So… I did a little thing. While I was studying abroad in Korea with NSLI-Y for a full year (2018-2019), I filmed short video clips every single day with my tiny, almost non-functioning iPod Touch. Some of these videos were one second long but others were closer to 3-6 seconds to be honest… As the year went on, it was harder and harder to decide what exact clips to include in the video compilation.
At our end of the year graduation ceremony, we had a ‘talent segment’ or something along the lines of that and since I have no creative nor worthwhile talents, I decided to just give a short speech in Korean and then filled the rest of the time with my video! So please enjoy:
Fully slept in this morning for the first time in awhile and I was not mad about it at all and when I did finally wake up, I was greeted by Andy, my host dog, who was laying–sprawled across the floor–in front of my door. He is a medium dog at best but he is so long and lanky! I had breakfast with my host family and spent a lot of time afterwards just chatting with my sisters and snacking on fresh fruit that my host mom cut up for us as she always asks us if we want fruit after every meal.
We also went grocery shopping and my host sister bought lots of famous Korean snacks and such so that I could bring things home in my suitcase for my family to try (and for me to eat and relish in how available and affordable Korean snacks are…obviously.. In Korea!) One of the fun facts that my host sister told me when I moved in was that the famous Oreo cereal (Oreo O’s) is a product of Korean and can ONLY be purchased in Korea. This WAS the case maybe even a year ago but globalization works its magic and now you can buy this cereal in America too–my brother sent me a photo of it at our local grocery store a few months back. But, anyways, she was excited for me to bring it back home! She also gifted me honey butter chips and almonds which is a type of seasoning (the term?) that absolutely went crazy in Korea to the point where it was hard to find at some places like convenience stores. And, of course, Ramen too. I actually do not (and did not) even eat ramen that much in Korea but I knew my brothers would love the spicy soup and that it would be a comfort for me when I do get home. So yeah… now I need to find space in my suitcase for all these snacks!!!
After spending the earlier part of the day bopping around at home and *attempting* to pack up my room (wow, did I accumulate so much stuff!!!), I made plans to meet up with Katie at 홍대 and then from there we went to the express bus terminal together. We did not do anything too crazy, just hanging out and chatting. We found an international snack store and realized that our favorite coconut jelly drink (Mogu Mogu) has so many more flavors so we did end up buying some.
I came home before dinner time and my older host sister kept asking me what I wanted for dinner and I was not exactly being helpful in making any plans because honestly, I am not picky and easy to please so genuinely anything would be fine. She started throwing out ideas like our favorite seafood restaurant near our apartment or getting 콩나물국밥 at the now termed ‘아저씨 식당’ but then with the mention of said restaurant, my host sister brought up another meal that she believes to be one primarily eaten/loved by older Korean men (아저씨들) and that was 아구찜 which from what I gather it is basically braised angler fish? And angler fish for those who do not know (because I for sure had no idea) is like a giant mouthed scary looking deep sea fish. Or at least, that is what I think after googling the fish. Do yourself a favor and just Google (or Naver for my Korean readers) ‘Angler Fish.’ I am, of course, down for anything so I was like “Sure, let’s go!!”
My host mom couldn’t join us this time so instead, my older host sister drove me and my other host sister to a restaurant so that we could try 아구찜. This dish was really really tasty! It was quite spicy and the fish was paired with lots and lots of bean sprouts which is definitely up my host sisters’ alley and I have grown to love bean sprouts too because of them. We also ordered fried rice. It was a nice wholesome dinner and we had fun conversation on my last thoughts on ‘Culture Shock’ moments in Korea. The wait staff at the restaurant were also really kind and made a point to talk to me.
On our way home, we had some issues leaving the parking lot because of the parking ticket/garage machine malfunctioning? Or my host sister just experiencing a brain fart. My younger sister kept yelling and laughing as we sat waiting for the arm to raise. It was so funny.
And that was how we ended the night~
I was literally leaving my host family’s home (after living with them for the past 5 months) tomorrow and was not prepared at all quite yet. I needed to PACK. I had two checked luggages, a carry on, and a backpack (personal item for the plane) to pack. I was very worried about having too much stuff and having overweight luggage which 민정쌤 warned would be expensive at the airport.
Besides packing the day away, I did make some last-minute plans with my host family from the fall semester. I wanted to make sure to see them one last time so I planned to meet up with everyone at a Twosome Place cafe kind of at the center shopping street at their subway street. I had walked the main street several times (mostly going to Daiso) but had never noticed the one alley that had a Twosome Place! Or else I probably would have studied there sometimes.
I got there earlier than my host family and I was just very aware of my presence and how I was alone… and I forgot how prominent stares are in 고양시 in comparison to Seoul which made me feel more self-conscious. To look like I had a purpose being there, I ordered a drink first and made my way to some nice seating on the second floor.
When my host mom arrived with the kids, she began scolding me for ordering ahead of time as she wanted to treat me. So to make up for it, she had me and the kids pick out some dessert: cake and 빙수 (Korean shaved ice — Bingsu). Hanging out with everyone in the cafe was such a trip down memory lane with the hecticness of being in a family with children to be honest. Always someone vying for your attention and being loud and just general kid shenanigans. One of my host sisters also brought a friend to the cafe so that added a layer to their excitement and she was very curious to talk to me and kept acting (forcibly) shocked when I would reply to something she said in Korean. I gave my host family a letter I had written to them and some macaroons for the kids which they promptly fought over who would read the letter first/aloud and which flavors they could call first dibs on. It was so cute.
My host sisters also surprised me with matching gold rings with a little ruby gemstone in the middle. They said they were 우정반지 (friendship rings) and a pair of clip-on earrings which caused some arguing between the girls since one of them had said I had my ears pierced and the other had said I did not. I reassured them that I could still wear them despite the fact (And I have since then, of course! One of my most worn pairs of earrings to this day!)
