First Day Back to Korean High School, 입학식 (Entrance Ceremony), and Picnic at the Park {03/04/19} NSLI-Y Korea AY

03/04/19 Monday

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming sense of dread. The part of me that was excited for school to start yesterday must have stayed in bed because when I finally rolled out of it, all I wanted to do was stay home. I was tired and completely and utterly nervous about what the day might bring. There was no room for excitement in my stomach; there were too many giant butterflies and moths even, fluttering around in there. 

Luckily, the school day was starting an entire hour and 40 minutes later today which meant that I got to sleep an extra hour than what I will be getting for the rest of the spring semester… oh, joy. I pulled on my uniform and tried making myself presentable before scarfing down a small bowl of cereal in under 5 minutes—is there a record for how fast you can inhale cereal? 

When I got to the subway platform, the original train I was planning on taking zoomed right past me. It was at that moment that I realized it was a 서울행 train which is shorter than the other out-bound trains from my home station. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by running to the first car so, I waited for the next train. Luckily, even though it was a later train as long as I yeeted my transfer, I could still make it on time. 

Katie and I planned to meet up at 연신내역 at 8:45 so that we could chill at the Paris Baguette nearby before heading off to school. We both did some last-minute homework while enjoying some expensive fruit drinks. 

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The bus ride to 하나고 was exactly what I expected: anxiety-filled, stressful, and too short.

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Around the front of the school, there were a lot of banners and signs for the 입학식 or entrance ceremony for the first years coming into the school. Katie and I knew that we were supposed to attend… but we were not sure where to go first thing in the morning. As we walked up the stairs to the art center, we ran into my friend 선민 {We took 통합사회 (Sociology) together last year!} who told us that there were no more seats on the second floor {where all the second years seemed to be sitting} but that we could probably just sit on the stairs. Katie and I went down to the front desk outside of the auditorium and I mustered enough courage to ask the students heading it where we should sit. Again, they said 2nd floor— I should have expected that reply. 

By this time, we had texted our group of friends to ask them what to do and through these texts, we were able to find out where they were. There were no seats so we ended up sitting behind 서린 and another friend during the entire 입학식. 

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The ceremony was actually really nice. {Or well, I bet it would have been if I was able to understand all of it!} They played an introductory video that showcased 하나고 in all its glory and if I was a Korean student, I would want to come here after seeing that video. They also had each first-year homeroom class last year make a video for the new first years which was really cute! All of the editors they had were really good! I’m talking professional level stuff! My homeroom class of last year edited their video in the style of that Snapchat meme trend that involved the lyrics “You so f*cking precious when you smile” but they did not censor the f word at all which made Katie and I gasp because that would not have flown at our high schools or probably any American high school. 

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There were also some speeches from board members I would presume as well as student performances and even one by two teachers {one being our new coordinating teacher Mike}. There was also this point in the ceremony in which the Korean flag was projected on the screen and everyone stood up and placed their hands on their heart. I’ve experienced something like this before and assumed it was gonna be something similar to the pledge of allegiance but luckily there was no chant in unison so I was able to just stand there. 

Katie and I also got to hear the 하나고 song for the first time! My school called it our fight song but since 하나고 doesn’t have sports teams… would it just be their theme song? School song? They put the melody and the lyrics on the screen so we were able to sing along. I probably won’t ever get the chance to sing it again but I think it would be cool to learn it! 

The last two parts of the ceremony were introducing the freshman homeroom teachers and the students in each class themselves. They played the graduation song the entire time and called down each student one by one and gave them some type of certificate of sorts. While the students walked the stage, their ID photos flashed on the screen and a little blurb of something that they wrote for the new semester/for their class. {Things like I won’t give up, let’s challenge ourselves this year, I hope we get close, etc} 

After the ceremony ended, we had an hour before lunch and we spent that in our homerooms. Katie and I were unfortunately not able to get any of our friends in our homeroom classes so I was dreading arriving there early. I sat at a random desk in the middle of the room and hoped that I wasn’t taking anyone’s spot or that someone felt burdened to sit by me. As I was sitting, 도윤, 윤세, and 혜지 surprised me by coming into my classroom and trying to cheer me up! They are probably more nervous about a new school year than I was yet they still tried to make me feel better and make me feel comfortable because they knew how the unknown and the thought of having to give self-introductions throughout the entire week was making me want to (lowkey) die. 

