Celebrating Christmas Day in South Korea as an Exchange Student! {12/25/18} NSLI-Y Korean AY

12/25/18 Tuesday

When I woke up Christmas morning, I was a bit dazed and confused. My body slightly ached from having to sleep on the floor and I had no desire to get up and get ready for the day. Seeing everyone in the hostel room with me and the Christmas decorations still scattered around {some hanging by single pieces of tape on the wall} reminded me that it was Christmas. It didn’t feel like Christmas. The red and green balloons on the wall now read “rry hrimas” and that made me smile.

We all woke up a bit after 8:30 am and started getting dressed while also cleaning up the room before 민정쌤 and 소영쌤 arrived. We had boxes upon boxes of trash to be thrown out and our tired bodies struggled putting away all the futons and blankets back into the wardrobes. 민정쌤 brought us all Paris Baguette pastries/breads to have for breakfast but we were all still full from last night’s epic binge to eat anything else this morning.

Once everything was in order, we all wished each other “Merry Christmas” and went on our merry way {see what I did there?} Some students were going to church, the airport {Addie was taking a trip with her host family to 제주도}, out to brunch, while others were just returning to their host family homes to spend time with them. The latter was the group I belonged to.

I trudged my way back up to 고양시 carrying my overnight bag and gifts in hand. When I was walking back to my host family’s apartment, this random Korean man rode past me on his bike and shouted “Hello!” at me in English. I was just listening to music on my phone with headphones making my way back home when he did this. There were other people walking in front of me and him yelling made them look at me too. I immediately put my head down to cringe at how awkward this interaction was. It was very uncomfortable. After he shouted out to me, I began to think about how I hate being a foreigner in Korea. I started to think about the fact that it was Christmas but that I wasn’t with my family… I was in Korea, alone. This made me cry, so yes I walked the rest of the way home crying. When I approached the apartment building, the security guard actually came out of the small outside office to look at me (I assume he could tell I was crying) but did not say anything. Before I entered the home, I wiped my eyes and took some deep breaths. I was sad; I was homesick. However, I did not want to bring that into the house. I wanted to have a good Christmas, and so I was going to try my best to do just that!

My host sisters opened their presents and seemed really excited to use them! I bought them Japanese Poppin Cookin set which they have never done before! (I was surprised because they are so crafty–I figured they may have already done them.) I bought a sushi making kit as well as one for fast food. Basically, the whole point of the “toy”, if you will, is to make edible candies out of powder (using only your hands, water, and sometimes the microwave). I was worried that the taste would be really weird… but when I was making them with my host sisters the process itself was fun. And, some of the candies were very tasty–albeit some tasted really bad…

My host family also got me a Christmas gift which took me by surprise; they did not have to get me anything! They have given me plenty while hosting me during these past three months. I received a really sparkly, rainbow planner for the upcoming new year. My host sisters, host brother, and host mom wrote me really sweets letter/cards. I will always treasure them!~

I also got to video chat with my mother on Christmas Eve (for them) as my family was heading to a Christmas Eve Party. We talked for a bit while they were in the car and it was very difficult for me to have a good conversation with her at first (we haven’t talked in so long) because all my siblings were in my room screaming, singing, playing, etc. I had to tell my mom to repeat her sentences so often because I could not hear her over everyone else in my room. Though, I got to show my mom all my siblings which I could tell she enjoyed. She kept asking me to translate when I would say things to my siblings. I made fun of my younger brothers hair and my host sisters agreed that he is in dire need of a haircut (sorry Gabe! Love you <3) My mom sent me a package for Christmas as well as ordered me two things from Amazon; however, only one of the items from Amazon came in on time so I opened that in front of my mom. It was a stuffed plush of Haku from Spirited Away in his dragon form. I immediately wanted to tear up~ It was so cute! I have so many stuffed animals with me here in Korea now! Wow… I will definitely have to ship them back to America because I will not have space in my suitcases.

The rest of the afternoon was very chill. I spent most of the time in my room learning vocabulary on Quizlet (Even though this would be a part of my winter break, I needed to keep studying because there were only two days left till our End of the Month Unit Test for December!) For dinner, we had Ramen which I thought was quite hilarious. Maybe because when I think of Christmas dinner, images of turkey or ham or roasts pop up as well as other sides like mashed potatoes or vegetables, etc. We were literally having ramen. Though, it was great and tasty!


After we ate dinner, we left around 5 pm to walk around an outdoor area that had a lot of shops before watching the new Disney movie. In Korea, it is called 호두까기 인형 (just The Nutcracker) but I believe the official English title is The Nutcracker and the 4 Realms.


I really enjoyed the movie! It was a cute Christmas movie for the family and I would definitely watch it again around the same time next year. (Comparing it to the cringe-fest that was the Netflix Original Christmas movie I saw the other day with my host siblings… this movie deserved an Oscar for sure!) Once the movie was over, we went to an arcade for a little bit rather than heading straight home. I found these sticker booths and I got the urge to take sticker booth photos with my host sisters. I told them my idea and dragged them into one of the booths. We did not let any of the adults know so we tried to hurry up in case they were looking for us (as they could not see us from outside of the booth). Taking and Decorating the photos was very very fun. We kept shouting trying to get cute poses and as the time hurried us along, we kept panicking. The machine edited our faces and made our eyes super huge! I am not going to lie; I looked like a creepy alien! But either way, it was a lot of fun and I am super glad that I have this physical memento to remind me of this day and of my host sisters


And that was my Christmas in Korea!~ It started off quite emotional but after talking to my family back home and spending time with my host family, I realized how many things I have that I should be grateful for. Christmas away from home (especially since I am just a teenager) was difficult; however, I would not trade it for anything. It was a good learning experience and I am happy to know that I am growing as an individual. I may not have been able to partake in the same traditions I have in the past, but Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are–as long as you are surrounded by those who love and support you~

Thank you for reading!

  • Emma 엠마

NSLI-Y Christmas Party at Youth Hostel in Seoul (12/24/18) NSLI-Y Korean AY

12/24/18 Monday

Emotionally, I knew that Christmas Eve was going to be a very difficult time for me–the holidays (when you are away from your family and friends) are always difficult. However, the morning was quite busy so I was pretty distracted for most of it. I needed to finish buying gifts for the Better World Staff/my resident directors (주연쌤, 소야쌤, and 민정쌤) as well as my Korean teacher so after taking a shower, getting my presents in order, and packing things for our Christmas party, I went to 홍대 to complete my Christmas shopping.

I wanted to buy macaroons from Blanc Bakery, but when I got there, they were literally out of every single flavor except for passion fruit I think? So I skipped out on that bakery and went to Daiso to buy dry erase markers for my Korean teacher. (I wanted to get her a variety of colors to use during class.) And eventually, I ended up walking several blocks to a Tous Les Jours to find macaroons for everyone (green tea, lemon, and grape flavors). A bit before noon, I was able to meet up with Katie at a cafe where I wrapped my gifts and memorized my Korean class presentation while Katie worked on letters for her teacher and then later did a part of her homework too.

During Korean class, we just reviewed most of the new grammar points that would be appearing on our monthly test. We mostly just went through the points and created example sentences to go along with them. My teacher seemed to really like the thoughtfulness of the gift (Though I know they are not the best quality seeing that they were only 1,000 Won dry erase markers from Daiso). She also said that my card was really well written! I did upload it on HelloTalk to have it edited… but most of it was written by me without any translating it! So I was happy to know that I did pretty well–especially with using formal language.


I also gave my gifts to the other Better World 쌤s (which included tissues, hand sanitizers, and hot/cold packs along with a macaroon) and they seemed to really like the letters too. 주연쌤 and 민정쌤 gave me some of the warmest hugs which made me feel very happy–I needed a hug at that moment!


Once class was over, we were on our way to begin celebrating Christmas with a Christmas party at a hostel with the rest of the NSLI-Y students. Josh, Jacquelyn, and I walked with 소야쌤 to the subway station and from there we went to the hostel we would be spending the night at. We had to all anxiously wait in the lobby for awhile because Kaitlyn, Harmony, and Hunter were decorating the room with Christmas decorations.

