Reflecting on Studying Abroad in South Korea for a Year // NSLIY Korea AY 2018-2019

안녕하세요 여러분~ 한국에서 썼던 모든 글을 아직 안 올렸는데 오늘은 다른걸 하기로 했다. 미국에 돌아온지 2달 전에는 저와 느슬리 학생들이 우리 유학 생활에 대한 반성을 써야 하고 나서 더나은 세상 조직이 우리 생각을 수집해서 어떤 책을 만들었다. 며칠 전에 방을 봄청소하기 위해서 정리하다가 저의 책을 찾았다! 당연히 브로그 글을 읽어 보다 보면 제가 유학 동안 재미있는 추억을 만들고 고생을 껵은 것을 잘 알 것 같은데 그외에 제가 경험이 얼마나 특별한지 표현하기가 너무 어렵다. 경험이 말로 못할 만큼 특별했는데도 이 반성은 자랑스럽다. 그리고 여기까지 보시다시피 제 브로그 글의 대부분은 영어로 쓰기는 했지만 이따금 한국어를 쓰지 않다면 모든 것을 잊어버리다는 것이 당연하다. (사실 솔직히 말하면 벌써 한국어 실력이 완전히 떨어졌다ㅜㅜ 아직 잘 한척하고 있는데 강한 자신감이 필수다!) 그런데! 이 반성은 영어로 쓰여져 있다 ㅋㅋ 재미있게 읽으시길 바랍니다~

Hi Everyone~ I still haven’t uploaded all of the blog posts I wrote in Korea just yet but today I decided to do something a little different. 2 months before returning to the states (back in 2019), the NSLI-Y students and I had to write reflections on our study abroad experiences, and then Better World compiled those writings and made a sort of book. The other day I was cleaning my room for those ~spring cleaning~ vibes and while organizing, I found my copy! Of course, if you read my blogs, you can get a good sense of all the fun memories I have made and even the struggles I have faced while studying abroad but besides that, expressing just how valuable of a experience this was to me is quite difficult. Although I cannot express these feelings in any amount of words, I am proud of what I detailed in my reflection. And as you can see thus far, most of my blog posts are written in English but if I do not practice my Korean every now and then, I will definitely forget everything! (Actually if I am being honest, my Korean skills have already plummeted…I am just pretending to be good. Confidence is KEY!) But this reflection is written in English. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy reading~ Thanks!

(P.S. Added Photos to Make it Fun!)

Emma’s NSLI-Y Korea AY Program Reflection:

My Greatest Endeavor Yet

An electronic voice declares that we have reached 연서시장 before the bus abruptly comes to a stop. After catching my balance and tapping my T-Money card, I hop off the bus– my nose immediately being greeted by the smell of raw fish. The bus ride turned into the hustle and bustle of a Korean market at a moment’s notice. Shopkeepers yell out competing prices as the smell of greasy yet delicious 분식 tempts the taste buds of every passerby. Katie and I find our favorite stall and are greeted with the warm, contagious smile of the vendor. We order 떡볶이 and 튀김 and immediately begin filling up cups with 오뎅국물– a habit that can be considered second nature to us by now.

Before I studied abroad, I heard the phrase “Study Abroad Will Change Your Life” countless times. Everyone seems to mutually agree that this experience you are about to embark on will be unforgettable and life-changing… which can be kind of intimidating: trying to imagine how something can affect you to such a great extent before it has even happened. Now that the NSLI-Y program is coming to an end, I have come to the realization that this statement appeared so daunting because I viewed study abroad as one big thing; however, rather than solely one event, it is the experiences and little moments that culminated into something overarching.

Through this program, I have learned to be independent, resourceful, self-motivated, more confident, and even how to (somewhat) budget money. But excluding all of that, I am most thankful for the way that this experience has enabled me to appreciate the little things in life–and not take even everyday things for granted.

Especially when things would become too overwhelming and frustrating. There were plenty of occasions during these 9 months that left me feeling defeated and dejected. Times when my efforts to learn Korean seemed futile or when the yearning to return home became too much. Tears were shed, and at times, I even wished that I had started college right away and chosen a normal path. Nonetheless, I was able to overcome all of these things by focusing on the present, on what was happening in front of me: the things I should be grateful for. 

