The Last Post

My program actually ended on August 9, but I’m only just now getting around to uploading. Funnily enough, for the first time all summer I edited my pictures as I took them, so that was not the delay. Instead, I had more travel plans in this intermediate week, and although I started writing down some of my scattered thoughts, I did not even come close to finishing a well-thought out post. I’m going to more or less just keep these scattered thoughts, however, as I am not sure how else to honestly convey what I was feeling in those moments. Sometimes, it’s better to be scattered and honest than to try and make something eloquent and polished. So, let’s take a journey back a week or so, to the notes I began typing up as I tried to process that the end had come, and that I was actually leaving Seoul. These notes were written over the course of a couple of days and although I have tried to order them somewhat cohesively, they definitely jump around a bit.

On Feeling…

Wow!!!! It feels so surreal to be done. I’m still processing it, and as I start to type this on the plane on my way to Nice, I have about a thousand thoughts going through my head. What to talk about? How am I feeling? 

The strangest feeling so far is that, in response to the dull panic of not speaking Italian or French, my thoughts instantly go to Korean. It is not very helpful to keep thinking how to say things in Korean when that will not serve me at all to me while I’m in Europe, but I am almost pleased by it too. Thinking in Korean??? It’s a good sign of all the progress I made this summer. So, despite the internal confusion, I’m glad that I am thinking this way. 

My last week in Seoul was very bitter sweet. On the one hand, I was busy studying for my final exam and preparing for my last group project. But at the same time, I wanted to take advantage of my last few days in the city that had been my home all summer, and to where I will not be able to return to very soon. As our teachers said goodbye to us, and my classmates and I started to talk about our upcoming plans, I felt my heart fill up with love and sadness. It didn’t happen immediately, but I grew close with my class over the course of the summer. They were all lovely people and I am definitely going to miss their daily humorous antics when I go back to Yale. It feels weird to have shared so much with them, learned so much together, and all grown so much during this summer, and know that I will not see most of them ever again. 

One last conversation

A couple days before leaving, I remembered that my deposit would be returned to me for my 고시원 so I inquired about getting it on Friday or Saturday since I would be leaving so early on Sunday morning. I had a very telling conversation with the manager when I went to get it back. She was asking me about going back to America and what I was doing next. I told her I was traveling for a week, and when she asked where, I gladly told her I was headed to Italy. She was somewhat shocked to hear this. She remarked about how far it was, and asked me why I was going there. She also asked me if I had been to Japan yet. When I told her that I hadn’t, she was absolutely dumbfounded. Why would I go all the way to Italy, but not close by to Japan? It seemed absurd to her. I found this kind of funny, since South Korea is currently protesting Japan and anti-Japanese sentiments are rising due to a dispute over trade policies, and, more subtly, South Korea’s anger towards Japan for not fully recognizing and amending for their actions during WWII (I am obviously not super well informed on this issue, so if you have more questions I urge you to Google it. This is just what I gathered from being in South Korea and talking to other people). Here she was, though, telling me to go to Japan. 

Entering Europe

When I landed in Munich, the first thing I noticed that signified I was in Europe, was that the sinks and mirrors in the bathroom were at a regular height for me. That sounds pretty stupid, but I was very sleep deprived and when I walked into the bathroom all I could think was how unfamiliar this suddenly was. And, after spending 2 months in the very homogenous city of Seoul, I was almost surprised to see so many European people. Hearing German, Italian, French, and English all mixing around me felt strange. There was no familiar Korean, and for a moment I felt very lost. I didn’t expect to grow that accustomed to it, but being immersed for the summer really did change my default expectations. Korean became my normal background sound. Being surrounded my Koreans, and always being instantly visible as a foreigner, was the polar opposite of my brief time in Munich. I was, again, the overwhelming majority. It was even assumed that I spoke German several times. 

This presumption almost got me into trouble. While waiting to board my flight, I was called to the service desk and asked if I would change my seat so that a family could sit together. I did not mind one bit, especially because I was moving to an emergency exit aisle which meant more leg room. When I boarded the plane and was all settled in, however, the flight attendant came around and asked the exit rows some questions. Before getting to my row, I saw her rearranging people — I am unsure if you needed to speak German and/or English in order to stay sitting in the emergency exit row, or if the only prerequisite was German, but people were moving and I was worried I would too. Finally the flight attendant came to my row and asked, in German, if we spoke English. I told her that I spoke English but I’m pretty sure that she assumed I also spoke German since I knew what she was asking in German. Either way, she didn’t make me move and I got lots of leg room on my flight. I was a bit worried when all the flight attendants spoke to me in German, but it all worked out in the end and, if they realized when taking my drink order that I didn’t speak German, it was too late to make any more changes. 

Another adjustment I have to make: I can’t stop bowing! I’m worried that my brother’s girlfriend’s family will think I’m a bit strange, since every time I walk into the room or approach them, my upper body automatically spasms into a small bow. (I have since more or less remedied this and am doing my best to minimize the compulsive bowing.)

Some final reflections!

