Meeting my Korean Host Family! {9/15/18} NSLI-Y Korea Academic Year

Saturday 9/15/2018

So far, if I had to describe my NSLI-Y experience with one emotion, I would use anxious or nervous. I have been feeling this a lot lately, and it is making me feel sick at the worst of it. All this morning, I could not help but think about how nervous I was about everything. Randomly, I would find myself fidgeting and wanting to shriek a little. (Is that odd?)

This morning, I woke up at 5:45 am, by choice. This was because Harmony, June, Jenna, Katie, and I decided to wake up early to watch the sunrise together– on the roof. Unfortunately, it was very cloudy this day, so the sun was not visible whatsoever… but it was a nice little memory. Enjoy the photos of us looking like eggs!

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We do not look the best but I will never forget this morning!~ ❤ ❤ ❤

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Breakfast was at the guesthouse once again before we continued our Arrival Orientation sessions later in the day at a separate location.

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We had the rest of our orientation at the Youth Center. We went through more rules and facts of the Korean culture to be aware of. I would say the most important part of the day was going through host family cases and then the alumni presentation. We were split up into groups and had to read a common issue had by NSLIYians. We discussed the issue and how to solve it and later learned from Better World the real situation it was based on.

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Walking over to the orientation location~ 홍대 has such lovely walking paths

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Me, McKenzie, Kaitlyn, Jenna, and Katie

We ate lunch at another traditional Korean restaurant. I ate 만두전골 with Kaitlyn, Josh, and 주연쌤. This was another meal I never had before. (I love that NSLI-Y is exposing us to new and diverse Korean food!) During lunch, 주연쌤 spilled the tea about previous NSLI-Y programs (just kidding!). We discussed how we have studied Korean thus far, our language gain expectations, as well as cultural excursions we would like to partake in. (For example, I really want to do a temple stay!)

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We walked back to the guesthouse after lunch and to my surprise, there were already host families waiting to pick up their NSLI-Y student. All at once, I felt a wave of panic and nerves. Then, this man and two daughters walked in. They approached me and went “Emma?” I was surprised at first (and later assumed they were given my photo) and greeted them. We hurriedly got my bags and drove the 45 min to my host family’s apartment. My host dad was very sweet and began asking me lots of questions about myself– all in Korean. I was able to answer most with ease but some had awkward answers/silences when I was confused on what was said. My host siblings were very shy and kept to themselves in the car (When they were not attacking each other and acting like dogs. You think I am kidding.) They are so cute~ I hope we can get very close ❤

Host Familyyy

When we all returned, I met my host mom and host brother. And was bombarded with more questions. While they ate lunch (I already ate, so I just sat at the table), we talked for a bit. My host mom speaks very good English so sometimes she resorts to that when speaking to me (especially when I do not understand what was said). My goal is to have her use less and less English with me!

After lunch, I gave my host family their gifts. My host siblings immediately ripped open their candy goodie bags. I watched the younger of the two girls try a War Head. The moment her tongue touched the candy, her face contorted and her eyes squeezed shut. It was even more hilarious watching her have her mom, sister, and brother try it. My host mom was shocked and asked: “Do you like this candy?” I explained that most people do not– that they find it too sour, but I brought it cause the reactions are laughable. My host sister gave the rest of the candy to my host dad and he ate it like a champ. It seemed that the Jolly Ranchers were the crowd favorite.

Once my host brother opened the Chicago puzzle I brought, we immediately all got on the floor and began putting it together in the living room. With all four of us working together, the daunting task did not take too long. It was such an accomplishment putting together the final few pieces. It felt so good to stand back and look at the masterpiece.

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In the late evening, we all packed ourselves in the car and went on a little adventure. My host dad walked around on his phone using Kakao maps to try to show me these buildings he figured I would be interested in. Unfortunately, many of them were closed but the thought was there! I can always come back!

We visited 중명전 (Jungmyeongjeon Hall) and 정동극장 (Jeongdong Theater). My host dad told me that a famous treaty between Japan and Korea was signed at the hall. Once I got home and did some research, I found out that that treaty was known as the Eulsa Treaty (This treaty made Korea a protectorate of Imperial Japan). However, the hall had also been a library and a place that foreign dignitaries went to discuss with the emperor.

