Lunch with a Better World Staff Member & Dinga Cake House in Hongdae {02/18-19/19} NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/18/19 Monday 

Tuesday would be our February Monthly test {It seemed like it had barely been three weeks since our last test! How could it almost be the start of the March already??} and by the time Monday rolled around, I did not feel ready at all. I have had trouble keeping motivation as of late and did not study nearly as hard as I did for the previous tests. Katie and I decided to meet at Coffee Slob to study for a bit before class with some cheap drinks and cookies to accompany us. I did get some stuff done but overall, I have not been productive lately!! 

For lunch, I decided to use the time I could be spending studying… to instead go out for lunch with some of the other NSLI-Y students: Liam, June, and Alix. We ordered two pizzas for ourselves at Pizza School. One was some cream carbonara pizza {It literally had noodles on it!} while the other one was some type of spicy chicken pizza that had tons and tons of corn on it! It was literally the worst pizza we could have picked! Luckily, the others were so kind as to allow me to eat more slices from the other pizza so I wouldn’t have to suffer and pick all the corn off the pizza. 

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Alix & Liam w/ a drawing that Alix bought at a concert for him. I believe she is an idol singer.

Korean class was a huge blur… I really cannot remember what we did.. I believe it was a grammar point and vocab day so we went over the new chapter’s three grammar points and the new vocabulary from the workbook. We also took our first quiz since 설날 which consisted of three chapters from the textbook rather than the usual two. Let’s just say… I hardcore failed that quiz!!! I did so bad… it was quite embarrassing…. 

(These two photos showcase a scene during one of our breaks between class periods…I do not know what we are doing… my teacher walked passed us and gave us the weirdest face and once she fully left, we all burst into laughter. The one covered in the scarf is Kaitlyn, btw.)

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After class, I wasn’t feeling the head-straight-home thing so I decided to spend an hour with Kaitlyn and June finally trying out Dinga Cake House! The legendary place! We got there and was worried that it would be rented out, or closed, or that there would be no seats cause we have been waiting to try that place out for what seems forever now and something has always seemed to stop us! The world did not want us to go! However, we were in luck today!

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We each ordered a slice of cake around $6 which wouldn’t have been the expensive thing in the world but you were also required to order a drink along with the cake… and so the already pricy cake added up with the pricy drink. But nonetheless, for our hungry hearts (and for the cute cakes!), we all made sure to order different flavors of cake so that we could try each other’s choices. I ordered this red velvet cake with some crazy rainbow icing. But it looked like actual buttercream frosting and not that weird cream stuff {생크림 they call it in Korean} that is on almost every cake here. (As you can tell I do not like this type of frosting.) Kaitlyn got carrot cake dressed up as a hamburger with frosting while June got a caramel Biscoff cookie cake. Everything was literally so delicious! But not only was the dessert impeccable, but the cafe itself also had a really cozy and homey atmosphere which made me enjoy being there with the others. It truly felt like I had walked into an American home! It was too cute~

I came home and had dinner with my host family and spent the rest of the night trying to study and finish my homework but my motivation was severely lacking and so I slacked off quite a bit… Tomorrow is a new day!

02/19/19 Tuesday 

Tuesday would usually just be another day with Korean class but it was not an ordinary Tuesday at all. For lunch today, we got the opportunity to eat with one of the Better World staff members. This meant getting to know more of the people that work behind the scenes for all of the things that Better World does for us as well as getting free food and getting the chance to practice our Korean with a native speaker—and before we met them, a stranger at that!

Before we were scheduled to meet at the Better World office by 11:30 am, I went to a cafe for almost two hours with Kaitlyn. We went to the 달빛 cafe near Better World to get some work done but I could not get off of my phone it seemed! I was able to review some grammar and retake some notes but most of the time was spent talking to Kaitlyn too. She tried to finish some homework but her attempt was also in vain. 

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My favorite chocolate banana smoothie!