Eventually, a girl named 소연 sat next to me and we chatted about our feelings for the first semester. I would be switching homeroom teachers for this new semester as 민장쌤 was now Katie’s teacher. I was really worried about having a new teacher but when she walked in, she reminded me a lot of my Korean teacher. Her smile was very bright and she looked so friendly—I felt somewhat at ease. 

Our teacher explained where everyone’s lockers were and how they would figure out amongst themselves who would get which one {at our school, they call lockers 홈베스—literally, the English word homebase} and she mentioned that mine was somewhere else. I kind of understood this but at the same time I thought she was explaining instructions for what we needed to do which only stirred panic inside me but when 소연 re-explained things to me, I realized I was overthinking things. 

We then had to fill out this sheet with a lot of information about us like name, birthday, our dream job, where we want to go to school, our hobbies, our past awards, etc. I was proud to say that I understood most of the questions and only asked 소연 to clarify a few words here or there. (And to add on, when I ask students to explain or clarify things for me–I still ask them and have them answer in Korean!)

Once homeroom was over, it was time for lunch! The line was so long and 서린 explained that it was most likely due to the fact that the first years do not know when to eat yet. {My high school back in America had different lunchtimes too but here at 하나고, your grade determines what time you eat lunch: first years = 12:30 pm, second years = 12:20 pm, and third years = 12:10 pm}. We met with our big group of friends at 12:30 and we were still in line at 39 so Katie and I made the executive decision to leave and just have lunch before {or during} Korean class. We zoomed out of the lunchroom– trying to remember what we usually did when it came to bus and train times. 

Because we didn’t have lunch, we stopped by one of our favorite traditional spots on the way to Korean class: the 호떡 stand! The lady working the stall remembered us and said that it had been a long time! It was so nice to see her again and of course, the warm, delicious 호떡 were also just as inviting as ever. {Besides the fact that I spilled the sugary insides on my hair and vest within minutes of getting the pastry.} 

Korean class today was pretty good. We got to look over our monthly exams which I didn’t do too bad on! I only got 5 wrong on the reading {about a high B} and for the writing, I did better than I expected! Also for the grammar portion that really racked my head, I only got one wrong! I even picked the right grammar point… just used it wrong. For once, getting back a test did not put me in a bad mood. 

During class we studied the new vocab {from the workbook} and only two grammar points (rather than three) because we ran out of time. The vocab words this time around were less just words but actual phrases or expressions with meanings behind them that are used in very specific situations. These are harder than normal vocab words cause it’s not just one word with a very tangible meaning but often a couple words in a phrase that has a different literal translation to what meaning it actually has. Does this make any sense? For example, 발 뻗고 자다. This literally translates to “sleeping with your feet stretched out” and it is used when something that you were worried and nervous about has passed so you can now sleep well. {Wow reading this over I realize how LITERALLY stupid I am. I just tried describing what an idiom is in a terrible manner.} Excuse me while I lay my English skills down to die because, at this rate, I will return to America not being able to speak Korean or English it seems!

We are not allowed to speak English during the breaks between each class periods so rather than face that rule and speak Korean to the other students, I decided to just stay in the classroom and text my friends–beating the system. (Should I have gone out and talked? Yes… I am disappointed too…in myself.)

After class, I met up with Katie because we planned to have a little picnic near her subway station. There was this bridge with some nice steps underneath that we have used in the past to just sit and talk while eating an assortment of 편의점 (convenience store) food. We walked around the park for a while before trying to find this little 분식점 near Katie’s apartment (which is supposedly always there on Mondays) but today… it was sadly not there! We, instead, went to Paris Baguette and had some bread for dinner–healthy I know. Actually, while we were there chatting, her three younger host sisters showed up! So I got to meet them for the first time! They were all so adorable and I presume that since Katie has talked about me to them so often, they were not shy to speak with me (according to Katie, that is out of the ordinary!)