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정동극장 is a famous theater that shows performances of traditional Korean music with a modern twist like 판소리. I would really like to see something like that one day.

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Lastly, we visited 덕수궁 (Deoksugung Palace) after eating a dinner of 라면 (ramen) and 물냉면 (cold water noodles). We walked around the palace grounds with a Korean tour guide and although I could only understand a couple words or phrases here and there, I really enjoyed being there with them. They kept asking me “힘들어? 피곤해?” But I kept reassuring them that I was fine. It was good 듣기 연습 (listening practice)!

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The Prettiest Path ❤

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We ended the night after that. Almost everyone fell asleep during the car ride (including me) and I went to bed early after unpacking a bit. (I have yet to finish that… even while writing this.)

Thank you for reading this post! I hope you enjoyed~ I am kinda using this space as a journal and although I will refrain from any thoughts I deem too negative, I do want to be honest which is why I may come off as emotional (or as I like to say it– real).

  • Emma 엠마

Korea AY Arrival Orientation at Better World: Survival in Korea! {09/14/18}

Friday 9/14/18

I already knew that I was going to wake up very early this morning. And there were a couple reasons for that, like Jet Lag, the heat, and sheer excitement. I woke up around 5:30 am (after waking up every 30 minutes since 3 am), but luckily was not alone–everyone else in the room was also awake or beginning to stir awake. We all hung out, chatted a bit, and then got ready for breakfast. We found the laundry line on the balcony and hung up our towels. While we were out on the balcony… we also came across some stairs to the roof. Alix, June, Harmony, and I made our way onto the roof and enjoyed the cool weather and the beautiful view of Seoul.


I studied a bit on the roof too

We had breakfast at the Guesthouse and then made our way to the Better World Office. Apparently, according to 주연쌤, one of the Korean classes will be held there while the others will be held at a youth center in 홍대. We were welcomed to Korea by the Better World staff and listened to a presentation by an embassy worker. We learned about what an embassy provides for the general public and emergency contacts we should familiarize ourselves with.

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After that, we took some more group photos (with the banner as well) and began our next session: the Korean placement test (writing section). Everyone in the room took the same three-page test which included multiple choice, fill in the blank, and choose a word from a word bank type questions. At the end of the exam, there were two short answers. You had to pick one out of the two and answer the three questions.

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I did not think the test was too hard. Honestly, the directions were the hardest part of the test. I could not understand those at all it seemed. I looked at the example to not be completely lost and am forever thankful to those. There were a few words I did not know but sometimes context clues turned out to be my life saver. Though I am very mad! I could not remember how to say to smoke cigarettes. All I could think of was 담배 and not the actual verb to go with it so my answer ended up just being 담배를 하지마세요. ㅎㅎㅎ


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Kaitlyn and I ❤

After stressing over the test (I trust NSLI-Y! Wherever they place me is fine. I should not stress… easier said than done, though), we left the office for lunch! We ate 버섯샤부샤부 (mushroom shabu shabu) at this restaurant that required us to take off our shoes before entering the eating space. I know this is pretty common in certain restaurants, but it was the first time I ate at one in Korea! I spent 6 weeks here two years ago, but never went to one. This was a great experience. We even sat on the floor with mats!

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Mushroom Shabu Shabu

Once lunch was eaten (we were all settling into a food coma), we had to take part 2 of our placement test. This was the interview portion. Each student, alphabetically, was called upstairs to speak to two Korean teachers for no more than 5 minutes. This was honestly an excruciating process because those at the end of the alphabet had to wait about an hour before they could test, which lets the nerves build up! While trying to pass the time, a large group of us played UNO. (Thank you Kaitlyn! That was such a good idea!) We played a couple rounds (just going to brag and say I never was last to get UNO). We even got 주연쌤 to play a game, and she won! The very first time playing UNO. Some people truly have skills…

Eventually, it was time for me to do an interview. I was so very very nervous but luckily 민정쌤 helped calm me down before. The Korean teachers were so sweet and asked good questions. I was able to answer and go in a direction that I knew I could handle well. I think I used a few good grammar points and vocabulary words. At the end, they asked me what my OPI score which threw me off a little. I asked around and they did not seem to ask anyone else that besides one other person. (The conspiracist in me wonders why!)

