New Years Day in South Korea: Watching the Sunrise (01/01/19) NSLI-Y Korean AY

1/01/19 Tuesday

I started the New Year before the sun even did! Literally, I woke up at 5:15 am in order to watch the sunrise with my host family; therefore, if you think about it…. We woke up to a new year before the sun! (I do not know why I think this is cool, but I do.) Apparently, in Korea, it is quite a common tradition for families and couples to go watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day. I am not exactly sure why they find it so meaningful but I assume that it has something to do with the fact that sunrises are known for symbolizing a new beginning. When I first woke up, I was immensely tired and felt that I was not in the mood to go stand out in the freezing cold to catch only a few seconds of the sunrise but after experiencing everything, I understood why this tradition is considered so special to so many people.

But anyway, we left the house a little bit before six and were met with a good amount of traffic on the streets. I was confused as to why we left so early seeing that the sun was not going to rise till after 7 am– closer to 7:45 according to the internet. I soon found out that it was because we would be eating breakfast at a restaurant and then climbing up this mountain (or someplace that people hike???) before seeing the sunset.

For breakfast, we all piled into this restaurant that was fairly empty and I was shocked to see that it was open. I wondered if it was usually open this early during the weekdays or if this was a special occasion seeing that it was New Year’s Day. We had some light noodles and 만두 (dumplings) for breakfast before heading up to the sunrise viewing. There were so many people! Actually, the huge amount of people proved to be kind of nice because it was as if we were all huddled like penguins waiting for the sky to brighten and the sun to rise. However, because there were so many people (and we did not get there too early), we could not get a spot right where the sun would rise (I mean the spot for the best viewing if that makes any sense…) and so we had to climb up this side part of the landscape which was had very crumbly dirt making it hard to climb and stand still on.

However, being surrounded by my host family and seeing all the togetherness around me made me immensely happy. We had a perfect view of a bridge across some water and with the lights on at dawn, it looked like a picture perfect moment. I looked out to the sky and thought about everything I was grateful for in 2018.


I realized that I have been so lucky and so blessed to have had such an amazing year. A year full of dreams coming true, great times spent with people whom I love, as well as lots of firsts from trying new things! Everyone around us was chatting and I goofed around with my host siblings for a bit too until the time came when the sun was really coming up–showing a beautiful bright orange color. Everyone quieted down and took in the view of the sunrise (and many took photos too which kind of disturbed the viewing with a bunch of loud camera shutters, but who can blame anyone for wanting to document this moment?) Everyone in my host family made a wish when they saw the sunrise. I did not know that this was something that can be done (or is usually done) but I can see how observing the sunrise can be seen as (reminder of the beauty of the world and the gift that is waking up every morning) a prime opportunity to make a wish. (I would say that it should also be as popular as wishing on shooting stars! But I guess that because they are less rare (actually you can call them frequent!!) it is not as special.


I made a wish too, but I refused to tell my host family about it because you know what they say: if you share a wish, it will not come true!

After watching the sunrise, we came back home and all immediately went back to sleep. It was nearing 8:30 am at this point and everyone was exhausted from the combination of staying up late, waking up early, and standing outside in the cold for quite a bit of time. I quickly texted my friends telling them that I was going to bed but that I would call them after my nap so that I could be a part of the Secret Santa Gift Exchange and watch the countdown in Chicago with them all. Seeing all my friends made me so happy. I have not gotten the chance to talk to all of them in such a long while because of our busy schedules and the different time zones (truly proving to be a pain in my rear end). Since their winter breaks from college started, I have been feeling major FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) from seeing all their posts on Instagram and Snapchat of them just hanging out and partaking in our friend group traditions (like eating pancakes at our local 24/h diner) or just things we have always wanted to do (like going to an Escape Room!) I know in particular there was a photo taken at a restaurant and my friend had put a Snapchat filter on it that read: New Year Same Squad. It was such an innocent add on to a really cute photo but of course, it made me feel sad in a way. I truly love my friends and I do not believe that we are being torn apart because of this but I do feel extremely disconnected to them due to the distance between us. They have the time to share with each other so many stories and updates and I am left feeling like I know nothing when things are brought up. These new inside jokes make me feel like an outsider… Or maybe a bit less obvious, there is a divide in where we are in life. They will have finished their first year of college while I have done something just as growth-invoking: a year abroad.