I focused on the way my host siblings would barge into my room while I was studying hoping to steal my attention for just a few moments, the way my host mom would prepare me snacks and tea when she thought I needed an extra boost of energy, the way my friends at 하나고 would come to class early and save me seats with their textbooks to make sure that we could sit together, the way my NSLI-Y cohort could get me to erupt in laughter for seemingly stupid things, and the way my older host sister would put pieces of meat in my rice bowl to make sure that I was getting enough food to eat.

I focused on the smiles and warm welcomes of the workers from my most visited hole-in-the-wall café, 편의점, Twosome Place, and 녹차호떡 stand; the laughing fits that I would get into during lunch time with my group of high school friends that would sometimes prevent me from being able to finish all my food; the licks to my face from my host dog every single day I walked in through the door after being away for a little too long; the wonderful feeling of satisfaction after successfully utilizing a newly learned grammar point or a difficult vocab word in conversation with a Korean person; the beautiful natural and manmade scenery of places all throughout Seoul (and even a bit beyond); the after monthly-test waffle tradition that perfectly satisfied my sweet tooth while allowing me to stay salty enough to rant; the sprints to the 편의점 during class breaks to buy ice cream or whatever other snacks we were feeling that day; and the nights ending with raw, sore throats from spending too much time, talking, screaming, or singing with all my friends.

I focused on every seemingly trivial conversation, every tangent in Korean class, every cultural excursion, every by chance meeting, every major milestone, and every comfort-zone-tested moment. 

And just like the final drops of 오뎅국물–straight from a plastic cup and all– I will cherish every remaining moment in Korea. 

Having devoured all of our lunch, we say goodbye to the stall vendor and make our way out of the winding market back to the subway station. Soon enough I will take the subway home from 하나고 for the last time amongst many other final moments, and I know these lasts will be met with many tears; however, I find comfort that these tears do not come from a place of regret. They come from a place of utter gratefulness for being given this unforgettable and life-changing opportunity. 

END

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

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

Last Day of Korean High School, Goodbye Party, & Lots of Crying!!! (05/17/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/17/19 Friday

You have not seen sentimental until you have met me. And I am not advertising this as necessarily a good thing but it is a fact. I am the most sentimental, emotional person I know and this is clearly well exemplified by my very need to document almost every moment of every day with personal glorified journal entries, pictures of literal subway train floors if I thought I would miss the sight of them, and receipts from the too many convenience store snack runs this year because even if they add about 2 pounds to my wallet…hey, they could make a cool, artsy background to one of my scrapbook pages. Oh, have I mentioned that before? I also am prematurely accepting my mid-life crisis fate of having a hobby involving glue and hole punchers–oh, and tons and tons of stickers. 

Maybe it is also because I am a water sign? Although I would not necessarily say I fit the ‘typical mold’ for a scorpio but I definitely have a good grasp on the water-works and emotions if that means anything. 

Anyways…

All of this seems of importance today because today was my very last day of Korean high school. My last day at 하나고등학교 as an exchange student. And (technically) my last day of high school EVER. How could I not walk the halls with tear trails permanently etched into my cheeks?

As per usual, I woke up this morning to the sound of birds noisily (but sweetly) chirping outside my window and I buttoned up my dress shirt, shimmied my skirt on, and swung my backpack onto my shoulder with the anticipation of a day at school for the last time. HOW BITTERSWEET!

First class of the day was Music class with Katie and while the other students were working on new projects that involved some music theory in a way which shocked me because I thought this was an average music class but looks like the days of just singing songs from a textbook are over. Instead of having Katie and me do that, our music teacher gave us these worksheets about 농악 otherwise known as peasant music, farmhand music, or community band music. It discussed the origin of such music and accompanying the sheet was a little bag of wooden people playing 농악 악기 (musical instruments) and there was a color code at the bottom of the paper explaining how to color in the traditional outfits with red, blue, and yellow.

I also ran into 세림 during the break in between first and second periods and she gave me this adorable gift as a going away present and I almost burst into tears right then and there. She gifted me cute stickers with phrases written in 한굴 (Korean alphabet), a panda stuffed animal, and the cutest scroll/letter that must have been typed up from the computer. 

Also, our music teacher finally put up all the music project posters in the hallway and it was fun being able to see what all the other students did. They would later be voted on by the other classes so each project had a number on it though Katie’s and mine were just done for fun so ours was on the wall with a pink heart and our names were written on the bottom. It made me happy just to see it. It meant a lot to still be included.

