Saying Goodbye to My Host Family, Stockpiling Korean Snacks, & Friendship Rings (05/22-23/19) NSLIY Korea AY

05/22/19 Wednesday

Fully slept in this morning for the first time in awhile and I was not mad about it at all and when I did finally wake up, I was greeted by Andy, my host dog, who was laying–sprawled across the floor–in front of my door. He is a medium dog at best but he is so long and lanky! I had breakfast with my host family and spent a lot of time afterwards just chatting with my sisters and snacking on fresh fruit that my host mom cut up for us as she always asks us if we want fruit after every meal. 

We also went grocery shopping and my host sister bought lots of famous Korean snacks and such so that I could bring things home in my suitcase for my family to try (and for me to eat and relish in how available and affordable Korean snacks are…obviously.. In Korea!) One of the fun facts that my host sister told me when I moved in was that the famous Oreo cereal (Oreo O’s) is a product of Korean and can ONLY be purchased in Korea. This WAS the case maybe even a year ago but globalization works its magic and now you can buy this cereal in America too–my brother sent me a photo of it at our local grocery store a few months back. But, anyways, she was excited for me to bring it back home! She also gifted me honey butter chips and almonds which is a type of seasoning (the term?) that absolutely went crazy in Korea to the point where it was hard to find at some places like convenience stores. And, of course, Ramen too. I actually do not (and did not) even eat ramen that much in Korea but I knew my brothers would love the spicy soup and that it would be a comfort for me when I do get home. So yeah… now I need to find space in my suitcase for all these snacks!!!

After spending the earlier part of the day bopping around at home and *attempting* to pack up my room (wow, did I accumulate so much stuff!!!), I made plans to meet up with Katie at 홍대 and then from there we went to the express bus terminal together. We did not do anything too crazy, just hanging out and chatting. We found an international snack store and realized that our favorite coconut jelly drink (Mogu Mogu) has so many more flavors so we did end up buying some. 

I came home before dinner time and my older host sister kept asking me what I wanted for dinner and I was not exactly being helpful in making any plans because honestly, I am not picky and easy to please so genuinely anything would be fine. She started throwing out ideas like our favorite seafood restaurant near our apartment or getting 콩나물국밥 at the now termed ‘아저씨 식당’ but then with the mention of said restaurant, my host sister brought up another meal that she believes to be one primarily eaten/loved by older Korean men (아저씨들) and that was 아구찜 which from what I gather it is basically braised angler fish? And angler fish for those who do not know (because I for sure had no idea) is like a giant mouthed scary looking deep sea fish. Or at least, that is what I think after googling the fish. Do yourself a favor and just Google (or Naver for my Korean readers) ‘Angler Fish.’ I am, of course, down for anything so I was like “Sure, let’s go!!” 

My host mom couldn’t join us this time so instead, my older host sister drove me and my other host sister to a restaurant so that we could try 아구찜. This dish was really really tasty! It was quite spicy and the fish was paired with lots and lots of bean sprouts which is definitely up my host sisters’ alley and I have grown to love bean sprouts too because of them. We also ordered fried rice. It was a nice wholesome dinner and we had fun conversation on my last thoughts on ‘Culture Shock’ moments in Korea. The wait staff at the restaurant were also really kind and made a point to talk to me.

On our way home, we had some issues leaving the parking lot because of the parking ticket/garage machine malfunctioning? Or my host sister just experiencing a brain fart. My younger sister kept yelling and laughing as we sat waiting for the arm to raise. It was so funny.

And that was how we ended the night~

05/23/19 Thursday

Wrote my host family a letter ❤
Black Bean Noodles for Breakfast

I was literally leaving my host family’s home (after living with them for the past 5 months) tomorrow and was not prepared at all quite yet. I needed to PACK. I had two checked luggages, a carry on, and a backpack (personal item for the plane) to pack. I was very worried about having too much stuff and having overweight luggage which 민정쌤 warned would be expensive at the airport. 

Besides packing the day away, I did make some last-minute plans with my host family from the fall semester. I wanted to make sure to see them one last time so I planned to meet up with everyone at a Twosome Place cafe kind of at the center shopping street at their subway street. I had walked the main street several times (mostly going to Daiso) but had never noticed the one alley that had a Twosome Place! Or else I probably would have studied there sometimes. 

I got there earlier than my host family and I was just very aware of my presence and how I was alone… and I forgot how prominent stares are in 고양시 in comparison to Seoul which made me feel more self-conscious. To look like I had a purpose being there, I ordered a drink first and made my way to some nice seating on the second floor.

When my host mom arrived with the kids, she began scolding me for ordering ahead of time as she wanted to treat me. So to make up for it, she had me and the kids pick out some dessert: cake and 빙수 (Korean shaved ice — Bingsu). Hanging out with everyone in the cafe was such a trip down memory lane with the hecticness of being in a family with children to be honest. Always someone vying for your attention and being loud and just general kid shenanigans. One of my host sisters also brought a friend to the cafe so that added a layer to their excitement and she was very curious to talk to me and kept acting (forcibly) shocked when I would reply to something she said in Korean. I gave my host family a letter I had written to them and some macaroons for the kids which they promptly fought over who would read the letter first/aloud and which flavors they could call first dibs on. It was so cute.

My host sisters also surprised me with matching gold rings with a little ruby gemstone in the middle. They said they were 우정반지 (friendship rings) and a pair of clip-on earrings which caused some arguing between the girls since one of them had said I had my ears pierced and the other had said I did not. I reassured them that I could still wear them despite the fact (And I have since then, of course! One of my most worn pairs of earrings to this day!)

They stuck one of their hair clips into my hair and stated that I had now become one of them. We took lots and lots of selfies together–especially showing off our rings–and my host brother got pretty jealous and had to photobomb us so that is why these extremely adorable photos have come into existence. 

At the end of our meeting, I was lowkey in tears. I could not believe that this was our final goodbye and I had no idea when would be the next time I would get to see my host family again. Would it be next summer? Would it be in several years? I have no idea how my plan and college years will go by so who knows what is in store for me. But what I do know is that I am going to be very proactive in maintaining this relationship because this family means so much to me and I would never want to let that go. I cherish this family so much and will forever be grateful to them for positively coloring my time here in Korea. And I really hope they know that too.

Honestly, so excited to be able to meet up with them again, especially when the kids are older. I hope they do not forget me ❤

On my way home, I stopped by a bakery outside one of the exits of my home subway station (saying that is kind of weird reading it over… but I wrote it so naturally…It had come to feel that way) and picked up a nice cake for my host family as a gift which obviously cannot thank them for all that they have done for me but it is a gesture~ We all ate dinner together and ate the cake which was extremely bittersweet seeing that it was my last few moments with all of them together as my older host sister was driving me to a hostel the next morning and unfortunately, they cannot attend my graduation ceremony.

That is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed this pretty random couple of days. Doing less but appreciating more. Kind of hard to document that in comparison to just uploading photos experiences if that makes sense. Anyways, thank you~

  • Emma 엠마 

Insadong Art Exhibition (인사동 전시회), Eating Okonomiyaki For the First Time, & Sushi Buffet (05/21/19) NSLIY Korea AY

05/21/19 Tuesday

My host family usually wakes up late and has breakfast around 11 am but I really wanted to get a start on my day so I ended up having a quick bowl of cereal early in the morning before heading out for my plans. Even though I did not get the chance to eat breakfast with them today, I knew I would make it home in time to have dinner with them and spend the evening together.

I took the subway to 인사동 and because it was rather early on a weekday, the subway leaving my station was practically empty and so I actually got to sit for the almost hour long journey and write some blog posts because I was behind by almost a whole week. This was a very mundane thing if you consider it on a grander scale but it despite it being a trivial thing about my day, it made me feel so happy and grateful. Just here romanticizing my life!

I had plans to go to this exhibition in 인사동 called “Witch Garden” with a friend because it had been trending on Instagram as a lot of Korean instagrammers and influencers had been posting about it. I had gotten to the station a lot earlier than I was expecting so I had to wait around for a bit before my friend arrived. One thing I have learned about Korea is that places do NOT open early–especially cafes.

So not only were all the tourist-y stores and such not open, it was very difficult for me to find a cafe that I could wait out another hour but eventually I stumbled upon a place I found on MangoPlate and was there right on the hour, right when it opened.

