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

Smuggling Cake & McDonald’s into Korean High School & Surprising my Korean Teacher!!! (05/14/2019) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/14/2019 Tuesday

Tuesday marked my final mentorship meeting with three of my three 2nd year friends 수빈, 지연과 은서. After having a really great time hanging out together on Saturday, we were still buzzing with excitement during this meeting. Although it was the last one, we did not make it sad and instead focused on anything but eventual goodbye at the end of the period. I also gave them their s’mores kits which they absolutely loved since all of them had never eaten a s’mores before. From the night before I ended up buying baggies and letter sheets from ArtBox and wrote a cute little letter with instructions on how to make the smores. I also detailed that if a bonfire could not be found (IF…lol), that the microwave in their school 7/11 store would be a perfect substitution.

Music class as well as my other academic classes are a bit foggy now. I do not think anything much out of the ordinary occurred. Katie and I took a walk around the school this morning because as it got warmer this weekend, the plants and flowers around campus were exceptionally beautiful and vibrant. Throughout the year, Katie and I tended not to explore campus all too much but when I stroll around like this, I realize how beautiful the campus really is. And so of course I had to take a ton of photos to remember everything.

Today, I also had my final mentorship meeting with my other two second year friends and because I also have this period with Katie and her two first year students, we decided to throw a little party which would include cake, McDonald’s chicken tenders, and lots and lots of snacks from the convenience store. Our cake came with candles but we had nothing to light them with…or so we thought. Before we knew it, one of the students (hiding the name for privacy reasons), pulled out a lighter and so we were all able to make a wish by blowing out the candles. But not before we were all exclaiming how funny it was that they just casually had a lighter in their bookbag.

It was a really nice party and everything was delicious–even the cake which was only ten dollars!! I really do think the students enjoyed it and I was happy that we were able to make our last meeting together special. We ended our time together by playing some games which left me clutching my side because it hurt so much from laughing. One of the games we played was this elephant one that I learned in my ASL class from senior year of high school which comprises of one person standing in the middle of the others forming a circle and they point at someone randomly. The person that gets pointed at has to put their hands on their nose in order to impersonate a elephant trunk while the people standing next to them have to form their ‘elephant ears’ with their hands. It was fun and got us moving after eating so much sugar!

After our meeting was over and we separated to grab lunch, Katie and I made our way back to 홍대 for our final Korean class before our final exams, if you will. I quickly rushed over to the $10 cake store and bought a cookies and cream cake for my teacher (I also had a card I had written to her during one of my classes that day). While our teacher was filling up her thermos with hot water for tea, we told her to take her time as we needed to prepare ‘something.’ That something was the cake if you are not catching on. She started laughing and played along while Jacquelyn stayed in the hallway to stall our teacher and started asking her questions so that she would walk slower our classroom. Eventually she came in and we all shouted for her and wished her a Happy Teacher’s Day. Honestly, I wish I could replay that moment in my head always as her smile truly made my day. I think she thought we were only surprising her because it was the last class; she did not expect us to be doing all of this for Teacher’s Day (as well). Is my teacher not the most adorable teacher ever? (My classmates are cute too I guess… :p) Teacher’s Day is technically tomorrow but like I mentioned early, today was our last class and a test day is usually… not the mood for a celebratory day involving cake.

We passed out plates and forks and all got to enjoy some cake while the teacher started going over the grammar review. She kept trying to get us to eat more and we were like “This CaKe iS fOr YoU!!!”

This blog post is rather short but here it isssss anyways. Thank you for 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

Korean Music Class Project, Favorite Cafe Owner, and Eating Intestines for the First Time (05/10/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/10/19 Friday

In music class today, we were just given the entire period to finish our projects that we started a couple weeks ago. Katie and I had already finished writing out what we wanted on our poster and simply added decorative touches to the page during the first period of class. Katie traced this really pretty image of women in 한복 dancing around in a circle from Google and colored everything in using colored pencils. I didn’t really help her with this (Though I did trace the writing I did with the poster in a darker marker since we agreed I had the nicer handwriting) because I had a different task: writing a goodbye letter to the café owner of the 한옥 Twosome Place across the street from our high school.