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After our “dinner,” we went to the nearest 7-11 to buy ice cream and ate that as our picnic under the bridge. Of course, I went for the old-time favorite– carp ice cream (When will I learn the name of this ice cream?)

I got home around 8 pm or so and spent the rest of the night either laying on my bedroom floor with my host dog wondering why I had no motivation to do work or actually doing work on my desk without my phone (no distractions!) I would consider it a productive night as I did finish all that I wanted to do… but then, on the other hand, I stayed up way too late for no reason. I went to bed past midnight which was usual for me during the winter break but now… I will have to wake up at 5:45 every single weekday! I cannot be surviving on 5 hours of sleep a night… Unlike the Korean students at 하나고, I cannot fall asleep in class. 

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That is all for this blog post! This post is over 2,000 words! But I had a lot to say so no apologies here… Obviously, I just have a lot to share but soon my school blog posts will become boring and repetitive once again (like they were back in November and December) but I hope you still stick around regardless. I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Thanks for reading.

  • Emma 엠마

익선동: Hot Spot for Locals in Korea & Last Weekend of Winter Break {03/01-03/19} NSLI-Y Korea AY

03/01/19 Friday

Katie and I planned to hang out all day {and the subsequent night} doing something fun but new as it seems we have been getting in a winter break routine of sorts: study at a cafe and then Korean class. That is all. We wanted to do more with our last few days of winter break. The night before, I found this YouTube video on a recently popularized “hot place” in Korea for locals— 익선동 (Ikseondong). This place isn’t as touristy and modernized/globalized as much as the nearby 인사동 (Insadong). Basically, it’s a smaller neighborhood with beautiful 한옥 (Traditional Korean Houses–Hanok) architecture and a lot of aesthetic cafes and restaurants {Though the majority are on the pricy side}. I watched a lot of the cafe walk-throughs and read a lot of reviews on blogs but the ones we wanted to go to were a bit too expensive for our running-out-of-stipend-brand and or had huge lines! For instance, there was this really gorgeous flower cafe with actual flowers lining the tables and basically every inch of the place but of course, there were no seats. However, I should have expected that. We may have been the only foreigners there {literally did not see another 외국인 during the entire time we were there} but all the Koreans know about this neighborhood. Additionally, it was a Friday {And all the students have yet to go back to school} so it was only inevitable that things would be busy. 

Our first stop of the day was to try some street food. I really wanted to try the irregular shaped 호떡s (Korean Style Sweet Pancakes) because I saw them in the same YouTube video mentioned above and my friend 연우 works there on the weekends as her part-time job {only Saturdays and Sundays though.. so we could not have seen her anyway.} but with our bad luck, the place was closed until later on in the day. Instead, we got some delicious churros for $2!

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We ended up going to this cafe called Uncle Video Town which actually was on the YouTube video I watched. The interior isn’t really anything special but you are able to rent private rooms to watch movies! We didn’t do that as we were not in the mood. We just ordered some drinks {iced green tea latte— one of the best ones I’ve had in awhile} and chatted. 

We also found ourselves in trouble as we went into the many cute jewelry and clothing shops in the area. I bought a cute pair of unique earrings and a necklace at this boutique {there was a sale for paying in cash… that’s my excuse…} and Katie and I both got a clothing item from this other shop. She bought a floral lace top while I bought one of those long tulle skirts that a lot of Korean girls wear. I’m probably too short for a maxi skirt but I wanted to try the fashion trend! I was feeling a sort of way that day—trying to get out of my comfort zone! 

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After strolling around 익선동 for a while, we headed back to 홍대 and went to 놀숲 for a couple hours to just hang out and chill. I bought 김밥 from the convenience store for our dinner and we were lucky enough to get a cubby in the back to allow for us to eat our kimbap secretly. Katie also played around with my makeup while we were there. It was a fun night spent together.

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03/02/19 Saturday 

I literally have no pictures from this day besides selfies but it was still such a fun day~~ One of the best of the week hands down! Today Katie came over to my house again to hang out and most importantly, straighten and cut my hair! I haven’t cut my hair since late Spring and the ends of my hair are all dead and gross. Katie has been nagging me to cut my hair for the longest time now! So much so that all our friends know how badly she wants to cut my hair. 