For “Witch Garden”, rather than being an exhibition of art installments or spotlighted pieces, it was more like an interactive experience with lots of photo zones. At this particular place, there were dark rooms with certain lights and images illuminated on the walls, real potted plants and flowers decorated in statuesque structures, walls full of flowers, murals of quotable sayings, etc etc. Some of the rooms were more questionable than others…there was one area that had fake bats hanging from the ceiling? I guess considering the name of the exhibition, witches being associated with bats makes sense but I…was just a little confused because it felt really Halloweeny to me and well, it was May.

But there were a lot of other rooms that I thought were super fun like a mirror room where you would walk through the middle and see like 7 other reflections of yourself as well as this wall that was basically lined with long, shiny glorified streamers but it was fun to walk through it! I kind of felt like a celebrity when I did so.

Overall, this was a fun way to spend an hour or so. I believe the entrance fee was around 10,000 Won (about ten dollars) and although you could not spend a whole afternoon there since it was pretty quick-paced and the only real reason to attend is to have a little photoshoot, it was definitely worth it to me. 

After taking way too many photos of myself (Has Korea turned me into a narcissist?), my friend and I decided to walk around the 한옥 (Traditional Korean House) Village nearby and we actually passed by a professional photoshoot and they told me that it was probably for a wedding and they were taking photos in the traditional Korean dress as weddings nowadays use both traditional clothing as well as the modern, western white wedding dress. We walked around and took (more) photos and talked a lot. The weather was so nice this day so spending time outside for a longer duration was actually tolerable–and not sweaty. Even though Koreans may not sweat nor smell bad, your girl is American and does! And depends on deodorant!

For lunch, we took the subway back to the 신촌 area because my friend knew that area better and we found it quite difficult to decide what to eat because I was being indecisive and not helpful. We ended up choosing this Izakaya place which (I believe) is a Japanese restaurant that borders on being a pub? Or maybe a bar and grill type place? For the meal, we had okonomiyaki which I had never tried before and it was explained to me as the “Japanese version” of a pancake. Let’s just say I was shocked after making assumptions based on what I was told.

Turns out, okonomiyaki is like a mix of flour, egg, and shredded cabbage that is grilled/cooked on a griddle like a normal pancake but it is less carby I guess than a traditional pancake. We added some bacon and cheese on it for a fun twist. It was pretty good I would say…but I probably would not order it again. Maybe the experience would be different in Japan.

I also had a bad taste in my mouth afterwards for a little bit because of the staff at this particular restaurant. I was paying for dinner for both my friend and I because they had covered for us the last time we hung out and so when we went up to the counter to pay, I handed the host my debit card, not cash. I handed the male host my American debit card–a clearly foreign card with an American bank. And as I handed it to him, I explained that I was paying for our meal. The host proceeds to ask my friend how we found the meal (in Korean) and decides to hand my friend back my card and receipt–to my friend!!! I know this seems like a silly little thing to nitpick and I agree in a sense but I was just very confused by the host’s actions. I did speak Korean to him so he should not have thought that I would not have understood but even if he did decide to continue thinking that, he could have at least given back the card with my name on it back to me? I was a little pressed about this at the moment not gonna lie and the minute we left the restaurant, I started ranting to my friend wondering if this was because I was a foreigner/a woman but I don’t know. Just a weird, annoying moment. 

Came home by the evening time and went out to dinner with my host mom and my two host sisters. We went to this all-you-can-eat sushi buffet that was on the basement level of the mall connected to our apartment complex and the subway station. My host mom kept emphasizing how delicious this place was and ~expensive~ so she said she had been ‘fasting’ all day to prepare her stomach. With that, we had a game plan: stuff our faces!

The best part of the buffet was definitely the sushi bar because there was so much variety and there was none of the fake sushi crap *cough cough california rolls! Cream cheese rolls! **cough cough but actual quality pieces of sliced fish laid upon fresh rice. Delicious!

There were a lot of cooked foods too like pasta and other Korean dishes. There was even a section where you could cook your own ramen which my older host sister took advantage of which I thought was kind of funny. The idea of going to a buffet but still deciding to eat instant noodles.

The most ~peculiar~ thing at the buffet was a bowl of sweet potato salad that had rainbow colored sprinkles as a topping? I was very confused… This was a dessert? Is this normal? I might have been scared…just kidding.

Sprinkles!?!? Interesting…

Ended the night taking Andy on a walk with 언니 and just chatted with everyone in the living room until I got too tired to keep my eyes open. I was really trying to treasure the final moments with my host family–especially when it comes to our conversations. 

Emma, STOP being so sentimental !! It is

JUST

SAD!

Well, that is all for this blog post! Thanks for reading~ Only a couple of blog posts left from my year in Korea… Can we believe that? I cannot… wow. I cry.

  • Emma 엠마

NSLIY Summer 2016 Alumni Meetup (with RDs!) and Spilling the Tea at Instagram Cafes in Seoul (05/20/19) NSLIY Korea AY

05/20/19 Monday

Refer to ~this blog post~ for what I did during the first half of the day which includes me taking my final for Korean class and exploring some more historical places in Seoul with my Korean classmates and teacher!

Once I said goodbye to my Korean teacher, I got back off at 홍익역 (홍대 — Hongdae)

EEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKK! Shrieking was all I could even think about doing as I thought about the epic reunion that was about to commence on the streets of 홍대. The other week or so I reached out to Jessica once again (NSLI-Y Korea Summer ‘16 Alumna) because we have been cafe buddies since I have been back to Korea since she knows all the best places and is basically like my big sister in Korea! But the last time we had tea together, we mentioned organizing a meeting with our former NSLI-Y summer resident directors because conveniently they are both in Korea at the same time again! Madeline (our American RD) is pursuing a graduate degree at 이화여대 (Ewha Women’s University) and is in her final year of that program while JT (our Korean RD) is well… living in Korea! Though he did spend some time abroad, backpacking around Europe, after he was with NSLI-Y for our program and the following academic year program.

We planned to meet up for dinner together and possibly a cafe afterwards to chat and I was so nervous and excited at the same time to see everyone again after… How many years? Almost 3 full years! Granted I had seen Jessica the previous month and Madeline back in December with Katie but !!! All of us back together felt more like we were getting ready to film a crossover or a reunion episode of a TV show with all of the most loved cast members!! (Sorry to the rest of NSLI-Y8 😛 lol)

Before meeting up with them though, I actually had a quick errand to run which consisted of me meeting up with 혜린언니 my supporter during our winter break research project. Katie and I had met up with her and had our ~farewell~ (for now) dinner about a week or so ago and had given her letters but she did not have anything prepared for us yet and said that we had to make sure to see her one more time so that she could give us something.

That something was two handwritten cards that Katie and I were not allowed to open until we had arrived back in the States (Which, QUICK UPDATE: proved to be a bit of a disaster since she wrote in pencil which sort of rubbed off in areas making the letter hard to read. It must have been from the heat of being in a suitcase or the altitude or something?) I took another quick selfie with her and promised to get the letter safely back to Katie ❤

Then, I end up meeting up with Jessica, Madeline, and JT in front of 3번출구 of 홍익역. You would think that having planned this meetup, Jessica and I would have also decided where we would be having dinner at but… we did NOT think that far ahead so as we exchanged hellos and “long time no seeeeees” and in the midst of explaining what we have been doing and catching up, we were also throwing out ideas of where to eat. I do not really remember why we decided on eating Taiwanese food but that was what we ultimately landed on and I had a place in mind that I went to a few months before during our spring semester orientation. I think everyone had also been before? I guess that makes sense since it was located on a pretty central street of 홍대.

For dinner we ended up sharing a nice bowl of noodles, fried chicken (or was it a pork cutlet?) but more importantly, just chatting with everyone was the highlight of the night. JT enlightened us on his current endeavors and how he is currently working at a company/organization that is focused on expanding the waste management system in Seoul with more efficient waste baskets in public areas which honestly sounds like something the general population would greatly benefit from!! Literally, I feel like it is almost an impossible task to find a garbage/recycling can in and around even the most populated places. They are so spread out! I feel like I always have some kind of wrapper or empty water bottle in my backpack at all times. 

We talked a lot about schooling too because Madeline, Jessica, and I were all students–albeit at different stages of our education. They were all really curious about my own experience at Korean high school which was fun to detail especially since I was out of the situation and did not have to respond to some things with nervous, awkward laughter. (Actually! I think it would be really cool to write a blog post comparing my experience at my American public school and my private Korean school)

Of course, we ALSO reminisced on our shared NSLI-Y experience. It was fun talking about how often I would (with my partner in crime Sofia) annoy our RDs on purpose by running to them during our break times between classes to chat or sing–Yes, we made a song for them… And unfortunately, JT did not forget my chicken girl experience which involved me walking into a glass door–straight facts! We talked about others on the program that they have had the chance to meet up with since then and some of the names surprised me because I had not gotten to know them that much and had not expected them to return to be honest. They alsooooo shared some tea about the punishments that they had to give out (on our program and the others they led). 