When we finally got to go up to the room, we were all beyond amazed at the decorations; they had done an amazing job turning the room into a Christmas wonderland. They used garlands and string lights to make a tree on the wall that looked so pretty~ We all placed our presents under the makeshift tree which made it look that much more real. (It eventually fell off the wall about 40 minutes into the party but it was nice while it lasted!) They also made stockings for every single person and hung them (along with garland) along the windowsill. (There was also a photo opportunity made with wrapping paper and red and green balloons.) They definitely worked so hard in preparing the decorations (and all the games) and I could not thank those three enough for making our Christmas special!

party 2


We were all told to bring some snacks to the party so we had so much food to go around (including the pizza and fried chicken that 민정쌤 ordered for us). They also bought hot chocolate packs so that we could make some later in the night. Luckily, there was a water dispenser that had both hot and cold water at the hostel so during the middle of the night we all went out into the hallway carrying our cups and packets in order to make hot chocolate.

We dug into the food first because we were all so hungry after Korean class. After eating, we did our secret Santa gift exchange. We started off with Katie who gave her gift to Harmony and then from there, we all passed out our gifts until the circle finally ended up coming back around to Katie with a gift from Mckenzie.

party 3

My secret Santa was June and she got me some of the best gifts ever! She must have asked around about my likes because she was able to figure out that my favorite animals are pigs and bought me pig-themed items from Daiso and Butter. I received a pair of pig slippers, a pig coin purse, and this big round pig stuffed animal. (Katie actually gave me the same pig stuffed animal but in a mini size for my birthday.) They were all very cute–Thank you June! After I got my gift, I gave my secret Santa present to Jack after explaining that it was based on an inside joke. When he opened the gift and pulled out the bigfoot plush, everyone started laughing and asking what the joke was which led Katie and me to explain the joke to the group. He passed around the stuffed animal to others in the group and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. I know Jack will not really use it? But I hope he appreciates the effort I put into the gift and the thought that went into it!

But also I need to bring up the fact that Josh and Liam came to the Christmas party and changed into fuzzy pink pajamas made for females. It was so funny seeing them looking so ridiculous. I could not take them seriously. Especially, when I looked at how short the pajama pants were. They are always pulling something crazy! (민정쌤 definitely enjoyed taking photos of them!)


After the gift exchange, we began to play the Christmas version of Hot Potato (All planned out and prepared by Harmony). It involved passing around this huge present in a circle and whenever the music stopped and it landed in the hands of one of the NSLI-Y students, they would have to unwrap a layer. Each layer had little notes of what the person needed to do (both good and bad things). So the present started off as this huge box and then with each unwrapping it got smaller and smaller until it ended up being an ornament filled with candy. This game was so much fun and the tasks were really funny too. Here are some examples:

Say Ho Ho Ho after every sentence for the rest of the game

Wear this Christmas Head Accessory for the rest of the game

Wrap someone up as a present (anyone of your choosing)

Get wrapped up like a snowman by the person on your right

Get fed something by the person on your left (while blindfolded)

Sing a Christmas song (song choice by the person on your right)

Call your Mom sing Silent Night to her (no context)

Create and perform a 12 Days of NSLI-Y Christmas

Etc etc etc

The best moments of the game were definitely when Shada wrapped up 민정쌤 as a present (and even added a bow to the top of her head– the one from my present to Jack), Kaitlyn turning Katie into a snowman with a roll of toilet paper, and last but not least, June calling her mom back in America (it was probably like 5 am on the East Coast) to sing Silent Night. I was so surprised that her mom picked up and her grogginess and delirious responses just added to the whole moment. (We all also tried so hard to keep our composure and not make too much noise by laughing.) What a great game!


After playing hot present (would that be the name of the game?), we started a blindfolded cookie decorating contest. There were two rounds of 4 people and at the end of the contest, Addie and Jenna proved to be tied as the winners. During this time, Kaitlyn and I discovered that the lighting in the bathroom was perfect for selfies so it is safe to assume that we took advantage (because yes, yes we did).


Eventually, it got close to 9 pm and so the 쌤s were getting ready to leave us for the rest of night after giving us instructions for tonight as well as tomorrow morning. She brought back 닭발 (chicken feet) and other foods that are commonly eaten with it as well as a light up Christmas cake (This was her Christmas gift to us~) Mckenzie, Katie, Shada, and I cut the cake after we sang happy birthday but switching out the words “happy birthday” for “Merry Christmas.” I recently got to try chicken feet when we had the exchange day camp with the all-girls tourism high school and besides the weird texture of the cartilage, it really was not bad at all. But for some reason, these were literally the spiciest things I have ever eaten. Even though I am not Korean, I consider myself someone who can eat spicy food well. I really love 김치찌개 for example. Though that is the case, this one piece (this one foot of a chicken) burned my mouth for about 15 minutes after I ate it. I literally almost drank an entire water bottle trying to calm my mouth down because it was literally burning and my eyes teared up so badly. Yeah, I will say that my experiences with 닭발 have really not been too good to me.

Once we stuffed ourselves with more food, snacks, and cake, we ended up splitting up into the two hostel rooms (one was for those who planned to stay up late while the other one was going to be for those that plan on actually getting some sleep). The party room (AKA the #teamnosleep room) consisted of Harmony, Shada, Jenna, Josh, Liam, Jacquelyn, Addie, Jack, Hunter, and me. At first, we all just hung out, sitting in a circle–mostly on our phones–chatting about all sorts of stuff. This also ended up turning into a limbo contest somehow?  Either Hunter or Josh won; I can not remember exactly.

party 1

Eventually, Home Alone was turned on and having seen it the day prior with my host family, I left with Josh to visit the girls in the other room. They were all chilling in this lounge area (as Jacquelyn and Mckenzie went to bed early) making ramen (which they purchased from the vending machine). I did not eat ramen (too much cake I tell you!) but I did share banana milk with Kaitlyn. For some reason, the quiet and calm atmosphere made me start thinking about the fact that it was Christmas (it was past midnight at this point) and that I was not with my family–my first Christmas away from family. This made me start crying so Kaitlyn and I hurried over to the stairwell before anyone else could notice and I started balling my eyes out. Kaitlyn never properly celebrated Christmas but she could still understand my feelings and helped comfort me. (Thank you for the hug Kaitlyn; I am definitely a hugger <3) I was crying and crying standing in that stairwell at 3 am. I eventually stopped crying and turned to laughter when I looked out the window to see that the roads were still filled with cars at 3 in the morning on Christmas day. Kaitlyn thought I was going crazy as I explained that it was funny to see that Seoulites really do not sleep. This led us to talk about the fact that they stay up late but sleep in (a lot of places do not open till 10 or 11 am– even breakfast places sometimes) which distracted me for the moment from all my emotions.

Then, maybe because we were deliriously tired, a big group of us decided to go outside and do a cinnamon roll hug like the one we did in 안동 as well as just huddle together and talk for a while. It was so very cold outside but we still decided to hang out there for quite a while? Yeah, I do not know what was going through our minds either.


Jack Gives Liam a Piggy Back Ride

Eventually, it was 4:30 am and we laid out all the futons on the floor and got ready for bed. Luckily, we did not have to get up until around 8:30 am so we would not completely be lacking sleep tomorrow morning but… it definitely was not the doctor recommended 8 hours of sleep. But I was happy. Although, I missed my mother extremely and the traditions that we had (that I knew would not be completed the following day…) but I was happy to be surrounded by all these amazing individuals that genuinely made me feel supported and happy. This was not a typical Christmas Eve; it was my first Christmas Eve away from family and my first one abroad–in Korea. However, it will be one to remember~

That is all for this blog post~ I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and spent it with ones you love (even if it that does not include your family). I hope that you surrounded yourself with people that will always love and support you this Christmas~ Thank you for reading~ Till next time.

  • Emma 엠마


Catching up with Korean Friends in Sinchon (신촌), Board Game Cafe, and Brunch (12/22-12/23/18) NSLI-Y AY

12/22/18 Saturday

I met up with Kaitlyn early in the morning at 홍대 in order for us to both finish off our Christmas gift shopping for our teachers and our host families. Before we got down to business, we tried getting brunch at this place called Buttermilk that is really well known. We ended up getting there about an hour after it opened. After a wrong turn and some issues with Kakao maps, we eventually found it but others apparently did too as there was a huge line of people waiting outside. Well now that that place was out of the question, we ended up going to Travel Maker and getting brunch there. (Though when we did arrive, there were no available seats so we did have to wait for a little bit in order for the employees to clean up one of the tables.)

