After several COVID tests required to board the plane and get through customs, I have finally made it! Upon arrival to South Korea, we are required to quarantine at a facility for two weeks as well as check-in twice daily on the government quarantine app with our temperature and any symptoms. Apologies for the dirty window, but the picture below is the view from the dorm in Seoul, my new home for the next two weeks.
EPIK teachers were assigned to dorms at Konkuk University, where staff delivers meals 3 times per day, and an intercom system announces daily temperature checks and the mandatory COVID tests. We’ve taken to calling her “Wendy” in the KakaoTalk group chat, and she (with the system of CCTV cameras) is quite the jailor. A few days ago, someone left their room and an announcement came over the intercom saying “Attention. Someone on the 10th floor has been caught in an unauthorized escape attempt. Please return.” The workers in full hazmat suits make me feel like I’m Boo from Monster’s Inc., but I’m glad that the government here is taking COVID seriously.
They provided us with a box of towels, toiletries, trash bags, a kettle, instant coffee, a mug, a landline phone, two boxes of cup noodles, and bran cereal. The room itself is nicer than many dorms I’ve seen, but I’m ready for a long walk outside after being cooped up for a week already.
I am excited to be back in Korea as a public school English teacher through EPIK (English Program in Korea). It was a long and stressful application process, and I am excited to be working with the Jeollanamdo Office of Education! I won’t find out which city I am placed in until the end of quarantine and orientation, but I am excited to finally be back in Korea!
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!
*UPDATE* Unfortunately, my study abroad program was cancelled, so I decided to go ahead and graduate as I am already finished with my degree. I am sad that I wasn’t able to take the Boren Scholarship, but I will be back in Korea as an English teacher 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 as well as studying for my Korean language class. Both of 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 as an expat for the past 40 years, so she has personally experienced the societal changes that we are studying. Korea has a long and fascinating history and learning about how the explosive economic growth of the last few decades affects social change has been incredible. 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, I am seriously improving my conversational skills. Although, as an introvert, 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.