After dinner, Madeline had to leave because she had plans but Jessica, JT, and I decided to stick around for a bit longer (I still had time before curfew and JT kept making fun of me for having a curfew hehe he was like, “Not much has changed huh?” but he was very serious about me making sure to stick to my curfew. He even pulled out his phone to check the subway lines to make sure that I was not bluffing which was funny. Nothing much has changed for him either! Still acting like a resident director!)

Jessica took us to The Alley which was a trending café at the time for their instagrammable bubble teas that had distinct layers before you shook the drinks. We got our drinks and sat outside at one of the patio seats at the storefront and enjoyed the cooler summer night.

It was a really enjoyable night seeing them all again and everything felt so nostalgic! To think that each and every one of them had a part in me having such an amazing time in Korea the first time that I wanted to come back! Full circle!! This may sound extremely cheesy but I generally am feeling this way right now… maybe it is the exhaustion talking… wow, only a couple days left in Korea now…

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for reading~ Till next time!

  • Emma 엠마

Korean Final, Chinese Food in Korea, Tapgol Park (탑골 공원), and Jogyesa Temple (조계사) 05/20/19 (NSLI-Y AY)

05/20/19 Monday

:,( Sad Face

It is my last week in South Korea :,(

I would be lying if I said time has gone by so fast because it definitely felt like 9 months but I still cannot believe that I arrived here back in September and now I am going back in just a few days… wowowowow 

Bright and early this Monday morning I awoke to the prospect of taking my Korean final!! I woke up quite early after a long night of studying and continued to study. I decided that grammar would be 헛수고 so instead, I quickly went through the bajillion and one Quizlet sets I have made over the many months–focusing on the ones for our last two textbooks as well as the random ones I made for Topik preparation (I really wanted to show off to my teacher in hopes that my improvement would be noticeable uwu) 

Though I was actually quite confident about this test. There is something to say about having an ‘end’ or ‘end goal’ so even though I am stressed about this final performance, at least it will be the last time! Also, looking back, I care so much about what my teacher thinks about me because I do truly care about her impression of me and I want her to see me taking my studies seriously–I am not just playing around! But I am so much harder on myself than anyone else! And I would literally have to ignore all the months of hard work if I was to say that I have not improved enough. To think that I was barely intermediate when I first arrived and now I can write essays and give presentations, and have conversations on such complex topics. I am proud of myself and I know my teacher is too! I was the underdog of my class~

Anyways, before arriving at the BetterWorld office to take our final test, Josh and I headed to Josh’s Cafe (this cafe will forever be known by this nickname) to pick up some pick-me-ups! Josh opted for coffee while I bought a basil scone.

The test actually went rather smoothly! I felt really good about the writing portion as it was sort of a reflection of our time in Korea which was definitely something I had thought about a lot and I think this was the best OPI I’ve had this whole year! Not just because I would logically be more advanced at this point but because I had more confidence in myself. The reading portion of the exam was a bit tougher to be honest and I did have to rush the ending and did not exactly get to read every single question… There were parts that I was completely lost on but I tried to not have that stump me and frustrate me before time was up. 

After we took our Korean final, we all decided to go out and celebrate the end of the program and classes together. My Korean teacher had planned out a little agenda for our date and what that first consisted of was getting lunch as three hours had now passed and we were all famished. Our teacher took us to one of her favorite Koreanized Chinese restaurants that was a little walk away from the office. It was on the second floor of a rather hidden-away building so I cannot imagine that many people just stumble upon it since the signage too was rather obscure. Though the restaurant was definitely quite full when we walked in so maybe this place was a local secret! If only I could remember what it was called…

For food, I had no idea what anything was on the menu as Chinese food in America is nothing like Chinese food in Korea which I bet is also nothing like actual Chinese food in China so our teacher ended up ordering all her favorites that she knew were good at this particular spot. We ate some sort of pork (?) dish, fried eggplant dish, a shrimp porridge/stew, and dumplings and I really had not eaten anything like any of the dishes in such a long time and everything tasted so delicious–especially the eggplant! (Salivating just at the thought of it!)

Once we finished stuffing our faces so that our bellies were just as full as our minds (minds filled with… knowledge! lol), we went along with our teacher to the 종로구 (Jongno District) from 홍대 which was not too far of a subway ride. We first walked around the less tourist-y neighborhoods as the alleyways had a lot of unique character. Our teacher was showing us all the small shops and stalls and told us that this part of historic Seoul has not changed as much as other places that have raced to modernize especially for tourism.

I took a couple of photos of some of the shops because I found them quite interesting to look at and one of the places we visited was a very small used bookstore. It mostly had Korean books with a few sparse copies of classics in English or Chinese. One of the books that I picked up was basically a guide for how women can be good wives to their husbands… Yup.

From here we walked to Tapgol Park (탑골 공원) which is a small, public park in the area which is famous for a couple historical monuments like this one traditional, colorful pavilion as well as a 10 story buddhist pagoda–which is actually enclosed in a glass structure to protect it. It kind of gives the traditional monument a modern twist on it. We walked around the park with our teacher closely following behind and taking tons of photos of us as a group. An interesting thing I noticed was that the park was mostly full of elderly. Like, there was a group of older men and women sitting in the shade of the pavilion and around the rest of the park too.

Afterwards, we walked from the park to the neighborhood 익선동 which I have been to a couple other times because it was an up and coming area on Instagram due to the architecture in the area is either 한옥 or styles reminiscent of them so photo zones are plentiful. Plus, cute cafes!!!

We walked around the narrow, winding streets of 익선동 and found a cute 호떡 stand that served the pastry commonly eaten in wintertime with ice-cream–a summertime treat, then!) So, we all ordered them and were happy to see that they were shaped like hearts! I gasped! They were delicious and the pairing of the hot honey/sugar flavors with the plain vanilla ice cream was a match made in heaven. On our walk, our teacher also showed us where she used to live as a child but now, her childhood home has been turned into an aesthetic café.

There was also an exhibition for the newest Samsung and for some reason, we went inside and explored all the new functions of the phone (even though our teacher was the only one with any Samsung products at the time.)

Our last stop of the day was walking towards the 인사동 area until we reached one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Seoul: 조계사 (Jogyesa Temple). Our teacher actually considers herself a practicing Buddhist so it was cool being able to ask her questions and look at the temple through her eyes. Also, because I was with her, I felt comfortable following her into the building after taking off our shoes and watching her bow. On the outside, the temple was very beautiful and I could not get over all of the rainbow colored lanterns that made me not want to ever look away.

Eventually Jacquelyn and Josh left us at the temple after saying goodbyes (until the graduation ceremony of course) while I decided to walk with my teacher back to the subway together as we were going to be riding the same line as she also lives near me. Our walk back was actually one of my favorite memories with my Korean teacher (besides our cafe dates) because it felt just so wholesome and we talked about so many subjects and I just felt freer to be myself since I was just with her and no one else.

My teacher took this photo of me. She pointed out this artistic statue of sorts out and said that I should run up to it and pose!~

Today was such a great day with my classmates and my Korean teacher. It made me realize how grateful I am to have had them as a part of my support system while in Korea. I am so happy to have had my 3반 classmates and my Korean teacher ❤ They will always mean a lot to me!

There is a bit more to this day because I had evening plans but since this post is so long already, I am going to continue it in another blog post~ I hope you enjoyed reading this one and until next time~ Thanks!

  • Emma 엠마

Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Day 2: Traditional Korean Feast (진수성찬) & Exploring Gyeongju Hanok (한옥) 05/19/19 (NSLIY Korea AY)

05/19/19 Sunday

Woke up in our 한옥 (traditional Korean house) the morning of our last day in Gyeongju. Despite having slept on the floor and the chilly nighttime temperatures, I slept so soundly. Perhaps all the tears from the previous night helped with that since I feel like sleep after a good cry can rival anything. We all woke up rather early and got ready for another day with a planned-out agenda by Better World although 민정쌤 had said we would be having some free time after lunch to explore the area near where we slept, do some souvenir shopping, etc. 