They stuck one of their hair clips into my hair and stated that I had now become one of them. We took lots and lots of selfies together–especially showing off our rings–and my host brother got pretty jealous and had to photobomb us so that is why these extremely adorable photos have come into existence.
At the end of our meeting, I was lowkey in tears. I could not believe that this was our final goodbye and I had no idea when would be the next time I would get to see my host family again. Would it be next summer? Would it be in several years? I have no idea how my plan and college years will go by so who knows what is in store for me. But what I do know is that I am going to be very proactive in maintaining this relationship because this family means so much to me and I would never want to let that go. I cherish this family so much and will forever be grateful to them for positively coloring my time here in Korea. And I really hope they know that too.
Honestly, so excited to be able to meet up with them again, especially when the kids are older. I hope they do not forget me ❤
On my way home, I stopped by a bakery outside one of the exits of my home subway station (saying that is kind of weird reading it over… but I wrote it so naturally…It had come to feel that way) and picked up a nice cake for my host family as a gift which obviously cannot thank them for all that they have done for me but it is a gesture~ We all ate dinner together and ate the cake which was extremely bittersweet seeing that it was my last few moments with all of them together as my older host sister was driving me to a hostel the next morning and unfortunately, they cannot attend my graduation ceremony.
That is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed this pretty random couple of days. Doing less but appreciating more. Kind of hard to document that in comparison to just uploading photos experiences if that makes sense. Anyways, thank you~
안녕하세요 여러분~ 한국에서 썼던 모든 글을 아직 안 올렸는데 오늘은 다른걸 하기로 했다. 미국에 돌아온지 2달 전에는 저와 느슬리 학생들이 우리 유학 생활에 대한 반성을 써야 하고 나서 더나은 세상 조직이 우리 생각을 수집해서 어떤 책을 만들었다. 며칠 전에 방을 봄청소하기 위해서 정리하다가 저의 책을 찾았다! 당연히 브로그 글을 읽어 보다 보면 제가 유학 동안 재미있는 추억을 만들고 고생을 껵은 것을 잘 알 것 같은데 그외에 제가 경험이 얼마나 특별한지 표현하기가 너무 어렵다. 경험이 말로 못할 만큼 특별했는데도 이 반성은 자랑스럽다. 그리고 여기까지 보시다시피 제 브로그 글의 대부분은 영어로 쓰기는 했지만 이따금 한국어를 쓰지 않다면 모든 것을 잊어버리다는 것이 당연하다. (사실 솔직히 말하면 벌써 한국어 실력이 완전히 떨어졌다ㅜㅜ 아직 잘 한척하고 있는데 강한 자신감이 필수다!) 그런데! 이 반성은 영어로 쓰여져 있다 ㅋㅋ 재미있게 읽으시길 바랍니다~
Hi Everyone~ I still haven’t uploaded all of the blog posts I wrote in Korea just yet but today I decided to do something a little different. 2 months before returning to the states (back in 2019), the NSLI-Y students and I had to write reflections on our study abroad experiences, and then Better World compiled those writings and made a sort of book. The other day I was cleaning my room for those ~spring cleaning~ vibes and while organizing, I found my copy! Of course, if you read my blogs, you can get a good sense of all the fun memories I have made and even the struggles I have faced while studying abroad but besides that, expressing just how valuable of a experience this was to me is quite difficult. Although I cannot express these feelings in any amount of words, I am proud of what I detailed in my reflection. And as you can see thus far, most of my blog posts are written in English but if I do not practice my Korean every now and then, I will definitely forget everything! (Actually if I am being honest, my Korean skills have already plummeted…I am just pretending to be good. Confidence is KEY!) But this reflection is written in English. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy reading~ Thanks!
(P.S. Added Photos to Make it Fun!)
Emma’s NSLI-Y Korea AY Program Reflection:
My Greatest Endeavor Yet
An electronic voice declares that we have reached 연서시장 before the bus abruptly comes to a stop. After catching my balance and tapping my T-Money card, I hop off the bus– my nose immediately being greeted by the smell of raw fish. The bus ride turned into the hustle and bustle of a Korean market at a moment’s notice. Shopkeepers yell out competing prices as the smell of greasy yet delicious 분식 tempts the taste buds of every passerby. Katie and I find our favorite stall and are greeted with the warm, contagious smile of the vendor. We order 떡볶이 and 튀김 and immediately begin filling up cups with 오뎅국물– a habit that can be considered second nature to us by now.
Before I studied abroad, I heard the phrase “Study Abroad Will Change Your Life” countless times. Everyone seems to mutually agree that this experience you are about to embark on will be unforgettable and life-changing… which can be kind of intimidating: trying to imagine how something can affect you to such a great extent before it has even happened. Now that the NSLI-Y program is coming to an end, I have come to the realization that this statement appeared so daunting because I viewed study abroad as one big thing; however, rather than solely one event, it is the experiences and little moments that culminated into something overarching.
Through this program, I have learned to be independent, resourceful, self-motivated, more confident, and even how to (somewhat) budget money. But excluding all of that, I am most thankful for the way that this experience has enabled me to appreciate the little things in life–and not take even everyday things for granted.
Especially when things would become too overwhelming and frustrating. There were plenty of occasions during these 9 months that left me feeling defeated and dejected. Times when my efforts to learn Korean seemed futile or when the yearning to return home became too much. Tears were shed, and at times, I even wished that I had started college right away and chosen a normal path. Nonetheless, I was able to overcome all of these things by focusing on the present, on what was happening in front of me: the things I should be grateful for.