Before Katie came over, I was able to Skype my friends—Kara & Grace— from back home for a little bit which was so nice! We got to catch up and I heard some tea. Most importantly, I just missed talking to them! 

We spent the first couple hours of our hang out playing Katie’s hair shop. I sat in my desk chair while Katie stood over me like a professional hairdresser to straighten all of my hair. When it was done, I was shocked once again—feeling like a completely different person. I don’t straighten my hair often at all so when I do, I always become obsessed with stroking my straight hair for a while. Once I got over myself, Katie began cutting my hair. We took a quick trip to Olive Young to buy hair cutting scissors and laid out a towel on my floor to catch all the hair. We were going all out for this trim. Katie cut about 4-5 inches maybe? Honestly, I could not really tell all that much with my straight hair but once my hair returned to its natural curly form, I could tell right away. In the shower too, I was able to notice the difference due to how different it felt to wash my hair. 

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I feel like a new person! Maybe one day I will have enough courage to cut my hair majorly but until then… this will have to do. I would be fresh and new for the upcoming school semester! 

My host sister brought Katie and I snacks from the convenience store and Katie bought bread from a nearby bakery so we enjoyed those things while watching a very depressing episode of Black Mirror. 

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By the time dinner rolled around, my host mom gave me money to have dinner with Katie outside of the house so we went out together and got food {and ice cream} which we ate at these tables set up in the mall. While we were walking with our food, this woman almost bumped into us and she exclaimed: “Oh my, I didn’t see the foreigners.” to her partner. At the time I didn’t see anything wrong with that statement and I still don’t but it did make me feel a little disappointed. There was no reason for her to point out our differences like that. A sorry would have sufficed or even just “I did not see them.” Especially since her comment was not directed towards us… It’s not a big deal but… it can get pretty tiring feeling like an outsider every single day of your life. Number one reason I could never live in Korea permanently or very long term. 

The rest of my Saturday was really chill. I watched a movie on Netflix which I haven’t done in so long~~ but it was really nice! I tried doing some work but I was getting too easily distracted. I organized my room a bit more and did a fashion show using my straight hair as the focal point of each outfit {If you think I am kidding…think again}. 

03/03/19 Sunday

Like mentioned previously, I had no plans to really spend this last weekend “living it up” if you will. I wanted to rest! So Sunday was spent chilling in my room {often in bed all day} either writing blog posts, watching YouTube, or working on my Korean homework {We got assigned another TOPIK practice test to do over the weekend.} I kept putting off the test because the number of things I couldn’t understand {especially vocab} within the reading and listening sections always overwhelm me and make me feel utterly incompetent. I tend to always do the writing first and put off everything else till the last possible second {which meant till like 1 in the morning this night…oops} But yeah if I sum it up, that was my Sunday. 

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That’s all for this blog post, I hope you enjoyed! If this one was kinda slow… I apologize! Maybe starting school will bring in some interesting content! That’s all for now! 

  • Emma 엠마

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

02/27/19 Wednesday

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

 

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Tapioca Nut Lattes ❤

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/28/19 Thursday

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

  • Emma 엠마

Monthly Korean Test & Post-Test Waffle Tradition (02/26/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/26/19 Tuesday

Tuesday was D-Day (Monthly Test Day!) and I clearly did not study enough the night before because my motivation was severely lacking so I met up with Katie at our cramming cafe: Holly’s Cafe. We both ordered the same coffee drink to give us that extra boost to conquer the day! At the cafe, I read over all the textbook reading passages/dialogues as well as studied more vocab. I spent the last half hour writing a new self-introduction to use for the OPI (I make a new one each time so that it can reflect the improvement I have made over the past month–aka shoving grammar points and fancy words in my introduction.)

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After 4 hours or so of cramming, we left to head back to our respective testing locations (Although 2반 takes classes at the Better World Office, 3반 goes there to take our monthly test while 2반 moves back to the youth center.) Walking back into the Better World Office after a long while felt kind of strange and awkward… 민정쌤 started talking to me (as I ran into her on the way there) but for some reason, I felt so awkward? I did not want to make a mistake while speaking with her so I began to get nervous for no reason… Maybe it was a result of test anxiety.