I’m on the train on my way to Florence, with the sea out the right window and mountains and towns out the left. Italy feels very familiar to me, even though it is my first time here. I’m glad that I have found such peace while traveling, and that a train ride through the country gives me such joy as it does. I’ve always wanted to travel. Hearing stories from my aunts and uncle, or my grandparents, I felt so sure that I had to travel around the world one day. I am almost greedy in my desire to see other places. I take it all in eagerly, trying to secure it in my memory as best I can. Noticing all the similarities and differences, trying to understand the spaces where I am, it’s riveting. I already miss Seoul dearly, but I will not be forgetting its landscape (both physical and cultural) anytime soon. I look forward to thinking more about this time in my life, and these spaces I have been lucky enough to visit and exist within.

And, of course, I want to thank everyone who has kept up with me this summer and followed along with my adventures. It truly meant so much to me to know that I was connecting with others through this blog, and that through my writing other people were allowed to experience a little of what I was this summer. That being said, I have to give a special shoutout to Julie Delgrosso, who was a huge support this summer. Knowing that at least one person was waiting to read about my adventures encouraged me to keep on schedule this summer, so I owe a huge thanks to Julie! Alright, now on to the last round of pictures (please don’t judge me for two bingsoo in one week… it was an emotional time).

Nostalgia & Homesickness

A Super Quick Disclaimer

Before you start reading, this is a warning that this week’s post is looooong. If you just want the fun excerpts, feel free to skip down to the section labeled “A Weekend of Adventures” and read about just those! Enjoy 🙂

Before I start with the sappy stuff…

So. Once again, life’s troubles interrupted my regular schedule for this post. Sunday afternoon, as usual, I started doing my laundry. After I put in my load, I sat in my room watching Netflix and started to work on this blog post. When the timer on my phone went off, I went to grab my laundry from the kitchen, expecting to get right back to my blog after hanging up my clothes. Unfortunately (I think most likely from the addition of my towel), the laundry didn’t spin out right, and I don’t know how to use the laundry machines well enough to run it through the final cycle again. So I just took my sopping wet laundry back to my room and proceeded to try and wring it out as best as possible. This took longer than expected, and I sort of ran out of time to work on my blog if I wanted to get to sleep on time — which I really, really did, as I will explain later in this post. Anyway, just another fun life anecdote which must be shared for the sake of full transparency when it comes to my real time abroad.

Seeing Patterns

One thing I have always loved to do is look for patterns in, well, everything. Even things that aren’t really that related can somehow be strung together once I think about them long enough. Looking for patterns is even how I memorize a lot of words. I make big association chains in my head that bounce around before ending on the pertinent information. I especially like looking for patterns in language and words. It fascinates me to see the way combinations repeat in words with similar and different meanings — and I like when I can make some connection between the words regardless of how different they might be. I’ve done this with English words for quite some time, and I naturally continued to do it when I started learning Korean. The repeating patterns are just as random and interesting, and are even easier to spot given that the language is based on syllabic blocks. Now that I’ve laid the (pretty nerdy) groundwork, I want to get into the main focus of this week’s blog post.

This week we learned the word for homesickness: 향수병 (hyang-su-byeong). This came at a perfect time, since I have been thinking and reflecting a lot on what it means to be homesick recently, and whether I have been this summer or not. What immediately jumped out at me when learning this word was that the first syllable is the same as the second syllable in the word for hometown: 고향 (go-hyang). This one made sense to me, and has helped me to remember the word. It’s fitting that the two be connected, since often it is our hometowns which we feel homesick for. One of the things that I love about the word for hometown is that, when I use it in Korean, I feel like I can stretch it to as big a space or squash it to as specific of a place as I want. Sometimes my hometown is just the United States, sometimes where I was born, sometimes where I lived most of my childhood, and sometimes when I say 고향 I am thinking of New Haven and Yale.

The joy of learning a new language is understanding the differences in feeling that are attached to words, even ones that easily translate. Sometimes there are several different words, and even different grammar, that all translate to roughly the same thing in English, but have different feelings attached to them. For me personally, 향수병 and homesickness feel just a little different despite being translations of one another. Another interesting thing to note about the Korean word is how it is expressed as a verb. It is used with 걸리다 which is the same verb used to express that one has caught a cold. This distinction seems full of feeling to me — in Korean, you don’t just have a cold, you always catch it. It is definitely common to say “I caught a cold” in English too, but I like to fuss over this specific difference. I guess I sometimes feel like it is closer to my feelings to say that I have caught a bout of homesickness, rather than that I just feel homesick, or, most concisely, that I am homesick. The other way to express this feeling is “향수병에 시달리다” which means “to suffer from homesickness” — so again here, it is a sort of ailment.

Really, I am just learning how to feel homesickness, and I think I prefer to think of it the way it feels in Korean rather than in English. Growing up, I spent a decent amount of time traveling between my parents’ houses, and I’ve always been good at adapting to new places. Traveling and staying in different states (and now, continents) is not something that has ever really bothered me. Even though I despise change in most aspects of my life, a change of scenery has only ever excited me. Feeling homesick was never something I really felt. Even when I started college and was away from everything I’ve known before, I didn’t really feel it. Everything was so new and exciting, and besides, I was just so unbelievably busy that I had no time to learn what homesickness felt like. This summer, however, I seem to have caught my first case of it.