After music class, was my very last English class with Jason쌤 which is definitely going to be a class dearly missed because of how fun it was–and not only because it was conducted in English. It was just a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined with exercises in speech giving, impromptu practices, tongue twisters, body language and those things not only being informative but fun ways to interact with my classmates. This last class was no exception because Jason쌤 was kind enough to buy the whole class donuts from Dunkin Donuts so were able to have a party.

We just got to goof around the second half of class after doing some reading exercises. At one point I wanted to snag a video clip for my 1 Second a Day video and all the kids were enthused and started waving and/or throwing their hands up into the air as if they were one of those inflatable long-armed sale balloons you often see in front of car dealership lots. It was a lot of fun.

Right before lunch, Katie and I were thrown a surprise going away party (which we may or may not have been alerted about–by accident–by several different people: our lunch friends and English conversation pals, for example.) The meeting room/lounge on the second floor which we utilized for one of our English conversation 공강s (because the library’s private rooms were filled) was made up as the location for the event. The layout of the room was the same but there were decorations littered around the room and the tables were filled to the brim with snacks, pastries, and juice boxes galore.

Throughout the time of the party, students would come through and talk with us and hang out–some giving us letters and drawings. Some were from people I never really talked to and they usually wrote that on the note like “We had so and so class together but never talked.” It was nice that they wanted to wish me a farewell but it also made me realize the connections I missed out on making and I wished they had reached out to me or I that I had done so.

It was such a memorable time and I was so thankful for everyone that came including all of my English mentorship students (new and old), my homeroom classmates, all my third-year friends, and of course our lunch group made up of our 2nd year friends. My homeroom teacher also was there and she wrote a letter to me which she read aloud while Katie’s homeroom teacher played a melody on his guitar. I could not help but tear up at her words as she talked about how proud she was of me and how she silently supported me when she would see me studying Korean before class and making friends. I never really thought about how even those little moments or decisions would have an impact on how she viewed me as a student but I was happy to know that they had a positive effect. She also gifted me a book of short stories in Korean and although I am not sure if my reading comprehension level is quite there yet, the thought was greatly appreciated.

At one point during the party, I started just tearing up at everyone surrounding me asking for goodbye selfies and at the fact that my arms that were filling up with letters that I knew would have a difficult time fitting into my backpack. 도윤 saw my face and almost immediately also burst into tears and so there we stood, in front of everyone, hugging each other in tears. She gave me a little wrapped baggie of her favorite hair oil that she promised would help me remember her by–mostly because of the smell which I had to agree. Her hair always did have a particularly nice scent.

After our final school lunch (and dessert which consisted of these grape-flavored ice cream balls? Imagine Dipping Dots but HUGE) and the bittersweet goodbye party, I had my economics class which comprised of our first period actually being a lecture (although, I studied Korean in preparation for my test) but the second period involved going outside and having a snack party with every kid offering up something purchased at the school’s convenience store. Basically today involved a lot of goodbyes and a whole lot of food to numb the pain and sadness in a way. 

Even at the time of walking out of the double doors of the main gate at school at the end of the day, I could not really wrap my head around the fact that I would be leaving. I could not believe that this would by my last time at 하나고 for the foreseeable future. (EDIT: Quite sad that because of world health circumstances, I was not able to return to my school before all of my friends graduated…sigh) 

Katie and I cleaned out our lockers and I just stared at the empty shells of what was once filled with pictures, random snacks, some winter jackets, and most importantly a next time. My homeroom gave me this giant goodbye poster board (made by taping two poster boards together) which included post-it note messages from every person in the class written in English or Korean and they must have went on my Instagram and printed out a photo of me from my feed to have it be the center of the board. They all signed the back too and I was just a crying baby once again when I received such a thoughtful gift!

It was so hard leaving the school building but of course we kept getting stopped along the way which lengthened our journey and made saying goodbye that much harder. My 3 second year friends from English 공강 (The gals that I had went to 홍대 with together recently) stopped me and Katie for some last minute gifts and to thrust a bag filled with more Korean snacks into our possession. They also helped Katie and me take our final pictures–dressed in our school uniform–in front of the 하나고 sign in the lobby of our school. We recreated the photo that we took the very first day of school. Oh how things come back full circle~

There was so much to carry home and it was quite an emotional day so I ended up going home right away. I decided I would spend the night relaxing in preparation for the graduation trip tomorrow but also high key cramming for my Korean test because I am no psychic… but I was not going to be doing a lot of studying in the ~mystery location~ of our 1박2일 (2 days one night) trip in celebration of completing our program (successfully?)

