First Sauna (찜질방) Experience in South Korea–Getting Fully Naked in Front of Strangers (04/05/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

04/05/19 Friday

When I met up with Katie at the subway station this morning, she pulled out her notebook and I saw a bunch of scribbled music notes on the pages with their corresponding letter notes. I was confused as to why she was showing me this until the fact that it was Friday and that we had music class today came to me. Katie (the bright ray of sunshine that she is) took it upon herself to make a song for us on her subway ride so that we would have something to show the music teacher when she came around to check our progress on the music assignment. I was so thankful for this because as soon as class started, the teacher came to us and asked to see our song. We had to hurry up and log everything that she had written into the computer because we never got around to buying a USB for the class. And although everything was rushed, our song actually sounded pretty cute! We were proud to showcase it to the music teacher.

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Break Time: Piano Practice Room Session

After music class, I had public speaking and we just spent the entire class doing voice exercises to practice intonation, voice, volume, speed, pauses, etc. But before the class started, Jason told me that some students scored me 11s (out of a scale of 10) on the peer evaluation sheet for the speeches last class. I was shook by this seeing that I really did no preparation for it, and I definitely did make mistakes. I guess it is a pro of being a native English speaker in a public speaking class taught in English for non-native speakers!

He also read a sheet of paper that the male Japanese student left for everyone during his last class with us last week. At the end of every single speech, he left comments (all encouraging!) for the speakers. He complimented things like their flow, their pronunciation, the content of the speech, etc. He even said that if the boys whose English is not that good had more confidence, they could really control the room because they are so funny. I was just really touched that he thought to do that before he left–especially to tell Jason to read these comments aloud to everyone. Such a sweet gesture! I was definitely emotionally touched.

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Main dish: delicious curry!!! (And golden kiwi jello! I have never eaten golden kiwis in America…)

Katie and I ate with our big group of friends and we all goofed off happily at the thought that it was Friday and that the school day was almost over which would mean the weekend had arrived! We also discussed some of our plans for the school trip coming up in May which included outfit coordination? But 서린 is set on a color like yellow and I think she is delusional?? Why would we do yellow when we can pick a color that is easier for everyone to wear? (and buy since many of the girls were looking to buying new clothes for the trip.) Why yellow when we can wear colors such as pink, blue, white? We will continue this conversation again at a later date.

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Economics Class was actually kind of fun today because we did this auction activity that involved buying values (things like living for a long time, finding an honest significant other, having a good relationship with your parents, etc). It was fun when the groups would fight and when prices for values would only continue to increase to unbelievable prices. I could not participate much within my group so I just sat by and watched them figure out all that they wanted to do and gave some input here and there.

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On the board, our teacher wrote all the names of each team. In Korean, team names tend to end in 조 (translation: group/team) and everyone in my class tried to make creative team names based on that word. For example, my team was called 타조 (which also means ostrich!) One of the group of guys chose their team name to be “오빠이거사조” which is a play on the phrase 사줘 (or buy for me) but in a cuter way with how it is pronounced–애교 style if you will. So there team name was “buy this for me” with the term of endearment 오빠 which can be used for one’s boyfriend or just an older male figure/brother.

After school, Katie and I went to Twosome Place to get some studying done before heading to a 찜질방! At the beginning of our program, we would always come to Twosome on Fridays and try out new flavors of cake and just chill (and study of course) so it was nice being able to do the same today. Lately we have been running around with other plans on Friday nights and I have missed just being able to relax. But I guess as time is running out, we have to make the most of our free days! (Especially days with extended curfew hours such as Fridays)

We ordered a whole menu of strawberry items at the cafe it seemed. Katie ordered her recent favorite: 딸기 라떼 (Strawberry Latte) BUT it is now what you expect. I would have thought it would be strawberry flavored milk with coffee or something of the sort–something with coffee! But actually, it literally is always just a glass of milk with chunks of strawberry in it that you mix in. I ordered a strawberry peach frappe (which again… was not what I was expecting). It ended up really just being a smoothie. To pair with our drinks, we ordered a chocolate cake with full strawberries on it. We love strawberry season in Korea! At the cafe, we were productive but we also just goofed around and talked. It had been a stressful week for sure!