We practically visited that café every single week we were in school to study. The café owners were always so kind so us. They came to know that we were exchange students and always asked us questions about life at 하나고! They even remembered our orders!! After multiple visits ordering the same thing (green tea latte for me), the owner would ask me if that’s what I wanted before I could even open my mouth to order. They (Her and her husband) also always complimented our Korean even when we only said basic phrases—it was a nice ego boost from time to time. Today we had plans to visit the café after school and because it was quite possibly the last time we would visit (Next week is our final week at 하나고…), we needed to give them a letter and say goodbye today! Luckily, I was very productive with the letter writing and even impressed myself with how many (advanced)  grammar points I used, so I finished with time to spare. 

Reading this over…omg the spelling mistakes and the misuse of some of the grammar points..I cringe!! Maybe I changed things before writing it in the letter.

Katie and I spent the break time in one of the practice rooms (singing our anthem Country Road as per usual) and then completely goofed off second period after the poster and letter were complete. I drew Katie a little gift on her hand with some of the markers! 

Second to last Public Speaking class was so bittersweet. Who would have thought this class would become my favorite?? I love all my classmates and the extra time with 서린 is always fun! (Plus, Jason is such a great teacher. I really miss the American style of teaching while being here.)

Katie and I actually ate at school today! I’ve realized that we’ve been doing less and less of that lately just because of time. We’d rather eat out/on the way to class than alone in the lunch room if our friends aren’t available to eat… but today we got to eat with the whole big squad! And the food today was pretty good too: a chicken leg, waffle fries, fresh strawberries, and some weird cream soup. I enjoyed the meal—especially the fruit. I hid the leftovers in my pocket for later!

During 공강 I finished writing out the cafe owner’s letter onto and actual piece of paper and making it look pretty with stickers. AP 미시경제 just proved to be another lecture and I studied Korean instead of taking notes/paying attention. I did get a chance to talk to 서린 more (when she was not napping during break). She gave me some really cute heart-shaped mints! I think she was using them to try to keep herself awake!

After school ended, Katie and I went over to Twosome Place. We ordered our usual drinks and went to the second floor and changed clothes, did our makeup, etc. We both had Friday night plans after we separated once our café date was done so we decided to get ready there instead of the school bathroom. (It’s extremely weird putting on everyday/street clothes and hurrying out of the building when all the other students are dressed in their uniforms… we already stick out enough!) 

The café owner brought our drinks up to the second floor. (This café has those beepers that let you know when your order is ready to be picked up but it seemed that they always preferred to bring our order up to us.) So we drank those before working up the courage to give our letter to the café owner. We let them both know how much we appreciated their kind hospitality during the past 9 months and that when (not if) we return to Korea, we will make sure to come back to this café. We also asked the female manager to take a photo with us for memory sake. She was so against taking the photo at first but we were able to convince her!! Aren’t these such cute shots?

After the sad goodbye, I made my way over to 홍대 to meet a friend that I met off of a language exchange app. We didn’t have many plans for how to spend he night besides karaoke and exactly what we were going to have for dinner: intestines. Last time we met up, they brought up that they ate intestines with their sister and I was intrigued from there on out. I remember during the beginning of the program (and throughout winter break to be honest) how often Liam and Josh would ask me to go eat intestines with them. We’d be looking for something to eat and we’d always seem to pass a place selling intestines and they would go crazy. I was really against it earlier but I suddenly had the urge to try it! Maybe because it was the end of the program? That could be it.

We went to this place that apparently is well known in 홍대. A lot of Koreans go after work and eat intestines as it supposedly pairs well with alcohol—Korea’s version of bar food perhaps? The worker basically cooked the food for us and then I watched my friend eat every different type of intestine first before consuming it myself (Yes, there were several different parts of intestines and each part had a different flavor and texture.) I thought that most of it tasted fine but sometimes the texture was just off-putting. It was similar to straight up eating the fat off of meat or bacon, for example. I do not think I would have it again myself but it definitely wasn’t bad–and really not that gross. You just have to eat it without having any thoughts about what exactly you are eating.