Wow, that was such a long tangent. (I am currently sitting in a cafe right now with Josh and maybe because I am being influenced by this deep/thought-provoking music, I am feeling the vibes to just dish out all my emotions and thoughts on this blog post right now… Anyway, since I brought my fears and the negative things that I have been feeling, I do want to bring up that it is not all bad. I like to think because I have such amazing friends, I have been reassured and reminded time and time again that they will always be there for me. In this past week, I video called one of my friends and she never failed to let me know how much she misses me. She told me that something always feels off without me there, and she even said she knew that they would have been successful with the escape room if I had been there too. My other friends too continue to update me on their lives through text (or by Snapchat video) and I really appreciate the extra effort they put in for me! Anyways back to my day! (and not my feelings!)

Earlier in the night, my friends came over to my house to surprise my mom with chocolates and I later heard from my mom that she was almost in tears with the kindness they showed her–she had missed seeing them around so much. My friends picked up my package with my secret Santa gifts and snacks for all of them to try. When we video called, I was so happy being able to see how excited my friend Kara got when she opened all my presents. They were definitely nothing too special but I thought she would use them well!

I got to watch the countdown with them and as the countdown reached 1, all my friends screamed Happy New Year and let off (what is the verb for this?) confetti poppers. I ended the call soon after that and also talked to my mom for a bit.

For lunch, my host family and I ate 떡국 (rice cake soup) which is a soup traditionally eaten during the New Year. In Korea age works a bit differently when compared to American age. To describe it as simply as possible… Koreans are born as 1-year-olds rather than 0 and then they increase in age on New Years Day rather than on their actual birthdays. (Yes, they still celebrate their birthdays, however.) Because of this system, you have to either add 1 or 2 years to your current age to get your Korean age. For example, I am currently 19 years (My birthday is Nov 4th, 1999) and my Korean age is 21 years old. I gained a year today! Before New Years (back in December) I was only 20 in Korean age. Before my birthday (let’s say October!), I was still 20 in Korean age even though I was 18. This is probably so confusing but I tried!!


Once you eat the soup on New Years Day, you get one year older!

The rest of the day was spent spending time with my host siblings (watching a Barbie movie and then several episodes of a Korean tv show about the body? It was very educational.) as well as cleaning my room and finishing up all my packing. We played board games and I can finally say that I have won a round of Rummikub!! YESSS!

Our last dinner together was a very special one. There was a really big spread of all types of food. The main dishes were 삼겹살 and 회 with an assortment of veggies. Before we began eating, my host dad said that they had prepared a 진수성찬 for me and then asked me if I remembered what that was. I could not help but smile and think about the good memories from the 추석 holidays when my host dad first taught me that word. (Definitely, one of my new favorite Korean words since it is associated with such great memories. Should I do another favorite words blog post? Link to the first one: here) We also did a toast before starting to eat. My host parents said a few things about enjoying having me and I also thanked them for allowing me to feel comfortable with them and all the memories we were able to make with each other. Dinner was bittersweet, but I knew that I would surely be back soon. Hopefully, the next time I come back, I can make gingerbread houses with my siblings!


And that was my New Year’s Day in Korea! (Though I will admit that a large majority of this blog post was just me explaining my emotions but what would a realistic blog about my experience be without me getting all personal out on here?) Thank you for reading if you even got this far! Till next time~

  • Emma 엠마

Chinese Dragon Lights at Soldier Field in Chicago {April 27th, 2018}

The Dragon Lights was an exhibition of Chinese lanterns, cultural performances, demonstrations, as well as popular products, handicrafts, and food. I found out that this exhibit was coming to Chicago after being bombarded with SnapChat messages from my fellow StarTalk Chinese classmate, and we immediately decided we had to go!