I focused on the way my host siblings would barge into my room while I was studying hoping to steal my attention for just a few moments, the way my host mom would prepare me snacks and tea when she thought I needed an extra boost of energy, the way my friends at 하나고 would come to class early and save me seats with their textbooks to make sure that we could sit together, the way my NSLI-Y cohort could get me to erupt in laughter for seemingly stupid things, and the way my older host sister would put pieces of meat in my rice bowl to make sure that I was getting enough food to eat.
I focused on the smiles and warm welcomes of the workers from my most visited hole-in-the-wall café, 편의점, Twosome Place, and 녹차호떡 stand; the laughing fits that I would get into during lunch time with my group of high school friends that would sometimes prevent me from being able to finish all my food; the licks to my face from my host dog every single day I walked in through the door after being away for a little too long; the wonderful feeling of satisfaction after successfully utilizing a newly learned grammar point or a difficult vocab word in conversation with a Korean person; the beautiful natural and manmade scenery of places all throughout Seoul (and even a bit beyond); the after monthly-test waffle tradition that perfectly satisfied my sweet tooth while allowing me to stay salty enough to rant; the sprints to the 편의점 during class breaks to buy ice cream or whatever other snacks we were feeling that day; and the nights ending with raw, sore throats from spending too much time, talking, screaming, or singing with all my friends.
I focused on every seemingly trivial conversation, every tangent in Korean class, every cultural excursion, every by chance meeting, every major milestone, and every comfort-zone-tested moment.
And just like the final drops of 오뎅국물–straight from a plastic cup and all– I will cherish every remaining moment in Korea.
Having devoured all of our lunch, we say goodbye to the stall vendor and make our way out of the winding market back to the subway station. Soon enough I will take the subway home from 하나고 for the last time amongst many other final moments, and I know these lasts will be met with many tears; however, I find comfort that these tears do not come from a place of regret. They come from a place of utter gratefulness for being given this unforgettable and life-changing opportunity.
Refer to ~this blog post~ for what I did during the first half of the day which includes me taking my final for Korean class and exploring some more historical places in Seoul with my Korean classmates and teacher!
Once I said goodbye to my Korean teacher, I got back off at 홍익역 (홍대 — Hongdae)
EEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKK! Shrieking was all I could even think about doing as I thought about the epic reunion that was about to commence on the streets of 홍대. The other week or so I reached out to Jessica once again (NSLI-Y Korea Summer ‘16 Alumna) because we have been cafe buddies since I have been back to Korea since she knows all the best places and is basically like my big sister in Korea! But the last time we had tea together, we mentioned organizing a meeting with our former NSLI-Y summer resident directors because conveniently they are both in Korea at the same time again! Madeline (our American RD) is pursuing a graduate degree at 이화여대 (Ewha Women’s University) and is in her final year of that program while JT (our Korean RD) is well… living in Korea! Though he did spend some time abroad, backpacking around Europe, after he was with NSLI-Y for our program and the following academic year program.
We planned to meet up for dinner together and possibly a cafe afterwards to chat and I was so nervous and excited at the same time to see everyone again after… How many years? Almost 3 full years! Granted I had seen Jessica the previous month and Madeline back in December with Katie but !!! All of us back together felt more like we were getting ready to film a crossover or a reunion episode of a TV show with all of the most loved cast members!! (Sorry to the rest of NSLI-Y8 😛 lol)
Before meeting up with them though, I actually had a quick errand to run which consisted of me meeting up with 혜린언니 my supporter during our winter break research project. Katie and I had met up with her and had our ~farewell~ (for now) dinner about a week or so ago and had given her letters but she did not have anything prepared for us yet and said that we had to make sure to see her one more time so that she could give us something.
That something was two handwritten cards that Katie and I were not allowed to open until we had arrived back in the States (Which, QUICK UPDATE: proved to be a bit of a disaster since she wrote in pencil which sort of rubbed off in areas making the letter hard to read. It must have been from the heat of being in a suitcase or the altitude or something?) I took another quick selfie with her and promised to get the letter safely back to Katie ❤
Then, I end up meeting up with Jessica, Madeline, and JT in front of 3번출구 of 홍익역. You would think that having planned this meetup, Jessica and I would have also decided where we would be having dinner at but… we did NOT think that far ahead so as we exchanged hellos and “long time no seeeeees” and in the midst of explaining what we have been doing and catching up, we were also throwing out ideas of where to eat. I do not really remember why we decided on eating Taiwanese food but that was what we ultimately landed on and I had a place in mind that I went to a few months before during our spring semester orientation. I think everyone had also been before? I guess that makes sense since it was located on a pretty central street of 홍대.
For dinner we ended up sharing a nice bowl of noodles, fried chicken (or was it a pork cutlet?) but more importantly, just chatting with everyone was the highlight of the night. JT enlightened us on his current endeavors and how he is currently working at a company/organization that is focused on expanding the waste management system in Seoul with more efficient waste baskets in public areas which honestly sounds like something the general population would greatly benefit from!! Literally, I feel like it is almost an impossible task to find a garbage/recycling can in and around even the most populated places. They are so spread out! I feel like I always have some kind of wrapper or empty water bottle in my backpack at all times.
We talked a lot about schooling too because Madeline, Jessica, and I were all students–albeit at different stages of our education. They were all really curious about my own experience at Korean high school which was fun to detail especially since I was out of the situation and did not have to respond to some things with nervous, awkward laughter. (Actually! I think it would be really cool to write a blog post comparing my experience at my American public school and my private Korean school)
Of course, we ALSO reminisced on our shared NSLI-Y experience. It was fun talking about how often I would (with my partner in crime Sofia) annoy our RDs on purpose by running to them during our break times between classes to chat or sing–Yes, we made a song for them… And unfortunately, JT did not forget my chicken girl experience which involved me walking into a glass door–straight facts! We talked about others on the program that they have had the chance to meet up with since then and some of the names surprised me because I had not gotten to know them that much and had not expected them to return to be honest. They alsooooo shared some tea about the punishments that they had to give out (on our program and the others they led).
