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.
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.
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.
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.