The Dragon Lights exhibited numerous displays of Chinese lanterns: pandas, koi fishes, dragons, bears, Chinese warriors, families, gates, etc. They were very beautiful and intricate! I had never seen anything like them before! I really can’t do much explaining in this post so please, simply, enjoy these photos:

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Spot the difference!

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These dragons were constructed with tiny jars filled with colored liquids!

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There were also cultural performances scheduled throughout each day; however, it was raining while we were there, so they had to cancel some of the performances. Though, we were able to watch two very interesting showcases. I believe the ones we missed were martial art performances.


Peacock Dance (Chinese Folk Dance)


The dancer was very thin, but she had such defined back and arm muscles! So talented~ (And she must have been so cold being rained on…)

Besides walking around and catching up with my friend Becca, I think the best part of the exhibition were the stalls with Chinese handicrafts and products. Becca and I pulled out our Chinese skills (if we can even say skills) to talk to the vendors.

It started raining a lot more and it got super cold at the end of the night, so we left early to indulge in Chinese food. The best ending to a great day.

Website of the Dragon Lights:

  • The Dragon Lights exhibition lasted from March 30th to May 6th

Thanks for reading this post! It is quite late (the last month of senior is crazy, okay!) but better late than never? I have also been really sick these past two days (which is why I was able to write up this post XD) but my next post will be about my second NSLI-Y event! I organized a bubble tea social with a group of alumni as well as the Midwest DIR. Stay tuned!~

  • Emma 엠마

NSLI-Y Alumni Dinner Event (Chinatown, Chicago – March 29th, 2018)

안녕하세요 여러분! 你好 朋友们!

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to host an alumni dinner in Chinatown, Chicago (my first in-person event) as part of my role as this year’s Chicago (Great Lakes Region) NSLI-Y Alumni Representative! I had been planning this event for about a month or so and when the date finally came, I was so nervous! I really wanted to make a good impression on the other alumni by organizing a successful first event~~

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Behind the Scenes: Preparation

I took over NSLI-Y’s Snapchat in order to document the event (Follow NSLI-Y on Snapchat: @nsliforyouth) and it was a lot of fun taking photos of the alumni! Plus, their introductory videos were very cute! We had some shy alums but I was glad that they were open to group photos~~

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We started off the dinner event by introducing ourselves. It was interesting to see that we had a variety of alumni eating with us. We had two college graduates, one current university senior, and then two seniors in high school (including me). It was fun hearing about what they had done after their NSLI-Y programs: studying abroad, traveling, interning with the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs, working for the Department of State, taking NSLI-Y (target) language classes, and even taking up new languages.

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(Left to Right): Diana {Morocco Summer 2017}, Angela {China Summer 2011}, Teri {Egypt Summer 2010}, Me {Korea Summer 2016}, and Elizabeth {Morocco Summer 2014}.

We discussed Chinese New Year (even though this event is quite a late celebration) and its traditions. We allowed Angela to take the floor and share her experience studying in China. Though this was an event for the Chinese New Year, we still discussed all of our experiences and because the majority of the alumni present were Arabic alumni, I got to hear a lot about the Morocco and Egypt programs.

Till this event, I had not personally talked to any alumni that had participated in the NSLI-Y Egypt programs, so it was very interesting to hear from Teri. Let’s just say that programs have changed so much in comparison to the stories she told…

We talked about our language learning journeys, our host families, and issues of race and identity on program. Our discussions were quite in-depth and stimulating.

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Of course, we also ate plenty of food (too much to be exact!)

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We feasted on a lot of delicious Chinese foods: Beef Fried Rice, Mongolian Beef, Beef & Broccoli, Orange Chicken, General Tso Chicken, Mapo Tofu, and Vegetable Chow Mein.

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Teri, Angela, and Diana enjoying the course!~

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Elizabeth the Model ❤

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Snapchat saw it first!

