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

05/20/19 Monday

:,( Sad Face

It is my last week in South Korea :,(

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Emma 엠마

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

05/18/2019 Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Emma 엠마

Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Pt 1: Rainy Visit to (석굴암 석굴) Seokguram Grotto (05/18/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

05/18/19 Saturday

How come it’s easier to wake up early in the morning when you are excited? I mean, I am not complaining but I always find myself practically springing up out of my bed when my neurons cannot stop firing with excitement (or nervousness for that matter) but then I’m literally the polar opposite of a morning person on every other day of a mundane week.

Today was an exciting day because it was day 1 of my graduation trip with my NSLI-Y Cohort! We were all a little bit disappointed at first because we would only be going on this trip for one night rather than going for 2박3일 (3 days and 2 nights) due to my class 3반 needing to be back Sunday night in order to take our Korean final Monday morning. And the reasoning behind our disappointment was plainly us wanting to spend more time together–especially as a group which always proves to be more difficult due to scheduling–which I find utterly wholesome. At this point of the year, we had exactly one week left in Korea and we all realized how precious each and every moment we had together truly was. (I am already tearing up just recollecting this trip!!!)

Anyways, on Saturday morning we all met up at the KTX station in 용산 which was luckily directly on my subway line so no need to transfer for me (celebrate the little victories aka having more uninterrupted naptime on the subway). There we embarked on our trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) which I had only read very little about in Korean class and from what I remembered, it was a very historical city seeing that it was the capital of the Silla Kingdom.

For breakfast, 민정쌤 and 소영쌤 prepared us all prepackaged boxed 김밥 (kimbap) in a variety of flavors: beef, tuna, etc and they bestowed the duty of carrying the box onto our lovely friend June. You may be questioning why I feel like this information is pertinent enough to be included in my telling of this trip as it seems like a very miniscule, easily overlooked detail and which, yes, it normally would be however this was not the case today. I had actually been filming us walking to the train platform and boarding the right train car for my 1 second a day video (I will make a separate post on this but it has been uploaded on Youtube already) and this clip included a blurb of June talking to me while holding the box of kimbaps BEFORE she dropped the box.

Seconds before disaster!! 😛

Yes, right before we got on the train, June tripped over herself or something and spilled the contents of the kimbap box on the floor. Luckily, only a few kimbaps exploded and were therefore inedible. So a major tragedy was avoided but Kaitlyn and I (the only ones behind June when this occurred) had to keep ourselves from peeing due to laughing so hard while helping pick everything up. And 민정쌤 of course also had some sassy remarks. But it all turned out okay! And definitely was not foreshadowing for a hectic trip! Not at all!

The train ride on the KTX (My first time riding it!! Next time, I will hopefully take it to Busan!!) took about 2 hours or so. I spent the majority of the time studying for my Korean final (as well as chatting with Kaitlyn, my seat buddy) which was a productive use of my time but it also made me quite anxious as I realized that I would have no time to adequately study during the trip–if I really wanted to enjoy myself with others. This made me worry about the impact this lack of time would have on my test performance. 소영쌤 saw me studying with all my colorful note-taking and praised me for still studying hard despite everything which did make me feel good. I decided to not let my anxieties ruin these final moments with the people I have grown to greatly cherish~

When we made it to the station, we exchanged our fast-moving silver power train for a classic Korean ‘party bus’ decorated with colorful fabrics and tassels and built-in karaoke mic set. For our trip, we would be having our own private bus driver take us to the sights because traveling with so many individuals could prove to be difficult and quite expensive.

Clouds foreshadowing some bad weather ahead…

Even though we had 김밥 for breakfast not too long ago, our first stop once we arrived to 경주 was to get some lunch. We came to a restaurant picked out by the 쌤s and we basically took up one entire half of the restaurant as we all sat at one long table. I sat with Harmony, Addie, and Jenna and we shared our own mini stove which kept our stew warm.

Honestly, I do not remember the name of anything we ate during that meal. There were a lot of side dishes and even this one plate of curious looking round patties of some kind. I cannot remember if they were made out of meat or vegetables… Despite the tastes not being too memorable, I know we devoured everything because we American teens can always eat and on vacation, anyone who is anyone develops a second or even third stomach. Addie, though, definitely fell into a food coma at the restaurant.

Addie down for the count!

 Back on the bus, I sat next to Harmony and with our full bellies, we both fell fast asleep when our heads hit the headrest. The sound of the rain’s pitter patter also did not help as its predictable rhythm lulled us, and many others, to sleep as our bus made its way through the heavily guarded forest and up a mountain towards our first historic site visit: 석굴암 석굴 (Seokguram Grotto).

Seokguram Grotto is an artificial, man-made grotto located on 토함산 (Mt. Toham) that makes up part of the temple complex of 불국사 (Bulguksa Temple) and is famous for being the home of a buddha statue. Getting up to this grotto is actually a little trek from the starting point (where the gate is and a few little shops at the entrance) as you literally do have to climb up the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit when the weather was equally as nice as the view. Instead, it was practically downpouring! I have not seen it rain so hard like that in a long time. Some of us had brought umbrellas while others were very unprepared. There were other groups of people on the mountain too and they were all wearing colorful ponchos and still hiking up to the top of the mountain. So, we did what the locals do and bought our own ponchos for the day.

Honestly, the weather kind of added to a more mystical feeling or ambience behind the hike. I tried taking some photos of the forest surrounding us and the fog was very intense. I felt like I was walking through a fairytale forest. There were also a lot of colorful lanterns hanging around and they were violently shaking around in the wind because it was not only rainy, but windy too. Umbrellas were almost ripped out of people’s hands. At the top of the mountain was a bit smaller than expected structure in which you could look into to see the famous Buddha statue. And this historical site is considered a UNESCO world heritage site (along with the accompanying temple). Being respectful, I did not take any photos of the actual structure but if you google it, you can find professional shots of what it looks like inside. 

~ We did more this day but this post is already really long and the next few activities on the agenda have a lot of photos I have to go through so I am just gonna separate these posts for now. I hope you enjoyed this little rainy day travel blog post even though I feel like I literally documented nothing… But I promise the next one may be more informative with better (quality) photos as well. My phone was NOT waterproof, okay! Anyways, thanks for reading~

  • Emma 엠마