I don’t think it has anything to do with how drastically far away from the familiar I have travelled, but more with the insane amount of self-reflection I’ve done. Just as I look for patterns in language, I look for it in my own life. This summer I’ve had plenty of needed time alone. I’m pretty introverted, and in the past year I didn’t get much true solitude (and when I did, I usually just slept). Trying to process all the changes I’ve gone through, and all the changes happening around me, has maybe been what opened up my emotional immune system to this first case of homesickness. I miss my friends dearly; I miss all the different places I have ever called home; I miss my family. This brings me to the other reason I feel drawn to 향수병: it can also be translated to mean “nostalgia”. Nostalgia is something I am very familiar with. Like I said, I spend a lot of time looking for patterns in my own life, and beyond that I just like to think about the past.

All sorts of different things will trigger a sense of nostalgia in me, and I love telling stories of my childhood. Everywhere I go reminds me of somewhere I’ve been before, and I am constantly connecting my experiences backwards in my own history. I’ll even give an example of this later. Patterns are a way for me to explore my nostalgia. It seems so fitting to me that homesickness and nostalgia be linked in this way, because I think more often than not it is more than just a physical space that we are missing, or the people who inhabit those spaces. We are longing for who we are, or who we have been, when we also inhabited those spaces. When I miss my friends and family, part of me is also missing the way I act around them, the parts of my personality that come out around the people I love most. Thinking of my hometown, or even trying to identify where exactly that is, makes me reflect on all the things I miss about being younger. I don’t think I can feel homesick without feeling at least a little nostalgic for times gone by. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what the point to all of this was. Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve just spent a lot of time trying to figure all this out, and it seemed fitting to dedicate at least one post to talking about it. If I understood the point, I probably wouldn’t feel compelled to share a post like this, since I would already have all the answers I needed.

A Weekend of Adventures

Okay, now that I’m done being pretentiously “deep” I can get back to what a study abroad blog is really all about — going on adventures!

With time rapidly ticking down, I finally got around to doing the only thing I actually had plans to do all summer: hike 북한산 (Bukhansan). Fatema and I had wanted to go a couple of weeks ago, but with the rainy season starting, the weather was too testy to go. But this weekend the weather seemed good enough, and we had the time, so we decided to go Saturday morning. Initially, we planned on leaving super early (as in 6:00am) but quickly rethought that once our alarms started going off, and we ended up leaving the station near us around 8:30. It took more than an hour to get there, as the mountain is located considerably north of where we live. We had to take a couple of different subway lines and then waited awhile for the bus that would take us to the park. One thing that I love about Korea is that many people go hiking on the weekends. However, this meant our bus was absolutely filled with fellow hikers, and we ended up not being able to get off at the main entrance but instead two or three stops down. After walking thirty-ish minutes backwards, we made it to the entrance to the park.

The first thing I noticed as we walked in was that it exactly resembled many of the ski towns I have passed through while hiking in New Mexico and nearby states. It was so strange to feel so familiar with a place, despite it being my first time there. There were various hiking gear stores, and small cafés scattered between. I kept feeling surprised when the signs I read were in Korean, since it looked that similar to other places I have been. I explained this feeling of intense nostalgia to Fatema, who is from NYC and doesn’t have much experience hiking, and we laughed about how new all this was to her compared to how familiar it seemed to me. After walking down the one main street, we reached the trail head. Following signs towards the highest peak, we started what I didn’t realize at the time would be one of the hardest hikes I have ever been on.

I’m not the most athletically inclined person, but I absolutely LOVE hiking, and anyone who has gone on a hike with me before can attest to the way I get obsessed with going forward once I start hiking. It is very common for me to walk way ahead of whoever I’m with before doubling back to meet up again. Although usually on the lazier side, when I’m hiking I am the first to ask to keep going, and push for another couple hours on the trail. I don’t know what it is about hiking that makes me so motivated, but the second my feet hit the trail I feel compelled to go. This was no different this time either, but I hadn’t prepared myself for the difference the environment was going to have on me.

I’ve been on a lot of hikes, and I’ve spent plenty of time outdoors when it’s hot and cold, but I have never been as sweaty in my life than I was during this hike. Sure, I’ve sweat just as much before, but typically my sweat evaporates about as quickly as it is produced. However, in the extreme humidity of Saturday morning, my sweat wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, it built up in a disgusting, slimy layer. After just thirty minutes of hiking, I was drenched. My shirt was three shades darker, and the waistband of my shorts weren’t doing much better. Needless to say, I felt pretty disgusting. And, increasingly, I was annoyed. After all, the whole purpose of sweat is to help cool the body down. I couldn’t help but be irritated when my sweat was only making me feel hotter rather than cooler.

This was, of course, only one of the things that made this hike difficult. The other problem was that the hike consisted 98% of stairs. I’m fine with steep climbs and big elevation jumps, but I hate stairs. As I’ve started working out a little bit this summer, I’ve noticed a deficit in my quads, and boy, did this hike emphasize it even more. Even just fifty feet of walking became difficult when it was just step after step. Fatema and I had known ahead of time that the hike was difficult, but we (and our legs) were not ready for the sheer amount of stairs it would take to get to the top.