That is all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed~ This is one of those blog posts that I know I can return to when I want to reminisce on all the good memories I made while abroad on my gap year because no matter how hard those 9 months were, this post highlights examples of why everything was 1000% worth it and how I would do it again in a heartbeat!

하나고 친구들 혹시 이런걸 읽고 있다면.. 할 말이 있어요.

하나고 친구들과 선생님 영원히 고맙습니다. 진짜 너무 감동 ㅜㅜㅜ

하나고에서 다니면서 재미있는 추억도 많이 만든거 같아서 헤어지는게 너무 너무 아쉽고ㅜㅜ 진짜 그리울거 같아용! 나 잊지 말고! 연락해줘요ㅠㅠ 한국 들어가면 꼭 밥이라도 같이 먹었으면 좋겠네용. 하나고 학생들 진짜 열심히 살고 능력이 있는 사람들이라는 걸 느꼈어요! 하나고에서 이렇게 고생한 만큼 좋은 꿈같은 결과를 있을 거라고 항상 응원할게요!

서린, 도윤, 윤세, 혜지, 세림, 지은, 정민, 주연, 수빈, 은서, 지연, 호영, 근영, 건우, 예성, 서연, 민지, 선민, 도연, 원준, 동철하고 더 많은 학생들인데 저에게 영향이나 친절한 기억을 준 모든 친구들 포함할 수 없어요… 암튼 하나고!! 화이팅! 또 만나자!

  • 엠마 (Emma)

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

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

Celebrating Children’s Day (어린이날) with a Parade (05/05/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/05/19 Sunday

Today was Children’s day which is basically what it sounds like: a day to celebrate children just like Mother’s and Father’s Day (except in Korea the two are not on separate days but on one collective Parent’s Day.) A lot of events for children are held during this weekend and of course kids are showered with gifts. 

My current host family consists of two older daughters so they had nothing planned for the occasion. I ended up getting in touch with my previous host family again and we planned to get dinner together and attend a parade! My host mom messaged me all the information for the location and time of the event and eventually the day rolled around. 

To be honest, I was kind of nervous about meeting my host family again. We had talked very frequently about meeting up more after we made gingerbread houses (that blog —> linked here) but they always seemed to be free when I had program obligations or school activities. Because of our uncooperative schedules, I hadn’t seen them in more than three months. I was nervous that they wouldn’t be impressed by my progress in Korean (or that they wouldn’t even notice that there was a difference). I was afraid that my siblings would be awkward with me and that things wouldn’t feel the same. 

I also had no idea where we were meeting so I loaded up the address on my Kakaomaps app and took lots and lots of screenshots. I also took advantage of street view to figure out how I would get from the subway station to the meeting spot. (I had to do this because there would be no wifi to help me out once I left the station and I had no international data and usually relied on free wifi sources). Luckily, it was only a 5 minute walk and there were even signs on my way there advertising the Children’s Day event. Turned out, I was entering the outdoor mall through the back entrance—where the parking garage was at. 

I walked into the mall and it reminded me a lot of a promenade shopping mall back in America. Besides Lafesta, this was my first time going to such a place in Korea. However, unlike Lafesta Mall, Bella Citta (the name of this mall) had a lawn and lots of green places. I called my host mom and she told me where they were but I had trouble finding it from just looking around. I tried walking around for a bit in search of the said section she told me she was at, but no luck. I also began getting more nervous as it seemed that all the families and children were staring at me as I surely looked confused walking around the perimeter of the mall. Eventually, I stopped to look at a directory when I felt two pairs of small hands tap me on the back. I whip around to see my three host siblings all wearing costumes and smiling widely at me. I immediately shrieked and grabbed them all for a tight hug. 

They took me back to where their mom was sitting and we caught up for a bit before grabbing something to eat. We knew that it might be one of the last times we would be seeing each other before I left so wanted to make the most of it. 

For dinner we ate at the food court of the mall which not only had a large outside area but the inside was just as impressive. The top floor even had a movie theater! We ate 떡국 (rice cake soup) and chicken skewers. After we quickly ate our food, we had to go get ready for the parade we would be walking in. Basically, the event was that the kids would get to dress up in fun costumes and walk behind a marching band that would play fun tunes. My sisters were dressed up as a witch and perhaps a lady attending a masquerade ball (?) while my brother was some sort of super hero.