Eventually, the others showed up and we just silently sat in the classroom anxiously waiting for our teacher to come in. 민정쌤 also gave us a container of strawberries all the way from 부산! They were very delicious! I love strawberry season in Korea!~ 

Our teacher came in and let us know that we were starting to do our OPIs over the phone to mirror the exact situation we would find ourselves in early June when we take the post-OPI. I was terrified of this! I thought that it might go better because I would not be able to see her but you know me and change… I have a difficult time welcoming any form of it! I offered to go first for the OPI because I thought that it would be better for my nerves to go first because I would not have to write my essays with the constant worry of how my OPI would go in the back of my head.

I got into the room and when the phone rang I did a little jog in place to relieve my nerves and then I picked up the phone. I could not have done worse when it came to my OPI! I felt so ashamed afterward. I recited my self-introduction and messed up on the literal second sentence–one of the simplest sentences! Then, my teacher asked me the first question: Describe your apartment complex. I blanked. I had no idea what to say. It was only the first question and probably the easiest one at that and I could not do it. Because she was not there, I felt all my emotions overwhelming me and I even almost cried pacing back and forth in that break room. After I mentioned that there was a very large park, she asked me what one could do there and once again, I blanked. I stood there on the phone saying nothing for several seconds. My teacher even had to help me by saying the word exercise very silently which then prompted me to start the conversation again and I talked about the large fields that kids play sports in and the ahjumma exercise machines, etc. I was able to pick things back up again but I felt ashamed for having such a bad beginning. 

She also never really asked me any difficult questions… every time I hear about 2반 and even at times 1반 OPI question topics, I get jealous and feel bad about mine because my teacher never tests my limits it seems… The others get asked about climate change and even reunification (topics that would be hard for me to talk about but I have some vocabulary to explain myself–vocabulary that I studied in class!) while for me, she asks me to compare New York and Korea or what I would bring in my bag when I go on vacation. My role-play was that I ordered a camera and it arrived broke so I had a phone conversation with an employee about getting a refund which was probably the best part of my entire OPI (but it was not (really) good by any means, however).

I left the OPI feeling dejected and went and rushed through my writing section. I took one look at the grammar section and could only answer one question just with a first glance. I quickly passed over the part and began with the essays. The prompt was easy (positive and negative effects of social media) and yet I still could not figure out what to write/ how to organize the writing. I planned out everything so horribly that I had no conclusion and I only answered the last question of the prompt with about three sentences. It did not go well.

After the test, I was ready to rant to the others and use waffles to ease my worries. I met up with Katie and we took a short little walk around the forest park near exit 3. We talked about our tests before heading over to get waffles. There were some other girls already there but we wanted to just be alone so we came after they ended up finishing. We discussed our plans for hanging out this weekend (We are visiting a current Hot Place in Korea if you will (익선동) and Katie is cutting and straightening my hair at my house!) to try to lighten up the mood after our long rants. Once our waffles were quickly eaten, we sat outside of KFC and talked some more until June, Josh, and Kaitlyn finished up eating. I planned to go home together with both Josh and June tonight (as it would be our last time ever). We rode the train together and had a good time. I am truly going to miss going home with them from now on. Before, I had more time to write blog posts or do Quizlet when they did not; however, our train rides made us closer. I felt that they helped us form our friendships~ I will always be grateful for them (And I know that they will eventually come back and visit me in 고양시 soon!)

That is all for this blog post~ I hope you enjoyed! Sorry for being so negative lately! But that is how it be sometimes! Thanks for reading~

  • Emma 엠마

Study Grind at a Cafe & Breakdown in Korean Class (02/25/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/25/19 Monday

On Monday, I met up with Katie at Coffee Slob to get on that study grind before our monthly test. I spent the time switching back and forth between studying grammar and making example sentences to studying vocabulary with Quizlet. Although cafe study dates can more often than not turn into unproductive excuses to hang out with your friends, Katie and I are good at being able to have a good amount of time for chatting and goofing off but mainly being able to focus on our own studies (Or if we cannot focus, we do not pull the other one down with us… we just secretly go on Instagram or Tumblr!–in the case of Katie). 