We finished the night off watching a movie and then that was it. A nice ending to a pretty great week. I cannot believe that next week is my last week of high school… where does the time go?

  • Emma 엠마

Exploring a Hanok Village & Insadong Souvenir Shopping {05/08-09/19} NSLI-Y Korea AY

5/08/19 Wednesday

I feel horrible but this day might win the record for having the shortest explanation because I have barely any pictures from it and it’s been so long… I forgot what I did!! 

After school on this day, Katie needed to go home early for some reason so we couldn’t have our usual study date at our favorite Twosome Cafe. However, instead of going home right away, we did spend some time exploring the 한옥마을 (Hanok Village) across the street from our high school. We enter the village quite frequently to buy coffee or snacks at the convenience store or to visit our cafe but we have not really spent any time just walking around and enjoying the scenery. So today, we decided to do just that. We picked up some ice cream from the convenience store and took a walk. It was so nice to walk through the streets and appreciate the gorgeous architecture that makes up 한옥s. The buildings themselves seemed to be mostly be private residences while some were made into cafes, tea houses, or small clothing boutiques. We found this one bridge that really made me feel like I was being transported back in time as we kept making our way closer and closer to the center of the neighborhood. It was so quiet and peaceful. Less touristy than other 한옥 villages which was perfect! 

5/09/19 Thursday

The only really memorable class of today was my AP Econ class because instead of our normal lecture, we played a hands on game with a group of students! So the game was basically utilized to talk about wages within the market and supply-and-demand. Every group was randomly handed a job relating to the production of bananas. My group was given the “lowest job” which was a banana farmer. The others included the plantation owner, the transporter, the grocery store manager, etc. We all had to agree on how much each job should get paid. It was pretty interesting but since we were given the obvious choice for the job that would get the least amount of pay… we were stuck being severely underpaid!! At the end of the game, our teacher handed us all chocolate coins to symbolize how much money we would earn at the end of the hour and we only got 2 coins… (We did get more at the end though! So that every student could have one to eat, of course!)

Katie and I decided to not eat lunch at school today because we did have Korean class so we left right after our fourth period and made our way to 홍대. We stopped to get some green tea 호떡 on the way over. 

For lunch, we changed things up a bit and surprise, did not eat convenience store food!! We went to McDonald’s!! We shared some chicken tenders and intended to eat some French fries with vanilla ice cream but !!! McDonald’s ice cream machine was broken!! Who would have thought!! McDonald’s is not any better in Korea when it comes to their ice cream machine … yikes. 

We left McDonald’s with our fries and treated ourselves to convenience store ice cream. There is an ice cream sale happening all of May that if you get at least three ice creams, they all cost the same!! It’s such a good deal!! I also shook things up today with my ice cream selection and got a Melona Bar instead of my usual red bean fish ice cream.

Korean class today was something. I haven’t laughed so much in class like today in a while. I wasn’t stressed or feeling negative today at all. I truly enjoyed class and participated a whole lot!! Today, we also learned more about my Korean teacher when it comes to her past love life. Our teacher went around and asked us if were dating anyone because recently she had become intrigued by any possible love interests within the NSLI-Y program and when she came around to asking Jacquelyn, Jacquelyn had an answer that we were not expecting: she did in fact have a boyfriend, and a Korean one at that! Our teacher’s soul practically jumped out of her body as she rejoiced at this information. She then immediately deflated after Jacquelyn told her that she was gonna breakup with him before the end of the program because long distance never works. Our teacher went on a whole rant to express her disapproval!! She talked about how a good amount of Koreans are in long distance relationships because of the military (It is mandatory for all Korean men to serve in the military for about 2 years) and so they are innately good at it? (Maybe I understood this part…wrong?) She also brought up the fact that her first relationship was long distance (and that she had her first kiss pretty late in comparison to most because of that fact). She kept telling Jacquelyn that she could make their love last! It was quite heartwarming to witness our teacher being so enthusiastic about this topic. And in order to make this part of class truly educational, we of course had to learn the vernacular for long distance relationships and even the shorthand slang for it as well.

