Not Quite Back Home

My program has ended, but my adventure in South Korea has not. My summer program ended July 22nd, but I plan to stay in Korea until September. Thankfully I have a friend with whom I’ll be staying now that my program has ended and so I still have more time to explore and do what I’ve wanted to do here. My program has ended, though, and I have learned so much since then about South Korea and about myself.

A few things I’ve learned:

First, Naver Map is my savior. Navigating through South Korea would not have been as simple as it was with it. Navigating through the complex Seoul subway was made so much easier than it would have been trying to do so alone. It provides the times the subway will arrive, the station you need to go to, the exit you will need to leave from to arrive at your destination, and so much more. Basically, if you are coming to South Korea, I HIGHLY recommend you download Naver Map to get around. 

Second, you will spend a lot more money on simply getting places than you think. The easiest and cheapest way to get around is by using public transportation. However, it will cost you more than you may think. An absolute must is the T-Money card, which will allow you to use public transportation in Korea. You will use it to scan and pay for every trip you take, whether that be on the bus or the subway. You can also use it to pay for taxis and even in convenience stores. You can put larger amounts into it with cash at the different re-charging kiosks at the stations or smaller amounts. I recommend you put in at least 10,000 won at a time because it is quite easy to run through 5,000 won simply by going between two places as the base fare for the subway is about 1,250 won with additional charges depending if you go further. This base fare also varies between cities which is something you should take into consideration when budgeting.

Third, having a list of things that you may want to do is more helpful than not having anything planned at all. Even though coming with minimal concrete plans is fun because it allows you to simply explore and do things at your own pace, having a list of things you may want to do that you can reference is really helpful. There were many times when my friend and I wanted to go out somewhere but didn’t particularly have any destinations or places to go. That made it difficult to decide what we wanted to do and so we ended up just wandering a lot of the time, then realizing there were some cool places we’d seen online that we could have visited and made better use of our limited time here.

Fourth, DO NOT TAKE THE FULL COURSE LOAD! I took three classes, the maximum you can take, during my program at Hanyang even though they warned us not to. After the first few days, I regretted not having dropped one. Each class was three hours long, and we had a one-hour lunch break, but I did not take into account how tiring it would be to actually attend all nine hours of classes plus the commute from my accommodations to the university. All in all, I spent about 12 hours going to class and commuting. This meant that I was usually so tired when I returned from class that I only really had the energy to get dinner and rest. The only saving grace was that we only had class from Monday to Thursday, so there were no classes on Friday. I could still get plenty of exploration in on the weekends, but I do wish I had only taken 2 classes at the most to fully enjoy my time in Seoul.

Aside from things I learned while in Korea, I also have grown more comfortable with myself, with who I am, and my likes and dislikes. I think coming here helped me understand my limits and how to move past those. I was able to spend time outside of my comfort zone without the people I know and love back home, which forced me to be myself around so many different people. I found out things I hadn’t realized about myself before, for example, I am a great Korean BBQ cook, according to my friends, and I’m also pretty good at navigating through places even if I’ve only been there once before. I even became the guide for a group of friends in Hongdae even though I myself had only been there once before. It was quite a confidence boost to know that I could easily lead a group of people around and decide where we could go while ensuring everyone’s safety and making sure they were enjoying themselves. I hadn’t really had the chance to lead a group of people like that back home, but now I know I can.

All in all, this has been a fantastic experience with the program and being a student in South Korea, and I would gladly do it again. I would encourage anyone who’s considering studying abroad even slightly to do it. Even if you think you can’t, look into it a bit more, and there may just be an unexpected way in which you can study abroad! I myself was only able to study abroad because I received two scholarships, so exploring your options and talking to someone about studying abroad can bring into perspective how it can be possible. 

Now my adventure in South Korea continues, and I hope everyone can begin their journey! 

Thank you so much for following my journey!

So Far

The last 4 weeks have been full of adventure and deliciousness! A big goal for me on this trip has been to eat as much delicious food as I can. I have definitely eaten a LOT of amazing food, yet there’s still so much to eat and do. I highly recommend all of the food and places I show below. So, if you’re in Seoul and want some recommendations, maybe some of these will catch your eye!

Food:

First Korean BBQ in South Korea. The staff cooked it for us, and it was really delicious with plenty of side dishes like lettuce, bean sprouts, 3 different types of kimchi (cabbage, chili, and chive kimchi), garlic and plenty of sauces.