After everyone finished the test, we began the Survival in Korea session which consists of groups of students completing missions around Seoul with a supporter (Korean college student or recent graduate– around that age). I was in a group with June, Harmony, Liam, Kaitlyn, and Addie. Our supporter 성욱 took us to 동대문 for our mission. We had to practice using subway travel phrases and asking questions to strangers (and videos were recorded!). It was pretty awkward, to be honest. Some were friendly than others…

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Learning about our mission~

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Chenggyecheon Stream (청계천)

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We ate some street chicken (wait that sounds weird… we ate some street food– spicy chicken. Before we sat down, the lady running the stall kept yelling “빨리 와요! 예쁘네요!” They were trying to get us to come over… and calling us pretty seemed to be the strategy. It worked, though!

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After chicken, we did not have enough– clearly. We ate Bingsu. We ordered three and shared it amongst a pair of us. Kaitlyn and I shared a Mango Bingsu (망고빙수). While eating, June, Liam, and I practiced Korean by having a conversation. It was quite fun! Here is an excerpt from a funny moment:

저: 난 커피를 별로 안 좋아해. (I do not particularly like coffee)

준: 왜요? (why?)

저: 그냥… tastes like dirt. (it just…)

Obviously, we erupted in a burst of laughter after that.


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We returned to the guest house around 7:30 beat from all the walking around and Korean practice. It was very tiring, to say the least. I tried to stay up and play a card game with everyone, but I was just not able to. Sometimes it is okay to not socialize and get some rest instead. I hung out in Katie’s room with Kaitlyn, June, and Shada. We had a good time too— just chilling.

And that is all for Friday! Thank you for reading this blog post. Stay tuned for more! Also on the day I post this, it is 추석 in Korea! (Most Americans call it the Korean Thanksgiving…) I am spending all my time with my host family as we partake in Chuseok celebrations~ I cannot wait to experience it~

  • Emma 엠마

Arriving in Korea!! (9/12-9/13) NSLI-Y Korea AY

Wednesday 09/12/18

Today was the big day! At 8:30 am we were told to meet in the lobby of our hotel with all our packed suitcases to wait for the two shuttle buses that would take us to the airport. Piling in our pieces of luggage onto the shuttle bus took a lot of time and patience; it was kind of like a game of Tetris. It also did not really seem too safe seeing that there was no way for the driver to look behind him as all of the bags were piled so high.

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Did you think I was joking?

The ride was mostly quiet… we tried not to fall asleep but honestly, it was pretty difficult to stay awake. Eventually, we made it to the airport and headed to the check-in counters at the KoreanAir part of the terminal. The airport employee that helped us (us being Addie, Liam, and me) asked some questions about our trip. At the end of this exchange, he even asked if we could drink in Korea. He was all like It is a part of the culture, you should get an excuse. We all laughed it off and repeated program dismissal in low whispers. (Do not worry! All NSLI-Y rules will be followed by this cohort!~)

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Waiting to BOARD!~

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We were flying Korean Air this time rather than Delta (like during my summer program).

As was expected, the plane ride felt like it was FOREVER! A lovely 13-hour flight from JFK to 인천국제공항 (Incheon International Airport)~ I was in a middle seat between fellow NSLIYian Hunter and Shannon. However, though I would have appreciated a shorter flight (or maybe wish that I could have slept more of the duration of the flight), I did have a good time. I watched quite a few movies: I Feel Pretty, Midnight Sun, and Please Standby. I also played some of the games on the tv screen with Hunter. (We were both good at different games surprisingly!) Also, Hunter and I had some pretty good conversations, too. We talked about our passions, goals for this program, as well as the need for open-minded individuals. I found out that Hunter actually studied ASL through a tutor! I took one year of ASL during my senior year of high school and loved it. We talked about our experience with that, partaking in deaf culture (me with deaf friends and sign language club while she had theater to help her with that). We both agreed that once you start learning ASL, you will never want to stop! 

