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.
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.
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!!!
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!~
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.
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).
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.)
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!!
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.
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.
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