We stopped frequently to stretch out our legs and attempt to dry off some of the sweat. Watching groups of elderly people trek past us was both mildly humiliating but also inspiring, and we continued on even though we knew we would be sore in the coming days. When faced with a trail post marking two different directions, we chose the difficult trail. At the end of the hike, we were glad that we had challenged ourselves, but in the moment it was pretty brutal. We would hike for 30 minutes and find that the kilometers left to the peak had barely gone down. Nonetheless, it was pretty fun. As we got higher, the view was super nice, and the occasional breeze or temperature drop next to the stream was made to feel a hundred times nicer when compared with our struggling, sweaty state.

Near the peak, we stopped and ate the little picnic we had packed — Fatema brought hard-boiled eggs and tofu and I brought carrots, radishes, and almonds. Eating our lunch literally on the side of the mountain was a pretty awesome experience, and the food tasted great after a few hours of climbing.

We ended up going back a slightly different way than we had planned, and actually ended up climbing to the peaks of the other slightly smaller mountains nearby. Leave it to us to accidentally make our hike even harder. Because of this, we ended up on a totally different side of the mountain, where I had assumed would be similar to where we started but was not. Although it did end with an information center, just like the place where we started our climb that morning, this side of the mountain was not next to the main road and thus there were no bus stops or subway stations nearby. We ended up having to walk another thirty minutes down from the parking lot at the trailhead to get to the bus stop. Along the way, we stopped twice to get popsicles (we definitely had earned them) and they were some of the best I’ve ever had. Just as we were nearing the subway station that would take us home, it started to rain. Thankfully, we had remembered to bring our umbrellas, and we got into the station quickly. We spent the ride home pretty quiet, but we frequently started laughing about the day. Although exhausted, we were so happy that we finally did what we had been planning for weeks and weeks.

Once I got home, I jumped into the shower immediately, and laying directly underneath the air-conditioning afterwards felt amazing. I went to sleep quite early, as Fatema and I actually had more plans for Sunday.

Fatema and I met up Sunday morning pretty early as well, and set off for a day of fun activities. Personally, I am not a K-pop stan at all, but Fatema is, and I was more than happy to keep her company while we toured around various fan sites. Almost everywhere we went had some connection to BTS, and I honestly had a super fun time just exploring this other element of Korean tourism which I haven’t interacted with before. The prevalence of K-pop’s popularity is pretty fascinating, as it has its own tourism spots and attractions. I didn’t really care that things were BTS themed or not, since we were café hopping, and that meant lots of yummy drinks. Over the course of the day, we visited three cafés and two bridges, among a few other places. At our first café, we tried a five-berry-ade, and at the second I ordered a ginger-lemonade. Although overpriced, the drinks were super delicious. The third café we stopped at was actually on a bridge, and we both got mango basil seed drinks. It was another long day of walking, but after conquering Bukhansan the day before, we weren’t very bothered by the walking or the heat.

All in all, it was a very memorable weekend, but I was absolutely exhausted by Sunday evening. We walked at least twenty miles over the weekend, and, according to the Health app on my phone, more than 200 flights of stairs. This is why, once I had finished dealing with my sopping wet laundry, I was not exactly eager to stay up late writing this post. I’m glad that I didn’t, since it probably would have been much less detailed if I had. Anyway, if you read all the way through, thanks a ton, and if you’re just down here to check out the pictures, thanks a ton too! Only one more post left!

Ongoing Conversations

This week I want to focus on just one short interaction. Now that I only have two weeks left in Korea, I have started making preparations to return to America — mainly, shopping for gifts and picking up a few things for myself. I’m glad that I decided to do it this way, because I have a much better idea of what is a good deal versus overpriced, and I know of more places to shop even if I haven’t been there yet. On Friday, I went to 쌈지길 (Ssamziegil) with Victoria and Eunji. Monsoon season has really gotten underway, so it was brutally hot and humid. Despite the copious amounts of sweating we were doing, we had a fun time ducking in and out of the many stores all piled together within three floors. After checking out all the shops in this larger connected building, we headed up and down the adjacent street to find some cheaper wares.

At one of the stores, I saw something that caught my eye as a possible gift for one of my friends (I want it to be a surprise in case they read this so I won’t say exactly what it was). The woman working the booth greeted me and began her sales pitch with bits of English. Because the area was known for shopping and is a major place for tourists, it is pretty normal for most of the people working in stores there to speak a little bit of English. If you aren’t Korean (or Korean-appearing) they tend to automatically assume that you don’t speak Korean. Reflexively, however, when she made a remark in Korean about how pretty her wares were, I agreed in Korean.