I was craving pancakes and was able to get blueberry pancakes while Kaitlyn got a breakfast set with a little bit of everything. (These were my second set of pancakes this week; I am living my best life here in Korea!) After breakfast, we visited the new seven-floor Daiso here in 홍대. I saw the building in the distance and told Kaitlyn to follow me but she kept saying no, that it was in the opposite direction; however, I kept pulling her over to me. Eventually, we saw the huge, tall building and Kaitlyn laughed. I do not know what I am talking about most of the time… but I do have a good memory– I remember seeing the construction for it during the past week. We got through every single floor and filled up a basket at the end of it (Though I will admit that most of the things in our basket were mine–guilty as charged). I bought a gift for my host brother, our program resident directors, some gifts for Katie, and some treats here and there for my host sisters as well as me. Also, because this new year is the year of the pig, Daiso has this really cute series with a pig at its center. If this is not already known… well, I am obsessed with pigs! It took so much self-control for me not to buy everything (I also thank Kaitlyn for holding me back). Though I did cave in and bought pig stickers, a pig USB cord, and a pink pig blanket.

After Daiso, we made our way to Morning Glory and Artbox to buy the final few things for our gifts (I needed to buy Christmas cards, tape, and wrapping paper for everything). On the way there, Kaitlyn took me to this coffee place called Venti that has been hyped up by Shada and Jenna since the beginning of the program and now I know that the hype is totally deserved! The place serves drinks in a venti size (yes the same large size you would get from Starbucks) for super cheap! I am talking approximately $3 to $5! I ended up getting a green tea frappe and it was super delicious and only 3,500 won (less than $3.50). When we left Artbox, we realized that it was almost 2 pm and we needed to hurry and rush to get to 신촌 on time. We were planning to meet two girls from 선정관광고등학교 for a movie. We ended up being late meeting them and instead of meeting at the station like originally decided, they told us to come straight to the movie theater. Kaitlyn and I freaked out about the fact that they thought that we could find it by ourselves at first but… we were able to find it pretty easily. No problem there.


We gave up on the movie as there were no seats for the Nutcracker movie (which is what we wanted to watch) as well as the next showing of The Grinch or Aquaman. And when I mean seats, I mean enough seats as there were 4 of us and we needed 4 seats all next to each other in a row. So instead of watching a movie, we decided to go and get some food. I was not hungry as honestly, the green tea frappe really filled me up and we also had brunch only a couple hours earlier but was ready to go hang out with everyone. We went to this popular 떡볶이 place and got a set with rice cakes, fish cakes, beef, 만두, as well as a side of these weird butter garlic fries and some lemonade. Everything was very very delicious! We talked over lunch and it was really fun updating each other. 연우 also brought this bunny hat that she received as a present after doing some Christmas volunteer work (something similar to toys for tots). This hat has been so trendy in Korea; it is being sold everywhere and so many kids are wearing them. It is not just a hat though, if you squeeze it at a certain spot, the bunny ears move too–very cute. Also, we talked in mostly Korean which made me feel really really good! I was able to (successfully) explain to our friends my secret Santa gift to Jack–which included explaining what BigFoot is.

After we stuffed our faces with delicious Korean food, we walked around the streets of 신촌 because they are still having a festival there that includes lots of street stalls selling handicrafts and food (things like candles, meringue cookies, caricatures (but usually in the style of webtoon drawings rather than the American style of accentuating features on the face), dream catchers, jewelry, etc. After walking through the entire thing, we stopped to watch a bit of a performance.

In the end, we decided to go to a board game cafe which made me really excited! I have never been to a board game cafe. I did not go to one during my summer program and although it has been 3.5 months in Korea this year, I have yet (well before this moment) to go to a board game cafe! We found this place on the 6th floor of this building and 연우 decided to make a bet. We decided to play a 4 way round of rock, paper, scissors, and the two losers would have to take the stairs all the way. It was 연우 and 윤지’s idea and Kaitlyn was totally against it… but guess who won and got to take the elevator? Kaitlyn and me! We got to the 6th floor clutching our sides as we were laughing so hard. We had to wait at the top of the stairs for a while as we watched our friends huffing and puffing while climbing the last set of stairs. It was okay though; they would get back at us with punishments during the board games.

The place that we went to was really nice. There were shelves upon shelves with board games. There was such a variety that there were several that I had never even seen before let alone knew how to play. The place also had this fancy looking bar set up that served drinks and snacks to enjoy while playing the games. The seats of the establishment were these red velvet couches–so fancy!

We played a lot of classic games like Jenga and the Pirate game (there is a pirate in a barrel and you insert swords into it until he pops out) but then we played games I had never even tried before like Da Vinci’s Code and Rummikub. The last two were specifically fun because they involved a lot of thinking and strategy. I definitely want to play these games again to see how much better I will be at them since I am more clear on the rules now. For punishments, we would whack the head of the loser with a rubber hammer (we also had a bald, old man wig but only 연우 put that on for fun).

After staying at the board game cafe for 2 hours, we said goodbye and parted ways. It was so nice seeing our friends again and Kaitlyn and I were both so grateful for them reaching out and wanting to meet up~  연우와 유지~ 사랑하고 고마워~

I got home from the exhausting day out and ended up playing Rummikub again but with my host sister and mother. The whole family was playing the game when I first arrived home. When I saw it, I exclaimed excitedly that I had just played the game for the first time that day and that it was really fun! We played one round and I ended up getting second place–not bad.


The rest of my Saturday night was literally spent wrapping gifts for all my host siblings and the 쌤s (teachers…) at Better World. The wrapping paper I bought at Daiso ended up being see-through! So I had to wrap every single gift twice because I knew my host sisters would try to look through the paper to try and figure it out. (And boy was I right, they did that anyway! Even with it wrapped twice… they tried!)

12/23/18 Sunday

Not much to talk about when it comes to this day… I spent most of the day just studying or lounging around in the living room with my host siblings. We did end up picking up a Christmas cake and eating that after lunch. Normally, my host family wouldn’t eat the Christmas cake till Christmas Eve but they knew I wouldn’t be at home for that {because of our NSLI-Y Christmas party} so they bought it early to eat together~ I thought this gesture was really kind and I was grateful for being placed with such a thoughtful host family. The days we have together are now numbered so I need to remember to stay grateful and enjoy the time left.

At dinner, I told my host family that my favorite Christmas movie is Santa Claus {the series itself but particularly the first movie} with Tim Allen. They had never seen it so during dinner they were looking up the actors and checking if it was available on Netflix and so you can guess what that meant… we watched Santa Clause together later that night. Or well, it was mostly me watching it while my siblings were on their tablets or reading comic books. Randomly when my host mom came into the kitchen for some tea, she exclaimed: “It looks like Emma is the only one having fun.” I just truly love that movie~ Glad I got to share it with them. Although the movie was a bit of a bust for them, the kids really enjoyed the blooper reel at the end of the movie. We kept rewinding the clips over and over because we could not stop laughing.


That is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed! Follow my blog for more~

  • Emma 엠마

Tour of a Korean Broadcasting Building & End of Year Orchestra and Choir Concert (12/20-12/21/18) NSLI-Y AY

12/20/18 Thursday

I would be skipping Korean class today in order to go to an SBS 방송 (translates directly to a broadcast by the Korean company SBS). I did not really know what to expect but I ended up speaking with my Korean teacher about it and she allowed me to skip class to attend. (My host siblings also went to school and then got out early so that they could also come.) The morning was simply spent studying and relaxing. My host dad also brought me this really delicious red bean bun as a snack which helped give me the energy needed to get through my workbook pages.