Class today was honestly… the worst it has been in a while. Lately, I feel like I have been doing quite well in Korean class–being able to keep up with the class just fine. But for some reason, today was not my day. We started off the class period with our teacher explaining what the new month was going to bring us in class. The new changes involved having to interview a family member for 30 minutes every week (and making a presentation out of that) and then also interviewing a host high school friend for like 5 minutes (and making a presentation out of that as well) in order to force us to use more Korean outside of school.

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Another change that she said we would be implementing starting today would be no longer using English during break time. My Korean class has never used English during class as part of instruction by the teacher. Occasionally, someone might utter something to someone in English or we would say the English definition aloud to help someone else that was confused during our class but that was pretty much it. I am just making this point because the other classes did start off with English (and in some instances, quite a bit of it). They had to initiate No English rules and or make language pledges to only use Korean inside the classroom. Our teacher told us that the Better World staff felt that we were speaking too much English during the break and wanted us to try only speaking Korean during those 10 minutes two to three times a day.

This made me immediately upset and uncomfortable. I need the break time between the periods of Korean class to let off some steam and take a Korean language break. I need the time to just chill and collect myself before the next period. I need the time to have fun and relieve any stress or anxiety with my friends in the other class! I cannot do that speaking in Korean! I was not going to talk to the other students in Korean… and it was not just in the classroom during the break that we could not use English. We could not use English in the entire building! I was not having the new change so I ended up just not speaking during break and staying on my phone in a corner.

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I am not sure if that set me up to feel unconfident for the rest of the class or not but when we resumed our second period of Korean class, I could not get one single sentence out. We started our discussion on what factors should be taken into consideration when choosing a career path. The first thing that I tried to explain was that thinking of how one can improve in their job and have more future prospects is important because you do not want to get bored with what you are doing. It started out smoothly and I used one of our new vocab words but I started trailing off at the end when trying to figure out how to finish my thought. I started getting teary-eyed as I realized I was making no sense and my teacher tried to move on. The room got quiet and all I could think about was Josh and Jacquelyn’s eyes on me. They were probably thinking about how embarrassing it must have been for me or they were probably wondering how I could be so bad at Korean for being in this class and in Korea for 6 months already. I tried my hand at saying two more of my opinions when the teacher called upon me to but both sentences ended halfway as I gave up trying to finish what I wanted to say. The teacher tried helping me out with my last one, trying to finish what I had to say, but she did not know what I wanted to say so I felt even worse having to tell her that I was not trying to get at what she had thought. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, it was break time. We technically could not use English but I needed to get some of my emotions out so I immediately left the classroom with tears brimming in my eyes. Josh stopped me out in the lounge area as I went to go hide in the stairwell and began to cry. Josh kept asking me why I was being like this today but I also did not know the answer to that. After getting some tears out of my system, I returned to the classroom and finished the last period of the day pretty much quiet as we went over new vocabulary.

Luckily, I was able to take my mind off of everything as I went home that day with June and Josh. We have all been living in 고양시 for the entire duration of winter break and yet this was the first time we were all taking the subway ride back home together. I have done the trip with both June and Josh individually several times. We just happened to never have the plans to go home right away at the same time before. It was really nice to do that today, though. It was fun having their company as our conversation was never dry.

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For the rest of the night, I hardcore studied for the monthly test. I went over all the new grammar points from the chapters and made about three example sentences for each point. I did do a lot but I could have finished everything earlier than I did because I was too often being distracted by my phone mostly. I just could not sit still at the desk and study. I had to keep getting up and walking around and taking way too many breaks–none of which I honestly deserved. I do not know why I am like this lately! Why can I not stay motivated or concentrate!?

Well, that is all for this blog post…I am sorry it is kind of negative and depressing… that is just how it is sometimes… Till the next time I post~ Thanks for reading.

  • Emma 엠마

Exploring Sinchon (신촌) with Korean High School Friends: Arcade, Sulbing, and 맛집 (02/24/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/24/19 Sunday

Kaitlyn and I finally got to meet up with the girls we met at 한미캠프 (Hanmi Camp–Korea/America Exchange Camp back in December) after not seeing them for almost two entire months. Everyone’s schedules were different so we ended up first meeting 연우 and 윤지 for lunch at a 맛집 (well known good restaurant–literally translates to taste house) in 신촌 and then later planned to meet up with 지현 and then we would all be together for a while until we separated for the day. 