After class, Alix and I went to 인사동 to start buying souvenirs for our friends and family back home. We changed out of our uniforms at the youth center (Because no way we were gonna be dressed as school girls at the most touristy place in Korea practically) and did some shopping along the Main Street. We wanted to go to the poop cafe (yes, this kind of establishment DOES exist in Korea! You can eat stew out of heated toilet bowls and chocolate ice cream shaped like you-know-what) but we didn’t get to 인사동 until after 6 and unfortunately, we were too late. To make up for it, we did get poop shaped chocolate stuffed bread. It was just as delicious as expected. 

We walked around the shops filled with items mostly designed by independent artists. We went into this one cat store that Alix fell in love with at first sight. In their window display, they even had keychains of fake cat poo! It was pretty ridiculous. We each ended up buying a Korean book at this bookstore we also visited; I bought the Korean version of Peter Pan. The illustrations were absolutely gorgeous and I was able to understand he majority of the first page which made me take the leap to purchase it. (The amount of books I am buying in Korean for my future studies… is A LOT! I may need to send them to the states in their own box because they may be too heavy in my suitcase.

While walking around, we stumbled upon this store selling traditional Korean masks like the ones we saw being used for the mask dance in 안동 (That blog post linked here). There was even a wall with a variety of smaller sized masks that can be worn as a necklace (or used as decoration). They were also a really good price (Maybe about $5 each if I can remember correctly?) considering that they were handmade! The coolest part was that above each mask, the type of “character” it represented was also written. Alix and I were able to pick out the ones we saw in the dance like the fool character, the monk, and the maiden. I ended up buying two as gifts for some of my high school teachers (the ones that wrote me recommendations for college and NSLI-Y). 

We also bought some dragon beard candy (traditional malt candy that was eaten by the king). These candies can last for a long time if they are frozen so they act as perfect souvenirs. The night ended with some delicious food at a cozy restaurant off of the main road. It was on the cheaper side which was permitted a sigh of relief from our wallets. I enjoyed a nice bowl of 김치찌개 (kimchi stew) which was on the spicier side—exactly how I like it!

Walking through 인사동 at night might even be prettier than walking through it during the day! Looking up at the sky and seeing the outlines of dark trees and the multicolored lights lighting up the path is something right out of a piece of artwork. We also got to stop for a bit and watch a jazz performance by some foreigners! 

Well, that is all for this blog post! Sorry for the abrupt ending but let’s be honest, I probably just came home and studied for a bit or went to bed right away seeing that the next day was Friday. I hope you enjoyed~ I can’t believe these posts will be coming to an end soon… a little more than two weeks left of the program!

  • Emma 엠마 

Vietnamese Food in Sinchon and Parent’s Day in Korea (05/06-07/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/06/19 Monday

A/N: I am writing about these days quite a bit after they actually happened and my lack of pictures and a photographic memory means that this won’t be the most detailed blog, unfortunately. It’s more of a bummer for me than for you all, though.

Because I had no school today, I was finally able to spend time with my host family during a weekday for breakfast. My host mom made these deliciously healthy omelets and although my younger host sister complained, I found them tasty. I left after breakfast and met up with Katie and Jenna at 이대. We wanted to go out for lunch together and help refrain each other from buying any clothes that we see on the way. We walked around the 이대 area for a little bit and nothing really stood out to us for lunch. Eventually Jenna recommended us a couple places near 연세대 so we made the short trek to the area around that university instead.