With my host family, we drove about 45 minutes to an SBS building (not really sure which building or station (?) as there must be multiple in 서울). We hung around on the first floor for a while until our tour guide was ready which was a bit awkward because all the security guards were staring at us. I mean I know that is their job? But it still was weird and I felt pretty uncomfortable. In the building, there was a taping of a show happening. The two men that were hosting the show were popular comedians. I recognized one as having been a member of the Hello Counselor cast: 김태균. We got to listen to that for a bit before moving on. The tour guide showed us around some of the floors in order to see rooms where things are edited, monitored, planned, etc. We got to go into one of the broadcasting rooms and played around with the equipment for a bit. I think one of the coolest parts of the tour was that we got to out onto the floor of the SBS News Studio! Seeing all the cameras and the lighting still up and the fancy news table and chairs were really interesting. I have never been in a studio before or in any area where things are filmed so it was a very cool experience.

At the end of the tour, we got to watch videos of other things that SBS is in charge of like dramas and sports and such. They had these life-size posters of popular dramas like “My Love from Another Star,” ”Heirs,” as well as ”Secret Garden.” My host dad was so surprised to hear that I had seen Secret Garden. He exclaimed that it was one of Korea’s most famous dramas, but I guess because it is quite old (I think from 2008 or 2007?) he was shocked to know that I had seen it.

After our tour ended, we picked up some groceries from the Lotte Mall across the street before heading back home for our lunch/dinner. While we were eating dinner, I also found out that our plans for the day were not over–we would also be going to watch an end of the year concert by the local 고양시 orchestra and choir (including a youth choir, too). The performance was honestly really great. The youth choir sang a lot of Christmas songs like the classic “All I Want for Christmas is You” as well as the less loved but just as widely known “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen while the orchestra played a lot of very popular songs. (I am not knowledgeable on the songs but I definitely recognized them from here and there. I think one has a title about some bumble bees possibly? Not too sure… but I enjoyed the performance a lot!)


At night (and I am talking past midnight), I ended up calling my mom back in America because I suddenly was hit with a wave of severe homesickness (probably because being with my host family for the whole day made me miss my own family). It started off being just a call to update each other but then my mom hit me with that “What do you miss the most from America?” which ultimately led to me crying. While I was on the phone with her–crying and sniffling–I heard noise from outside my bedroom door. I am assuming that one of my host parents woke up to use the bathroom and definitely heard me crying in my bedroom… awkward…but oh well.


12/21/18 Friday

I woke up Friday morning so happy to be on break~ I haven’t been going to school all week but today (perhaps because there was no Korean class and because the weekend was approaching–and the holidays) I just felt so good. After I woke up that morning, I filmed a quick house tour (mostly just of my room–explaining every small little knick-knack too. It was quite extra.)


I ended up going to a cafe in 고양시 with Katie to study Korean while she worked mostly on college applications. We were there for several several hours before we left to grab lunch at a convenience store. (We love giving our wallets a break with 2 dollar lunches!)

I had gone home quite early after saying goodbye to Katie as my host dad and host mom had plans to go out and see a musical late at night. I was going to stay with my host siblings and watch a movie with them. My host mom brought back popcorn from the movie theater and made us all hot chocolate–she went all out for us. After they left, we ended up just picking out a movie from Netflix. I believe it was a Netflix Original but the name is slipping from my mind right now. It was your basic cheesy Christmas movie but it was nice to be able to watch it with my siblings. After it was over, we continued the marathon with one of the best Christmas movies of all time: Polar Express. When the hot chocolate scene came on, you know I was singing along.

Also, my older host sister showed me this app she has been using recently to practice English which involves dubbing her voice over clips from movies, tv episodes, commercials, etc. I ended up giving it a try too and dubbed my voice over a clip of Secret Garden. It actually turned out really well! I can whine in Korean pretty well!

And that was my Friday night~ I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Follow my blog for more posts about my study abroad experience in South Korea with NSLI-Y! (As I am posting this… I have less than 3 weeks left in Korea… Oh, where has the time gone? It is feeling VERY bittersweet…)

  • Emma 엠마


NSLI-Y Reunion at Yonsei University (연세 대학교 – 신촌) and Cute Cafes (12/18-12/19/18) NSLI-Y AY

12/18/18 Tuesday

Tuesday was productive! I might have slept in a little too late… but besides that, I was able to do laundry which was desperately needed for a while now. However, due to my productivity mixed with not managing my time well, I was late meeting up with Katie to study at a cafe before class. I did end up getting there eventually! We just hung out at TwoSome Place for around an hour trying to cram study for our quizzes and I attempted to finish my workbook. (Attempted… did not finish, unfortunately).


We both got lunch from the 편의점 and hung out at the youth center while eating. I felt like I had not seen everyone in so long even though we were all together for activities on Saturday. One highlight from then was the moment Kaitlyn told us her ridiculous dream about program dismissal after she walked off the elevator shaking around a cup of yogurt and granola yelling program dismissal in a booming voice. She told us she had a dream that 민정쌤 came up to her while she was eating yogurt and granola and told her to pack up her bags because she was being dismissed from the program and being sent back to America. Kaitlyn was shocked and asked why and 민정쌤 pulled out the contract that we all signed stating that we would abide by all NSLI-Y rules and pointed to a clause in really really really fine print that read “participants shall not eat yogurt and granola.” Everyone in the room erupted in laughter at her story. It was fun and I will never be able to forget it (especially whenever I eat yogurt).


Korean class today was pretty good as well. We actually learned a grammar point that I studied (partly) the week before. I have been wanting to know how to express hypothetical situations (ㄴ/는다면), so I self-studied it. Because of this, I found the class a bit easier as I was able to follow along. I also studied the new chapter’s vocab which helped immensely, too. Besides that, nothing about the class was too memorable. We did have some fun conversations about winning the lottery, becoming invisible, and such. We talked about pollution and the melting ice glaciers in the North and South Pole which made me feel like I was somewhat good at Korean seeing that I could understand that conversation and add my two cents. Positive Vibes.

During one of the breaks, I went with Josh to this cafe (I think it is called Starlight–별빛) and the barista talked to us and asked us about Korean class–it was really cute. Josh goes there every Monday and Tuesday to buy coffee and I can see why. The prices were pretty good and the atmosphere was super adorable! They also had rainbow cake! I definitely want to try that sometime~ I will have to bring Katie.

I went home right away after class but as soon as I sat down in front of my desk at home, my host mom calls me to tell me that we will be eating Chinese food out. She sent me the address and told me to use the internet to find it. I was confident that I could do it once I realized how close it was (A big thanks to Kakao Maps), and I eventually figured out that we had been there once prior around the time of my younger host sister’s birthday. I waited outside the restaurant for a bit because my host family was coming back from getting photos taken. When I saw my host dad and eldest host sister from the corner of my eye, I was so relieved. Finally, I could escape the cold (and the stares from the other passersby). We all shared some 짜장면, 짬뽕, and 탕수육. Everything was very delicious.


While we were eating, I goofed around with my host sisters. They kept mimicking my movements and what I said in order to annoy me (glad to know that children all around the world have the same annoying tactics). I also taught them how to drink tea like British royalty (pinky up!).

12/19/18  Wednesday

(Song – Back in Time (Lyn))

Today I met up with Addie after she had her 연세 interview (She is trying to get admitted there for university! If things work out well, she will be in Korea for the next 4 years! UPDATE: She got in! Full scholarship and everything!) to hang out at a cafe and get some work done. I have finally downloaded Mango Plate (I believe it is comparable to Yelp? If that is even used in America?) which shows you the best-reviewed cafes and restaurants in the area. Using that app, Addie found this tiny cafe on the second floor of this building which served pretty expensive drinks but the atmosphere and cookies were worth it. Actually, when we were trying to find the cafe, the stairs up to it were pretty sketchy, to be honest. The cafe interior reminded me of the basement of a British bar (not that I actually have experience in that type of location). All the tables had red plaid tablecloths and the music that was playing was strictly classical. It was really nice though~ Addie and I sat at the windowsill and enjoyed the good desserts and drinks while people watching in between studying.