She quickly was surprised and started to flatter me, telling me that I spoke Korean well, and I got to experience a true Korean reaction — it’s kind of hard to describe, but basically she patted my arm while acting surprised and impressed. Of course, I told her I don’t speak that well, but we continued talking in Korean. She gave me her sales pitch, and asked if I understood at the end. I didn’t know every word but I got the gist of what she said so I nodded. Then I browsed over the different items she had, while she pulled ones out to show me, and we talked about when I had come to Korea. I told her that I was studying at SNU just for the summer. I also told her that I was looking with the intention of giving the items to my friends and she encouraged me to take my time and think of what they would like. I really did like what she was selling, but after our conversation I had to buy something from her, so I did.

We only talked for two or three minutes, but the willingness with which she talked with me, and engaged with me in Korean, made me extremely happy. When we walked away, Victoria was kind of laughing at me and asked what I’m sure many of you may also be thinking right now; “Have you not talked to a Korean woman before???” It was a valid question. After all, I’ve been here for two months now, and it’s not like I stay in my room 24/7. But honestly, I haven’t had a conversation like that yet. Most of my conversations in Korean have been with other people living in my 고시원 or in my classroom. Unfortunately, I’ve had a really hard time having these kinds of spontaneous conversations.

Despite my best efforts to talk with store workers in Korean, they are often resistant. Many will continue talking in English even when I answer in Korean, and some won’t even speak to me at all. Besides that, I always feel conflicted in those situations. I worry that, by continuing to speak in Korean, I am implying that I think my Korean is better than their English (which couldn’t be farther than the truth). The last thing I want to be is rude, so I always panic when this happens. However, in this case, this woman was more than willing to let me practice and it made all the difference. I have a feeling that I will hold that short conversation with me for quite some time. These brief moments of acceptance and simple linguistic success have made all the difference for me, and have made my time here truly memorable.

Learning & Growing

With only three weeks of class left, I can’t help but reflect on what I’ve learned this summer. Each day to the next, I never feel as if I’ve learned a tremendous amount; I never feel a huge difference in my abilities even though I can easily measure all the new information I learn each class. In that way, I realized I don’t often think about how much better I have gotten at Korean. It’s like when you are a kid and go through a growth spurt — you don’t really notice the difference, but the relatives you only see at holidays are quick to pick up on the change in your height.

I am trying to be more mindful of these slow changes. Saturday night I went along with Eunji and Victoria to a 노래방 and I was shocked with myself when I realized I was understanding a decent amount of the lyrics. At the beginning of the summer, I could barely read fast enough to keep up with the songs. Now, I can read along much easier, and rather than just mindlessly reading, I can actually process the meaning at the same time. I love picking up on new grammar and vocab being put to use, so it was a really gratifying experience for me. I still can’t sing, but I can at least understand what I’m trying to sing a little better. Any time where I find myself passively understanding Korean is a big success in my eyes.

This week I also had a dream in Korean, which was both hilarious and strange. In my dream, I was shopping a seminar-sized class at Yale, and when I went to comment on someone else’s point, I spoke only in Korean. Everyone stopped and was confused, and, in my dream, it took me a moment to realize why they couldn’t understand. I then tried to explain in English, but couldn’t find the right words. This was an exact reversal of what typically happens, which is that I know that I know a word in Korean, but can’t think of it in the moment. I’m not worried about this actually happening when I go back in the fall, but it was pretty funny!

I only have two interesting activities for this week. On Tuesday, Eunji and I went to a kind of practice concert inside of a department store (we were also surprised, it was as strange as it sounds). There were only about twenty people there, so we felt a little out of place. It was fancier than we expected, but the music was beautiful and we had a good time. I didn’t take any pictures sadly, but I included the flyer below as a sort of place-holder. Then, on Saturday, a group of us headed to the National Museum of Korea. The weather was still hot but overcast and drizzling on and off, so it seemed like a good day to head inside. We spent a few hours wandering through the three floors of exhibits, and saw a lot of really beautiful artifacts and art. I love going to museums, so I really enjoyed the visit. It was interesting to learn more about the history of settlement in Korea, from before it was even known as such. It’s hard to believe that my time in Korea will be wrapping up soon, but until then I will keep learning and growing, as best I can.

Weekly Roundup

Note: I had this all set to upload Sunday night, but unfortunately the wifi wasn’t working and I didn’t want to stay up any later than I already had to try and fix it… so here it is now. Enjoy!

No profound thoughts for this week, but plenty of stories to tell.

Monday

After the speaking portion of my midterm on Monday, I rested in my room for a few hours before meeting my buddy to get 빙수 (bingsoo). It was super delicious, and super decadent. After eating and chatting, we headed a few bus stops away to see a photography exhibit. The exhibit, titled “Impossible is Possible” featured the works of Erik Johansson, a Swedish surreal photographer. I found this intersection of culture and language particularly interesting, since I was in a Korean museum looking at a Swedish artist’s exhibit and some of the captions were written in English. Despite these differences, the overlapping ability to appreciate something joyful and imaginative made the exhibit very cohesive. I really, really liked the art, and even picked up a few gifts from the gift store (something I would NEVER do usually, as gift shops tend to be overly expensive). Unfortunately, the lighting was not designed with picture taking in mind, so I’ve only included a couple of the clearer pictures I took below. To make up for the lack of pictures I took, I’ll link to the artist’s website here.