With the band, we walked around the inside of the mall and then went outside and walked around the courtyard part before stopping at the main square for a full on performance by the marching band. It was a lot of fun dancing around with my host siblings. At one point, the band played YMCA and one of the drummers would do the arm movements along with the chorus when you are supposed to spell out YMCA. No one else (kids and the parents in the parade) would do the dance, though! It seemed that no one knew the song well enough and definitely not the hand movements. I was, for some reason, feeling myself so I started doing it by myself which only prompted double the stares (Let’s just say I was the only foreigner in the parade). I also tried reaching my siblings but they were just not catching on. My host mom was laughing at me but the band member made eye contact with me and gave me a thumbs up. Eventually, the younger of the two of my host siblings started copying me and we got a whole wave going of a bunch of small Korean children dancing to YMCA.

The best part of the parade was when we made our way outside and since the sky was darkening since we were approaching the cooler night, the view of the dark sky against the string lights hanging from around the outside was really pretty. At the end the band also played their own rendition of Baby Shark (That really popular children’s song from Korea that also made its way to other countries as well.)

After the parade, they collected their free movie vouchers (for participating) and we hung around the mall for a bit. Looking at the different stores (our favorite being the stationary stores) and even stopped at the theater. We did not watch a movie but we did wait in the lobby area and eat popcorn and peppero. 

Eventually, my host family brought me back to their place and I hung out with the kids for a bit longer. They gave me a package that was received a little after we met up in January which included my Christmas gift from my friend Jazmin from back home (My friend group did secret Santa! I had finally gotten it!) The gift was a little book filled with 500 reasons to be happy. It was the cutest thing! 

Eventually curfew rolled around and I had to make my way home. I said goodbye to my host siblings and my host sisters whined about me leaving. My host brother grabbed onto my legs and tried keeping me inside because he did not want me to leave. It made me so emotional seeing them like that. I know I’m going to miss them an insanely amount. It hurts me to think about it. 

We promised to meet up one more time before I leave so today would not be the last meeting. I left the apartment and made the very familiar walk back to the station. I don’t know but I cried the whole way back. Luckily it was really dark (besides the couple of street lamps) and no one else was walking in my direction so I was free to ugly cry as much as I needed.

I just could not help but think that this would be my last walk from their house to the station. A walk that I dreaded sometimes when it was cold and in the early mornings on school commutes but it was also a walk I grew to love as it meant getting on a train and having an adventure or doing something fun at the end of it. I thought back to my first ever walk to the station with my host dad and, along for the ride, my little host sister in tow. I was so excited then. A whole year of memories waiting to enfold in front of me.

I rode the train back in silence. 

I came home and couldn’t stay in that negative (albeit sentimental) mood as I was greeted by my adorable host dog. I did some Korean studying before calling it a night. We had no school or Korean class tomorrow as it was a public holiday for Children’s Day. I would get to sleep in~ And NOT wake up early for a long commute to school.

That is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed! It is kind of weird reading these posts over again because in light of the world today, these experiences seem like a lifetime ago–a normal that almost feels surreal. I am currently at home taking a medical leave of absence rather than attending my university in New York which definitely shakes up my life even more. But here we are, living day by day like everyone else. Well, thanks for reading.

  • Emma 엠마 

제주도 수학여행 (School Trip to Jeju Island) Day 2: 승마체험, 성산일출봉과 흑돼지 먹기 (05/02/20) NSLIY Korea AY

Thursday (05/02/20)

Second day of our school trip to Jeju Island!!! (Literally the exclamation points do in fact represent the excitement in my head when I first woke up. I was jumping off the walls with excitement.)

We started the day off having a complimentary breakfast buffet at our hotel which was pretty similar to any other continental breakfast spread at hotels with basic things like waffles, croissants, cereal, eggs, etc but of course since savory “lunch type” foods are completely normal in Korea, there was also fish, popcorn chicken, potato wedges, kimchi, etc. We ate on the lower ground of the hotel which seemed to be reserved for large groups that were staying at the hotel (While we were staying at the hotel, there were two other schools too) and they came down to eat at the same time as well. The large windows around the perimeter of the room showed off some beautiful water views and it was the perfect cherry on top to a nice morning.

Today was our first (and only) full day in Jeju and in order to make the most of it, we had a jam-packed day filled with all sorts of activities, location changes, delicious food, and of course the accompanying long bus rides. However, to be honest, I did not mind the long bus rides as they were sectioned off periods of time when we could all regain our energy by doing what a lot of us did best–nap. 