Addie and I studied and were mostly productive for around 5 hours! Yeah, I am not kidding. We truly grinded~ I finished so many workbook pages, edited some blog posts, and memorized lots and lots of vocabulary. When 6:00 pm rolled around, we made our way to the 연세 university campus to meet up with NSLI-Y Summer 2016 Alumna Adilene. We got there about 15 minutes early (and she ended up being a little bit late) so Addie walked with me through campus. She showed me some of the buildings and this one statue. Previous to today, I had never been on the campus and it felt really cool being able to walk around even if it was only for a few minutes. I have not had the opportunity to visit many college campuses (less than a handful) so I still feel in awe whenever I walk on a huge campus. Seeing busy students walk by–the hustle and bustle of everything–makes me excited and terrifies me at the same time!

Eventually, Adilene showed up and we went and had dinner at Kyochon Chicken. While we were studying, Addie and I realized that that restaurant was right in front of the cafe and once we spotted it, we could not help but crave chicken. After eating some delicious chicken (Honey & Soy Garlic), we updated each other on our own lives and reminisced on our pasts–just like my meeting with Madeline. Wow, so many meetings with old friends this week! I am so grateful to have met so many amazing people these past few years~ Adilene goes to school in the states but attended 연세 for this semester to complete her year of study abroad. (For her next semester, she will be attending a university in Tokyo, Japan!) Catching up was very nice~ I hope we can meet up very soon (Either again in Korea if she comes back while she is in Japan, or in NYC during the summer/school year~)

That is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed~ Subscribe to my blog for more posts about my travels in South Korea as a part of my gap year before university! Thanks for reading!

  • Emma 엠마

Pancake Brunch, Dinner with NSLI-Y Summer RD, and New Host Family Information {12/17/18} NSLI-Y AY

12/17/18 Monday

Today was the first day of winter break for Katie and me! We planned to start it off with a bang!! And what better way to accomplish that than with a pancake brunch? (This is a hypothetical question but even if you did answer, I feel like I can be assured that you would say nothing because…well, pancakes!) Katie and I went to Flapjack Pantry which is a breakfast/brunch place really close to the Better World Office. 민정쌤 recommended it to us when we first arrived in Korea, so I have been wanting to try it out since. Katie had gone last month with Jacqulyn and Liam and with her stamp of approval, we went.


We shared a plate of chocolate chip pancakes and a side of fries. Everything was quite delicious. Although my local diner still serves up some of the best chocolate chip pancakes I have ever tasted, these were pretty good too. (Though, I take points off for the fake chocolate syrup drizzled over the top. I would have much rather preferred straight up chocolate chips.) The fries were honestly the best part because they were not sweet! What a concept! (Subtle shade to the majority of fries in Korea)


Lovely Painting at the brunch place

After brunch, we went to the Better World Office to cheat them of their wifi and study in my classroom rather than going to a cafe and having to pay for an expensive drink for only an hour or so of study time. When we got to the office, there was no one there. We looked around and were worried that it was a bad idea to come early but then we realized they were on lunch and in the break room. After a very awkward interaction with 민정쌤 and 소영쌤, Katie and I studied vocab together in the classroom.


In Korean class, I felt good– useful even. I had looked over the grammar points before class so there were not any moments when I felt confused trying to piece together my teacher’s explanations of the meaning behind grammar points. I also memorized all the vocabulary from the chapter the night before, so I found the example sentences and dialogues easier to understand the first time through. And, when 민정쌤 came in to observe, I was able to do a good job in creating example sentences. I even joked around at one point. We were using the grammar point 나 보다 to speculate why Jacquelyn’s voice was gone. Josh said that she might have caught a cold. In a moment of random confidence for me, I shout out, “Or last night she went to a 노래방!” Everyone laughed and I was glad that I allowed myself to speak my mind even if it was just for that one sentence in Korean class– stepping stones.

After class, we had our bi-weekly meeting, so 3반 made their way over to the youth center for all of 민정쌤’s announcements. She updated us on the Christmas party, our reflections that were due on Thursday, and how the rest of December was looking (schedule-wise). She shared what days each high school would be having off for winter break and what to tell our host families regarding our plans for the 24th and 25th of December. After the meeting, everyone that would be switching host families stuck around and were given our new placement information. However, before she handed out the sheets of paper, she started off with a huge disclaimer. She said that it was really hard to find host families that were not millions of miles away from 홍대 or our host high schools. She said that she could really only find one host family in 서울 that was a decent distance from Korean classes. She brought up the fact that so many host families were applying from really distant parts of Korea like 파주 (Not quite the boonies of Korea but might as well be). While walking to the center, I was joking with Josh and Jacquelyn about being placed in Paju because I was already in 고양시. I was 100 percent joking! (Foreshadowww)

When she passed out all our papers, everyone started screaming and groaning as we all looked at our commute times. 50 minutes here and hour and a half over there. 민정쌤 was not kidding. Everyone was so far!

My new host family lived closest to a station on the 경의중앙 subway line (mint line) also known as the hell line (by more people than just me). It is such a terrible subway line because trains come pretty infrequently so sometimes you will have to wait upwards of 15 to 20 minutes for a train and because it comes so infrequently, it is always pretty full. I refuse to ride it during rush hour! I am sorry… but I would rather risk cutting it close to curfew than getting stuffed in a train car feeling like a sardine in a can. The distance from Korean classes to my new host family’s house will actually be about the same as it is now. Even though it is technically farther, there is no transfer (because transferring onto the 경의중앙 line is worse than simply riding it) so it will take about the same time to ride the line down to 홍대. However, to 하나고… that is another story. I will now be 42 minutes from school which requires me to take a train about 25 minutes earlier than I do now… and with walking… I definitely can no longer wake up at 6 am… (and I thought I had it better off than I did in America for high school… looks like I am going back to 5:30 am alarms!). But even though the commute is less than satisfactory, I am excited for my actual family!

I will have two host sisters that are 16 and 20 years old. I have never had a host family made up of older siblings before, so I am excited about that experience~ I can already imagine getting close with my sisters and doing things together~ Going shopping, going out to eat together, going to cafes to study, I am imagining everything. Should I also add that they have a dog? I will have a pet! Yes!! I think this family will be a lot of fun–hopefully. I will definitely make the most of it.

Once all our host family information was settled, I left with Katie to go to 이화 to meet up with our summer RD Madeline! She was an RD for both NSLI-Y 8 Summer (2016) and NSLI-Y 9 (2017). We met up with her in Korea because she is completing her Master’s Degree here at 이화여대. She has one more semester left of school so she will actually be leaving Korea around the same time we do. We went out to a 보쌈 place that she recommended and it was actually really delicious! (I would definitely come back again!)

We talked about our life after NSLI-Y and what we are doing now on the AY Program. We ranted to her about Korean classes and our life at 하나고 while she told us all about going to school and her plans for returning to the states and getting a job teaching Korean hopefully at middle school or high school level. We also talked about all the students she has met since the end of our program and I was surprised to find out that she has met so many! (Mostly from my program). There were even people I would never have expected! It was really nice catching up with her and it did not feel like it had been more than two years since I last saw her. I really enjoyed being able to chat with her and having Katie there was also really nice~ We also brought up JT (my other summer RD) whom she has not had a chance to see in a while… Addie and I are going to try to set up a meet up between JT and Madeline and us sometime in January during our break. I cannot even imagine how it will feel like meeting up with him! Having both of them in the same room, crazy stuff!