After dinner, Madeline had to leave because she had plans but Jessica, JT, and I decided to stick around for a bit longer (I still had time before curfew and JT kept making fun of me for having a curfew hehe he was like, “Not much has changed huh?” but he was very serious about me making sure to stick to my curfew. He even pulled out his phone to check the subway lines to make sure that I was not bluffing which was funny. Nothing much has changed for him either! Still acting like a resident director!)
Jessica took us to The Alley which was a trending café at the time for their instagrammable bubble teas that had distinct layers before you shook the drinks. We got our drinks and sat outside at one of the patio seats at the storefront and enjoyed the cooler summer night.
It was a really enjoyable night seeing them all again and everything felt so nostalgic! To think that each and every one of them had a part in me having such an amazing time in Korea the first time that I wanted to come back! Full circle!! This may sound extremely cheesy but I generally am feeling this way right now… maybe it is the exhaustion talking… wow, only a couple days left in Korea now…
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for reading~ Till next time!
Woke up in our 한옥 (traditional Korean house) the morning of our last day in Gyeongju. Despite having slept on the floor and the chilly nighttime temperatures, I slept so soundly. Perhaps all the tears from the previous night helped with that since I feel like sleep after a good cry can rival anything. We all woke up rather early and got ready for another day with a planned-out agenda by Better World although 민정쌤 had said we would be having some free time after lunch to explore the area near where we slept, do some souvenir shopping, etc.
The outfit I chose for the day actually matched our 한옥 perfectly so Addie offered to take some photos of me with her professional Canon camera and I will forever cherish these photos and have changed all my profile photos!
For breakfast, we were handed out pastries from a local bakery as well as fruit pies from McDonald’s for breakfast? I was a little confused because these fruit pies are most likely filled with so much sugar and are 100% considered dessert to me but hey, it was still tasty–processed or not. It was a nice, quick breakfast on the bus!
Our first stop of the day was a historical center in which Better World had rented out a room with projector capabilities in order to have a pre-departure/re-entry orientation for heading back to America. This was a very depressing time of the trip because I would have much rather allowed myself to be distracted by new and engaging activities and not discussing our impending return to the states. We of course had to talk about the infamous W curve which illustrates the roller coaster of emotions common to the plight of an exchange student. Of course, this curve does not only apply to time in one’s host country but also when returning to one’s home community and culture.
We discussed that it would be quite normal to experience a period of adjustment in which we may feel shock or conflicting feelings about being home and having to readjust to our previous lives after having experienced so much. We talked about how isolating may feel like one of the only options after feeling like a changed person but being placed back into an environment that is the same (and yet at the same time, so different). I was sitting next to Kaitlyn during this presentation and we also mentioned how the thought of returning kind of feels like water displacement–like when you get into a tub. You might have perfectly fit in the bath before but after returning and trying to re-familiarize yourself with this old life (old bath water? Ugh this simile…), clearly, things cannot help but shift and change.
We also were handed back these little goal sheets that we had filled out at our very first orientation and the one we had over winter break. We were given a new half sheet of paper that had a little drawing of a man in an airplane. We were instructed to write the things that will be hard to leave behind, our contributions to the NSLI-Y program as a whole and what we are most looking forward to upon arriving home.
I will include a picture of what I wrote but I did want to highlight what I was looking forward to about returning to my cozy Chicago suburb because I was, in fact, homesick.
Seeing my best friends (Kara, Courtney, Brianna, Jazmin, Grace!! I have missed you guys!!!)
Hugging my mom (I could cry just thinking about it honestly. Never have I ever cherished my family more)
Pizza & Pancakes (What can I say… I am a simple girl and a foodie)
Not feeling lost, uncomfortable, misunderstood 24/7 (I try to be as positive as I can but I would be lying if I said living in Korea–as a foreigner–was a walk in the park)
College (Just like how Korea had been a long-held dream of mine, so has been attending college at my dream school in NYC!)
Thinking about these things and the countless other things that I could not write out (sorry to my brothers if they are reading this..) did help me put into perspective that all good things must come to an end so even better things can occur in the future.
The meeting was pretty serious but Kaitlyn and I still found time to goof around like when she stole my phone and started taking photos hehe compiled here for your viewing pleasure.
After our final orientation was over, it was lunchtime and we got back on the bus to return to the area around our accommodation which was close to a very popular shopping street in Gyeongju known as 황리단길 (Hwangnidan-gil or Hwangnidan Street) which is famous for the 한옥 architecture of many family homes or guest houses and very lovely cafes and boutiques to add to the atmosphere.
Luckily the weather was better today (no rain!! My rain dance this morning worked!!) but it was still quite cloudy so the sky was dark but it was still nice to be able to walk around without the hindrance of umbrellas and those icky ponchos. For lunch, we came to this restaurant that seemed to be a couple smaller buildings/private rooms all a part of this one place so we were able to be separated from the others. The restaurant was also all 한옥 structure so maybe that was why the buildings were separated as we walked through a sort of courtyard/common area of the house. The greenery in this restaurant was also insane and so so beautiful! As for the meal, we had what my first host dad would have called a 진수성찬 (Korean word for feast). I am not sure if this has been a story I changed before but this was a word my host dad taught me back in September for 추석 (Korean Harvest Holiday/Thanksgiving) and it has stuck with me ever since. Everytime I have a big meal–this word pops in my mind.