Our first bus ride brought us to the 1,000 year forest called Bijarim (천년의 숲 비자림) which considered a national monument in Korea. Apparently it is the biggest collection of nutmeg trees in the world and they are all super old. Even though the name of the forest is 1,000 years, the oldest tree in the forest is around 800 years so not quite there… but I guess eventually the name will fit. But then…if you think about it… eventually it will be even older than 1,000 years. Will a name change be necessary then?

The visit to the forest was an extremely nice way to start the morning because it got us all moving as we hiked a forest path and got to take in all that nature had to offer. The forest not only was full of trees but there was a bunch of other foliage and pretty flowers too. More importantly, the walk was a lot of fun because I had the chance to really make conversation with a lot of the girls in my group–not just my main group of friends or Katie. I was able to talk to more classmates of mine that I share time with during class but because we do not eat lunch together, I find that our conversations mainly revolve around school and never get really personal. It was nice to finally have some time to talk with some of my friends like 정윤 or 선민 or 수미. We of course also took lots of photos, especially group photos. (Is it a group excursion if there are no group photos? Better World would say so! And 하나고 follows suit.)

Another bus ride later, we found ourselves at our next destination: Seong Eup Land (성읍랜드) which is a small “amusement” park of sorts which is known for horseback riding and go karts. Horseback riding is one of the common tourist activities to partake in on Jeju–especially if it involves riding horses along the beach like in all of the cheesy, romantic Korean dramas.

I will say that the place we went to was a bit different…? We did ride horses but we were just on a track–no natural path or anything–and we were pulled along the track with our horses by a worker. The horse did get up to the speed of a gallop at one point but the majority of the ride was a slow steady pace. I believe the ride, overall, lasted 5 minutes if that. It was a bit underwhelming as I have ridden a horse through rougher, more exciting terrain but nonetheless, I had fun. I am grateful to have had the experience. For some of the girls, it was their first time riding a horse!

The majority of the location seemed to be comprised of the horse stable, horse-riding path/routes, and the go-kart track. There were also a lot of photo zones as the main building was painted entirely pink and almost every wall was made out to be an especially colorful mural with cute graphics and a lot of famous Jeju-do icons and memorabilia. There was also a little gift shop with cute knick-knacks as well as a little concession stand type area.

Of course, our friend group had to take advantage of all the wonderful backdrops for photos. I think my favorite place within the “park” included this fake pink car. It was a lot of fun being able to pose with the car and we had a lot of fun trying to take some more “serious, vogue-like” pictures but honestly, we looked kind of ridiculous but I would not change anything about these photos! I love them so much :,) 

There was also a really cute mural on one of the walls that had the statement “Meeting you was good luck” in Korean which I thought was utterly adorable! Katie and I were also able to get photos with our old coordinating teacher and my previous homeroom teacher 민정쌤 (not to be confused with our NSLI-Y resident director 민정쌤). And besides all the photo taking, Katie and I ate some ice cream while some of the other girls drove some go-karts (Of course, I would much rather eat my beloved ice cream rather than risking my life in a moving vehicle–low key have a fear of driving…)

After everything, we moseyed on over to our next location for lunch and we were able to try 제주흑돼지구이 (Jeju Black Pork) which is probably the food 제주도 is most known for and may actually be one of the most famous types of meat in Korea. (Think of it as Korea’s version of Japanese Wagyu Beef? Or at least… I make that connection)

DEVOURED that food! Waiting for more >;P

The place that we went to was very large with a lot of long picnic tables but it had a rather close-to-nature type vibe because there was a lot of natural lighting, open windows, and the bathroom was actually not connected to the restaurant–a portable potty moment. The restaurant was also all you can eat so you can bet that the girls and I ordered quite a lot of servings of meat. I cannot remember the exact count but I feel like we went through at least 4-5 servings and we had to go back and refill our lettuce and side dishes quite frequently. Everything was delicious and my mouth is watering right now just looking back and thinking about all the food that we were able to stuff our faces with. 

Once we were full and napped through a food coma on the bus, we arrived at 성산일출봉 (Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak) which is an Unesco World Heritage site. Honestly, when we first got to the naturally made wonder, I assumed it was just this random mountain but it was actually created by an underwater volcano. The views around the peak were spectacular! On one side, the blue waters of the ocean were sparkling in almost a heavenly way as the sun reflected off of it and on the other side, there was a village along the grassy hill with tons of colorful buildings. At the top of the peak, everything looked so tiny and 10x cuter. 