The outfit I chose for the day actually matched our 한옥 perfectly so Addie offered to take some photos of me with her professional Canon camera and I will forever cherish these photos and have changed all my profile photos!

For breakfast, we were handed out pastries from a local bakery as well as fruit pies from McDonald’s for breakfast? I was a little confused because these fruit pies are most likely filled with so much sugar and are 100% considered dessert to me but hey, it was still tasty–processed or not. It was a nice, quick breakfast on the bus!

Our first stop of the day was a historical center in which Better World had rented out a room with projector capabilities in order to have a pre-departure/re-entry orientation for heading back to America. This was a very depressing time of the trip because I would have much rather allowed myself to be distracted by new and engaging activities and not discussing our impending return to the states. We of course had to talk about the infamous W curve which illustrates the roller coaster of emotions common to the plight of an exchange student. Of course, this curve does not only apply to time in one’s host country but also when returning to one’s home community and culture.

Credit: From GW’s Study Abroad Page

We discussed that it would be quite normal to experience a period of adjustment in which we may feel shock or conflicting feelings about being home and having to readjust to our previous lives after having experienced so much. We talked about how isolating may feel like one of the only options after feeling like a changed person but being placed back into an environment that is the same (and yet at the same time, so different). I was sitting next to Kaitlyn during this presentation and we also mentioned how the thought of returning kind of feels like water displacement–like when you get into a tub. You might have perfectly fit in the bath before but after returning and trying to re-familiarize yourself with this old life (old bath water? Ugh this simile…), clearly, things cannot help but shift and change.

We also were handed back these little goal sheets that we had filled out at our very first orientation and the one we had over winter break. We were given a new half sheet of paper that had a little drawing of a man in an airplane. We were instructed to write the things that will be hard to leave behind, our contributions to the NSLI-Y program as a whole and what we are most looking forward to upon arriving home.

Wow my handwriting…is kind of atrocious..

I will include a picture of what I wrote but I did want to highlight what I was looking forward to about returning to my cozy Chicago suburb because I was, in fact, homesick.

  • Seeing my best friends (Kara, Courtney, Brianna, Jazmin, Grace!! I have missed you guys!!!)
  • Hugging my mom (I could cry just thinking about it honestly. Never have I ever cherished my family more)
  • Pizza & Pancakes (What can I say… I am a simple girl and a foodie)
  • Not feeling lost, uncomfortable, misunderstood 24/7 (I try to be as positive as I can but I would be lying if I said living in Korea–as a foreigner–was a walk in the park)
  • College (Just like how Korea had been a long-held dream of mine, so has been attending college at my dream school in NYC!)

Thinking about these things and the countless other things that I could not write out (sorry to my brothers if they are reading this..) did help me put into perspective that all good things must come to an end so even better things can occur in the future.

The meeting was pretty serious but Kaitlyn and I still found time to goof around like when she stole my phone and started taking photos hehe compiled here for your viewing pleasure.

After our final orientation was over, it was lunchtime and we got back on the bus to return to the area around our accommodation which was close to a very popular shopping street in Gyeongju known as 황리단길 (Hwangnidan-gil or Hwangnidan Street) which is famous for the 한옥 architecture of many family homes or guest houses and very lovely cafes and boutiques to add to the atmosphere. 

Luckily the weather was better today (no rain!! My rain dance this morning worked!!) but it was still quite cloudy so the sky was dark but it was still nice to be able to walk around without the hindrance of umbrellas and those icky ponchos. For lunch, we came to this restaurant that seemed to be a couple smaller buildings/private rooms all a part of this one place so we were able to be separated from the others. The restaurant was also all 한옥 structure so maybe that was why the buildings were separated as we walked through a sort of courtyard/common area of the house. The greenery in this restaurant was also insane and so so beautiful! As for the meal, we had what my first host dad would have called a 진수성찬 (Korean word for feast). I am not sure if this has been a story I changed before but this was a word my host dad taught me back in September for 추석 (Korean Harvest Holiday/Thanksgiving) and it has stuck with me ever since. Everytime I have a big meal–this word pops in my mind.

Once we were stuffed beyond our stomachs’ capacities, we got free time to walk around and explore. I mostly followed Harmony and Kaitlyn back and forth to different shops and boutiques. The window displays of every single building we passed by was so expertly curated that I wanted to go into every store! There was this one stationary store that we visited which I really had to hold myself back because I honestly could have convinced myself to buy so many things for the prospect of making my scrapbook beautiful (Yes, I scrapbook and yes I will dedicate an entire book for this year~ Stay tuned for a post about it!)

I ended up buying a couple of postcards/art print and washi tape with illustrations of the historical locations of 경주 as well as two pairs of earrings because there was a sale. Harmony, Kaitlyn, and I also took some sticker photos to commemorate this trip!

The girls made it on my cork board ❤

And would it really be an excursions with NSLI-Yians if there were not any group photos?

Eventually, it was time to return to the station and I ended up buying a box of 황남 빵 (Hwangnam Bread) or 경주 빵 (Gyeongju Bread) which is a speciality pastry of this city filled with red bean paste. I was intending to study Korean on the KTX ride home but… I fell asleep instead… what can I say, traveling is exhausting! I remember returning to my host family this night and showing off the souvenirs I bought before literally falling asleep through dinner. I later had a late night meal of ramen with my younger host sister as I stayed up, cramming for my Korean final tomorrow. Oh, how I love being a student.

Wish me luck! 

Thanks for reading~ Next post will be quite exciting because although I am taking my final test, I will also be spending the day with my Korean class and teacher and visiting some old, familiar faces from the first time I had ever been to Korea~ 기대주세용 

  • Emma 엠마

P.S. Also something fun for the kids in my NSLI-Y Cohort~

Enjoy this picture of 울 사랑하는 민정쌤~

Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Pt.2: Rainy Day Visit to Bulguksa Temple (불국사), Traditional Tea House (전통찻집), and Donggung Palace (동궁) 05/18/2019 (NSLI-Y Korea AY)

05/18/2019 Saturday

The rain did not let up as we ascended the mountain and continued on our path to visit Bulguksa Temple (불국사). Maybe because we were not so high up nor were we surrounded by such sigh trees and thick fog, the rain felt a lot calmer on the temple grounds. We walked around, ducking under anything to give a temporary refuge from the rain, and took lots of group photos because 민정쌤 was not going to let us get away with not taking any photos even with the weather conditions.

In front of the main hall of the temple, the two ‘hallways’ (if you can call them that) or more like open-air pathways with a overhead covering (Slowly forgetting how to sound coherent even in English…) that extended on either side of the main building had many many lanterns hanging above our heads. I believe there were so many because the Korean holiday of Buddha’s birthday was a few days earlier so usually there isn’t as much color as we saw.

One of our group photos was taken in front of the one of the twin pagodas that are considered national treasures. The specific one in these photos is called 다보탑 (Dabotap Pagoda) which is considered to be the more masculine one of the two? I am no expert in architecture and design but honestly… I do not really understand. Is it cause of the sharper angles? The shapes? Someone please explain…

We also visited the Hall of Supreme Hall of Bliss (극낙전) which is most famously known for the small golden pig statue that is resurrected in the front of the structure. I was really excited about this because as you may or may not know, my favorite animal is the pig and 2019 is actually the year of the pig! How fitting! 민정쌤 said that in Korean culture, pigs are seen as a creature that can bring good fortune and wealth and if you rub the statue (~superstition~), you too can become lucky! Do not doubt… I also rubbed the pig’s nose and behind his ears–I thought he’d like that.

After walking around and exploring for some time, we stumbled upon the souvenir store and right next to it, a traditional tea house (불국다원 전통찻집) which was halfway outdoors–not the best during this weather; however, I can only imagine how close to nature you would feel when drinking tea outside like that. I ended up ordering 냉오미자 (Cold Five Flavor Berry Tea) which is definitely one of the more traditional tea flavors, getting its name from the 5 different flavor profiles it apparently possesses. I cannot say that my tongue is skilled enough to distinguish such refined tastes but Kaitlyn (who brags about being a supertaster with more taste buds than the average person) agrees to its name.

The rain eventually came to a standstill and we got back on the bus and traveled to our accommodation so we could change out of our wet clothes and put our bags away and rest up a bit before leaving to have dinner which would be MEAT!!

For our only night in 경주, we would be staying in a traditional Korean style house (한옥) where we would also be sleeping on the floor in futon style mattress pads and blankets. The room the girls were staying in was quite big and even included a loft which Katie and I could not pass sleeping in (We love lofts! Always our first choice!) We hung up our wet clothes to dry around the room and sprawled across the floor to rest our tired, sore legs. I had gotten a hole in my poncho so I also gave it a farewell ceremony into the trash. 