Once we were stuffed beyond our stomachs’ capacities, we got free time to walk around and explore. I mostly followed Harmony and Kaitlyn back and forth to different shops and boutiques. The window displays of every single building we passed by was so expertly curated that I wanted to go into every store! There was this one stationary store that we visited which I really had to hold myself back because I honestly could have convinced myself to buy so many things for the prospect of making my scrapbook beautiful (Yes, I scrapbook and yes I will dedicate an entire book for this year~ Stay tuned for a post about it!)
I ended up buying a couple of postcards/art print and washi tape with illustrations of the historical locations of 경주 as well as two pairs of earrings because there was a sale. Harmony, Kaitlyn, and I also took some sticker photos to commemorate this trip!
And would it really be an excursions with NSLI-Yians if there were not any group photos?
Eventually, it was time to return to the station and I ended up buying a box of 황남 빵 (Hwangnam Bread) or 경주 빵 (Gyeongju Bread) which is a speciality pastry of this city filled with red bean paste. I was intending to study Korean on the KTX ride home but… I fell asleep instead… what can I say, traveling is exhausting! I remember returning to my host family this night and showing off the souvenirs I bought before literally falling asleep through dinner. I later had a late night meal of ramen with my younger host sister as I stayed up, cramming for my Korean final tomorrow. Oh, how I love being a student.
Wish me luck!
Thanks for reading~ Next post will be quite exciting because although I am taking my final test, I will also be spending the day with my Korean class and teacher and visiting some old, familiar faces from the first time I had ever been to Korea~ 기대주세용
P.S. Also something fun for the kids in my NSLI-Y Cohort~
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~
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.
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.
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.
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~
You have not seen sentimental until you have met me. And I am not advertising this as necessarily a good thing but it is a fact. I am the most sentimental, emotional person I know and this is clearly well exemplified by my very need to document almost every moment of every day with personal glorified journal entries, pictures of literal subway train floors if I thought I would miss the sight of them, and receipts from the too many convenience store snack runs this year because even if they add about 2 pounds to my wallet…hey, they could make a cool, artsy background to one of my scrapbook pages. Oh, have I mentioned that before? I also am prematurely accepting my mid-life crisis fate of having a hobby involving glue and hole punchers–oh, and tons and tons of stickers.
Maybe it is also because I am a water sign? Although I would not necessarily say I fit the ‘typical mold’ for a scorpio but I definitely have a good grasp on the water-works and emotions if that means anything.
All of this seems of importance today because today was my very last day of Korean high school. My last day at 하나고등학교 as an exchange student. And (technically) my last day of high school EVER. How could I not walk the halls with tear trails permanently etched into my cheeks?
As per usual, I woke up this morning to the sound of birds noisily (but sweetly) chirping outside my window and I buttoned up my dress shirt, shimmied my skirt on, and swung my backpack onto my shoulder with the anticipation of a day at school for the last time. HOW BITTERSWEET!
First class of the day was Music class with Katie and while the other students were working on new projects that involved some music theory in a way which shocked me because I thought this was an average music class but looks like the days of just singing songs from a textbook are over. Instead of having Katie and me do that, our music teacher gave us these worksheets about 농악 otherwise known as peasant music, farmhand music, or community band music. It discussed the origin of such music and accompanying the sheet was a little bag of wooden people playing 농악 악기 (musical instruments) and there was a color code at the bottom of the paper explaining how to color in the traditional outfits with red, blue, and yellow.
I also ran into 세림 during the break in between first and second periods and she gave me this adorable gift as a going away present and I almost burst into tears right then and there. She gifted me cute stickers with phrases written in 한굴 (Korean alphabet), a panda stuffed animal, and the cutest scroll/letter that must have been typed up from the computer.
Also, our music teacher finally put up all the music project posters in the hallway and it was fun being able to see what all the other students did. They would later be voted on by the other classes so each project had a number on it though Katie’s and mine were just done for fun so ours was on the wall with a pink heart and our names were written on the bottom. It made me happy just to see it. It meant a lot to still be included.
After music class, was my very last English class with Jason쌤 which is definitely going to be a class dearly missed because of how fun it was–and not only because it was conducted in English. It was just a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined with exercises in speech giving, impromptu practices, tongue twisters, body language and those things not only being informative but fun ways to interact with my classmates. This last class was no exception because Jason쌤 was kind enough to buy the whole class donuts from Dunkin Donuts so were able to have a party.
We just got to goof around the second half of class after doing some reading exercises. At one point I wanted to snag a video clip for my 1 Second a Day video and all the kids were enthused and started waving and/or throwing their hands up into the air as if they were one of those inflatable long-armed sale balloons you often see in front of car dealership lots. It was a lot of fun.
Right before lunch, Katie and I were thrown a surprise going away party (which we may or may not have been alerted about–by accident–by several different people: our lunch friends and English conversation pals, for example.) The meeting room/lounge on the second floor which we utilized for one of our English conversation 공강s (because the library’s private rooms were filled) was made up as the location for the event. The layout of the room was the same but there were decorations littered around the room and the tables were filled to the brim with snacks, pastries, and juice boxes galore.
Throughout the time of the party, students would come through and talk with us and hang out–some giving us letters and drawings. Some were from people I never really talked to and they usually wrote that on the note like “We had so and so class together but never talked.” It was nice that they wanted to wish me a farewell but it also made me realize the connections I missed out on making and I wished they had reached out to me or I that I had done so.
It was such a memorable time and I was so thankful for everyone that came including all of my English mentorship students (new and old), my homeroom classmates, all my third-year friends, and of course our lunch group made up of our 2nd year friends. My homeroom teacher also was there and she wrote a letter to me which she read aloud while Katie’s homeroom teacher played a melody on his guitar. I could not help but tear up at her words as she talked about how proud she was of me and how she silently supported me when she would see me studying Korean before class and making friends. I never really thought about how even those little moments or decisions would have an impact on how she viewed me as a student but I was happy to know that they had a positive effect. She also gifted me a book of short stories in Korean and although I am not sure if my reading comprehension level is quite there yet, the thought was greatly appreciated.
