let’s not talk about how they went, just acknowledge the fact that they’re over). I have multiple Korean exams and tests left of course, but I’ve studied enough today and I need to catch up on some blog posts!
Music is life for me. I listen to music almost constantly, although I have a deep appreciation for silence – both the kind where I am silent and I listen to the noises that the world around me creates, and the kind where everything is so silent that you can hear your own heartbeat pushing blood through your head. Silence is a beautiful thing, and in Seoul, it is rarely so silent that the latter is possible. The former, however, is a glorious thing to experience. I love sitting outside at night as the weather gets colder and listening to the wind twist through the trees and sends leaves scattering across the pavement for adorable ahjussis to sweep up in the morning. The night is crisp and alive in its own beautiful way. I don’t sit in the bustling downtown – no, I mean sitting outside near trees and buildings where people are sleeping or simply not there.
One thing that I had a lot of trouble with when I first arrived in Seoul was finding a church – both finding a church where I could attend on Sundays and literally finding the church on Sunday. I was saved by my best friend’s friend who graduated from Yonsei University and is a Catholic. She gave me directions to the church that she attended and recommended it because the 6PM service was geared towards a younger, college-age type of a crowd.
I went out to find it, leaving with plenty of time (or so I thought) to get there early and tuck myself away into a pew as unobtrusively as possible, but as luck would have it Continue reading →
It’s unbelievable that I’ve already been in Seoul for over a week and a half, and today is my fourth day of classes. The amount and variety of things to do can be a little overwhelming, so I haven’t been very good about writing posts….Yes, yes, dishonor on me, dishonor on my cow….
Living in Seoul for even just a week and a half has given me a good sense of the cost of living – if you take out the cost of a place to stay. I live in a dorm on campus, and compared to my home university’s housing fees, it is very cheap.
There are other things that cost money, however. Food, clothes, transportation, coffee (there are innumerable cafes in every direction), tours, traveling (cross-country, like to Busan, as opposed to within Seoul). And textbooks/printing out class assignments and readings. Continue reading →