The walk up to the very top of the peak was not too difficult when it comes to difficulties of the hike as it was not too steep and the stairs were wide and there were railings at some points; however, the weather was hot and the breeze only helped so much so we were all rather sweaty by the end of it. Despite everything, the views at the top–of course–made everything worth it. Additionally, the trip upwards was a nice time to talk more with our friends and other classmates too. At one point, I was explaining the entire plot of the Nickelodeon TV show “Avatar the Last Airbender” to 선민 as we discussed our favorite series during our childhoods. I remember this conversation in specific because it was a difficult thing to talk through but I was really proud at the end with everything I was able to say–my vocabulary skills were popping off.

At the top of the peak, Katie, 선민, and 정윤, and I had this idea to take some photos–including a jumping photo. We asked this older man to take the photo for us (Now… I wonder why? We could have asked anyone else… including someone young who most likely had an Instagram.) and it would be an understatement to say that he had a little trouble taking the photo for us. They did not turn out the best but are still funny to look back on. And the collective countdown and jump while holding hands was extremely thrilling. 

When we got back down to the bottom of the peak, Katie, 선민, and I treated ourselves with some unique 한라봉 아이스크림 (Hallabong Ice Cream) and bought some souvenirs for our host families and Korean classmates. Katie and I impressed the lady running one of the shops with our ability to not only speak with her in Korean but also to haggle. I ended up buying a box of chocolates and tarts with some pretty cool, unique to 제주도 flavors like 한라봉, cactus, and 제주 tangerine (감귤).

After getting back on the bus, our homeroom teacher told us that we would be going to a market the following day and we should wait to buy the majority of our souvenirs there because it would be cheaper…I wish we had known earlier! But nevertheless, I felt that we got everything at a good price so I was not upset.


This day is far from being over but I feel like this post is already extremely long and with photos…So I have made the executive decision to split this post up. I will probably include the second half of this day with my third day of the school trip (Unless, that one ends up being too long… we will see I guess!)

I hope these posts are entertaining and I am also trying my best to make them informative at least in some way. Thanks for reading and do not forget to subscribe for more posts. Till next time~

  • Emma 엠마

제주도 수학여행 (School Trip to Jeju Island) Day 1: 함덕해수욕장과 천지연폭포 (05/01/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/01/19 Wednesday

Today was the long-awaited first day (1일차) of our school trip to Jeju Island (제주도) with our fellow classmates and friends from 하나고! I have been looking forward to this trip for a myriad of reasons: taking a flight to visit a gorgeous island, being able to hang out with my 하나고 friends outside of school for an extended period of time, and finally fulfilling the dream of going on a school trip! We had a few options for where we wanted to go for our school trip (Other options included 부산, 전주, 강원도) but Katie and I both figured we would have a better chance to eventually visit these places but possibly, this could be our only chance to visit 제주도. 

For those that may not know, 제주도 is an island province of South Korea that is probably the most popular tourist/vacation spot within the peninsula (for domestic trips). The island is mostly known for its gorgeous views, hiking trails, 한라산 (dormant volcano), and of course 한라봉 (a variation of orange–hallabong) and we were going to have the opportunity to experience it for free! Thank you NSLI-Y!

Anyways, on Wednesday Katie and I met up at the Paris Baguette near the subway station by our school for breakfast before we headed over to our school to depart to the airport with our classmates. What did we have for breakfast you may ask? Something nutritionally dense and healthy for two growing gals? Nope. No. Not a chance. We instead convinced ourselves that mochi ice cream would be a great idea for breakfast. Already in that #vacationmindset

We ended up leaving the school on our giant shuttle bus at around 10:30 am. But until then, we all hung out in one of the classrooms all giddy and excited for the days to come. We were all happy to be done with school–for a short amount of time at least–and to LEAVE campus. (Not only that but we were taking a plane so!!!) All the girls were also super super dressed up in spring floral and dresses and makeup and such because well, they had a reason to get all dolled up. Honestly, it was a bit strange–seeing some of my friends for the first time without their school uniforms and bare faces.