At one point during the party, I started just tearing up at everyone surrounding me asking for goodbye selfies and at the fact that my arms that were filling up with letters that I knew would have a difficult time fitting into my backpack. 도윤 saw my face and almost immediately also burst into tears and so there we stood, in front of everyone, hugging each other in tears. She gave me a little wrapped baggie of her favorite hair oil that she promised would help me remember her by–mostly because of the smell which I had to agree. Her hair always did have a particularly nice scent.
After our final school lunch (and dessert which consisted of these grape-flavored ice cream balls? Imagine Dipping Dots but HUGE) and the bittersweet goodbye party, I had my economics class which comprised of our first period actually being a lecture (although, I studied Korean in preparation for my test) but the second period involved going outside and having a snack party with every kid offering up something purchased at the school’s convenience store. Basically today involved a lot of goodbyes and a whole lot of food to numb the pain and sadness in a way.
Even at the time of walking out of the double doors of the main gate at school at the end of the day, I could not really wrap my head around the fact that I would be leaving. I could not believe that this would by my last time at 하나고 for the foreseeable future. (EDIT: Quite sad that because of world health circumstances, I was not able to return to my school before all of my friends graduated…sigh)
Katie and I cleaned out our lockers and I just stared at the empty shells of what was once filled with pictures, random snacks, some winter jackets, and most importantly a next time. My homeroom gave me this giant goodbye poster board (made by taping two poster boards together) which included post-it note messages from every person in the class written in English or Korean and they must have went on my Instagram and printed out a photo of me from my feed to have it be the center of the board. They all signed the back too and I was just a crying baby once again when I received such a thoughtful gift!
It was so hard leaving the school building but of course we kept getting stopped along the way which lengthened our journey and made saying goodbye that much harder. My 3 second year friends from English 공강 (The gals that I had went to 홍대 with together recently) stopped me and Katie for some last minute gifts and to thrust a bag filled with more Korean snacks into our possession. They also helped Katie and me take our final pictures–dressed in our school uniform–in front of the 하나고 sign in the lobby of our school. We recreated the photo that we took the very first day of school. Oh how things come back full circle~
There was so much to carry home and it was quite an emotional day so I ended up going home right away. I decided I would spend the night relaxing in preparation for the graduation trip tomorrow but also high key cramming for my Korean test because I am no psychic… but I was not going to be doing a lot of studying in the ~mystery location~ of our 1박2일 (2 days one night) trip in celebration of completing our program (successfully?)
That is all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed~ This is one of those blog posts that I know I can return to when I want to reminisce on all the good memories I made while abroad on my gap year because no matter how hard those 9 months were, this post highlights examples of why everything was 1000% worth it and how I would do it again in a heartbeat!
하나고 친구들 혹시 이런걸 읽고 있다면.. 할 말이 있어요.
하나고 친구들과 선생님 영원히 고맙습니다. 진짜 너무 감동 ㅜㅜㅜ
하나고에서 다니면서 재미있는 추억도 많이 만든거 같아서 헤어지는게 너무 너무 아쉽고ㅜㅜ 진짜 그리울거 같아용! 나 잊지 말고! 연락해줘요ㅠㅠ 한국 들어가면 꼭 밥이라도 같이 먹었으면 좋겠네용. 하나고 학생들 진짜 열심히 살고 능력이 있는 사람들이라는 걸 느꼈어요! 하나고에서 이렇게 고생한 만큼 좋은 꿈같은 결과를 있을 거라고 항상 응원할게요!
서린, 도윤, 윤세, 혜지, 세림, 지은, 정민, 주연, 수빈, 은서, 지연, 호영, 근영, 건우, 예성, 서연, 민지, 선민, 도연, 원준, 동철하고 더 많은 학생들인데 저에게 영향이나 친절한 기억을 준 모든 친구들 포함할 수 없어요… 암튼 하나고!! 화이팅! 또 만나자!
Today was Children’s day which is basically what it sounds like: a day to celebrate children just like Mother’s and Father’s Day (except in Korea the two are not on separate days but on one collective Parent’s Day.) A lot of events for children are held during this weekend and of course kids are showered with gifts.
My current host family consists of two older daughters so they had nothing planned for the occasion. I ended up getting in touch with my previous host family again and we planned to get dinner together and attend a parade! My host mom messaged me all the information for the location and time of the event and eventually the day rolled around.
To be honest, I was kind of nervous about meeting my host family again. We had talked very frequently about meeting up more after we made gingerbread houses (that blog —> linked here) but they always seemed to be free when I had program obligations or school activities. Because of our uncooperative schedules, I hadn’t seen them in more than three months. I was nervous that they wouldn’t be impressed by my progress in Korean (or that they wouldn’t even notice that there was a difference). I was afraid that my siblings would be awkward with me and that things wouldn’t feel the same.
I also had no idea where we were meeting so I loaded up the address on my Kakaomaps app and took lots and lots of screenshots. I also took advantage of street view to figure out how I would get from the subway station to the meeting spot. (I had to do this because there would be no wifi to help me out once I left the station and I had no international data and usually relied on free wifi sources). Luckily, it was only a 5 minute walk and there were even signs on my way there advertising the Children’s Day event. Turned out, I was entering the outdoor mall through the back entrance—where the parking garage was at.