A couple of pieces of bread I bought at a subway station vendor on my way home. The one on the right was a cream bread, and the one on the left I chose at random! It had a marmalade filling with, I believe, chestnuts and raisins. It was so large it took me a couple of sittings to actually finish it all, but it was definitely delicious as well. Both of them together cost me about 6,000 won.

Some friends and I visited a restaurant owned by Jin from BTS’s brother called Osseu Seiromusi, which specializes in Japanese cuisine. Specifically in seiromushi (せいろ蒸し) style dishes which is when dishes are steamed in a wooden, usually bamboo, box. It had a really nice atmosphere, and the food was absolutely delicious.

These are some of the dishes we ate at the restaurant. The vegetables were especially delicious after a week plus of eating mainly meats. Vegetables are quite expensive here, so having some steamed vegetables was really refreshing. The roasted sweet potatoes with butter were incredible and definitely a must-have!

A friend and I went to a bingsu cafe called Sul-bing near the university and got injeolmi bingsu(a Korean shaved ice dessert) and some honey butter toast they had. Both were amazing! The bingsu had layers of injeolmi powder, which is finely ground roasted soybean flour. This meant that the entire time we were eating, the flavor stayed and left us satisfied. The honey butter was also very delicious, and the roasted almonds added the perfect nutty flavor.

My roommate and I went to Hongdae, an area nicknamed after Hongik University that is always bustling with live performers busking, shops, clubs, bars, and more. We went to a vegan cafe called The Blue Bread and got their burgers which were also delicious. Though it didn’t taste much like any burger you might think of, and the patty wasn’t an attempt to recreate meat, it was very much so a bean patty, but I still really enjoyed it. There were some pickled onions inside that intensified the taste and made it delicious. I may not have liked it as much without them.

And then, the fried chicken! Fried chicken is a must in Korea. It’s in a different league of its own, and I had the chance to try different kinds at multiple places. The one above is from a chain branch called Kyochon Chicken. We were recommended the honey chicken, so we got that along with the soy garlic, original and yangnyeom chicken. My favorites were definitely the honey chicken and soy garlic, which are very popular for a reason. (Sorry for the meh quality picture, we were very hungry, so this is all I got before we dug in!)

More fried chicken at NooNaHolDak in Hongdae! This one is a bit different. It was bulgogi flavored and had rice cakes in the sauce with fries on the side. 

Some budae jjigae (Army stew) we ate near the Dongdaemun Design Plaza(DDP). A spicy stew that has a variety of hams and sausages, ramen noodles, beans, corn, and more. It may sound like a strange combination, but it really is a must-try if you ever have the opportunity!

A staple of Korean cuisine bossam (sliced pork boiled in spices). It’s typically eaten in a leafy wrap, often lettuce, napa cabbage, or perilla leaves, with a variety of ingredients inside. For example, raw garlic, kimchi, ssam-jang (a spicy paste), chilis, and much more.

Of course, you can’t miss out on cafes when in Seoul, and here’s one I went to! The first two are from a cafe called Geurim Cafe (그림카페), where everything looks like it came right out of a sketchbook. The drinks were great, and the triple chocolate cheesecake I had was even more delicious!

Another dish I highly enjoyed is actually one from an upon restaurant near my accommodations. This is the spicy chicken mayo rice bowl. It is a perfect, super filling dish that was also super convenient. The restaurant is 24 hours, and you can easily order from the kiosk that has an English option, which is perfect after almost 12 hours of classes and commuting. Ready quickly and only ₩6,500! A definite staple in my diet this past month.

Now a few of the places I’ve been!

Hongdae, so many things to do and see! Hongdae is very much one of the places that never sleeps in Seoul. You could go at 2 am and still find places to go. Definitely somewhere you can easily spend a lot of money on everything from clothing, accessories, street food, restaurants, clubs, photo booths, makeup stores, phone cases, etc. Definitely, a must-visit area in Seoul!

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is a beautiful piece of architecture in Seoul. It flows wonderfully and is easy to explore. Definitely many photo opportunities! We explored for about 5 hours and didn’t even have to go into the museums!

Super excited to continue eating and exploring South Korea! Until next time!

Summer in Seoul

Hello and welcome to my month-long adventure in South Korea!

Oh, what a long ride it’s been to get here. I’ve been trying to study abroad for many years, even before attending university. Getting here was a process, but it all became irrelevant once I arrived. I had made it! 18 hours of travel, and I’d landed in South Korea, my first international travel experience, and I did it alone. That in and of itself has honestly increased the confidence I have in myself by quite a lot, but being here these past three weeks, I think I’ve changed for the better, more than I have in a while. 