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We took the subway to 용산 찜질방 (Dragon Hill Spa) which is probably one of the most popular Korean spas/saunas in Korea. I remember during my summer program, many of the students had their first experiences there. I was really excited to go with Katie and since she had been there already, she would be able to show me the ropes so I would not be making any dumb foreigner mistakes hopefully.

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Did I mention this place is open 24 hours? Some people do end up sleeping here since you only need to pay the entrance fee and a bit more depending on how long you plan on staying. Could you imagine staying  a whole day here? That would be an interesting challenge!

The path towards the building itself looked as if it were straight out of a cringey tourism commercial with lots of lights, greenery, bamboo shoots, and a cobblestone path that I almost tripped over several times. For the entrance fee, it was about 12 dollars and then we were given a wristband that we could use as payment for extra features inside the building like food or massages and then would pay those fees on our way out. We put our shoes in our own little cubbies (like being back in first grade) and then headed to the changing room to get naked and hop into the shower room.

I definitely thought that I would be more hesitant about getting naked but once we walked into the room and I saw a myriad of body shapes and sizes and ages, I immediately became somewhat relaxed. Before coming, I worried about my body image insecurities hindering me from feeling comfortable during everything. I also expected their to be a wave of shame that may exude from some people like what you see in gym commercials (like for Planet Fitness, for example) I think seeing everyone being so carefree in their body made me feel okay about it–at least long enough for me to get out of my clothes and get to the shower room. 

I have never been confident in my body–ever. I have always had a fully fair share of insecurities and although I looked away plenty of times when I saw parts of my body that I really disliked in the reflection of the water or the mirrors around the room (particularly mirrors placed awkwardly like the ones on the ceiling of the jet tubs… that one made me feel very uncomfortable), over time I began to feel more comfortable. Not confident by any means, but at least I got to a point where I almost forgot that I was even naked–in front of strangers. South Korea has really done a number on my own self-image (in both a positive and negative way… maybe I can expand on this in a future blog post!)

Seeing other people being comfortable eventually helped me not focus on what my body looked like but rather the state that it was in (cleanliness, healing etc). Katie and I took our showers, scrubbed dead skin off of each other, and then climbed into the hot baths which were so refreshing. I had not been in a pool since the summertime (back in America) so it was nice being able to swim around again. After we got all cleaned up, we changed into the after-bath clothes they provide you at the sauna and then brushed out our hair and such.

We spent the next couple of hours just sitting around the main room and then the women’s only resting room just talking and relaxing on our phones. There were a couple smaller rooms with extremely high temperatures and really low temperatures and we tried each of them only for a couple of minutes. After having showered, we had no plans of getting all sweaty once again. The sauna, of course, also sold food like marinated/smoked hard boiled eggs (yes, the famous eggs you can see in Korean dramas!), ramen, snacks, and fermented rice drinks. Katie and I ended up sharing banana milk because… banana milk truly fits any occasion! Katie also used the fancy arm-bracelet-paying system to buy Dippin Dots. 

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Monkey King?

It definitely was not a very energetic Friday night but the peacefulness of everything was exactly what I wanted for an energy replenishing day. I had plans all weekend too so I needed this time to rest! It was a really good night~ And I could not have been happier to experience my first 찜질방 with Katie!

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Back at home after the night in (a sauna). Ready for bed but first, a cheeky selfie

That is all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed reading! Would you ever dare get fully naked in front of strangers? I feel like this is an iconic experience to have in Korea but I have met my fair share of people who vow to never do it, which is totally understandable. I probably would not have ended up going during my year here if it was not for Katie. Although it was awkward, I had a great time and I highly recommend it! Do not forget to subscribe to my blog for more posts about my travels in Korea! Thank you~

  • Emma 엠마

 

Introducing American S’mores to Korean High School Students!!! (03/29-03/31/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

03/29/19 Friday

Katie didn’t come to school on Friday because she went to the hospital for her cold and so I ended up going to  school by myself for the second time this week. I didn’t hold it against her or anything. I was just sad because I like spending the mornings with her. 