Katie brought us Macaroons! ❤

Jenna took us to this Vietnamese place called (Emoi?) which she had been the day previous with her church friends. She promised that the food was so good that she didn’t mind coming with us again. We all ordered the cheapest pho dish on the menu (of course, stipend does not stretch that much!) and some fried roll to share. The service was fast and everything was delicious! The portion was huge so I couldn’t even finish all of my noodles even though I tried my very best. 

After eating, we went over to a cafe in order to get some work done and apparently every other college student in the area had the same idea. We passed by our first choice (Twosome) and there were literally no seats for us. We turned down a few alleys until we stumbled upon a place that was almost hidden and took the last big 4-seater-table. 

Katie and I were still on a 제주도 high so we decided to order a 한라봉 latte because it sounded fancy and I thought it would take us back. I should have taken a guess after seeing the several hundred strawberry lattes that Katie has ordered that this fruity drink would not be an actual latte but alas I was fooled. (spoiler alert: strawberry lattes are just cups of milk with pieces of strawberry in it). So that is what we got: a cup of milk with 한라봉. I was able to be pretty productive for around 2 hours so it was not a waste by any means. Plus, it was nice hanging out with the girls. Especially Jenna, I haven’t really hung out with her that often. 

My host family had eaten by the time I came home so I just had instant black bean noodles and some strawberries to end the night before tucking in to more homework.

5/07/19 Tuesday

Back to School! I don’t remember much of this day… in the morning I had my English conversation period with the three second year girls. Instead of speaking in English about a certain topic chosen beforehand, we ended up just planning out what we would be doing when we met up on Saturday in 홍대. We planned to make perfume or jewelry at this one place that 수빈 found on some list on Naver and we decided to eat at this pretty cheap chicken place—again due to another recommendation from 수빈. (She is definitely the one that plans within the friend group) We also would go to a 노래방 (Karaoke) and buy any street foods that the girls were craving. It looked like it was going to be a really fun day. Jam packed into only 3 hours—the girls had to be back at the school—but fun nonetheless. 

In music class Katie and I finished researching and writing out info for our presentation. We would not have to present them aloud to the class because the entire class was behind (Our teacher did not show up for a class period) so we would just be hanging up our posters in the hallway outside of the classroom. 한국사 (Korean History) was another lecture that I didn’t understand well (Though I also didn’t try hard to pay attention today.. I wanted to do my Korean homework instead…) 

My last class of the day was another English conversation class and the two girls and I just spent the whole time talking about how our class trips went. They all went to different places (강화도 and 부산). And let me just say they got away with a lot! 😉 I will not detail anything else because…a girls gotta have their secrets!

After school was of course Korean class but I don’t remember anything that we did. Since today was Parent’s day, I asked my teacher what to get my host mom and she told me that the most iconic gift for parents is the flower carnation. I realized that she was spot on when I left the center and saw that there were now flower carts on many of the street corners selling little bouquets of carnations. Kaitlyn and I ended up buying just one single carnation flower for our host parents (BIG shoutout to us for being able to use the counter for flowers when asking how much one single flower would cost!) 

After that, June, Kaitlyn, and I went to 노래방. I have been telling everyone that I needed a buddy to go with me as I really needed to sing some old Justin Bieber songs and so we did just that. Do not ask me why I was in the mood to sing such songs… I was just ready to be hit with a wave of nostalgia from middle school. Also, you would have to be lying if you disagreed with and said that Baby is not an iconic karaoke song. Like, come on. And, to top it all off, we were able to snag a score of 100 on Never Say Never by Justin Bieber. We truly sang our little hearts out. 

I went home after the hour of karaoke and had dinner with my host family. My host mom was on the phone for business when I tried to give her the carnation I bought her for Parent’s Day and so I awkwardly stood outside her bedroom door until my younger host sister noticed. They all started shouting at my host mom when I explained to them what the flower was for because they were so touched by my action. They had not even gotten anything for their mother so it was a surprise to see me following tradition for this holiday. My host mom was very grateful for the small act of kindness I showed her and she even set a photo of my carnation as her profile picture on Kakao Talk (The true Medal of Honor).