When dinnertime rolled around, we all walked to the restaurant we would be eating at and Better World was gracious enough to buy us all meat! And not just any old meat, meat that we would be grilling ourselves. Once again we split up into three separate groups sitting at a long table with our respective grilling units. I sat with 민정쌤, 소영쌤, Addie, Jacquelyn, and Jenna. We ate so well and stuffed our faces with as much garlic lettuce wraps filled with meat as we possibly could. It was a nice way to end the night–or we thought. After eating, we were surprised with one more thing on our agenda for the day: visiting a palace!

By the time we arrived at the palace (동궁), the night was well set in so there was no light in the sky but luckily the castle grounds were open until late and there were lots of lights to illuminate all the structures and reflect on the pool surrounding the castle (월지) and the weather was only slightly chilly. It was a nice, early summer evening and lots of people were actually out and about too. I mostly stayed with Harmony and Kaitlyn as we hopped around to the buildings throughout the area. The palace ground was not actually that big (in comparison to other ones I have been to–in Seoul too) and that is because most of it was burnt to the ground. There was also a lot of natural bamboo growing alongside the perimeter which is always a plant I enjoy seeing up close.

At the end of the night, we took a group photo and then were told to all get in to taxis to make our way back to the house we were staying at because it was now pretty far from the palace and since it was late at night and dark, walking was not allowed. The 쌤s rode with some of us but others had to get in their own taxis and tell the driver the right directions. In my car, we put Liam in charge of this and well… lets just say we did have some walking to do back but we made it–on time too! There was a slight problem with two stragglers who became seemingly lost and would not pick up 민정쌤’s calls (nor mine as I was told to call them as well). It was probably the most drama we had had all program and it was not even anything too exciting.

Once everyone had gotten back to our 한옥, the 쌤s had us all gather into the main, biggest room and randomly turned off all the lights. We were all confused at first until she started pulling out plastic candles out of her bag. They were the small tea lights (perhaps that’s the name for them?) or the tiny candles often used for vigils I think. She instructed us to all light our own candles and sit in a circle around the perimeter of the room. In order to reflect on our time together and as an act of closing out our full year studying abroad in Korea. I would be shamefully lying if I said I did not cry multiple times throughout this little late night session.

We all went around the room and said whatever we were feeling and a lot of people found it very difficult to keep their emotions in check–including me. Literally, I found myself tearing up at every single person’s response and would try my best to stifle my sniffles and dry my tears but multiple times I was handed tissues from my fellow NSLI-Yians and Jacquelyn kept pointing out my inability to not be moved by the stories and sentiments being shared. When it came around to my turn to speak, I opened my mouth and all that came out was a depressing cry. I tried composing myself and basically discussed how besides for language improvement, the area I experienced the most growth in throughout this year was my confidence. I probably felt the most vulnerable in this moment but it felt nice being able to share this with the people who would probably understand my feelings the most in the entire world.

After we all shared our thoughts and said our goodbyes for the evening, I did feel a little empty. The little candle sharing session felt like an official end of a chapter and I was not ready for that. I was not ready to say goodbye. I thought I had been preparing myself to leave and I felt as ready as ever but now… I was not so sure. How can I say goodbye to all this? To all these people? To all these connections? At least this trip wasn’t over yet. We would have a great day tomorrow! That I could look forward to for sure~

And that is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed reading it~ I hope this one was a bit more interesting since we were bopping around a lot of different places in 경주. Till next time~

  • Emma 엠마

Yeonnamdong Cafe and Waffles, & Live Octopus at Noryangjin Fish Market (05/16/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/16/19 Thursday

2nd. To. Last. Day. At. Korean. High School. I almost could not believe that time had passed by so quickly, but at the same time…hadn’t exactly done so smoothly or unnoticed. (I will reiterate sentiments along this line for probably every single post from this date forward as we count down to the impending departure date back to the states: you have been warned.)

Usually, at 하나고 the students get to wear their comfy/casual version of their uniforms to school (which consist of a jogger and matching sweater set) on the last two days of the week but because I knew it would be my final days there–and expected lots of photos to be taken–Katie and I agreed earlier that we would wear our full uniform: vest, long sleeve button down, ribbon/tie, and plaid skirt. (Of course forgoing our blazer because HELLO, May weather.) Waking up before 6 was never fun but on these final days, the alarm did not seem so menacing and the stillness of the apartment did not seem as lonely and stares from subway passengers did not seem so awkward. I guess your perception changes as routine turns into signing off.

As always, my first class for Thursdays was AP 미시경제 (AP Econ) and had a seat saved for me next to 서린 and I happily soaked in the final moments in that class. My teacher passed out a new note sheet for the day’s lecture and I of course took one despite the fact that I knew I would be zoning out today–millions of thoughts racing through my head. During the breaks or project-work time, I studied Korean. I was learning a couple advanced grammar points from our supplemental textbook because I really wanted to do well on this final and jump a level. 

My next class was 한국사 and 임선생님 immediately smiled at me–with his 1,000 watt smile– when I walked into the class. I still remember him as one of the first teachers I met at this school and how kind he was and the fact that I told him his writing was hard to read on day 1…yeah, I still shudder at the thought of that. He knew that I recently spent his class working on homework or studying and he had encouraged me to continue to do so and would even occasionally come over to see what I was doing and ask about my work. I did not have anyone I was close to in this class but I felt silently supported by him with his huge grins and fervent nods. 

For lunch this day, I decided to go in earlier so that I could eat with my friends were the 선배s of the school (seniors) aka the third years. This group included 세림 from AP Statistics last semester, 정민 whom I was currently taking 3학년 한국사 (3rd Year Korean History) with, and 지은 and 주연 from last semester’s English Mentorship 공강. I usually eat with my 2nd year friends or just with Katie so this was a nice change of pace to be able to truly talk with them more and say our final goodbyes too, of course. It was fun being able to goof off and talk altogether since they all happened to be a part of the same friend group which made coordinating quite easy~

We took selfies altogether because I of course would never want to forget their lovely faces! I love them so much and I do not think they will ever know how much every single of them as shaped my time here for the better (well, unless they are reading this… then 얘들아! 미국에 언제 와??  보고 싶따아 ㅋㅋ)

After lunch, 지은 did not want me to leave yet so we went to the school store and got ice cream (well, she bought mine~~) and we linked arms and walked around the blooming campus while enjoying our cold treats before I really did need to yeet to make the bus back to 홍대. Today was the Korean final for 1반 and 2반 but something came up for my teacher so my class’ test was pushed back until after we came back from the graduation trip on the following Monday. Honestly very bittersweet because yeah…on one hand we did get more time than the other students but obviously there was no way we were going to study on our trip so I felt like it would leave me more underprepared but oh well, nothing I could do about it but my best.

I rode the bus back home alone while eating my ice cream cone which felt very against-the-rules to me because generally you should not be eating on public transportation in Korea but it was a tear-filled day so I cut msyelf slack. 

Instead of heading off to take the test like all the other Nsliyians, I agreed to meet up with Josh to chat a bit and also study for our upcoming final. I first took a detour at H&M to buy a skirt I was looking at (The weather was warming up and I needed more options okay…the excuse I told myself as my suitcase would later probably overflow with clothing and other misc. doodads.) We agreed to meet at a café called Layered which apparently was all over Instagram and it was not too hard to get too following Kakao maps, it was actually quite close to the Better World office. I walked up the steps to the vintage looking home turned café and knew upon first glance why this place was so popular–it was overwhelmingly adorable. To the wall decorations, the cute colorful furniture, and the impeccably decorated pastries on different sized and shaped cake stands. I just wanted to order a little bit of everything!

Josh and I found a place inside to sit (which was a feat in and of itself) and we shared this little early gray flavored cake with frosting decorated on top to look like the breed of dog from Lady and the Tramp–Lady in specific. Is it a cocker spaniel? I am not sure about that one.

Eventually we finished the dessert and our drinks and moved out into the sun and sat on the balcony which had gorgeous views of the city all spread out around us. I was shocked that I had not stumbled upon this café sooner and actually bummed out I had not. I definitely wanted to take Katie here.