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School today is literally a blur to me. This could possible be because it’s almost been two weeks since the day occurred or because it was so boring and uneventful that most of the day’s moments are no longer a part of my memory. I’m assuming it most likely was the latter reason. Although this is the case, there was one part of the day that I enjoyed wholeheartedly and thus, even now, remember quite well! And that was my public speaking class! 

During this class period, we were all giving our How To speeches on whatever topic we prepared. I was placed at the bottom of the list which I was fine with because I really had no interest in presenting… but it also worked in the favor of Jason because he had extra, unplanned time for the class and didn’t know how to spend it. So I was able to use it up with a quality American snack! 

But before that, all the Korean students did their presentations and they all did really well!! I was impressed by their abilities to control the English language so eloquently. We had presentations on how to get a good amount of sleep, how to find happiness, how to become more flexible, how to secretly eat 라면 in the school dormitories, and a flight simulation speech by our very own 서린. 

Right before 예찬 did his speech, these two recent 하나고 graduates came into the classroom to talk to Jason. This is when I learned about the April Fool’s Day tradition that some Korean high schools have (Some 하나고 students told me it was just their school but I later found out that 대원외고 also does it so there are probably other schools that follow suit.) This tradition involves the recent graduates coming back school to visit their teachers (sometimes dressed up in their 교복 or school uniforms) and interrupting classes/ taking the students out for 야외 수업 (outside class). In Korea, because of the 선배/후배 (senior/junior) culture in schools, the alumni feel connected to every batch or class of students and so they come back and give the students a break from the stress of oncoming midterms by bothering their past teachers. (April Fool’s Day was actually Monday but apparently everyone knew to come on the Friday before.)

Anyways, I was the last one to give my presentation and because I was too lazy to write and memorize a speech, I just gave one on the spot—a nod to my glory days as an impromptu speaker on my high school’s speech team (I am kidding… what glory days?)

I talked about s’mores, where they came from, their ingredients, and the best way to make them: golden brown (fight me if you burn them to a crisp and then eat them). Then 서린, 현수, and I handed out the plates and ingredients to each of the kids and we headed down to the 매점 (school convenience store) to use the microwave and make s’mores. 

 

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Although they were not the real deal, they were still so dang tasty!! A lot of the kids seemed to enjoy it though there were the handful that thought it was too sweet (a given if you are feeding Koreans a snack that is basically all sugar). Even the Japanese exchange students seemed to really enjoy the treat! 

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After public speaking, I had lunch with Katie and all our friends and we also gave s’mores to 혜지 and 윤세 after we ate. The weather was so nice that we sat outside on one of the benches in the courtyard area and just appreciated the few minutes we had left before the start of our next class. 

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Economics was just a lecture as usual. Our teacher told as a few funny stories too but I can’t remember them now… during the second half of class, three of her prior students came in (two that attend 서울대) so we spent time just listening to them talk about college life and what they did at 하나고. They seemed to enjoy seeing which students in the class were doing the same 동아리 or 1인2기. 

After school on Friday, Katie had dinner plans with Josh so we went to the Paris Baguette near the station for a little bit as she got ready for that while I just chilled before going home early. It was a Friday night but I had no plans. I decided to just go home (take a nap) and do a lot of my homework because I knew I had a busy weekend in front of me. I was planning on spending every day of the weekend with a local Korean friend! I was excited for my plans (and also the amount of Korean practice I would be able to get!)

03/30/19 Saturday

So it’s a known fact that my phone can be pretty useless at times. It loses its charge so quickly and when I plug it into a charger, it can go from a red battery (less than 20%) to 80% in seconds. But, today it was really not working. I would try to open it and the phone would just keep taking screenshots of my lock screen so this weekend I only ended up taking one photo while hanging out with Katie and some photos of my host dog Andy.