Well that is all I have for this blog post~~ It is kind of a bit everywhere because I had to combine so many days but it’s my fault for falling behind on writing!! Don’t get your hopes up though… my next post will probably also be a combination of a couple days with photos being few and far between. I’m sorry!! I’m hoping to up the quality of these posts soon but hey, that is life sometimes! I’m having a blast in Korea and the times are busy and hectic so my blog is taking a back seat. Hope you all understand ^^ 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 

Goyangshi International Flower Festival // 고양국제꽃박람회 (05/04/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/04/19 Saturday

I had just gotten back from my 수학여행 (school trip) to Jeju Island with my high school classmates the night before and was so tired that I slept about 12 hours but my host mom did not even question me not leaving my room till 11 am. Luckily, Sunday always consists of a late breakfast, or brunch if you will. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to spend my weekend having fun!! Time was passing by as quick as ever and I wanted to make sure that I was making all my last moments count. Because of the hectic schedule on our school trip, I didn’t really do a good job at making plans with anyone for the rest of the weekend but luckily Alix and June were down for some last minute, spontaneous plans after I reached out on our Kakao group chat.

We decided to go to the 고양시국제꽃바람회 (Goyangshi International Flower Festival) because I was geeking out about it earlier on during the week and bombarded our NSLI-Y group chat with all the photos of the pretty flower sculptures and photo zones. I had known about this spring tradition in my city (If it is not already known, I am one of the few NSLI-Yians that got the opportunity to live in 고양시 rather than Seoul. In fact, I was the only student on my program that lived in 고양시 for the entire 9 months!) After researching cool events for one of my Korean class presentations during the fall semester, I learned about this particular festival. I had the desire to go ever since! 

The festival takes places at the 일산호수공원 (Ilsan Lake Park) and so we met up at the nearest subway station and bought our tickets down there. (There was actually a small discount for taking the subway to the festival and buying tickets underground! Yay for saving the environment! (and money!)) 

Before entering the festival, there seemed to be section with food trucks and mostly things relating to farming and organic fruits and vegetables. There was also a trot singer? Everything was set up in a parking lot so we walked through it, took some photos next to the big entrance sculpture, and then proceeded to actually enter the festival. 

There was a stall near the ticket collecting/selling booths that sold flower festival souvenirs and 고양시 memorabilia with their white cat mascot. I caved in and had to buy something to showcase my love for 고양시!! (Don’t judge me but I feel such pride for my host city!) I ended up buying a bouquet of flower shaped soap (as a gift for my former host family) and a key chain with the city mascot holding a red heart with 고양 written across it— in English funny enough. If I have not explained this before, Goyang (고양) is one syllable short of the word 고양이 which is the Korean word for cat. So in order to use the play on words, the mascot for the city is a cat! How clever.

While Alix and June were encouraging my bad spending habits, this old man (probably around 60-70 years old) came up to us and tried handing us packets of free 물티슈 or wet wipes (directly translates to water tissues). He kept trying to shove them in our hands but we continued to duck around him and shake off the tissues. I usually do take flyers or free things that people hand out on the street but I had no room for a packet of wet wipes. I looked at the man and told him that I didn’t need the wipes in Korean. The 아주씨 literally gasped (probably because I spoke in Korean) and then in a whiny voice, similar to that of a toddler, he replied “Nooooo, you neeeed this.” The girls and I just passed by him and when we were a good distance away we started laughing so hard and repeating “필요하잖아아아!” This became an inside joke after today. 

We entered the festival and walked through such a pretty area that consisted of square plots in a row that all had different themes that were expressed through sculptures made out of flowers. There were scenes of weddings, outdoor fairy gardens, tea parties, and just nature set ups. There was even a scene set up for the character Moomin that is popular in Korea. (He’s actually a Swedish character but I’m not sure of what animal…) 

We also walked down to the lake and admired its beauty. I always like to marvel at these kind of parks that are in the middle of the city but are still able to give off the vibe that you are actually surrounded fully by nature. We saw duck paddle boats but were too broke to pay to ride them. One day! Maybe not during this program… but I will be back Korea! 