I walked into the mall and it reminded me a lot of a promenade shopping mall back in America. Besides Lafesta, this was my first time going to such a place in Korea. However, unlike Lafesta Mall, Bella Citta (the name of this mall) had a lawn and lots of green places. I called my host mom and she told me where they were but I had trouble finding it from just looking around. I tried walking around for a bit in search of the said section she told me she was at, but no luck. I also began getting more nervous as it seemed that all the families and children were staring at me as I surely looked confused walking around the perimeter of the mall. Eventually, I stopped to look at a directory when I felt two pairs of small hands tap me on the back. I whip around to see my three host siblings all wearing costumes and smiling widely at me. I immediately shrieked and grabbed them all for a tight hug.
They took me back to where their mom was sitting and we caught up for a bit before grabbing something to eat. We knew that it might be one of the last times we would be seeing each other before I left so wanted to make the most of it.
For dinner we ate at the food court of the mall which not only had a large outside area but the inside was just as impressive. The top floor even had a movie theater! We ate 떡국 (rice cake soup) and chicken skewers. After we quickly ate our food, we had to go get ready for the parade we would be walking in. Basically, the event was that the kids would get to dress up in fun costumes and walk behind a marching band that would play fun tunes. My sisters were dressed up as a witch and perhaps a lady attending a masquerade ball (?) while my brother was some sort of super hero.
With the band, we walked around the inside of the mall and then went outside and walked around the courtyard part before stopping at the main square for a full on performance by the marching band. It was a lot of fun dancing around with my host siblings. At one point, the band played YMCA and one of the drummers would do the arm movements along with the chorus when you are supposed to spell out YMCA. No one else (kids and the parents in the parade) would do the dance, though! It seemed that no one knew the song well enough and definitely not the hand movements. I was, for some reason, feeling myself so I started doing it by myself which only prompted double the stares (Let’s just say I was the only foreigner in the parade). I also tried reaching my siblings but they were just not catching on. My host mom was laughing at me but the band member made eye contact with me and gave me a thumbs up. Eventually, the younger of the two of my host siblings started copying me and we got a whole wave going of a bunch of small Korean children dancing to YMCA.
The best part of the parade was when we made our way outside and since the sky was darkening since we were approaching the cooler night, the view of the dark sky against the string lights hanging from around the outside was really pretty. At the end the band also played their own rendition of Baby Shark (That really popular children’s song from Korea that also made its way to other countries as well.)
After the parade, they collected their free movie vouchers (for participating) and we hung around the mall for a bit. Looking at the different stores (our favorite being the stationary stores) and even stopped at the theater. We did not watch a movie but we did wait in the lobby area and eat popcorn and peppero.
Eventually, my host family brought me back to their place and I hung out with the kids for a bit longer. They gave me a package that was received a little after we met up in January which included my Christmas gift from my friend Jazmin from back home (My friend group did secret Santa! I had finally gotten it!) The gift was a little book filled with 500 reasons to be happy. It was the cutest thing!
Eventually curfew rolled around and I had to make my way home. I said goodbye to my host siblings and my host sisters whined about me leaving. My host brother grabbed onto my legs and tried keeping me inside because he did not want me to leave. It made me so emotional seeing them like that. I know I’m going to miss them an insanely amount. It hurts me to think about it.
We promised to meet up one more time before I leave so today would not be the last meeting. I left the apartment and made the very familiar walk back to the station. I don’t know but I cried the whole way back. Luckily it was really dark (besides the couple of street lamps) and no one else was walking in my direction so I was free to ugly cry as much as I needed.
I just could not help but think that this would be my last walk from their house to the station. A walk that I dreaded sometimes when it was cold and in the early mornings on school commutes but it was also a walk I grew to love as it meant getting on a train and having an adventure or doing something fun at the end of it. I thought back to my first ever walk to the station with my host dad and, along for the ride, my little host sister in tow. I was so excited then. A whole year of memories waiting to enfold in front of me.
I rode the train back in silence.
I came home and couldn’t stay in that negative (albeit sentimental) mood as I was greeted by my adorable host dog. I did some Korean studying before calling it a night. We had no school or Korean class tomorrow as it was a public holiday for Children’s Day. I would get to sleep in~ And NOT wake up early for a long commute to school.
That is all for this blog post. I hope you enjoyed! It is kind of weird reading these posts over again because in light of the world today, these experiences seem like a lifetime ago–a normal that almost feels surreal. I am currently at home taking a medical leave of absence rather than attending my university in New York which definitely shakes up my life even more. But here we are, living day by day like everyone else. Well, thanks for reading.
I had just gotten back from my 수학여행 (school trip) to Jeju Island with my high school classmates the night before and was so tired that I slept about 12 hours but my host mom did not even question me not leaving my room till 11 am. Luckily, Sunday always consists of a late breakfast, or brunch if you will. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to spend my weekend having fun!! Time was passing by as quick as ever and I wanted to make sure that I was making all my last moments count. Because of the hectic schedule on our school trip, I didn’t really do a good job at making plans with anyone for the rest of the weekend but luckily Alix and June were down for some last minute, spontaneous plans after I reached out on our Kakao group chat.
We decided to go to the 고양시국제꽃바람회 (Goyangshi International Flower Festival) because I was geeking out about it earlier on during the week and bombarded our NSLI-Y group chat with all the photos of the pretty flower sculptures and photo zones. I had known about this spring tradition in my city (If it is not already known, I am one of the few NSLI-Yians that got the opportunity to live in 고양시 rather than Seoul. In fact, I was the only student on my program that lived in 고양시 for the entire 9 months!) After researching cool events for one of my Korean class presentations during the fall semester, I learned about this particular festival. I had the desire to go ever since!
The festival takes places at the 일산호수공원 (Ilsan Lake Park) and so we met up at the nearest subway station and bought our tickets down there. (There was actually a small discount for taking the subway to the festival and buying tickets underground! Yay for saving the environment! (and money!))