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I met up with Katie early in the morning to go to 놀숲 to do some work. We were not the most productive (to the extent that Katie ended up doing my makeup rather than doing any conducive studying) but I was able to upload a blog and finish my workbook so some progress was made! Since we arrived there early, we got to snag one of the special tents in this loft area of the cafe which were really cozy~ It was more secluded and the tent-style structure made me feel like were children in our own little fort. We just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company mostly. Eventually our three hours ran out so we cafe hopped on over to Slob Coffee and I literally only ordered a cookie and did a little bit more work with Katie there before leaving for other plans. 

I met up with a Korean friend in 홍대 (of course, no surprise there) and we went to a board game cafe. I have been to my fair share of board game cafes and this one was nothing special. Drinks were okay and the seating was kind of crowded. I have been to much nicer ones in and near 홍대 (Like 옐로우미플). ) But it was pretty cheap and on the main walking streets of 홍대 so sometimes convenience trumps all!

We had dinner together (which was some kind of beef? that we had grilled: Korean barbecue style) The restaurant we ate at had a little bit of a line wrapping around the front door area so, according to my friend, we could tell that it was a 맛집 (Popular restaurant known to have delicious food). One cultural note, Koreans will wait in line for almost anything. So when there is a line formed outside of a restaurant, it is important to take note and return during a less busy time! Because it has clearly received a mark of approval by large amount of people. I found this quite interesting when first in Korea because I know for me, I would much rather go somewhere else than wait more than 30 minutes for rumored-to-be-delicious food…no matter how nice the Instagram photos look.

I also remember around this point in the year, there was a trend for 흑당 버블티 (Black sugar bubble tea) which had just came to Korea through cafes such as Tiger Sugar and Blind Alley. On the main streets of 홍대, you would see lines formed (while it was pretty warm outside too!) that took up the entire stretch of the street–almost to the intersection. I will just say that I never had the bubble tea while it was a huge craze. I waited out a month and a half practically before I got my first taste. (No regrets, though)

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Image From Google: Taiwanese Black Sugar Bubble Tea Trend in Korea

Back to the restaurant, a charming feature about it was that every SINGLE time a customer walked in or walked out of the establishment, all of the staff members would scream ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ depending on the situation. (I would have added in Harmony but it was very much not in unison… staff were all starting the greeting at different times and so it was truly a mismatch of sing-song voices). It was cute and I could not help but silently giggle every time. Maybe cause it slightly somewhat reminded me of the U.S.?

Another cultural note, it is not uncommon for someone to ask if it is okay to go and eat meat (in particular when going to grill meat) because of the 고기 냄새 (meat smell). Apparently, Koreans are cautious about eating grilled meat at times because the small can stay in clothes/hair. So my Korean friend would always ask me this–without fail–and I would respond that I never can notice a penetrating smell and Korean barbecue is always a go for me!

Afterwards, I convinced my friend to go to 노래방 (karaoke) with me because he couldn’t stop exclaiming how bad he was at singing; therefore, they did not enjoy singing karaoke—especially with people they didn’t know as well. I of course wanted to change this due to my love of belting out ballads despite my utter lack of any vocalization skills. I took him to a coin 노래방 where we sang a couple of songs. I did my usual ballads (Ailee, Lee Hi, etc) and Frozen soundtrack songs and we also sang some old school ballads and rap songs that he was in the mood for. It was surprisingly really fun! Interestingly, we did definitely have different styles of song choice for karaoke. It took him a bit to warm up; I had to keep reminding him to sing along with me, but it was fun in the end!~

At the end of the night we just went to a cafe, chilled, talked and ate some ice cream together before going home for the night. Today was a pretty packed day!