Well, that is all for this post~ I hope you enjoyed~ It was definitely a day for the books– a great way to start off my winter break. Keep following for my blog for posts like this one!~

  • Emma 엠마

Traditional Korean Music Performance & Exploring Sinsa {12/15-16/18} NSLI-Y AY

12/15/18 Saturday

We had our December cultural excursion at The Museum of Traditional Korean Music (국립국악박물관). We were able to watch this one and a half hour performance that highlighted different types of traditional Korean music. We were not allowed to take photos or record videos until the very last performance of two men playing traditional Korean drums or 장구. The performances were definitely interesting and the subtitled explanations for both the type of performance and the song lyrics were pretty accurate/made sense this time (in comparison to the mask dance subtitles back in 안동). All the performers wore gorgeous traditional 한복 and seemed to range in age from twenties to late 30s or 40s. I believe that this performance is held every Saturday for a small fee.

sinsa 1

After we watched the performance, we were given the rest of the day to ourselves with no other program activities scheduled. Liam’s birthday had been earlier that week so we decided to all go out and celebrate his birthday with dinner. Originally, we wanted to get tacos and Jacquelyn was able to find this one budget-friendly place in 신사. But upon arrival, we realized that there were definitely not enough seats for the 15 of us. {Everyone ended up coming except Addie who went home early to hang with her host family.} We ended up getting 닭갈비 instead. I ate with Kaitlyn, Jack, and McKenzie. We ordered a cheese 닭갈비 set that came with cheese around the rim of the pot the chicken was cooking in. It was delicious! At the end of the meal, we ordered rice and mixed that in with the remaining sauce and veggies and had some delicious 볶음밥. Highly recommend!

sinsa 6

After dinner, we made our way to Baskin Robbins. I don’t know what came over Liam or me for that matter but Kaitlyn, Josh, Liam, Katie and I decided to order what I believe was a half gallon of ice cream {6 flavors}. It was very very delicious even though we took some risks since Liam wanted all the unique strange sounding flavors. When he brought the ice cream out to us, we were shook by how much there was—it looked huge! But not like it wasn’t to be expected, we finished all of it. At one point, we all took a spoonful of ice cream and fed the person to our right: creating this circle of eating ice cream. It was honestly so strange but hilarious. It only could have occurred after we consumed all of that sugar…

It was only 7:30 by the time we finished our dessert, so the other students decided to head back to 홍대 and go to a 노래방 but I was tired and not in the mood so I came home early. My host family didn’t come home for a while so I was alone for a couple hours which I half spent studying Korean and then also watched this really sad and upsetting kidnapping lifetime documentary? It made me cry… a lot… I do not know why I thought it was a good idea to watch it honestly… but that was my Saturday night.

12/16/18 Sunday

Sunday was just a really calm and relaxing day spent with my host family. We all slept late and enjoyed a really late breakfast. I studied most of the afternoon and worked on my blog out in the living room while my host sisters watched episodes of Victorious or read their 만화s (comics). I also helped my eldest host sister with some English homework.

Later that night, my host siblings and I played the Korean version of Monopoly: Blue Marble Game. The game takes a long time and it got late so we never actually fully finished it as everyone got bored after awhile.

sinsa 7

I spent the rest of the night studying a bit more {memorizing vocab in preparation for the new chapter in Korean class} and then watching YouTube videos. Tomorrow is Monday but I have no school! I’m going to celebrate our start of Winter Break with a fun brunch with Katie~

well, thanks for reading! And I hope you enjoyed this post~ It is kind of on the shorter side than what I’m used to but I don’t want to add tomorrow to it because then it would be a combination of a weekend and a random weekday… I don’t think I like the idea of that so this is it~ I hope it was okay! Till next time~

  • Emma 엠마

Last Day at 하나고 for the Fall Semester {12/14/18} NSLI-Y AY

12/14/18 Friday

Just like the other days at school this week, every single period was basically 자습 or self-study; however, I did not spend my time studying at all really. I was too busy finishing up letters for my friends at school. I won’t be seeing many of them for two months and me being attention-seeking and lonely half the time doesn’t want them to forget about me… {I’m only half joking…} So I spent the day writing 6 letters including my final letter to 윤세 who I have for 마니또. I had bought this really cute blue flower shaped card from 인사동 and I was excited to finally get to use it {though I will admit, writing in it was a bit of a struggle.}

Also before my Economics class, I surprised my good friend 세림 with a gift. Like everyone else, I wrote her a letter and gave her a macaroon but I also bought her this cute panda stuffed animal! It’s very adorable and the colors reminded me of things that 세림 really likes and it seemed that she was head over heels with it when she got it. But as cute as this panda was… it really embarrassed me in the morning! For some reason, while coming to school, Katie and I happened to get on a bus with every other teacher in the school (exaggeration? maybe…) and we had to ride the elevator together too {veryyyy awkward}. This group of teachers included my Statistics teacher! My backpack was open cause it periodically unzips when I run {and Katie and I ran across the street this morning…} so when we were walking to our homerooms, this panda falls out of my bag and my Statistics teacher screams Emma down the hallway. It was nice of him I know!!! But I was so embarrassed! Just my luck right?

Anyway, when I came into Economics, 세림 saved my seat as always but this time, she also placed her bag on her seat with her new panda sticking out of it~



She also even explained this point of Korean grammar that has never been explicitly explained in any of the Korean textbooks I have used. Knowing this now helps me with conjugating for other grammar points as well! 고마워 세림아~

Lunch today was one of the final days we would be eating with all our friends… it was bittersweet because this meant winter break was right on the horizon but it also meant we wouldn’t be seeing our friends in a while… Lunch was honestly once again not good… {What happened 하나고? I used to brag about your lunches earlier this year!} but it was fine because we were all too busy talking and yelling to take much notice of the food (or eat it basically…) We went around the table and guessed who was who’s 마니또. I had guessed that mine was 지연 and then Katie confirmed it for me during the first week so I knew I was right but our friends did not guess right about us!! 지연 thought that 도윤 had her rather than Katie and 윤세 thought 지연 had her instead of me!! We fooled them oh so well! 


After that, 도윤 and 윤세 were screaming trying to figure out where they went wrong because at dinner last night, they were positive they figured out who every one had. I explained how I finessed the system with asking other first-year students to give her the gifts {including giving her a gift in the dorm to throw her off my tracks}, having other people write the notes, and asking her for someone else’s locker number! They all kept saying “Emma you tried so hard!” And then 도윤 joked and said you know you are Korean when you wait for the day before the end of the gift giving period to give your gift because that is when most of the girls gave their gifts.

After lunch, we took a group photo but 서린 ran off somewhere? When we sent the photo later in the group chat, she was upset that she wasn’t in the photo so Katie edited her in and so we were blessed with this lovely cursed image:



The rest of my classes was more letter writing and gift giving. I accidentally smashed all the Macaroons in my backpack… so by asking 지원 with some good explanations and charade-like gestures, I was able to learn that the word for to squish or smash is 뭉개다 or to be squished is 뭉개지다. There’s your Korean lesson for the day!

During 영미문학, 서연 actually gave me a really cute letter back to me telling me that my letter really made her day and she wanted to thank me. It was really sweet! She also gave me a piece of chocolate and vitamin c tablet and apologized for the lack of gifts due to dorm living {which is why I brought my friends’ macaroons! So they could have a treat they cannot buy at the 매점.}

On Friday I came home early and relaxed for a bit but then I accidentally fell asleep before 7 pm. I woke up again at 7:30 and could tell that my host family was eating dinner but I really wanted sleep so I figured I’d sleep for another hour and then eat dinner later—by myself. I guess I underestimated how tired I would be? I ended up waking up at 3:46 am. I was so confused when I realized I had skipped dinner. I stayed up for a bit and then went back to bed.


When I was not looking, my host brother decorated my chalkboard! He wrote “Big Sister Emma, Goodnight~” 


I wanted to quickly end this post with a little blurb about how I feel regarding today being my last day at 하나고. This is going to be 100% brutally honest!

Going to 하나고 for these couple of months was really really difficult. At first, everything was exciting and new and the nerves and anxiety seemed fully justified. I remember ending school and being excited to tell my host family everything about my day when I got home during dinner time but eventually… the excitement turned into complacency with a routine and the things I expected to get better with time only grew to frustrate me more when I continued to fail at improving my situation. Feeling incompetent and like a burden became second nature to me and I struggled with those feelings. What other people may see as trivial things felt as if I pushing mountains. Having no one to sit next to or talk to during class, figuring out where to sit or even having to take a desk from another classroom because the class had no more empty ones–all these moments culminated into me feeling dejected during the school day. Spending hours worrying about having to do work in a class that seemed impossible (*cough cough coding in statistics *cough cough) to not even being told a class was canceled were frequent occurrences for me after awhile. I cried often and had never felt so stressed in my life. And comparing my school life to the others only made me more pessimistic. Everyone has their own problems, sure. Some of them might have wished they had it a bit more like me since I did have a little bit of Korean knowledge before coming to Korea and attending school. But at everyone else’s school, they weren’t expected to participate in class as much in comparison to the expectations on both Katie and I. They weren’t expected to try and follow along. They got to do their own work every single day.