Originally, I was going to have lunch with 민정쌤 as she picked me; however, Addie witnessed an accident on the way to Better World which was quite shocking and pretty traumatizing. Because of that 민정쌤 decided it was best to stay with her so I ended up eating with the person that chose Addie for the draw. When 주연쌤 explained this to me, I, of course, understood the reasoning behind the switch and only wanted the best for Addie at that time. However, I was also upset thinking why me? I didn’t want to eat with a stranger! I felt so anxious! 주연쌤 introduced me to 혜진쌤 in the office so that when it was time to leave, I would know who to go with. 주연쌤 told her that I was good at Korean so I should not worry– it would be very comfortable she said.

We ended up going to a famous 돈까스집 (a restaurant that sells pork cutlets). 혜진쌤 had heard about it being a 맛집 (trendy eatery) and wanted to try it out. Walking to the place was a bit awkward at first. I was really nervous to speak Korean to her especially because I knew we were going to be together for such a prolonged time at lunch. As we walked, she used her umbrella to also protect me from the snow, it was a very kind gesture. (Also, yes, interesting fact: many Koreans use umbrellas when it snows.)

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At the restaurant, we ordered this fancy platter of 5 different meat cuts of 돈까스. Like there were pieces from the back meat, tenderloin, etc. There was even an order to eat them {in the most delicious way} which the waitress explained to us before we started eating. I could not follow her explanation whatsoever and when I looked over at 쌤 for some help, she also let me know that she did not know herself. We laughed about this and from then, I felt a bit more comfortable. Some of my stress was released. 

The food was really delicious. It was definitely the fanciest 돈까스 I’ve ever eaten for sure. (I am used to cheap $5 cuts) We also had some lovely 반찬 (side dishes) and such which were match appreciated and matched the meat well. But of course, the best part of the lunch was the conversations I was able to have with 혜진쌤. I thought it would be hard to talk with her but it proved to be easier than I first thought. 

We talked about the basic topics like where we were both from, our families, and of course, she asked me a lot of questions on my future university major, my interest in Korean, and how I feel life here is like. One of the things I’m most grateful for since coming to Korea is being able to feel moments that tangibly showcase {to myself mostly} that I’ve improved. This was one of those times. 

We started getting into the topic of the education system in Korea and comparing it to that of America’s. 혜진쌤 brought up the fact that our previous president Obama even said in a speech that America’s system should try to take note from Korea’s; however, she disagrees. We talked about the fact that Korea is considered to have one of the best education systems just because of high test scores which really isn’t the most valid indicator of a good education. Through this, we talked about students basically having no life when it comes to having to attend 학원 (academy) outside of school. I brought up my friend 서린 who told us that during winter break, she spends about 8 hours a day at 학원 learning math. She gets breaks… but because the other girls are so competitive and study through the breaks, she is forced to do the same. 

혜진쌤 actually has two children so we also talked about hem for a bit. She told me that she too finds Korean age confusing as her child is only about 3 years old {if you count months} but according to Korean age, she’s 5 years old. We also discussed the problems she finds with kids cafes. She said that she originally thought that they were a good environment for kids to play at (in order to have a change of pace) but after going, she finds that the order of how the kid should play limits imagination and creativity. 