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Hunter, me, Shannon, & Shada


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Kaitlyn, Katie, Liam, Hunter, and me (obv)

We were also obviously fed on the plane and to be honest, it was not bad at all! (Except the corn on the pasta??? Like what??? I know I hate corn (and most of the population does not), but pasta is one dish that does not deserve to be infiltrated by any corn pieces.


비빔밥 (Bibimbap)

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The said pasta (with the corn…)

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Me showing off our bottle of Jeju Pure Water // pc: Hunter

But overall, the plane ride was not too bad. Besides the aches and pains from sleeping in an uncomfortable position or my mild case of motion sickness, everything was great! Honestly!

Thursday 09/13/18

We landed in Korea a little past 5 pm. The minute we touched down, I was ready to jump off the plane; however, there was a bit more waiting. We went through customs, got our bags, and took the legendary (and essential) NSLI-Y group photo with the banner.

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Arrived in Korea!!~ ❤

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NSLI-Y Korea AY 10 !!!

We left the airport and boarded a shuttle bus to make the hour commute to our guest house in Hongdae.

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More like a PARTY BUS!!

Arriving at our guest house was a struggle, to be honest. We were not dropped off right in front of the building so we had to try to maneuver the narrow streets of busy Hongdae with all our bags in hand (3 for my case…). But alas, we did make it.

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Aspect of Korean culture: Placing your shoes in a cubby (or usually on the floor) before entering the living quarters.

Our late dinner was kimbap (김밥) though many of us could not eat the entire roll. They really fed us well on the plane. We all settled into our separate rooms. My roommates consisted of Alix, McKenzie, June, and Harmony. I got to stay in the loft area of the room which meant I had to climb a staircase to reach my bed. It was really fun at first, but I did end up hitting my head on the ceiling three times during the first night.

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We all LITERALLY look dead but we are simultaneously very happy to be here!~ ❤

My whole room fell asleep pretty early–like 9:30 to 10 pm. We were konked out! Ready to rest up for a whole day of orientation~

Thanks for reading this blog post! I am currently writing this while sitting on the downstairs floor of this guesthouse (which is also a cafe) waiting to start our second day of Arrival Orientation. Today I meet my host family??? Like what? I am so extremely nervous… 저는 고민이 많아요… sigh.

  • Emma 엠마


NSLI-Y Korea AY Pre-departure Orientation in NYC {09/10 – 09/11}

Day 1:

Wow! Looking back at PDO, I feel like it went by so fast yet so slow at the same time. The orientation seminars (as exciting as they were) dragged on; however, the remaining time in America felt like it went by way too quickly.

I woke up Monday feeling pretty dazed and confused. I had stayed up till 3:30 am the previous night watching The Fosters with my mom while stuffing my face with a pint of peanut butter marshmallow ice cream.. (Need a Netflix recommendation? I have binge-watched 2 seasons in about a week! I cannot get it enough– so much drama!) I could not shake off this nervous and anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach that felt like I had a pile of bricks weighing me down from the inside out. The morning was rushed with last-minute luggage weigh-ins, goodbyes to my brothers as they headed off to school, one final walk with my dog, and a lot of teary eyes. My only friend still in my hometown came over to say goodbye and help me load the car with my 9 months worth of luggage.

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My Evee Build-A-Bear ft. my carry on

When I got to the airport, my mom helped me check in my bags at the JetBlue counter (and BOOYAH! No bags over 50 pounds! Both my bags weighed in at 42 pounds which is honestly impossible because they are definitely different weights but oh well! Better for me then!)

My mom hugged me goodbye in front of the winding, never-ending security line, and I would be lying if I did not say that I cried… A lot. Definitely received some stares.