And sure, high school in America was tough and I was stressed academically but at least then, I could ask for help. I was in a familiar environment and I knew how to solve problems when they arose. This was adjusting to a new type of stress. Stress about life—something I have never had to deal with before. Something a lot of people my age have never had to deal with. Although I say that it was extremely difficult, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been placed at any other school.

I love 하나고 because I love its students. I had such good friends that made waking up so early for my 5th year of high school worth it. I’m thankful for 서린 who found Katie and me and took us under her wing and gave us a friend group that included 윤세, 도윤, 지연, and 혜지. I am thankful for 세림 for trying her best to explain to me how to code or whatever the teacher was saying. She even made me a little cheat sheet with statistic terms in Korean for things like hypothesis test, confidence interval, etc. I am thankful for 지현 for hanging out with me during our 반모임 when no one else would. I am thankful for 정윤 for always sitting next to me during homeroom and saving seats for me in 한국사 and 통합사회. I am thankful for 지원 and 다연 for making me feel like I do have friends when they wave at me in the hallway. I am thankful for 서연 for reaching out to me in world history and for exchanging Instagrams. I am thankful for 동철 for being the first person to talk to me at 하나고, for telling me to sit next to him when I was alone, and for answering all my questions over KakaoTalk. I’m thankful for 예성 as our conversations in English made it one of my favorite classes. I’m thankful for 혜지, 윤세, 도윤 and 지연 for making me comfortable during lunch and our hallway conversations–for allowing me to feel included in school life and for always being patient despite our cultural differences and the language barrier. And lastly, I am thankful for Katie because without her, I know I would not have been able to survive those two and a half months at 하나고. She helped me navigate every situation and kept me calm during high-stress times. I could never thank her enough and will be forever grateful for having a best friend alongside me for some of the best and worst times of my exchange.

HAH Quickly… why do I even try… that is all for this post. Thank you for reading. I hope that this did not come off as too pessimistic or negative. I am just trying to keep it real, for myself and for others. Exchange is not easy; I can vouch for that. But, despite that, I am having the time of my life.

(I am editing this and posting this with only a month left of my exchange. Reading this over makes me teary-eyed. So much has happened and so much has changed, and I could not be more grateful. If only time would pass by more slowly…)

  • Emma 엠마

Final Week of the First Semester of Korean High School (12/10-12/13/18) NSLI-Y Korean AY

This week was quite busy and pretty stressful and because of that, my blog posts have definitely suffered. I have not been editing any of them nor have I been writing either. My usual routine of writing them on the subway ride turned into me just listening to ballads and thinking about life (yes angsty I know). I also did not take many photos because this week was not too eventful… and I do not have much to write as I have forgotten a lot… but oh well. Here is a quick update on this past week!

12/10/18 Monday

Katie and I were not feeling school this morning (a combination of it being Monday and the fact that we were done with high school 4 years ago and here we are again…) so when we got to school, we slouched onto some tables in the hallway and complained before homeroom started. (Sorry, we cannot always be positive!) While we were basically lying on the table, this alarm starts ringing throughout the school and we both looked at each other but were not too worried. It literally could have been a big deal but there we were just trying to relax before our day at school–not fazed.

The entire school day was spent self-studying. Since finals start next week, classes are pretty much done going over class material and instead of reviewing (like my American high school classes), the students are given the opportunity to just study whatever they need to.

weekly 1

Korean class was okay~ I do not remember much, to be honest. I started feeling sick around this time so I know my participation was not the best. After class, Katie came with me to the post office so I could send a package home to my family. I was sending Christmas gifts and lots and lots of snacks for my brothers and my friends! When Katie and I first got there, I was so nervous, you could say I was freaking out–having no idea what to do. (I have not even mailed a package in America!) I needed a confidence boost so I squeezed Katie’s hand and then I went up to the counter and asked the male worker there what I should do as I was not familiar with the process. He explained everything to me and so after understanding (some of) the instructions, I went back to Katie and we packed my box and filled out the packing label. We got everything sorted out and another employee helped me tie together the final few loose threads. The package ended up being about 185 grams (I do not know how heavy that is…sorry!) and it was a couple dollars short of $40 but I was fine with spending that!~

Katie and I went to a bookstore before heading home to buy the final few gifts for our 마니또 as well as our friends at school (that we will really miss during the break!)

12/11/18 Tuesday

First CEREAL IN KOREA! I have not had cereal since the summertime~ When my host mom asked me at dinner last night if I wanted to have cereal for breakfast, I was all for it. I had missed an American type breakfast, to be honest, and the thought of having milk at a meal (a first unless you count when I have purchased banana milk at the 편의점) really made me excited!

Tuesday at school was more self-study and Korean class was normal as usual. I struggled a lot in class as I could not quite understand the grammar concepts too well. They were not in our grammar book, so I could not even look in there for help when I did not understand. I also got really sick all of a sudden (from one day to the next) and in class, my symptoms only worsened. I kept sneezing like crazy and needed to blow my nose quite often if I wanted to be able to somewhat breathe. Also, because the lights in the classroom were so bright, my eyes kept watering and tears were falling left and right. When my teacher first turned around and noticed a tear, she started to freak out and asked me what was wrong. I assured her that I was fine and that I just had sensitive eyes.

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After class, I met up with Jessica and we went to this cafe called Cafe Monobloc. We just spent a couple hours chatting–catching up–and studying for our respective subjects. I had a green tea latte and we both ate pancakes for our dinner. (They were delicious too might I add! I love pancakes! Definitely, my favorite food when done right!) It was really fun getting to hang out with her~ Though being sick at the cafe was kind of awkward (especially every time I had to blow my nose when the cafe was so quiet). Jessica updated me on fun college/life stories while I was able to rant to her and talk a bit about everything I had been going through. It was nice to hear a new perspective.

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12/12/18 Wednesday

Honestly, school was just self-study so nothing really memorable sticks out to me except for lunch! Today was another 다 먹는 날 which occurs every so often on Wednesdays. Basically, if you finish all your food, you get a prize! Today they were giving out chocolate cookies~ unfortunately though… they also served this gross sweet potato casserole looking thing and no one was feeling it. Katie took one for the team this time and we piled all the food onto her plate. {Don’t worry! We shared our cookies with her!}

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After school that day, Katie and I went to the bakery that my Korean teacher took me to. We planned on eating dinner with our friends back at 하나고 so we stayed at the cafe for more than three hours until it was time to go to school for dinner. We enjoyed our delicious pastries and the cafe environment as we studied and did our Korean homework. I worked on my presentation on 제주 사투리 and luckily finished at the cafe! I also prepared 윤세’s last 마니또 gift which I bought the previous day. It was a sheet of bear stickers and some bear post-it notes. I wanted to write a little note for 윤세 but I figured my foreigner like handwriting would stick out to her so I literally paced around the second floor of the cafe for a bit until I mustered up the courage to ask this random couple on the third floor to rewrite this message onto my pink post-it note. They were confused at first but laughed along with me as I tried explaining to them what I was doing. I think they were confused to see me asking them for such a weird request and the fact that I was wearing a school uniform {yes the literal 교복 (school uniform), not our school’s 생활복} probably didn’t help me appear in the least bit normal. But, I did it and was proud of myself for putting myself out there!

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Dinner at 하나고 was definitely not the best. I honestly played with my food more than I actually ate it because I really wasn’t feeling the spread—especially the weird patty. Why is this meat following us everywhere? It was fun though being able to joke around with the girls and feel more included being that we were there with them at night—a time when we are NEVER at school. It was a nice change~ And I definitely think it would be nice to eat dinner with them every once in a while {especially while we are on break!}

During dinner, we talked a little bit about 마니또 and 서린 told me that some of the girls already knew that we didn’t have them because they received their gifts at the dorm {this list included 서린, 혜지, and 윤세}. I couldn’t help but smile at this… my sneaky plan was working !!!

12/13/18 Thursday

In class today we had a quiz over two chapters and a presentation. The quiz was a bit tough for me when I first looked at it and I was iffy about a lot of answers. Luckily, I only got 1.5 points off for using the wrong grammar point for one and choosing the right vocab word but conjugating it wrong on another question. I followed my gut on some of the other questions when it came to spelling and whether a word was an adjective or verb so I’m happy that my intuition was right. I did really well on this quiz compared to the other students too which was nice~ At times I like to be reminded that I’m not totally horrible!!!