This event was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting these alumni and hearing their stories (while sharing mine as well). I hope that I can hold a few more events so I can connect with as many Chicago alumni as possible! Though we had a few cancellations right before this event, I am proud of the turnout~

To all the NSLI-Y alumni out there, make sure to join your regional alumni Facebook pages! This is where you will be notified about events in your area.

Thank you for reading this blog post!~ I hope you enjoyed~ 😉 Don’t forget to subscribe for future posts about events I host as Chicago’s NSLI-Y alum rep as well as other posts about language learning, travel, etc. 다음애 봐요!~

  • Emma 엠마

Startalk: Chinese Class Reunion Celebrating Chinese New Year (Feb 17th, 2018)

February 17th, 2018

你好!My Startalk Chinese class came back together today in order to celebrate Chinese New Year~ I carpooled with my friend Becca, and we were both super excited to see our classmates again. The director of the Startalk program planned this reunion at a Chinese Restaurant about 30 minutes from where I live. And, wow, it was so crowded. There were so many families and couples there. The line was out the door! I guess this place is a crowd favorite for ringing in the New Year!~

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10/10 I would definitely recommend!

Becca and I were the first people to arrive so we met 胡老師 and her husband at the front of the restaurant until they could clear a table for us.

We started off the afternoon with a little test. Our director gave us four slips of paper and we were told to write down four characters to then be placed in a box. The director would pull random slips out throughout the lunch, and the winners would receive small prizes: candies and pastries. Then, before we started eating, 胡老師 taught us how to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese.

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Becca, Citlali, Adrienne, and I

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Citlali, Adrienne, Elaina, Bruce, and Magalie

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We also learned a lot about Chinese New Year. This year, Chinese New Year starts on February 16th which officially begins the year of the dog! (My zodiac sign is a rabbit~) Many people ring in the new year by cleaning their entire house and by decorating it with lanterns, calligraphy, and posters with poetic verses. Homes are filled with a lot of red! And on New Year’s Eve, families have reunion dinners– kind of like the one we were all having together!

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Such delicious food!!!

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For dessert, we had these pastries with filling that was made partially from egg yolks

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After eating, we played a couple of more games to try to earn points for prizes. We were taught the characters for Happy New Year and then we were given them, shuffled, and had to put the characters in order the fastest. We also played this game that involved our director holding up a piece of paper with a number (in Chinese characters of course) and then we had to quickly write a sentence in Chinese with the same number of characters. It was intense!

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Prizes for winning the games!

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Our director gave us training chopsticks shaped like ninjas. XD She told us that her 20 year old son can’t even use chopsticks! Fortunately, I do not need them, but they are adorable!

Lastly, 胡老師 talked to us about red envelopes during Chinese New Year. They are red packets filled with money given to kids, family members, friends, and coworkers to wish them a good new year and lots of luck. It is custom that once you get married, you should start giving out red envelopes. Our director all gave us “symbolic” red envelopes each holding one dollar. She explained to us that the tradition started off with small amounts of money but now, the custom has become more costly for the givers. (Especially when it comes to family members having to give money to the children in the family.)

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1. Accept the envelope with both hands 2. Give a greeting and express thanks 3. DON’T open the envelope in front of the giver!

At the end of the reunion, we took some group photos together and the individuals with the most points were able to choose a prize. There were so many prizes: Chinese coin purses, t-shirts, Chinese candy, chopstick sets, etc. I picked out this gorgeous set with 4 chopsticks and 4 chopstick rests~


The Startalk Director (and my Chinese professor) with Becca and me~ ❤

And that was all for our reunion! It was a lot of fun being able to see all my classmates again (and eat some really delicious foods). Today has really motivated me to get back into my Chinese studies! It was nice being able to use it with everybody. Currently, I’m hoping to be a student helper alongside my director during this summer’s Startalk program! (Because I am too old to actually partake in it once again) I also found out that Lewis University’s Startalk is adding Russian this summer! How cool is that?!?! We will see how my summer plans work out 😉 Thank you for reading! 謝謝!再見!

  • Emma (敏娜)