I met up with Katie (NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2017 Alumna) and Kaitlyn (EIL – Peace Studies 2017 Alumna) at the gate for our flight, which was delayed 2.5 hours! I hung out with the Chicago gang and we talked to fill up the time.


Me, Katie, and Kaitlyn ❤

Eventually, we boarded the plane but because of the delays due to the bad weather in NYC, we had to wait on the runway for other planes to take off before us (or so the pilot said), but that took almost an hour so let me just say that we were very behind schedule.

Arriving at JFK was very exciting. I had been to NY countless times in the past but never used JFK–only Laguardia. So I enjoyed the new experience. After Katie, Kaitlyn, and I got our bags, we met up with some other NSLI-Y AY participants at the shuttle area. Lucky for them, their shuttle came right away while we had to wait for a bit.

The shuttle took about an hour to get to our accommodations, but we passed the time telling stories and eating Kaitlyn’s homemade cookies, Jenna’s Takis (which she pronounced so very wrong), and my brownies. We were still starving (craving real food, real sustenance), so Katie and I drafted up a message to send to our RD 민정쌤 to save us some pizza!!! 

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Blurry, low-quality photo with high-quality people! (now ft. Jenna, too)

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Equally blurry photo of NYC

We arrived at the hotel ready to eat some food! We picked up our lanyards and name tags, stipends and luggage reimbursements, as well as our NSLI-Y 10 T-shirt (one that I already own but stupidly left at home–and the one I got is one size too big).

Katie, Kaitlyn, and I scarfed down out pizza before heading out with a big group of NSLI-Yians to get some bubble tea. I believe that the place was called Shiny Tea and honestly, it was not bad at all…

We came back to the hotel, slightly damp from being rained on, and all hung out on the first floor in Jenna and June’s room. We enjoyed our drinks, passed around Kaitlyn’s cookies (again), and mostly talked. We wanted to play card games but the night just ended up being us getting to know each other. I had talked a lot to Katie and Kaitlyn (because we did live so close) and Addie (because she was a fellow NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2016 Alumna), but I did not talk to the others too much. I was excited to learn more about them and bond!~

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You know those people who look good in sheet masks? Yeah, I am NOT one of them haha

The night ended pretty early after room checks at 10 pm. I did sheet masks with my roomies Alix and Kaitlyn before heading to bed. We all knew what was waiting for us the next day: lots and lots of presentations.


Day 2:

The second day of PDO began with an early wake-up call. Everyone met in the lobby of the hotel at 7:45 am dressed in business casual attire. We were told by iEarn to dress nice because later that day we were meeting a State Department worker from the ECA (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs).

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We ate breakfast at this place located in the basement of the building that houses the iEarn office. It was not exactly a breakfast buffet because the cost of the food was based on weight (I believe 53 cents per ounce) but nonetheless, there was quite a spread.

After breakfast, we all piled into this large meeting room in order to begin the presentations. I do not want to go in very much detail about them because we did (basically) the same things I wrote about in my blog post about being an alumni leader for the Korea Summer 2018 PDO. (I will link that post, if you are curious to know more details about all of our sessions, right here.)

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Walking to the iEarn office~

We made a working agreement that all of us AY students must abide by during the 9 months we are together like be accountable (for yourself and others), be open-minded, and most importantly, *communication IS key* We signed the bottom to truly make it an enforceable contract!

We went through 5 sessions: intentional language learner, model citizen ambassador, safe and savvy traveler, thoughtful and engaged host student, and open-minded and flexible cultural explorer. We did a few icebreakers about obvious traits of cultures and hidden characteristics, talked about safety and program rules as well as discussing reasonable language gains to expect by the end of the program.

We ended up actually receiving our pre-program OPI scores on a sheet with our expected ending score and a description of each language level. From my performance on the OPI back in July, I was given the score Intermediate Low, which I was totally fine with. I mean, I have not studied Korean formally (or honestly consistently) for 2 years now. I just hope I can perform that well on the placement test we take on the first full day in Korea!!

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The State Department Official Dina Suggs congratulated us on the achievement of receiving this scholarship and embarking on such an adventure. She spoke a bit about NSLI-Y goals and other scholarships/fellowships that could be great opportunities for NSLI-Y alumni.