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Andy seemed to be exhausted too hehe

03/31/19 Sunday 

I also met up with another Korean friend on this day! I ended up leaving my comfort zone and (surprise!) traveled to a neighborhood other than 홍대…but it was not too far seeing that we only went to 신촌. We first met at the subway station and then headed over to the movie theater to watch the movie ‘Us’ (American movie from the same director as ‘Get Out’). The movie was a thriller based around the idea of doppelgangers. It was pretty intense and creepy! The acting was what really did it for me though. I enjoyed the movie—it definitely made me jump— but I will say Get Out was still better.

Afterwards, We went to a board game cafe (I am really honing in on my skills!) and played RummiKube and DaVinci Code as well as this Korean slapping game? I cannot recall the name of the card game but it involves slapping the table (usually with a bell) when adding up points. When we first got to the board game cafe, it seemed as if everyone was playing that game. Bells were ringing left and right constantly. I guess my reflexes are just horrible because I could not win. We ended up rewarding wishes to the the winner of each round to be able to choose punishments for the other. I believe I ended up winning 3 games out of 12… and none of my three were for that odd slapping game.

For lunch, we went to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we sat at a counter and were able to watch our food being made and plated. I had spicy 보쌈 with lettuce and rice which was delicious! Honestly, it’s becoming one of my favorite Korean foods to be honest. I thank 하나고 school lunches for first introducing me to such a lovely dish.

I came home after a long day of playing and did homework for the rest of the night. It was definitely a long weekend but well spent I will say. I was behind on work but it was nothing that I could not handle with the support of my host dog. Andy stayed with me the whole time! He is the best cheerleader~

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The Cutest!!!

Thanks for reading this rather long blog post! I hope my annoying rambles were not too long… I just write what I think…what can I say! Do not forget to follow my blog for more content!

  • Emma 엠마

 

NSLI-Y Spring Orientation: Free Gifts, Classic Korean Movie, & Hostel in Hongdae (02/27-28/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/27/19 Wednesday

Wednesday marked the first day of the spring semester and simultaneously the beginning of our last few days of freedom before school started back up again on Monday. Since I was not moving host families this time, I did not have to show up to the Better World office until 1:45 pm. So, instead, I met up with Katie beforehand and we went to the cafe that has been deemed Josh’s cafe (by me). We were greeted very warmly by the baristas and they asked us if we were doing another lunch with the workers today. The younger worker also asked me if my hair was natural or a perm which made me laugh. I always forget that most (Korean) people, when they see my hair, assume it’s a perm because natural curly hair isn’t that common here. Katie and I both ordered the same drinks and when the owner brought them out to us, she also asked us if we needed notebooks. We told her that we really didn’t need any. She replied that she had these extra notebooks and wanted to give them as a gift to us because we were so pretty. This was the cutest thing so we immediately told her that actually, we did need notebooks! 

 

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Tapioca Nut Lattes ❤

We did work at the cafe for a couple hours. I say work but I was mostly just doing blog posts—no actual Korean studying was done. When we gave her our empty cups and left to buy some bread for lunch, she praised us for being such hard workers and studying so much! We laughed at this remark and explained that we were really not working that hard. 

We met up with Alix on the way to our favorite cheap bakery and then bought some basil cheese bread. This place on the way to Better World sells these little small specialty loaves for about $3 each. I know… I know you can get a whole loaf of normal bread for less than that but these are the perfect price for a small thing of bread when you are feeling the carb craving. Plus, they had special flavors!! You can not easily find basil-flavored things in Korea!

Walking up to the 7th floor and into the showcase room is honestly starting to feel so familiar as we have been there so often during these past two months. When I walked into the room, I noticed a sleeping man in a makeshift bed and I literally almost screamed because I was so shocked to see the figure. After a minute of staring, I realized that it was indeed Josh! 

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Apparently, Josh stayed up veryyy late the previous night packing because he is switching host families.