After we studied a bit, I went to meet up with Katie at our favorite waffle place–와플대학–while Josh went to go find Jenna who was in KFC with Kaitlyn and Liam. Us Three had plans to later have dinner at Noryangjin Fish market and it would be my first there! (It is arguably the most famous seafood market in all of Korea… wait I take that back..maybe only in Seoul. I know Busan is extremely famous for their coastal delicacies.) Originally, I was going to have my first taste of 산낙지 (live octopus) there but I had already checked off that bucket list item with my host family the previous weekend. Josh was disappointed that I did not wait for him which was funny to say the least. I promised him that I we could still order it again because it was not half bad.

Katie and I shared an after-Korean-test-waffle which was a tradition of ours (and the last time it was gonna see the light of day this program). Today’s waffle moment was one filled with light whipped cream and pieces of strawberries.

After I hugged Katie goodbye, Josh, Jenna, and I took the subway to Noryangjin (노량진) Fish Market. It was kind of hard to get the market because we went through this tunnel that was underground which then let us up above ground but we walked through this building that was practically empty and kind of scary to be honest and then eventually were able to figure out what building to go to and before we even entered through the doors, my nose knew we were at the right place. Even upon leaving the market, I could not get the fishy smell out of my nose, perhaps the seafood particles attached to the hairs in my nose. 

The fish market was indoors if that could not have been assumed by the mention of buildings and it felt like a huge school gym with high ceilings and lots of floor space but instead of a track or a rock wall, there were stalls and stalls of bins and jars and cases of a myriad of seafood. It was very overwhelming because prices were not listed out on signs like most street food places which meant that haggling was going to be very important here. Josh warned Jenna and me that the vendors will really try to rip off foreigners when they come here since they presume they do not know how much they should be paying for the certain amount of fresh fish. He also said that one way for them to get more money out of people is to tell them that they can eat the stuff they buy at a ‘restaurant’ on the second floor so that when they are done shopping around they can go upstairs and eat their selections that are prepared for them but this, of course, comes with an extra cost that is unnecessary (if the weather is nice because then you can just eat outside.)

Josh was the real G as he talked to the vendors with such unabridged confidence and joked around with them and they surely liked how fluent he was in Korean. That also gave us brownie points and so we got some nice, dense slabs of fresh, raw salmon for a very good price. We also got to pick out our own live octopus from a case and watching the young man take it out of the water and it attaching to his hand almost immediately was really fascinating.

I am not too sure where we went after that because I was just blindly following Josh but we ended up on some sort of rooftop that had lots of outdoor picnic tables and gazebos and the most beautiful sunset view of the surrounding area. We all sat next to each other–crisscross applesauce–and enjoyed eating our fresh seafood using wooden chopsticks right out of the bag they came in. It was a really nice way to end the night and the pairing of Josh and Jenna are two that I do not spend much time with so it was fun getting to talk to them more.

Thanks for reading this blog post~ It is also a bit long and spacey since I feel like I went on tangents and maybe included too many descriptions… but I know I will not it regret later

 I don’t (,: – Future Emma

See You next time~

  • Emma 엠마

Celebrating Teacher’s Day in Korea, Class Election, and Saying a Final Goodbye to My Supporter (05/15/2019) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/15/19 Wednesday

Today was actually Teacher’s Day in Korea–a holiday that celebrates amazing teachers and all that they do for their students! There is a nationally recognized teacher’s appreciation holiday in the states too but most people do not actually take it too seriously. At my high school sometimes there would be banners up in the lunch room or perhaps over the school announcements, but even I was guilty of really not doing much in celebration of my teachers.

When I walked into my homeroom class this morning, I was met with all the desks pushed to one side of the room and the lights being off. There was one single desk in the middle of the room with a chocolate cake on top. The homeroom class was planning on surprising our teacher with the cake when she came in to lead homeroom for the day. However, when the start of homeroom came around by the indication of the school bell, our teacher never showed up… and she was usually never late. A group of students, including me, brought the cake and tried to find her in her office. She was there!! Apparently she was feeling too shy to come to class because she knew everyone would pull something like this. I thought that this was kind of sweet–her not wanting to be the center of attention even though everyone was so grateful for her! And I felt the same way too, she did not treat me differently for being an exchange student. She never spoke to me in English and she even wanted me to do everything that her students were required to like having a counseling meeting and giving her my class schedule. It made me feel like truly a part of the class. 

When I returned to homeroom, I was surprised to see another cake on the single desk in the middle of the room which all the kids said was for me. They had also prepared a cake for me and once again someone was able to light up the many candles all around the cake and I got to blow out the candles. We also all took a class picture together before first period started. It was too early in the morning to eat the cake so they told me to just save it until lunch and eat it with my friends so I did just that.

For lunch, we were eating a special meal which was even served with dessert: a cupcake with a pretty carnation (the flower usually given to teachers on Teacher’s Day). The big part of the meal was 쌀국수 which is basically just noodle soup with beef. As a possible garnish, they had a side table with bowls of 고수 otherwise known as cilantro in English. Apparently, a lot of Koreans despise it!! So it was at a separate table with a sign that said “This is the cilantro you put on top of the soup to eat. Cilantro to taste” or something along the lines of that. I have found that translating these to English statements is rather difficult. I was talking to 서린 about this because she was the only one from our friend group that took any for her soup. She explained that most Koreans have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. I found that really interesting because I can eat it just fine. It is hard to imagine eating something as normal as an herb and then tasting soap.

After lunch, I grabbed the blueberry cake gifted to me by my class and shared it with all of my friends. Luckily, 혜지, 서린, and 윤세 were all in my next class (law and politics) so we were able to eat all together and bring the leftovers to our class. We still had a slice or two left in the hallway so I just ran into the room and asked if anyone wanted cake and shared the final bit.

Today’s politics class was quite fun because we were having the election of our political parties. Each of the party’s presidents went up to the podium at the front of the class and gave their platforms/campaign presentations. Our president, 윤세, did a wonderful job giving her prepared speech and she was also joined by our campaign manager 서린 who did a really good job winning the audience over. She knew exactly what to say to make our president look good. Also, while 윤세 was giving her speech, the other members of our party (including me), shouted our “fan chants” if you will which really just included our party name and various cheers. Our political party was 올리당 which is word play on 정당 (political party) so we would scream 올리다 올리다 올리당!

I am proud to say that our party won the election. :,)

The school day ended a bit earlier as usual (since it was Wednesday) but instead of going home early or attending club meetings, there was an event for Teacher’s Day in the performing arts center. 

The event consisted of prepared videos and slides of the students expressing their gratitude for their teachers. There were even clips filled by alumni of the school and recent graduates which I thought was extremely sweet. Every single teacher in the school got their own slide with comments written by students for them–Even the cafeteria ladies and the janitorial staff. When a slide appeared for the front fate security staff, I almost lost it. I greeted them every morning and every afternoon when leaving and coming from school and even though I never said more than one word to them, their smiles were really appreciated. I took a lot of pictures of the presentation; I mostly took photos for all of my teachers but especially my favorites. I would like to remember what they look like even after several years. 

They even included slides and comments for the forgeign teachers which made my heart swell. Of course, I clapped even louder for them!!

With my 국어 선생님 and ofc Katie (AKA Keet) ㅋㅋㅋ He wanted to join in on the selfie!

After the event ended, Katie and I planned to meet our supporter 혜린언니 at 연신내 for dinner but while we were walking to the station after getting off of the bus a stop early, we took a photo of the legendary 하나 은행 (Hana Bank) in our school uniforms. That was a check off the bucket list! (In case it was not clear, 하나고 was founded by 하나은행)

For dinner we went to this cheaper place that for one set price, you could have all-you-could-eat 떡볶이 (Korean spicy rice cakes) and an immense amount of extras and sides including ramen, vegetables, fish cakes, cheese, sausage, etc. The menu was kind of elaborate with cooking instructions as you had to do everything yourself: pick out the type and shape of rice cakes, the sauce, what level of spiciness you wanted, and then of course all the extras to go into the soup. It was a struggle at first but our 언니 did an amazing job–it was delicious!

Afterwards, we walked to a nearby Holly’s Café and chatted over some warm drinks until it was time to go. This would be our very last meeting together which was hard to even imagine. We had gotten so close over the past several months that separating now… was soul crushing. We gave our supporter a letter and hugged for what seemed like forever. It was definitely a bittersweet goodbye but I know that this was not goodbye forever. I know we will meet again so I found comfort in that.