Once presentations were over, we all headed up a few floors to the iEarn office for a very last meal in America: Chipotle! I got to sit at a table with Liam, Jack (NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2017 alumnus), Josh (NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2017 alumnus), McKenzie, Teresa (NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2016 & NSLI-Y Korea AY 2017-2018), Minjeong (our resident director), and Ligaya (iEarn staff member) and we talked about a variety of things! I was able to get to know more about Teresa’s experience because she did attend the same Korean high school that I will be as well as talk with the other summer alumni, too.

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We also had some interesting conversations about host families… Can you tell that I am super excited to meet mine? I cannot wait! (Also later that night, I got an email from one of my host sisters. She wrote it in English, and it was very cute. She told me who in the family also enjoyed my same hobbies so that I could enjoy those things with them. The misspelled words were endearing, and I was happy to know that she could understand my letter enough to reply back.)

After Chipotle, we all left the iEarn building and walked over to the Columbia University campus. (My first time visiting my future school!!) We took some group photos before walking back to the hotel.

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Group Photo!

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Addie (NSLI-Y Seoul Summer 2016 alumna) and me

A large group of us changed out of our business casual attire into some comfy clothes and bought frozen yogurt at 16 Handles only a couple blocks away from our accommodations.

We were then feeling spontaneous! We were quirky NSLI-Y participants that took a night walk around a small park. The trails were completely dark and it even started drizzling a little bit, but the laughs and stories made it a great memory.

I ended the night chilling with my roomies and packing up all our stuff for our flight to Korea the following morning. My lovely friend Kaitlyn kept us up by talking about her job at the Field Museum where she worked with dead insects– yes, you read that right. Well, I admit that the jewel beetles looked somewhat cool but I will forever feel grossed out by bugs.

Thank you for reading this post! PDO was a success, and the entire night was filled with nerves and a lot of anticipation. Stay tuned for more posts about Korea–  more posts from when I actually arrive! (Currently on the plane while writing this! Exactly ten more hours left~)

  • Emma 엠마

NSLI-Y Korea Academic Year: Host Family Information

It is here! The long-awaited information is finally here! I woke up yesterday morning (09/04/18) and was shocked to see a plethora of messages in our AY Kakao group chat. I knew as soon as I saw the notification for 200 plus messages that host family information had arrived. I hurriedly grabbed my laptop and there it was, waiting in my inbox– my host family information.

My host family will consist of 5 individuals: host mother, host father, 2 younger host sisters (10 & 11), and 1 younger host brother (7). My host dad is an office worker while my host mom is a stay at home mother.

I am really excited about this host family because I have always wanted to have a sister! I was really hoping to be paired up with a family that had a girl. And lucky for me, I got the best of both worlds! I got a brother and sisters~

Additionally, I’m overjoyed that my host mom is a housewife. I hope that this could possibly mean that she will have more free time so that I can spend time with her. Maybe she is also more involved with her kids. I would really like to go out and do things together– with the whole family too. I loved my host family during my summer program but because they both worked, we never really went out and did things together besides the occasional dinner or simply taking my host brother to his soccer practices/games. I hope I can spend more time with this family! I will definitely try my best to.

goyang map

My host family lives in an apartment in the city of Goyang (고양시) in Gyeonggi Province (경기도). Which means that my family lives in northern Seoul. This is pretty convenient since my high school is also located in northern Seoul (on the same Subway line too!)

My host family’s home is about an 18-minute subway ride and a 20-minute bus ride to my high school. I don’t think this is bad at all! I am happy that I am not too far. Plus, no transfers so very convenient!

Receiving my host family information has made this year in Korea already feel so much more real. I can finally finish buying host family gifts! (Bless Amazon for fast shipping!!) Less than a week until I leave my home state of IL for NYC, and exactly a week until I am in Seoul, South Korea! Oh, how time flies… it feels like just yesterday that I got the AY notification. Thanks for reading! 다음에 봐요 친구들!~

  • Emma 엠마