Unlike our last few meetings or orientations, I didn’t take quite as many photos this time so I am trying to piece together what we did with my memory to the best of my abilities. I believe we started out the day discussing host families as about half the group was switching for the spring semester. Our first activity was to get into groups and use our own problems to create host family case studies that we saw plenty of during the beginning of the program. I was in a group with Shada, Harmony, and June and we ended up writing about a NSLI-Y student named Nelly who had been going out a lot with friends to distract her from bad news that she received from back in America which made her host family think that she didn’t want to spend time with them. We solved this problem with the answer to almost all misunderstandings: communication! 

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After discussing host families for a bit, we brought up the elephant in the room… the impending sense of doom we were all feeling about going back to high school. 민정쌤 flashed up on the board all of our new homeroom assignments and where we needed to be on the first day of school which immediately made me feel anxious. I cannot believe that winter break is already over! It was very long I do admit… but it also felt like it just zoomed on by… 

We got into groups based on where we go to school {so you can probably guess who was my partner…} and we discussed our feelings about going back. Let’s just say that besides our happiness for being able to see our friends again, we were not ready to go back to 하나고 whatsoever. 

Our next session was information on the OPI and TOPIK which we will be taking in April {We are also taking an online version of the OPI in mid-March. 주연쎔 explained to us a bit more about the OPI which I thought I had known plenty about but I guess I was pretty wrong. Apparently, the text examiner uses the first 5 minutes of the test to prob you with questions to see what level you are at which means that your self-introduction actually does have a lot of weight on your exam!}

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Let me explain this in a bit more detail. Say you have given your self-introduction and have answered a couple of the questions that were asked in the beginning, at that point, the examiner decided that you are an intermediate speaker. From then on, no matter what you say, you will be placed at the intermediate level. From then on, the interviewer will ask you questions ranging from an intermediate-low level to an intermediate-high level to see where they should place you. If they make a mistake at the beginning about your level, they will continue to go with it because saying that they were wrong is difficult as that involves canceling the test right there and having to administer a new one as it was an examiner error. What complications does this have? Well, for example, this could mean that even if you are at an intermediate-high level but make the proctor think you are advanced which then causes him to probe you with advanced questions which you couldn’t handle, you would be stuck with an advanced score. If they didn’t cancel your test, you would be given Advanced Low even if that’s not where you belong. At the time of explanation, I felt that this method was kind of strange? I wonder if mistakes are made often… probably not, though. 

The rest of the sessions included talking about our independent research project and a few of the other activities planned for the rest of the year. {I would like to point out that my constant nagging has granted my cohort the opportunity to do a temple stay! And an overnight one at that!} We also talked about the newly implemented lunch and dinner dates with the 쌤s starting in the spring semester. From now on we can go out for lunch or dinner (one on one) with food being paid for by Better World. The only catch is that we have to only speak Korean with the teachers! It will be a great way to practice some Korean~ I’m excited. 

Finally, orientation was over and we all went out for dinner at the first restaurant we ever ate at as a big group! This time around, we ate 부대찌개 which I talked about in one of my posts from a little while ago {click here to read about the origins of this Korean stew}. It wasn’t as good as the one I had in 파주시 but the broth was excellent!  

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After dinner, everyone went out around 홍대 to hang out but I left my program phone at home which 민정쌤 needed the following day for OPIK registration so I had to spend almost an hour and a half on public transport to go back home to fetch my phone. By the time I came back, it was already 9 {our curfew was extended till 10} and so I just walked the 홍대 streets with Katie for a little bit. We tried going down some unfamiliar streets in case we stumbled upon something new which was kind of exciting. I liked seeing that there was still so much of this part of the city that I have yet to explore!

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On our way back to the guest house, we stopped at a convenience store and bought some ice cream and Oreos to share with the other girls in our room {McKenzie and Jacquelyn}. 

I stayed up very late this night doing nothing. Scrolled through Instagram and texted friends for hours~ Also chatted with Katie for a bit later in the night when she returned to the room from hanging out with some of the other students. It was a relaxing evening.