One of the first things I thought once I landed, after “Woah. I’m in a completely different country halfway across the world now,” was just “It is. So. Hot.” I was definitely not prepared for the humidity in Korea, and it doesn’t help that I arrived right at the beginning of the monsoon season…yes, right at the start of the weeks-long monsoon season. As you can imagine, the humidity has been very present and inescapable since I arrived. When I first arrived I was wearing not only a windbreaker jacket and a hoodie but also a long sleeve shirt. Mistakes were made. I did not look at the weather before coming, and that definitely made my first hours in Seoul an interesting combination of desperate fanning, sweating, and being lost. Disoriented was very much the word I would use to describe my first few hours in Korea. Starting in the airport, though, I learned that communication really is KEY. From getting to the right booth to picking up my Korean SIM card to finding the subway so I could get to my accommodations, I could not have done it without the help of many amazing airport employees. I discovered many kinks in the rough plan I had made to get to my accommodations, but the many sweet employees helped me get there. 

My second day in Korea went much smoother. I arrived late Saturday, June 25th, and my program began Monday, June 27th, so I only had one day to explore, but I definitely did. My friend who lives in Busan came to Seoul to hang out and help me get things I needed that Sunday. We went around my new neighborhood and ate some of the most delicious pajeon 파전 (Korean green onion pancake) I have ever had. It was my first meal in Korea, and I am very glad it was because it was huge and just the perfect amount of crunchy and savory. If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to eat a Korean pancake (jeon 전), I highly suggest you try it. There are many different types like seafood jeon and potato jeon, so there’s something for everyone. I also explored my neighborhood and took some pictures at a photobooth shop with my friend and roommate. All in all a fun, fulfilling day.

Monday came, and so did the beginning of classes. I’m taking 3 classes; each is 3 hours long, so I’m on campus from 8:30 am to 7 pm. My favorite class is hands down, my evening ceramic arts class. This ceramics class is one of the main things I wanted to do with the program and it has been amazing. The professors and student assistants have been wonderful, so patient, and helpful. Working with my hands has also been amazing; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It takes my mind off of anything else, and I can just focus on working with the clay to create something. Having to take the time and be patient with the clay and myself in learning has really helped ease some anxiety I had coming here. I’ve also learned to be more patient with myself because of this. I’m learning to do something I’ve never done before, so of course, I’m not amazing at it from the start! However, I have really learned to be more patient with myself and to see myself in a more positive light since coming to Korea.

An activity we went on, which is basically a field trip included with the program, was to a rail park where we peddled our way across the countryside of a mountainous area, ate dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), played a survival game with bb guns and drove ATVs by the river. The rail park and ATV ride were definitely the highlights of this day because I got to see some of the beautiful scenery Korea has, and simply being out in nature helped me to just exist in the moment and take it all in. Below are some pictures I took of the scenery.

Now I haven’t experienced a lot of culture shock since arriving, but one thing that was a definite shock was how sweet and/or buttery chips are here. I bought some garlic bread flavored chips expecting them to be well, garlicky, but when I ate them, they were very buttery. So buttery and sweet that I couldn’t eat more than a few pieces before needing to stop. The butter was so overpowering I didn’t taste any garlic. Similarly, I bought some nacho cheese-flavored Doritos, hoping they’d be more savory, but when I ate them, those too were sweet. I personally prefer savory and salty foods, especially in chips, so the fact that so many chips are sweet was really shocking. It honestly made me crave chips and snacks from the U.S. a lot more than I ever expected. 

This time in South Korea has not only helped me learn about the country and culture but also about myself. I’ve learned much more about myself these past few weeks in South Korea than I expected. I knew that this experience would help me grow as a person, and it truly has. I’ve discovered once again that the world is really just full of people, people whom I can communicate with regardless of language barriers. One day as I was heading back to my accommodations by myself, I was passing by this little bakery inside the subway station, and it smelt so delicious. Specifically, it smelt like glazed donuts, and I just had to have some. It smelt way too good to pass up, so I didn’t! I went up to the lady and asked her in broken Korean what flavor each bread was, how much they were, and I got a couple of bread pastries! It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as it first seemed. When I first arrived, my roommate and I went together to most places, but now I can easily go around by myself, and navigating using the subway is simple. I’ve learned that I am a lot more capable than I’ve given myself credit for, and it is a lot easier to simply do things now. I don’t have to quadruple-check with myself and others to be sure, I’ve definitely grown to trust myself more these past few weeks, and I’m looking forward to even more growth and experiences!

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