I was lucky enough to receive the NSEP Boren Scholarship to go back to Korea! I’ll be studying as an exchange student at Sogang University in Seoul. Because of COVID-19, the fall semester of the program was cancelled, but I’m hoping to be in Seoul in February!
One of my favorite parts about being in South Korea was that I could hike mountains whenever I want. Seoul is full of mountains with pleasant trails that lead to beautiful peaks, and I always meet at least a few strangers during my morning hikes who talk to me about where I’m from and why I’m here. What has surprised me the most is that I almost never meet people on the mountains under 65, although that may be because I always go very early in order to be back before class starts. There have been a few times when I definitely wished that I had brought actual hiking gear instead of running shoes, but I managed to not get hurt nonetheless. The views from the top always made the long hike worth it! The pictures below are from Yongmasan Mountain and Bukhansan National Park.
Through ISA (study abroad agency) I took an excursion to Donghae for the day. We were told that we would spend the first part of the day at the beach, but when we got there the beach was COLD. The wind was strong and the water was tumultuous from the tropical storm that had just passed by. For lunch we ate at a seaside Korean restaurant which had literally three things on the menu: raw fish stew, spicy raw fish stew, and bean curd stew. I do not love fish, so I opted for bean curd stew and it was definitely not my favorite food that I have eaten here… but it was nice to have something warm. After lunch, we went to the lotus fields and toured the Heo Gyun & Heo Nanseolheon Memorial Park, which were both beautiful.
So my day started out with a 2-hour dance class learning the routine to “Red Flavor” by Red Velvet ( 레드벨벳 ‘빨간 맛’), which btw is a perfect summer jam. It was hard for me because I have neither dancing ability nor any knowledge of K-pop, but it was definitely an experience! We then performed the dance flash-mob style in front of the main gates of Korea University. There were people filming our dance, but it didn’t occur to me until later that they would actually use the footage. Not only do I see that video literally every day on the screens on campus, but I even saw it on a train heading out of the city??? If you’re curious, here’s the link: https://youtu.be/X6S5C1FDTs0
Later that same day, I went to the rehearsal for the broadcast of KBS Music Bank, which was amazing! I wish that I had some great pictures, because there several big names there, like SHINee, NU’EST and Kyungri (from Nine Muses). However, we were strictly not allowed to take any photos, and the security guards were really not playing any games. I also won a raffle to see the live show after the rehearsal, and it was filled with some amazing performances. Being in Seoul, I almost can’t help beginning to love K-pop…
There is so much good food in Korea! Everything that I’ve tried has been so good, both from restaurants and street stands. This is so far probably my favorite thing about this country. I am really a sucker for anything with dumplings and anything that is spicy, especially the spicy, chilled buckwheat noodles (a refreshing summer favorite).
Now that classes have started, I think I should make a post about what I’m studying, since that is the whole point of the trip. I definitely forgot the importance of the *study* component of studying abroad. Because it’s a six-week program, classes move at twice the pace of a normal semester, so it is not unusual to have 50-70 pages of reading for my contemporary Korean society class ass well as studying for my Korean language class. The classes have been challenging so far, but I am learning a lot, so it’s worth it! The beautiful stone buildings definitely add to the experience 🙂
My professors are SO. COOL. In my contemporary Korean society class, the professor has lived and worked in Korea for the past 40 years, so she has personally experienced the societal changes that we are studying. For me, it really helps to be in Korea and observing a lot of the cultural aspects in order to give a real, analytical point of view to class discussions. As for my Korean language class, the professor is really challenging us with new vocabulary and grammar points, even on subjects that we all thought we were well-versed in. Because it’s a discussion-and-practice-based class, we are always put on the spot with examples and questions by the professor. My Korean skills are improving; although, it takes a while after class for my blood pressure to return to normal…
The university also offers cultural enrichment activities every Friday for its International Summer Campus students. For example, tomorrow I will be learning a K-pop dance routine and performing it live for a student flash mob. Wish me luck!
On the first day, my ISA group and I took a bus near the top of the mountain to get to Namsan Seoul Tower and walked up what is possibly the steepest slope ever to get to the top. Aside from its main attraction -the observation deck- there were restaurants, LED video tunnels, sloped couple benches, and tree structures made out of love locks that couples had placed there, like the bridges in Paris. The view was amazing, and I want to go back to hike the trail all the way up.
After my first day of classes and my Korean language placement test, I went with some friends to Myeongdong, a famous shopping district with incredible street food. I ate a matcha ice cream that was 32 cm long!!! I also bought a hilarious shirt with some English nonsense on it and took some pictures next to famous icons at the Artbox store.
So the first two days have been a wild ride to say the least. My program group and I started off our tour of Seoul with a trip to Gwangjang Market, which has just about everything you could imagine. There were a ton of food stands selling fish, korean pancakes, tteokbokki, dumplings etc. My food vocabulary is so limited that up until this point I had been surviving on flavored milk and triangle gimbap from the convenience store – and it was a mystery flavor every time because there were no pictures… Every food item that I have tried so far has been delicious, but the amount of times that I have been corrected by Koreans and the waitstaff on how to eat my food is embarrassingly large.
Only 8 hours until my flights leaves for Seoul and I am so excited! Here’s to hoping that my bag weighs less than 50lbs……..
Update: It didn’t, but that’s okay because I made it to Korea!