Wednesday

Wednesday was a pretty chill day and I got to eat lots of good (junk) food. In class this week we mostly focused on learning 반말 (banmal) which is informal language. It was very strange to practice it with our teacher since 반말 is meant to only be used with people who are similar in age to you and whom you are close with. In addition, to practice using our vocab, one student called and ordered pizza to be delivered to our class. It was kind of hilarious to know that all of the Level 2 classes were ordering pizza at the same time, so the delivery man had a lot of pizzas to carry. I imagine after the second call from the school they must have realized what was going on, and that it was more than coincidence. I got to try a Korean specialty too — 고구마 피자 — sweet potato pizza! In addition to sweet potato, the pizza had ranch dressing, pineapple, and raisins. It was actually pretty delicious, although very unexpected.

After class, Victoria and I tried out the convenience store right next to our 고시원 and I finally got to try this ice cream I’ve had my eye on. It looks to be just soft serve in a cup, but I was very shocked to discover a layer of Italian ice at the bottom of the cup. It reminds me of going to Rita’s Italian Ice when I was younger, and I ended up getting another one later in the week. Very delicious and very cheap: my ideal snack type.

Friday

Friday evening, once it had cooled off a bit, I met up with my buddy again. This time we headed to a 시장 (a traditional Korean market) nearby to pick up dinner. We got a ton of food, but quickly realized that there was nowhere to sit in the area. We ended up taking the bus all the way to SNU, and sat outside of the biology department to eat. Even that wasn’t easy though, as we realized quickly that the plastic seal on our 떡볶이 (tteokbokki) was not tearing the way it should have. We ended up poking a bunch of tiny perforations around the edges with toothpicks before carefully tearing it all the way around the container. Although a little uncomfortable, we kept laughing at the hilarity of the situation. Then came time to pour the ice onto our noodles, and we realized we didn’t have any scissors to cut open the package. We walked over to the security guard’s office inside the building, but as he was in a back room he didn’t notice us, despite our efforts to politely get his attention. I can’t put into words how hilarious it was in the moment — calling softly to get his attention and repeatedly walking past the window hoping he would notice. Eventually, he came out and saw us and we were able to get some scissors. We ate very well despite the troubles!

Sunday

On Sunday afternoon I met up with 이세원 and one of her friends from middle school in 강남 (Gangnam). It was super cool to meet her friend, Grace, who is from Korea but has lived in America for high school and is starting at university in the fall. She was very kindhearted and I had a really good time listening to the two friends talk. It is very different to hear close friends chat in 반말 rather than hearing my teachers talk. It was good practice! After getting ice cream, we all went to a Harry Potter themed 방탈출 (escape room) and actually made it all the way through. I had a fun time figuring out the clues, and again noticed how many things don’t require fluency to communicate.

Other Notable Events

These aren’t full enough stories to warrant their own section so I’m going to just leave them here 🙂

I found out that another one of my classmates is also a vegetarian, and after I mentioned I had really been missing oats, she offered to bring me some of hers from home. The next day she brought me a big bag and sent me a bunch of vegetarian restaurant recommendations. I never thought I would be so happy to see oats, but I was beaming.

I finally made my Wednesday/Thursday teacher laugh during class. We all had to make a sentence using a new grammar, and I said ““저는 여자인데 남자 옷을 입는 것을 좋아해요. 진짜 편해요!” It sounds much less funny when translated to English (not that it was very funny in Korean to begin with) but more or less I said “Even though I am a woman, I like to wear men’s clothing. It’s really comfortable!” It helped that I was wearing an oversized men’s button down that day, which I held up as proof.

On a more serious note, my Wednesday/Thursday teacher spent nearly 20 minutes talking to us about etiquette on public transportation, and the ways that men purposefully act in order to avoid harassment allegations. He brought this up because he wanted to explain why Korean men are reluctant to help when they see a women struggling with a heavy item. If they do offer help, he said it is typical for women to either say they don’t need any help, or to more plainly tell them not to touch anything. In a similar vein, he said that men have to be cautious during rush hour on the subways so that they don’t inappropriately brush up against a woman. Although the subways get super packed during peak travel time, it can still be an issue if a man bumps into a woman. I found this discussion really interesting, especially because my teacher was male. I didn’t exactly disagree with what he was saying, but I had to look at it through a cultural lens to better understand the reasoning. I plan on writing more about this in the future, but I still wanted to add this here so I wouldn’t forget.

Food & Finances

This week I thought about a lot of different things, so I’ve been having a hard time deciding what to write about in this post. I’ll start with a little update on food/eating/vegetarianism and then move on to what I expect will be a somewhat scattered look at finances. 