We discussed the fact that if there is a manner in which you are supposed to play, it’s really not playing. If you have to schedule in playtime into your planner, it’s really not playing. {I’m using the word ‘play’ here because in the Korean language, when you want to express going out and doing something fun, hanging out with friends, etc you use the verb 놀다 which literally means to play}. I thought back to my junior year of high school {particularly my life during winter break} as that would likely most resemble the current situation of the rising third years at 하나고 (My Korean high school). During my junior year, I was studying for the SAT. A couple hours every other day or so. I took a couple practice tests but honestly, that’s more than a lot of people seemed to do. Most of them truly used winter break as a time to rest and others didn’t start studying cause they just didn’t need to. (** cough cough my twin brother -_- **cough cough) I ended up not doing well on the test and taking it a couple more times and still not using those scores ever {Ending up taking the ACT once and using that score for applications} but it was okay because I didn’t allow it to consume me. In America, our college entrance exams don’t consume our lives. They are important but not everything. And you CAN retake them. It is not a one and done deal. You can get a perfect score and get rejected from top schools. You can get a mediocre score and get accepted into a top-ranking institution or thrive at a state school—it’s not all about going to the top schools. But in Korea, it is like that. In fact, a good amount of students will repeat their third year of high school just to have another chance to take their entrance exam (수능) and hopefully get a higher score to get into their university of choice.

 It was a really interesting conversation and I heavily enjoyed being able to talk about a rather complicated topic. 

After our lunch, she wanted to recommend me a latte from a cafe near Better World because I told her I didn’t like coffee but we both bonded over the fact that we like going to cafes and being productive {studying, reading, etc}. She ended up taking me to the 달빛별빛 cafe which I was at with Kaitlyn earlier that day. Explaining that, and greeting the store owner again was fun. When we arrived, Shannon, Josh, 주연쌤, and another Better World staff member {loofy was his name maybe?} were there already chilling.

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 혜진쌤 ordered some tapioca nut lattes {I think that’s what they were} for us and we talked some more at the cafe. She told me that she heard about me from 민정쌤 the night before because 민정쌤 mentioned she had me at work but she didn’t know who that was until she met me. She told me that from now on, I have to make sure to say hi to her when I visit the office and I, of course, assured her I would. 

She kept asking me if I was hungry and we laughed about Koreans’ obsession with food. Well, it’s not really an obsession but used as an endearing action— an expression of love and care. Koreans will often always ask if you have eaten or what you have eaten upon seeing you after awhile. But even if they ask you what did you eat, sometimes (based on the tone of their question) they are not actually wondering what you ate. A simple expression of ‘yes’ will suffice. I learned this in Korean class and it literally blew my mind. And it is not just with this expression but it applies to others too: like ‘Where are you going?’

She was worried that she had me talk too much during lunch and so I didn’t eat enough. I assured her that I was good and that I would just buy convenience store snacks during the break if I got hungry. Before leaving the cafe, she bought me a basil scone which was delicious! I haven’t tasted basil flavor in so long!! It was really nice of her~ She said that I should eat it instead of spending money on 삼각김밥. (She listens well!)

After my meeting with her ended, Josh and I walked back to class together. I can’t remember much of class today besides our many discussions on tv. We discussed the adverse effects and positive effects of watching tv as well as our favorite shows to watch. Apparently, it seems that I really like watching medical shows even though I would never want to be a doctor. I exposed myself to watching countless medical documentaries on YouTube and regularly listening to podcasts and YouTube videos by doctors about health. Also, I told them that my favorite Korean drama was The Good Doctor {and I also thoroughly enjoyed the first season of the American version}. I usually feel like I do a really bad job at participating during class—using my voice. I always make sure to take notes, follow along, listen intently but taking part using my voice is another story… but today! I did well! I am proud!

I came home right away and took the train home with Josh. Honestly, I’ve been spoiled being able to go home with him and June after class. Now that they are moving after winter break (because their commutes to school would be crazy from where they live now–especially Josh), we won’t have that opportunity much longer. It’s sad because it has definitely made us closer… it’s a shame. I know for sure; I wouldn’t have gotten as close to June as I had if it weren’t for her moving to 파주시. I know it may not seem like the biggest deal but I truly value it—having people living so close. It makes me feel less lonely… I’m gonna miss it. (I am the student living in 고양시 (Not Seoul) for the entire program!)

That’s all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed. This week is gonna be crazy busy since it’s cultural activity week but that’s okay, I’m ready for the hectic schedule!! See you all then~

  • Emma 엠마

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