Giving my presentation was fun because I prepared a fun Kahoot game to test everyone’s knowledge on 제주 사투리. My game consisted of 5 questions that asked the quiz takers to guess the meaning of these random words. The answers of the questions were mostly words that were similar to the one in the question and I obviously included plenty of words to throw off the guesses. Jacquelyn ended up winning followed closely behind by our teacher and then Josh placed last.


After class, I ended up going out to dinner with Josh, Kaitlyn, and Liam. This whole week all the NSLI-Y Students {except for Katie and I} have had no school due to finals at their respective schools and so they’ve been out having fun together and I have felt like I’m missing out on it big time! So I was really excited to go and have dinner with them~ We first went to Blanc Bakery so that I could buy macaroons for my 하나고 friends and then it seemed as if we walked around the 홍대 area for years!

We could not decide what we wanted to eat! Josh and Liam kept joking around about wanting to eat intestines and such but Kaitlyn and I were not having that. We ended up, eventually, going to a pizza joint and ordering Mac & Cheese Pizza which was delicious! I’ve never ordered it {or wanted to order it} back in America but they were all in for it so that’s what we did.

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Unlike what was expected, this pizza was soooo good! It was thick enough, they used tomato sauce, and there was even caramelized onions on top too—a great choice.

I was feeling like I was up in the clouds after dinner because our conversations were so fun and the food was delicious. I was also looking forward to Friday as it was our last day at 하나고 for this semester~ I was so ready to start winter break!

But, later at my subway station, my mood worsened as I had a transportation card malfunction. I was minding my own business—going through the turnstile like I’ve done what seems like a million times by now—when the turnstile angrily beeped at me when I placed my card down onto the scanner. I tried my card again because I was confused. I literally put ten dollars on it at 홍익역 so I knew that this error had nothing to do with me. I tried putting more money on my card hoping that that would fix it but the refill machine on this side of the turnstiles was out of order. The mouse was going crazy on the screen and everything was stuck in Chinese. I watched as everyone else passed by me getting through the machines no problem and so I started freaking out—feeling like I was trapped. I connected to the WiFi and quickly sent texts to both Katie and my host mom freaking out about the situation. My host mom called me but I wasn’t understanding what she was telling me to do—go through the back? What? I was too panicked to properly focus on her words as I was near tears. Eventually, I called Katie and told her to stay on the line as I tried something out. There was this emergency gate on the other side of the turnstiles and I figured if I pressed the button, I could possibly get out. I was worried that someone would come out or that someone would pick up but I just went for it and luckily was able to get through. I screamed through the phone at Katie and told her that I survived. After hanging up on her, I texted my host mom and went home after buying some letters for my 하나고 friends.


My freak-out-face in the subway station!

When I came home, I explained the whole ordeal to my host family {though, to be honest, I still do not know for sure why my card could not be processed}. And I went to bed laughing it off after telling all my friends about my misfortune. Would it be an Emma NSLI-Y experience without these fun {note the unclear sarcasm} travel stories?

That is the end of this blog post. I wanted to include Friday on this blog post {because it was supposed to be a quick and easy weekly post…} but this has gotten to be too long! So I will end it here and start my next one off with Friday. Thanks for reading!! I hope you enjoyed!

  • Emma 엠마


Cultural Exchange Event with Korean High Schoolers: 한미캠프 {12/08/18} NSLI-Y Korean AY

12/08/18 Saturday

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For today’s activity, the NSLI-Y cohort participated in a cultural exchange between America and Korea by attending a program at a Korean high school: 선정관광고등학교 {Sunjung Tourism High School} to be exact. This school is a pretty unique high school here in Seoul as it’s a specialized school for girls who have plans to work in the tourism/service industries. {This means anything from hotel employees to casino workers to flight attendants.} They take regular classes {like math and such}; however, the majority of them are not taking 수능 (Korea’s college entrance exam) and so they focus on other things. For example, the school has its own cafe class where they learn how to make drinks!! This is where we actually started the morning off at! After a group of girls picked us up at the bus station, we all got to get a drink from the cafe. Their green tea latte was pretty great!!

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After we all got our warm drinks, we went up to the library to hear some speech from the principal of the school {Who happens to be Jack’s host dad?!?! Literally, no one but the other boys on program knew. We were all shook when he pulled up a picture of Josh, Liam, Jack and him eating a half gallon of ice cream from Baskin Robbins. It was hilarious though because the picture itself was quite funny.

After some words from the man in charge, we started going through our presentations. And let me just say it was clearly evident that the Korean students tried a lot harder than us when preparing their presentations. After seeing all that they did, I immediately felt bad for not putting in as much effort…

Our group presented about American pop {and other features of American popular culture like memes and trends}, American holidays, and American school culture. The Korean girls prepared presentations on Korean superstitions, spicy food, Korean etiquette/slang, and of course KPop. They all had these and funny videos to their presentations that really made them memorable. They even brought actual spicy food for us to try! So I actually had my first bite of Chicken feet in that library during the presentation. Jenna had it for the first time too but she could not swallow it… she had to spit it out in her latte.

After presentations, we split up into groups and moved onto the next activity: an M&M activity (The same one we did at the Hanmi Camp {한미캠프} during the summer program) Each color M&M corresponded to a question and so we all went around and asked each other these questions in order to eat all our M&Ms. I was put in a group with Kaitlyn and two Korean high schoolers: 윤지 & 지현. 지현 actually lived in America till 6th grade before she moved back to Korea, so she sounded just like an American when she spoke English. 윤지 was also really good at English.

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We went to this traditional Korean restaurant for lunch and got to eat with our new friends. The spread was 보쌈, fish, and of course lots and lots of 반찬. However, instead of being served plain rice, we were given rice that seemed to have been steamed in some kind of leave. The rice itself was brown and there were things like lotus root and beans mixed in. It reminded me somewhat of the Spanish rice my mom makes but also, in itself, very different.

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Once we were stuffed with tons of delicious food, we left to do the main activity of the day: the 한옥박물관. Yes, the very museum that is in front of 하나고. The museum explored the history of traditional Korean houses from how they are built to the most famous ones in existence all around Korea. I tried my best to pay attention but to be honest, we were all too eager to just get to know each other and goof around so the tour guide did not receive our undivided attention.

After leaving the museum, the scheduled program activities were over so we were given free rein to spend the rest of the day doing whatever we liked–with our new-found friends. First, June, Harmony, Kaitlyn, 지현, and 윤지 and I went to Baskin Robbins to get ice cream. I shared one with Kaitlyn and we got a scoop of 달고나 ice cream and one caramel crunchy one (Kaitlyn’s choosing). Once we were finished indulging in the sweet dessert, we were off to find a 노래방 (karaoke). We spent about an hour singing and dancing to our favorite Korean and American songs. It turned out that everyone that was with us had a good voice? Like what gives? Here I was practically screaming and feeling my voice crack as I try to reach certain notes while I listen to the others sounding just as good as the original singers! I am not even kidding. While we were singing Ailee’s 보여줄게, I thought it was weird that this recording included the singer’s vocals too. I was like… is this even considered karaoke then? Turns out, it was just the amazing vocals of 지현! She could have seriously been going to an art/performance school rather than this tourism high school.

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For dinner, we all (including 연우–she joined us at the 노래방) found this chicken place called Outdark. We chose to eat there because another big group of NSLI-Yians was already there. We ordered two big servings of chicken and fries–it was very very delicious. Hanging out with our friends was a great time and we spoke in a mix of Korean and English. We laughed so much and made lots of jokes. I was so happy that we came out to meet these students today. We promised to meet up once again–when the girls finished their exams. I was glad that we would have the opportunity to continue these friendships. (During the summer program, we only had a couple weeks after meeting those students so many people could not keep in touch and continue those friendships… I was happy to have more time!) Actually, when we first met, 지현 thought that we were only here for a quick trip and that we were going home to America soon. She was super happy to know that we would be here till May. I hope we can meet up again soon!~

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That is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed~ 다음에 봐요 친구들! 

  • Emma 엠마