Well, that is all for this blog post. It was a long one! Congratulations if you got this far, I hope you enjoyed reading~

  • Emma 엠마

Korean Barbeque, Slime Café, & Making Smores in Korea (05/12-13/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/12/19 Sunday

Unfortunately, time is not always on my side. Although at the beginning of last semester, it seemed that we had an endless amount of time before heading back home to the states…but before I knew it… there were less than two weeks left in Korea. I wanted to spend the last few moments in the best way I knew how: spending the majority of my  time connecting and reconnecting with people that made my time here all that I could have asked for. 

I only got to meet up with my summer supporter 수진언니 once this entire year.. And that was all the way back in November and I do have regrets… I wish I got to spend more time with her but every time I meant to reach out, things got hectic or it was just not a major priority at the time. Although this is the case, I am happy to have a friend here that makes me feel loved and appreciated no matter how much time has passed since our last meeting. I can always count on her. We decided that for our last meeting, we would end off with a bang! We planned to eat some delicious food and then head to a slime café (which I shamefully found through 영국남자 (Korean Englishman) YouTube channel) to make our own slime!

The slime café was nearby Sungshin Women’s University (성신여대) which is on this really interesting subway line. I believe that it may be one of the newer ones since it is so short and there are only a couple ways to transfer onto it? This is just my assumption, I am not too sure. (I looked it up. There are only 13 stops on the line and it was added in 2017–the line is the 우이신설선) I ended up getting on at the station where it starts at but for some reason, the car kept on stopping randomly or just not opening its doors at its stop for several minutes. The only reason why this was strange to me was because the subway here in Seoul usually works without ANY error. I can seriously think of less than three times were I had trouble getting somewhere on time due to delays or construction issues. And I guess everyone else was not used to it either because there was a lot of commotion on the train.

Eventually I got to my stop and met up with 수진언니 but I had to apologize profusely because I had made her wait for so long. For dinner, we went and got Korean barbeque in which 언니 really spoiled me and made sure everything was perfect. She cooked the meat, prepared the noodles, and always got up to refill the vegetables and side dishes. I was the 동생 (younger) and yet I was failing at my responsibilities. I should be pouring her water and refilling her kimchi and lettuce leaves. We talked a lot and caught up with what was happening in each other’s lives. We were also like the only ones in the restaurant which was nice. We were like VIPs or something! The food was delicious and before we knew it, we were both extremely full.

We went to a 노래방 for a little bit and sang some duets together (언니 has such a good voice!! Why does it seem that everyone I take to go singing can sing well?? Why have I been cursed with loving karaoke and yet having no ounce of a good singing voice?) We then made our way to the slime café and we ended up being the only customers there the entire time. We ended up doing a couple of crafts at the café which included not only slime but drawings that shrunk in the microwave and a phone case as well.

The slime café was pretty elaborate–just like the ones I had walked into around 홍대 but this was just the tiniest bit cheaper overall. I picked the type of slime I wanted (yes, there were types ranging from clear to textured, etc.) and then we got a little cup that could be filled with little trinkets and doodads to put into the slime like beads and glitter and confetti type things.

We played around with our slime, dyed them different colors, added our add-ons and completed our other crafts all while joking around. 언니 was so surprised to see how much better I had gotten at Korean because although I had improved from the summer when we met in November, this jump was a bit more noticeable. We took a lot of photos!! She makes looking ridiculous so fun!

We stopped at a bubble tea shop to pick up some drinks and 수진언니 was really not impressed with hers. Her face changing with every sip from the straw was absolutely comical. I started getting teary-eyed as we said our goodbyes because I knew it would probably be a while until our next meeting. Maybe a couple years?

And that was the end of my Sunday night, I traveled back to my lovely city of 고양시 which took almost two hours… but I was able to get a seat practically right away and slept for the majority of the trip. Oh how I will miss riding the subway…

5/13/19 Monday

Monday marked the beginning of my final week at 하나고 which was characterized by major bittersweet feelings. On one hand I was looking forward to finally being able to go home to America. I missed my family. I missed my friends. I missed my dog. I missed my mom’s cooking. Oh my god did I miss empanadas and arroz con pollo and tostones AND pizza without corn!! I missed my hometown, surprisingly enough. I missed my room and my bed with the one extra squishy pillow on the right side. I missed feeling normal–not like a token foreigner. I missed the comfort of being able to communicate freely in my native language as well.

On the other hand, I kept tearing up just thinking about all the ‘lasts’ I was experiencing this week. I would make a joke like “Oh, this is my last English class with Andrew쌤 and then once those words left my tongue, I felt my eyes fighting back tears. I have always been a sentimental person so I knew these goodbyes were going to be hard and hit me like a truck…but I did not think they would be this difficult.

Anyways, like the example given, I had my last advanced English class with Andrew쌤 today. We spent one part of class reading this essay by an American student who had been studying in France. The essay was written about his French class and because it was a comedy piece, he had each individual sound like they truly did when speaking the French language–grammatical errors and all, including himself. In the essay, he discussed the day his class shared their Easter traditions from their respective cultures. The author talked about the Easter Bunny which his French teacher found utterly unreasonable. In France, apparently, they have an Easter Bell that flies in from Rome? Yeah… and a rabbit is illogical?! I feel like a bunny hopping around the entire country of America makes more sense than a huge bell?? Bells are not even alive. As a joke, 서연 showed me a little doodle she did on her paper that looked like the Liberty Bell with arms holding a basket of eggs and chocolate which was hilarious.

The story was fun and it was exactly what was needed to make the class end on a high note. This class has always been one of my favorites since I was able to have the time to chat with 서연. On this final day, she shared some chocolates with me. I am really going to miss her. I had English with her both semesters so it felt like we went through this year together and when I was really overwhelmed and just needed an hour break to speak English, I knew I could do that with her during class ❤ (Of course… not when Andrew쌤 was teaching…)

I do not remember where Katie and I ended up eating lunch, either at school or convenience store 김밥 again probably, but we made our way to 홍대 and bought some things in preparation for a surprise party tomorrow. Katie and I stopped at McDonald’s for chicken tenders and then our beloved $10 cake shop for, of course, cake. We rock paper scissor’ed it and I won so I was able to take the chicken home–stuffed in my backpack–while Katie had to take the cake home and bring it back to school the following day. We also stopped to get our favorite chewy lychee drinks for Katie and me (grape and apple flavored, respectively) and sat on this bench in the middle of the main square of 홍대 which is usually teeming with buskers and jewelry stands in the evening time.

Today was stipend day so Katie and I decided to walk together to Better World’s office so that I could collect my money now instead of after class. Halfway there, Katie suddenly started panicking and realizing that she must have put her wallet down and left it on the bench. Her wallet filled with her money, her identification, everything. We ran back there as fast as we could. I was breathing so hard that the air coming into my lungs burned–wow, was I out of shape. Ask me to walk 15+ miles a day around the city and I can do that but RUN? HAH

We got back to the bench and it was gone… Katie slumped her shoulders immediately and looked defeated, tears trying to escape her bleary eyes. I looked around and I saw a group of boys–maybe around our age? And they were talking and I do not know I just felt pulled to head over to them but I grabbed Katie’s hand and we walked toward them until I noticed that one of them was indeed holding her wallet. We could overhear them asking each other what to do and one of the boys suggested to bring it to the subway station as soon as we walked up to them. I was all like “Did you find a wallet?” and we both almost shrieked as they handed it to us and repeated Katie’s name which they must have read off of her American ID. It was such a relief to find her wallet because losing it would have been so stressful. I mean, in America I have no doubt in my mind that it would have been taken. I mean in New York? Come on. Not saying in Korea you cannot lose things or people do not steal but… it seems to be less of a ‘trend’ if you will.

Anyways…

For Korean class, we are wrapping up on our Korean lessons now since our final test is this week Thursday. I waited too long to write this post so I do not have any memory of Korean class unfortunately but afterwards, Katie and I took a quick trip to the international snacks market nearby to go shopping for ingredients for s’mores. (I am making little s’mores kits for my friends at 하나고. I could not find graham crackers and Hershey’s was a little expensive so I ended up buying the Digestive wheat crackers, Ghana chocolate, and a bag of rather small marshmallows–a size in between the mini ones and the jumbo ones). While we were there, we also found out that our favorite drink (Mogu Mogu: a drink from Thailand with coconut jelly) has more than the flavors that we usually see at convenience stores.

I went home after that and ended the night studying for my upcoming Korean test and making lots and lots of s’mores kits. My older host sister works at an English academy so she was gifted this really pretty cake from the parents of one of her students for Teacher’s Day. We all sat at the table enjoying the cake while chatting about this and that.