Before entering the festival, there seemed to be section with food trucks and mostly things relating to farming and organic fruits and vegetables. There was also a trot singer? Everything was set up in a parking lot so we walked through it, took some photos next to the big entrance sculpture, and then proceeded to actually enter the festival.
There was a stall near the ticket collecting/selling booths that sold flower festival souvenirs and 고양시 memorabilia with their white cat mascot. I caved in and had to buy something to showcase my love for 고양시!! (Don’t judge me but I feel such pride for my host city!) I ended up buying a bouquet of flower shaped soap (as a gift for my former host family) and a key chain with the city mascot holding a red heart with 고양 written across it— in English funny enough. If I have not explained this before, Goyang (고양) is one syllable short of the word 고양이 which is the Korean word for cat. So in order to use the play on words, the mascot for the city is a cat! How clever.
While Alix and June were encouraging my bad spending habits, this old man (probably around 60-70 years old) came up to us and tried handing us packets of free 물티슈 or wet wipes (directly translates to water tissues). He kept trying to shove them in our hands but we continued to duck around him and shake off the tissues. I usually do take flyers or free things that people hand out on the street but I had no room for a packet of wet wipes. I looked at the man and told him that I didn’t need the wipes in Korean. The 아주씨 literally gasped (probably because I spoke in Korean) and then in a whiny voice, similar to that of a toddler, he replied “Nooooo, you neeeed this.” The girls and I just passed by him and when we were a good distance away we started laughing so hard and repeating “필요하잖아아아!” This became an inside joke after today.
We entered the festival and walked through such a pretty area that consisted of square plots in a row that all had different themes that were expressed through sculptures made out of flowers. There were scenes of weddings, outdoor fairy gardens, tea parties, and just nature set ups. There was even a scene set up for the character Moomin that is popular in Korea. (He’s actually a Swedish character but I’m not sure of what animal…)
We also walked down to the lake and admired its beauty. I always like to marvel at these kind of parks that are in the middle of the city but are still able to give off the vibe that you are actually surrounded fully by nature. We saw duck paddle boats but were too broke to pay to ride them. One day! Maybe not during this program… but I will be back Korea!
We continued through the park and saw more of the really pretty exhibitions made completely out of flowers. At the entrance of one of the sections of the park, there was a gazebo type structure with flowers hanging from the ceiling—all different colors and types.
There were also these people in furry animal costumes walking around and they started following June and me. We were shocked and then I (with a random wave of confidence) started speaking in Korean to the stranger; I asked him “Is it not hot?” You could tell he was shocked. He started fanning himself with his arms and we could not help but laugh. He started following us around which was hilarious albeit a bit creepy since well… the face reminded me of those scary Halloween masks sold at the pop-up Halloween stores during the month of October in the states. In order to commemorate this interesting encounter, we asked for a photo and that’s where this iconic photo came from.
We continued to walk around the park and took lots and lots of photos. We used June’s phone because she had a filter provided with her camera that had a good setting—basically it just highlighted the main focus of the photo and blurred the background.
We also caved in and bought really overpriced ice cream but it was extremely hot outside (probably the hottest day since the weather started warming up) and we were hungry. The ice cream was milk flavored ice cream which is one interesting unique-to-Korea flavor. You would think you wouldn’t need a flavor of milk since you now… ice cream is mostly comprised of milk. Nevertheless, it’s delicious.
We also passed by a magician with the scariest mask on and I was okay with just going on our merry way but both June and Alix wanted to stop by. We chatting with the magician for a bit and he kept asking us questions about Korea while going through with the card trick. It was a pretty neat trick and we were all surprised at what he was able to guess. He asked if I wanted to do one more so I agreed and at the end of that trick, my remaining card said “I love you” on it. We all screamed at the cringyness of the situation. It was all too much but insanely funny. I replied with “Isn’t this relationship going a little fast?” which was met with a string of laughter from the crowd that formed to see how the magician was shocking a group of foreign girls.
After taking advantage of all the photo zones possible (Except this one set up with two hearts covered in flowers. The line for the self proclaimed best-photo-op-for-couples was winding around the food stand.), we ended the trip at the park walking around an exhibition hall of scenes set up by different organizations or even countries. It was interesting to see what flowers were native to where or what colors the countries wanted to focus on with their showcases (A lot of places used colors from their flags.) We left the park after wandering around a market set up with little tents selling flowers and flower themed gifts. Our ticket gave us a dollar off coupon for any plants and we were able to find a section with succulents that only cost one dollar—so we got them for free.
I also found this one tent that sold hand painted signs with sayings and 3D flowers made out of craft supplies. I bought one for my mother back in the states. It will be her main souvenir from Korea!
Lastly, there was this little area that had a box with a clear window which had the appearance of a magazine cover; however, the kick was that there was a giant cat head inside. There was a chair to the side that I believe might have belonged to an attendant of the photo zone that perhaps took a break? I told Alix to run in there and try on the head and she so gladly obliged (Alix is the epitome of a cat person and the whole cohort knows this.) June went in as well and they all danced around a bit. I had a good laugh and took a video clip for my 1 second a day video.
We said goodbye at the subway (but not before buying more ice cream at the 7/11… when your diet of the day mainly comprises of ice cream… it has been a good day) and that was the end of a flower-filled day. It was so fun getting to spend the day with Alix and June because I haven’t had much time otherwise to hang out with them. They were both really fun and we laughed together so often throughout the day. I caught myself smiling so often because I was genuinely happy living in the present with them.
Thanks for reading this blog post~ It has been um… more than half a year since I have last posted and 2 years since first arriving in Korea. Wow, has time flown by. I still have blog posts from the rest of May to upload so hopefully I can get those out over the next few weeks.