02/28/19 Thursday

Orientation today was really not an orientation? We bought bread from Paris Baguette the night before and so we quietly ate bread in our rooms for breakfast while getting ready. After breakfast, all that was planned for us was to watch a Korean movie. {The 쌤s also prepared popcorn!! It was like watching a real movie!} We watched the Korean movie 국제시장 {Directly translates to the international market but its English title is actually Ode to My Father}. 

It was such a good movie! I cried several times because of how emotional this movie was! It pulled on every single one of my heartstrings—strumming them all with no consideration for my overstimulated eye ducts! The story took place during the Korean War and illustrated the life of one family who was torn apart by the devastating war. The main character was the eldest son of a family that lost their father/husband while trying to seek refuge from North Korea to South Korea. The movie tells his story through a lot of flashbacks from different parts of his life. The story follows a man who had to make lots of sacrifices and do the absolute most for his family’s wellbeing—often negating his own health and or desires. The part that made the movie the saddest or what really drove it home for me was the message of the gap between generations. The main character {an old man with grandchildren in present day} is continually misunderstood by his family members for being irrationally angry or unnecessarily attached to their small shop in the market. The final scene really got me… and besides the plot and content being extremely well done, the filming itself was great. I took a half-semester of cinema studies during my freshman year of high school so I feel utterly qualified when I watch movies to pick up on the different camera angles and such. Honestly, this might beat out Hello Ghost for my favorite Korean movie! 

After the movie, we went to have lunch all together before some of the NSLI-Yians would leave to meet their new host families. We ate 된장찌개 (Soybean Paste Stew) and 오징어볶음 (Stir-Fried Squid).

 

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Once lunch was all finished up and greetings were said, Katie and I decided to go to a cafe for a couple hours or so to do work or just chill and chat. We ended up going to a Twosome Place cafe with a rooftop that we had never seen before! Turns out…there was a reason for that! It was just built! Today was actually the opening day! 

The cafe still smelled a little like paint {especially on the 2nd floor} but the environment was chic and all the tables had very comfortable chairs. I spent the time researching a popular neighborhood in Seoul that Katie and I planned to go to the following day {익선동} and then editing a blog post and publishing it that very same afternoon {mostly for Katie’s sake as she wanted to read another one.} This whole time, Katie was playing the new Club Penguin because it is back online! 

 

I ate dinner with my host family and just relaxed the rest of the night. I was excited for the last weekend before school because I planned on spending it well. I was also thankful to have this time with a host family I was comfortable with. I thought about how the first day of school would be if I also had to deal with switching my host family… 

Thanks for reading this blog post! It’s kind of on the longer side but I didn’t think that it needed to be split it up. Plus, it is nice to have orientation be all on one post! I hope you enjoyed! 

  • Emma 엠마

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

02/18/19 Monday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/19/19 Tuesday 

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

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

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My favorite chocolate banana smoothie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Emma 엠마

Korea AY Arrival Orientation at Better World: Survival in Korea! {09/14/18}

Friday 9/14/18

I already knew that I was going to wake up very early this morning. And there were a couple reasons for that, like Jet Lag, the heat, and sheer excitement. I woke up around 5:30 am (after waking up every 30 minutes since 3 am), but luckily was not alone–everyone else in the room was also awake or beginning to stir awake. We all hung out, chatted a bit, and then got ready for breakfast. We found the laundry line on the balcony and hung up our towels. While we were out on the balcony… we also came across some stairs to the roof. Alix, June, Harmony, and I made our way onto the roof and enjoyed the cool weather and the beautiful view of Seoul.

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I studied a bit on the roof too

We had breakfast at the Guesthouse and then made our way to the Better World Office. Apparently, according to 주연쌤, one of the Korean classes will be held there while the others will be held at a youth center in 홍대. We were welcomed to Korea by the Better World staff and listened to a presentation by an embassy worker. We learned about what an embassy provides for the general public and emergency contacts we should familiarize ourselves with.

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After that, we took some more group photos (with the banner as well) and began our next session: the Korean placement test (writing section). Everyone in the room took the same three-page test which included multiple choice, fill in the blank, and choose a word from a word bank type questions. At the end of the exam, there were two short answers. You had to pick one out of the two and answer the three questions.