Before boarding the bus, we also took some photos as a group and they turned out really cute! Seeing everyone posing with peace signs and such made me laugh. I could not believe I was going on my first school trip! I never went on an out-of-state or even overnight trip in middle school or high school so I was very thankful to be experiencing this first with my Korean high school classmates. What a reason to be a super senior~

We got to Gimpo Airport within an hour and since we arrived around lunch time and needed to wait practically 2 hours before our flight at 1:30 pm, we were given that free time to have lunch at the airport. We were each handed out roughly $10 and were allowed to eat whatever our hearts’ desired. People tend to say that airport food is vastly overpriced and oftentimes the cheaper options are extremely unhealthy (like McDonalds, for example) but maybe it just happened to be this Korean airport; however, the food was amazing. Honestly, I think the best 김치찌개 (kimchi stew) I have ever had was this one at the airport! And I remember our lunch not only because the taste was so delicious that it will forever have a place in my heart, but I remember my 하나고 friends poking fun because the stew was especially spicy but nonetheless, I was able to eat it all while some of the others (actual KoReAns) could not stomach the spice. What can I say…매운 음식을 잘 먹는 편이에요 ㅋㅋ;) and also 김치찌개 is probably one of my favorite Korean dishes (maybe only beaten by 잡채 or 해물파전).

The flight to 제주도 was only about an hour so definitely the shortest flight I have ever been on (Even a flight from Chicago to New York is longer) and I honestly slept through the entire thing. We got to the airport and it was quite small. We left the building and were immediately greeted with slightly chillier weather (surprised?) and PALM TREES!?! The weather was gloomy but of course, the occasion was exciting regardless.

We boarded a shuttle bus (which had a cute little sign in the window with our school name–하나고등학교) and immediately headed out to our first location: 함덕해수욕장 (Hamdeok Beach).

I am not much of a beach person (meaning I am not too keen on tanning on the beach or swimming in the ocean, etc);however, I can appreciate the beauty that encompassed this beach. Although it was early May, it was not too busy at all–no large crowds. The sands were basically white and the water was so crystal clear and blue!! I have only ever been to a beach in New York and so this was something completely new for me! We had a blast walking along the beach, holding hands, and laughing about who knows what. We also, of course, took tons of photos–every place was a photo zone!

In the parking lot of the beach, there were a lot of other shuttle buses for different schools. It seems that this is a common time of the year for high schools to go on their school trip. One of the more awkward moments was when we were lined up or passing by these school groups, Katie and I received a lot of stares and whispers. However, this feeling of being an outsider was only fleeting because the presence of my friends reminded me that I did have people.

We also visited this arched bridge which had a beautiful lookout view and the waves crashing against the rocks acted as a perfect soundtrack to the day! I believe the only words coming out of my mouth at this point was “woah” because I have never been to a place like this and all I was experiencing was utter awe and gratefulness at the same time.

For dinner, we sat down at this seafood place at a long table pushed up against windows with a view of the ocean. What more could we have asked for? The meal included a lot of traditional aspects of Korean cuisine including a variety of side dishes like different types of kimchi, fish cakes, veggies, japchae, etc. Everything laid out made me feel like I was eating a huge 8-course meal! The main points of our dinner were a type of grilled fish (옥돔구이 — perhaps grilled horsehead tilefish? Translation… not sure of) and 고등어조림 (grilled mackerel stew).

We ended the night visiting 천지연폭포 (Cheonjiyeon Waterfall) and having a tour of the night views. This was probably one of the funnest parts of the trip because we were given a lot of time to just explore the trails and the souvenir shops and goof around. We also took a lot more group photos and were having a lot of fun striking some fun poses–even ones with the head homeroom teacher. And lets just say that this waterfall was a lot bigger and better than the one near our school–especially because it was natural! (No shade to 폭포동)

After our waterfall tour, we headed to our accommodation (Co-op City Hotel Harborview) and got our room keys, unpacked, and then met up in one of the conference/meeting rooms to hang out till late in the night. (We did have to be in our rooms by a certain time, however.) I ended up sharing a room with my friends 서린 and 도윤 while Katie stayed with 윤세 and 혜지. 

Matching NSLI-Y Shirts~

We could not end the night without some ice cream so Katie and I bought some of our favorites from the Seven-Eleven connected to the hotel and ate those with some other snacks that the other girls prepared. The rest of the night was spent playing random games like charades and such which at times were hard to follow but we were always included–no matter how long it took to explain directions or roles. I was so very thankful to have such sweet classmates and friends!

And that was day 1 of my school trip to Jeju Island! Looking back at all of these photos, reminds me of all these very happy memories. I am so thankful to have been able to experience this amazing opportunity and I am even more excited to share this time with others. I hope you enjoyed reading this post and the next 2 days of this trip will be uploaded soon! Stay tuned for more~ Thanks for reading!

  • Emma 엠마