We continued through the park and saw more of the really pretty exhibitions made completely out of flowers. At the entrance of one of the sections of the park, there was a gazebo type structure with flowers hanging from the ceiling—all different colors and types.

There were also these people in furry animal costumes walking around and they started following June and me. We were shocked and then I (with a random wave of confidence) started speaking in Korean to the stranger; I asked him “Is it not hot?” You could tell he was shocked. He started fanning himself with his arms and we could not help but laugh. He started following us around which was hilarious albeit a bit creepy since well… the face reminded me of those scary Halloween masks sold at the pop-up Halloween stores during the month of October in the states. In order to commemorate this interesting encounter, we asked for a photo and that’s where this iconic photo came from. 

I mean look at those beady eyessss lol

We continued to walk around the park and took lots and lots of photos. We used June’s phone because she had a filter provided with her camera that had a good setting—basically it just highlighted the main focus of the photo and blurred the background.

We also caved in and bought really overpriced ice cream but it was extremely hot outside (probably the hottest day since the weather started warming up) and we were hungry. The ice cream was milk flavored ice cream which is one interesting unique-to-Korea flavor. You would think you wouldn’t need a flavor of milk since you now… ice cream is mostly comprised of milk. Nevertheless, it’s delicious.

We also passed by a magician with the scariest mask on and I was okay with just going on our merry way but both June and Alix wanted to stop by. We chatting with the magician for a bit and he kept asking us questions about Korea while going through with the card trick. It was a pretty neat trick and we were all surprised at what he was able to guess. He asked if I wanted to do one more so I agreed and at the end of that trick, my remaining card said “I love you” on it. We all screamed at the cringyness of the situation. It was all too much but insanely funny. I replied with “Isn’t this relationship going a little fast?” which was met with a string of laughter from the crowd that formed to see how the magician was shocking a group of foreign girls.

After taking advantage of all the photo zones possible (Except this one set up with two hearts covered in flowers. The line for the self proclaimed best-photo-op-for-couples was winding around the food stand.), we ended the trip at the park walking around an exhibition hall of scenes set up by different organizations or even countries. It was interesting to see what flowers were native to where or what colors the countries wanted to focus on with their showcases (A lot of places used colors from their flags.) We left the park after wandering around a market set up with little tents selling flowers and flower themed gifts. Our ticket gave us a dollar off coupon for any plants and we were able to find a section with succulents that only cost one dollar—so we got them for free.

I also found this one tent that sold hand painted signs with sayings and 3D flowers made out of craft supplies. I bought one for my mother back in the states. It will be her main souvenir from Korea! 

Lastly, there was this little area that had a box with a clear window which had the appearance of a magazine cover; however, the kick was that there was a giant cat head inside. There was a chair to the side that I believe might have belonged to an attendant of the photo zone that perhaps took a break? I told Alix to run in there and try on the head and she so gladly obliged (Alix is the epitome of a cat person and the whole cohort knows this.) June went in as well and they all danced around a bit. I had a good laugh and took a video clip for my 1 second a day video.

We said goodbye at the subway (but not before buying more ice cream at the 7/11… when your diet of the day mainly comprises of ice cream… it has been a good day) and that was the end of a flower-filled day. It was so fun getting to spend the day with Alix and June because I haven’t had much time otherwise to hang out with them. They were both really fun and we laughed together so often throughout the day. I caught myself smiling so often because I was genuinely happy living in the present with them. 

I got a Melona Bar (melon-flavored) and June got an ice cream with shark packaging? I think the inside was strawberry-flavored.

Thanks for reading this blog post~ It has been um… more than half a year since I have last posted and 2 years since first arriving in Korea. Wow, has time flown by. I still have blog posts from the rest of May to upload so hopefully I can get those out over the next few weeks.

  • Emma 엠마