Food

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m a vegetarian, which has made things a little bit more difficult here in Seoul when it’s time to eat. Eating out is always a bit of a gamble because I can never be totally sure what is in a dish, and sometimes even asking for meat or fish to be removed doesn’t guarantee that all the other ingredients are vegetarian. Plus, for me personally, eating out all the time just isn’t financially sustainable. About 3 or 4 weeks ago, I started looking harder for real grocery stores, and have since then found a few decent ones. Although there is a lot of really cheap and affordable food in Korea, vegetables unfortunately do not often fall into that category.  Furthermore, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find organic food (or distinguish what is organic and what is not). Growing up, I am so thankful that my mom made sacrifices to only feed us organic/locally sourced foods, but it has made my body more sensitive to food grown with a lot of chemicals. Recognizing that my previous eating habits are impossible to match while here has definitely been tough. In hindsight, I feel it is necessary to recognize my food privilege even more than before. I have always felt lucky to be able to eat the way that I do, and feel concern over global issues of combatting starvation as well as protecting farmlands etc. Being here has sharpened that view.

This week I discovered a super awesome YouTube channel (which I’ll link here if you want to check it out) with cooking videos of really simple Korean style recipes. Most recipes require very few ingredients, but have the option for more veggies to be added. Since my 고시원 provides me with rice and ramen, it’s been pretty easy for me to make most of the dishes. This is a big step up compared to how I was cooking before, since I was mostly just boiling vegetables and eating them with rice. Although I’m still not making anything fancy, it has made me feel better to be cooking actual dishes. That being said, I spent a lot more on groceries this week — but I’m hoping that this food will last me for a while since these ingredients like 떡 (tteok — rice cake), glass noodles, bread, and eggs last for plenty of meals. I’m including some pictures of meals from this week below, which aren’t super exciting or mouthwatering to look at, but I’m proud of them and I didn’t get up to much else exciting this week. I also like that I am able to cook Korean-ish cuisine for myself since I don’t go out to eat that often. While I was making soy-sauce braised tteok the other day, the 고시원 manager told me it looked and smelled really good, and she was impressed with the way I was making it. Although I never feel bad about situations wherein my foreignness sticks out, it was nice to be recognized as doing a familiar thing by a Korean person. 

Finances

One conversation that I seem to keep on having is that of finances. While I have been fastidiously budgeting, I can’t help but think about the way my personal study abroad experience is being shaped/changed by my financial situation. A recurring comment amongst my other FGLI friends here in Seoul is that if we hadn’t been lucky enough to receive this amazing opportunity, we would be home, working. Of course, at Yale especially, everyone makes a big deal out of working or interning or studying every single summer, but for us we didn’t mean getting job experience just to add to our resumes, or finding a job in some amazing place. We meant working whatever job we could in order to earn some money. Without divulging the specifics of my own financial situation, it’s still easy for me to say that, during this trip, I have to plan ahead with my budget. I can’t just look at the sum of money I received through the generosity of the Light Fellowship, divide it by 76 days, and then spend it all. I have made other choices outside of this program that require me to cut down on my spending. I have future expenses that I need to save for. It’s not as simple as just living in the present and making the most of every day.

It can be really hard to realize that doing one thing means sacrificing in another part of your life, and as I’m doing it myself this summer I have gained so much respect for my family and the other people around me who have been doing this my whole life. The period of time where I began to really realize how much these sacrifices mean still did not give me the same insight as having to make them myself. This summer has been a gift to myself: I’m here, studying abroad for my first summer as a college student; and once this program ends I am heading to Italy with my family. These are experiences that I have always dreamed of having (like literally since I was in elementary school), and now that I am able to have them, I am more than willing to budget more, to cut down on unnecessary experiences, and to eat a little differently. Just being here is enough for me, and I am so grateful for it every day. 

Fun

And the not so fun… this week on Tuesday I had my individual presentation, and then on Friday I had the first part of my midterm, so I was definitely busy with homework and studying. My presentation went alright, and I will probably update this post to include what I talked about in it at a later time. On Friday, I tackled the reading, listening, and writing portions of my midterm. I think overall it went okay, although the formatting of the listening part made it much more difficult than I anticipated. I still have the speaking portion of the exam left to do tomorrow (that’s Monday, July 8 for me).

On Friday, Victoria, Eunji, and I went to the coin 노래방 again and then headed to Lotteria to bluebook and chat for a few hours. For the non-Yalie readers: a long time ago the physical book of courses for each semester was known as the Blue Book, and the name stuck. Even though everything is now done entirely online, looking at classes and planning schedules is still referred to as “bluebooking”. In my typical fashion, I accidentally left my laptop in my room despite remembering to grab my charger and even a notebook to take notes in. We all had a good laugh about it, and Eunji and Victoria helped look classes up for me on their laptops while I took notes in my notebook, so it all worked out. It was really nice to just hang out and talk about classes and Yale, as I realized that has been one of the things I miss the most. Even at my busiest times, I can always find someone to talk to at Yale, whether that takes the form of “getting a meal” or late night runs to Gheav or sitting out in the courtyard. Although I love having a single room while I’m here, I do miss being so close to all of my friends, and being able to socialize whenever I want to. This summer has definitely felt a lot longer than I expected, and I keep being surprised by how excited I am to head back to campus in a couple of months.