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I did not think the test was too hard. Honestly, the directions were the hardest part of the test. I could not understand those at all it seemed. I looked at the example to not be completely lost and am forever thankful to those. There were a few words I did not know but sometimes context clues turned out to be my life saver. Though I am very mad! I could not remember how to say to smoke cigarettes. All I could think of was 담배 and not the actual verb to go with it so my answer ended up just being 담배를 하지마세요. ㅎㅎㅎ

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Kaitlyn and I ❤

After stressing over the test (I trust NSLI-Y! Wherever they place me is fine. I should not stress… easier said than done, though), we left the office for lunch! We ate 버섯샤부샤부 (mushroom shabu shabu) at this restaurant that required us to take off our shoes before entering the eating space. I know this is pretty common in certain restaurants, but it was the first time I ate at one in Korea! I spent 6 weeks here two years ago, but never went to one. This was a great experience. We even sat on the floor with mats!

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Mushroom Shabu Shabu

Once lunch was eaten (we were all settling into a food coma), we had to take part 2 of our placement test. This was the interview portion. Each student, alphabetically, was called upstairs to speak to two Korean teachers for no more than 5 minutes. This was honestly an excruciating process because those at the end of the alphabet had to wait about an hour before they could test, which lets the nerves build up! While trying to pass the time, a large group of us played UNO. (Thank you Kaitlyn! That was such a good idea!) We played a couple rounds (just going to brag and say I never was last to get UNO). We even got 주연쌤 to play a game, and she won! The very first time playing UNO. Some people truly have skills…

Eventually, it was time for me to do an interview. I was so very very nervous but luckily 민정쌤 helped calm me down before. The Korean teachers were so sweet and asked good questions. I was able to answer and go in a direction that I knew I could handle well. I think I used a few good grammar points and vocabulary words. At the end, they asked me what my OPI score which threw me off a little. I asked around and they did not seem to ask anyone else that besides one other person. (The conspiracist in me wonders why!)

After everyone finished the test, we began the Survival in Korea session which consists of groups of students completing missions around Seoul with a supporter (Korean college student or recent graduate– around that age). I was in a group with June, Harmony, Liam, Kaitlyn, and Addie. Our supporter 성욱 took us to 동대문 for our mission. We had to practice using subway travel phrases and asking questions to strangers (and videos were recorded!). It was pretty awkward, to be honest. Some were friendly than others…

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Learning about our mission~

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Chenggyecheon Stream (청계천)

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We ate some street chicken (wait that sounds weird… we ate some street food– spicy chicken. Before we sat down, the lady running the stall kept yelling “빨리 와요! 예쁘네요!” They were trying to get us to come over… and calling us pretty seemed to be the strategy. It worked, though!

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After chicken, we did not have enough– clearly. We ate Bingsu. We ordered three and shared it amongst a pair of us. Kaitlyn and I shared a Mango Bingsu (망고빙수). While eating, June, Liam, and I practiced Korean by having a conversation. It was quite fun! Here is an excerpt from a funny moment:

저: 난 커피를 별로 안 좋아해. (I do not particularly like coffee)

준: 왜요? (why?)

저: 그냥… tastes like dirt. (it just…)

Obviously, we erupted in a burst of laughter after that.

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We returned to the guest house around 7:30 beat from all the walking around and Korean practice. It was very tiring, to say the least. I tried to stay up and play a card game with everyone, but I was just not able to. Sometimes it is okay to not socialize and get some rest instead. I hung out in Katie’s room with Kaitlyn, June, and Shada. We had a good time too— just chilling.

And that is all for Friday! Thank you for reading this blog post. Stay tuned for more! Also on the day I post this, it is 추석 in Korea! (Most Americans call it the Korean Thanksgiving…) I am spending all my time with my host family as we partake in Chuseok celebrations~ I cannot wait to experience it~

  • Emma 엠마