Tell me these are not adorable!?!?!? I am so proud of them 😛

And that is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed! Thanks for reading!

  • Emma 엠마

Nepalese Restaurant & Photo Studio & Black Milk Tea & Live Octopus & Pet Pig, OH MY! (05/11/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/11/19 Saturday

Today was set out to be an exciting day from the start. I would be meeting 지연, 수빈, and 은서 from one of my English mentorship classes from 하나고 in 홍대 for a fun-filled morning/early afternoon. We had been planning this day for the last couple of weeks and I was so excited to finally be able to hang out with them outside of school. The 하나고 students cannot just decide to leave the school when they please–even on the weekends. They have to acquire permission from their homeroom teachers so depending on who you have, some students have a more difficult time leaving the school. I knew of some students who even had to lie about where they were going (Like using church/religious services as an excuse to go to the mall or extending the time a volunteering activity would last in order to get to the movies before having to get back). I was very grateful that we were going to have the opportunity to hang out (and not in an academic setting). I felt like we could be more free and comfortable with each other? And since this was not their allotted time to speak/practice English, we were able to just comfortably speak in Korean to each other. You may think that since English is my native language that I would ALWAYS be more comfortable in speaking English but I find that when other people are comfortable with me, I would rather speak in the same language. So with native Korean speakers, I prefer to speak Korean…even if I do not know how to express myself as well as I would in English. I find that we can all be more comfortable and less awkward.

In the morning, I beat the girls to the meeting spot outside of one of the station exists so I waited until they all arrived. ¾ of us were wearing a similar color of pink which was funny to say the least. It looked as if we coordinated but it was definitely just a coincidence! (Though, of course, 수빈 was wearing all black and more of a street style.)

커플룩 ㅋㅋㅋ

We started the morning off with going to a 노래방 (karaoke room). The place was just opening up when we got there (since most people do not go in the morning/afternoon) so we had to wait in the hallway until they finally prepared a room for us. Usually, you would think that singing in front of newer friends for the first time would be a bit awkward and embarrassing but I was comfortable with all of them so I sang my heart out. (Although… it was super unfair that they were all good at singing. And 지연’s rapping skills popped when we sang the new BTS song.) 

After karaoke, we went over to the photo studio to figure out how long our wait would be so that we could go out for lunch before taking the photos. The place that we went to is quite famous in Korea (토담쓰담 스튜디오) and their pictures can be found all over Instagram. I really love that taking photos professionally is still a part of the modern-day culture here because the same can’t be said about America. Here, it’s common for friends to do photo shoots together and even more common for families and couples to do the same. The photo studio’s walls were nicely lined with hundreds upon hundreds of photos from other shoots–a lot of them were humorous too. Like groups of best friends wearing silly costumes, family photos with funny faces, and even a wedding photo where the groom was the one wearing a veil and holding a bouquet of flowers! We were told to return in an hour or so; therefore, we decided it was as good a time as ever to go have lunch. We originally planned to go to this chicken restaurant that 수빈 was raving about during our last mentorship class together but although we were able to find the location of the place, it seemed closed as there was no one there and all the lights were off…

We ended up wandering around for a bit before deciding to stop and eat at some unique place–something that the girls would definitely not be able to eat at the cafeteria. We opted for a Nepalese restaurant. The interior decorations inside were beautiful and the owners seemed to be in fact from Nepal (or perhaps India as it was a fusion place). We ended up all ordering cups of Mango lassi (cold beverage that is basically a smoothie of mangoes and yogurt!) and chicken, curry, and naan bread to share. It was all so very delicious and not too pricey either (well, for foreign food).

We took a bit longer eating than planned so we had to rush back to the photo studio to not miss our appointment time. As soon as we got there, we were directed to the back and began our photo shoot. It was a lot of fun being able to be silly by using props but we also listened to the photographer that instructed us on how to take cute photos with flowers and such. It was awkward at times, especially when he would give my friends directions for me and then he would be shocked when I would do them immediately after because I understood his request perfectly fine. Besides that, the photos all came out really nicely and I loved the traditional black and white shots the best. Unlike the studio I went with Katie and 서린 back during winter break, we were not given all our photos. We picked the ones we wanted to print and that was it.

After the grueling work that is being a model (just kidding we are far from that level!), we ventured over to a café that was famous for selling black sugar bubble tea which became a hot trend in Korea as of late. The new shop Black Tiger that opened up in 홍대 never does not have a line. And, the line usually wraps around the store and a bit further down the street. It is literally crazy. We went to a smaller café but unfortunately, they were out of the bubble tea until an hour later. Instead, we all ordered black sugar bubble ice cream which honestly might have been better due to the scorching hot weather (Okay, definitely an exaggeration since it was not even summer weather yet.)

We also walked around the streets of 홍대 for a bit so that the girls could buy a cake for a friend’s birthday as well as other street foods that they have been deprived of. I took them to this store (It is one of my secret finds…) that sells macaroons for $1-2 which was a major hit with the girls.

My friends and I said our goodbyes in the early afternoon as they returned to school and I went home to do some studying and get a head start on my work due Monday. For dinner, my host sisters wanted to go out to eat at our favorite seafood restaurant near the apartment but this was no normal dinner. At this dinner, I got to try 산낙지 (live octopus) for the first time ever! Not only that, but my younger sister also had never tried it previously so we had our first time on the same day! Honestly, I thought the octopus would have more of a fishy taste and also a more gelatinous, chewy texture but it really was not bad at all. With the spicy sauce, it tasted pretty good. You just have to get over the part that the tentacles are moving around on your plate while you are trying to eat it. And if you are not good at using chopsticks…well, those little crawlers will truly test your skills because they will suction onto the plate so that it is harder to grasp. I found that my best method was to kind of scoop them up with my chopsticks off the edge of the plate. When I first put it in my mouth, my sister warned that I had to chew a lot…so that I would not choke to death. I chewed that bad boy for a good minute before finally, with my aching jaw, I swallowed it. But again, not bad.

This dinner was also hilarious because along with the delicious 해물파전 (seafood green onion savory ‘pancake’) we had some seafood stew that also had a full live octopus in it (not just the tentacles and it was pink–the head and body at least) but we had the stew on this mini gas stove on our table so eventually it would cook the octopus and all the other seafood that was also in the pot. But at one point, our smart octopus decided to hatch an escape plan and its tentacles began making their way out of the pot and its lid by squeezing itself flat until the tentacles made enough pressure to actually lift the lid and it was oozing out of the pot on the side facing my host mom and she literally screamed!!! She screamed and pulled her hands to her face and pushed back her chair which scratched the floor like nails on a chalkboard. Everyone around the restaurant looked at us and one of the waitresses ran over to us to tend to our runaway food. It was so funny that me and my host sisters could not stop laughing the rest of dinner, our host mom’s shrill voice echoing in my head–at least.

That night, Katie was having a bad day so she wanted to come up to talk with me so she rode the train all the way from her home up to visit me. We went to the convenience store attached to the apartment complex and purchased some snacks (Kinder eggs are a thing again!?) before just chatting under a gazebo in the apartment complex for a little bit before she had to leave to make curfew. Honestly, it was nice that she came all the way to 고양시 to visit me, I was wholeheartedly touched. And honestly, it was just nice to chill and hang outside in the cool weather and goof off. I remember sitting there, in the moment, talking and holding hands with Katie and just wishing that we could stay in that moment forever–with no worries or anxieties from the everyday stressors and the impending goodbyes we would have to face. We got our toys out of the kinder egg and placed them on the ledge of the gazebo and left them there. I wonder if someone found them.

Another funny moment that occurred that night was that Katie and I saw a PIG! It was not exactly a mini pig but the size was much closer to a skinny hog (do you like my pig-describing skills? lol) and it was on a leash being walked on the path back to the lobby of my apartment. The next night at dinner I asked my host mom and sisters about it and they said that it must have a rare sighting of the pet pig that lives a few floor below us. My host sisters admitted to never having seen it before but my host mom showed me photos that she had snuck from her one and only encounter. In Korea, big dogs like huskies and golden retrievers are so rare to see that this pig totally blew my mind but I was all here for it. I still remember my reaction upon seeing it–a mix of wonder and disbelief and I literally stuttered while trying to point it out in the dark to Katie who, at first, thought it was just a fat dog.

Well, and with that, that is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed! Quite a long post this one haha 2000+ words! What a packed day~ And a fun one at that. Today was great. Thanks for reading.

  • Emma 엠마