On Saturday, Eunji, Camila, Victoria, and I headed about an hour south to a free concert. I had heard maybe one or two songs from the artists prior to the concert, but I still had a really fun time. For anyone interested, the bands that performed were Car, The Garden and Hyukoh. Live music is always a good time, and it was interesting to see the ways in which this concert was slightly different than others I have attended in America. One thing that made me laugh while also epitomizing Korean culture, was that before the concert started they ran a sort of kiss-cam. Whoever was live typing on the screen was pretty hilarious, and it was a fun experience to practice my Korean while laughing along with so many other people. It was pretty cute to look out and see everyone sitting on mats they brought, eating and talking. The concert definitely had a more relaxed set up and atmosphere than other outdoor concerts I’ve seen. Unfortunately, this concert was the last of the series, but hopefully we can find some other cool (and free) events to attend before the summer ends.

Learning from Seoul

Note: Sorry about the short post this week! I had started writing a few different things during the week, but I didn’t finish any of them. Then, I kept thinking Sunday was Saturday and so I got this out a little late. Hope you enjoy anyway!

I’ve been thinking about why I like living in Seoul, or rather, temporarily living in Seoul. It can probably be boiled down to two main points: clean and quiet. I’ve never lived in a city as clean as Seoul (or at least the parts I’ve visited). I rarely see litter or cigarette butts, despite the number of people who still smoke. Even when the garbage is put out on the curb, the mounds are small and more or less tidy. The neighborhood where I live is not as busy as other parts of Seoul, but still has a decent amount of traffic. Despite this, it never feels loud or overly busy. One of my favorite things about walking to and from school is that occasionally all the street lights will be red at the same time along a long stretch of road. The silence and stillness during that minute is something I have never found in a city before. It feels as if the road is empty, despite it being full of cars and trucks and motorbikes.

It is pauses like these that remind me of how I am trying to pause myself this summer. I keep trying to create pockets of stillness and calmness amidst whatever is happening. During the past two semesters, I forgot how to pause. I was always either running full speed, or crashing to a stop. Now, I am trying to learn again, and I am looking to my surroundings to learn how. 

Seoul’s ability to pause makes me think of it in a different category from any American city. As I learned in class this week, South Korea is approximately 70% mountainous. I always associate mountains with peace and solitude, and it is relieving to see this association maintained despite the urbanity. As I walk to class every morning, I am greeted by 관악산 (Gwanaksan Mountain). Whether rising up through clouds, or smog, or ringed with clear blue sky, I always feel its watchful presence — perhaps slowing our movements by a millisecond, perhaps helping us grow roots deep into the earth. I have long thought that cities could never be more than temporary stops for me. Places to visit, but never to live in. Although Seoul hasn’t changed my mind about that, it has broadened my thoughts. Maybe, in the future, I will find more clean, quiet, and slow cities. There is something very hopeful and wishful in my appreciation of this space. 

Weekly Highlights

This week schoolwork actually picked up a bit, so that kept me a bit more occupied. I have a presentation on Tuesday (July 2) and midterms at the end of the week, so I’ve been studying more often. That being said, I still did a few fun things!

On Monday, I met up with my SNU Buddy again, and we went for a campus tour. I ended up leaving before we saw all of campus because I promised Victoria to help her move to a new 고시원 (and she returned the favor on Friday when I also moved… more on that in a bit). We had a fun time laughing at some of the more impractical architectural choices, and I told her how different the SNU campus is from Yale’s. Mostly because everything at SNU is still quite new, and everything at Yale feels pretty old. The lack of air-conditioning in our dorms will never let us forget the “tradition” that comes along with an older university. We also had a light snack-y lunch that was super yummy.

On Wednesday I went out to dinner courtesy of the Light Fellowship at a pretty fancy restaurant. I even got all vegetarian dishes, which was a nice change. It was fun to meet a few new Yalies, as well as talk to the newest professor in the Korean department, who will start teaching in the fall. I even got to try Korean fake meat, which was honestly one of my favorite dishes of the night. I’ll include a few pictures of the food below, but not all of them since the night lasted ridiculously long and we were all stuffed before the main course even arrived. Nonetheless, I am very thankful to the Light Fellowship for giving me the resources to come to Seoul, and for treating me kindly while I am here.

On Friday, I moved to a new 고시원 that is much closer to campus. I also now have my own private bathroom and AC, which has come in handy now that it is starting to get consistently hotter. My new room is a slightly different layout (still tiny), but I like it so far. After helping me move, Eunji, Victoria, and I headed to Baskin Robbins. We tried the limited edition black lemon sorbet, which was pretty delicious. We explored a bit around SNU Station (right by where I live) and ate dinner at a convenience store. One thing to know about South Korea is that there are convenience stores EVERYWHERE. Trust me, the caps are necessary. There will usually be anywhere from 2 to 5 within one stretch of the road. They are all also equipped with hot water and microwaves, with larger ones having mini stovetops as well. There is usually at least a counter to sit at inside, and some have picnic tables outside. It’s super fun to eat at them for an authentic feeling (and extremely cheap) Korean meal. I am going to miss the convenience stores a lot.

On Saturday, Eunji and I headed to Coex Mall where we walked around and explored for a few hours. I tried 빙수 (bingsoo) for the first time and loved it. We also marked a few stores to return to towards the end of our trip when we will have a better idea of the remainder of our budgets. It was another fun weekend!