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We ended up going to this restaurant called Yellow Spoon which was known for serving these really big portions of hamburg steak. I ordered a snow cheese hamburg steak (not really sure why the cheese was called snow cheese… maybe cause the color was white?) which was really delicious and for the amount of food that was given, the price was not too bad. The only thing that was unsatisfactory was the fact that there was So Much CORN! I literally had to spend minutes picking out the corn and placing them on a napkin (which Kaitlyn later teased me about).

After we ate lunch, we walked around for bit trying to decide what to do (we really had no good plan) before stumbling upon an arcade and deciding to go inside. We first played the iconic basketball game by splitting up into two groups: foreigners and Koreans. And to much of my surprise, Kaitlyn and I won! (Though Kaitlyn at times… was dead weight. But she too knew this.) Actually, at the start of the game, she literally threw one of the basketballs behind the entire machine! Like it went all the way up behind the hoop! We tried later looking for it behind everything but we could not see anything as the machine had a lot of trash bags underneath it. But besides the fact that we had one less ball than the other team, we were able to win! We then were given more time to play and we were almost able to make it to 100 points! (We were one off! 99!) I never saw myself as being good at basketball.. But maybe I have a talent at this game?

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We also played DDR in which I received my fair share of absolute horrible ratings–F, D, C– to some good ratings!! (A all the ways~) 지현 ended up showing up around this time so we took some photobooth photos before heading off on a hunt to get some 빙수 (Korean shaved ice). We originally planned on trying this place with some really tall 빙수 that 윤지 found though MangoPlate (Korea’s version of Yelp basically) but they were closed when we got there. We went inside another place known for 빙수 but thought that the portions were too small for their prices so we gave up everything and just went to 설빙! There we ordered three flavors: strawberry, 인절미 (rice cake powder… is how I would describe it), and oreo. They were all delicious~ We just chatted while chowing down on the cool treats and dealing with our brain freeze.

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After having our desserts, we went back into the subway station and walked around the underground shopping mall connected to the station. There were a lot of cute jewelry stalls with handmade earrings (which were adorable!), clothing brands, accessories, and there was even a stall with slime! I never knew there were so many different types of slime… the table had a lot of little pots of slime with different textures and colors that you could try to squish. We were all having a lot of fun sticking our fingers into this big container of pink slime (which eerily looked like those pink slime photos that surfaced on the internet claiming to be what Mcdonald’s chicken nuggets were made of). We also passed the Samsung store and played this quick matching game and we actually won a selfie stick/tripod type device which 윤지 was kind enough to gift to me. Thinking back on it… hopefully, my phone will be able to fit into it seeing that I do not have a Samsung phone… 

We also walked around this food court area that had a lot of packaged gift box sets of fancy foods and snacks as well as freshly prepared foods like mango juice and special Taiwanese cracker sandwiches. There was one stall that was selling fruit mochi with actual pieces of fruit covered in mochi. It was so interesting to look at them especially the grape mochi! Full-on grapes connected together covered in mochi! The workers were making some strawberry ones while we were walking by and they were kind enough to let us try some pieces. It was pretty tasty.

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After walking around for a bit, we split up and said our goodbyes. I spent a bit more time with Kaitlyn and 지현 walking around the Muji store but eventually, I was feeling tired and decided to head home for the day. I have no other pictures from this day so I am not sure what I got up to at night but I for sure ate dinner with my host family and probably lounged around at home for a bit. According to my phone log, I was on Quizlet for a couple hours getting those vocab words memorized in preparation for our monthly test on Tuesday. 

This post is a little on the shorter side but I will not be combining it with another day~ I hope you enjoyed anyway! This was such a fun day with great friends and I am so happy to be able to say that I have been able to make and maintain friendships here with Koreans! I definitely know that these girls are down to hang out when they have time and I could not be more grateful for them allowing our friendship~~~ Despite any language barriers. We will have to meet up again soon! 

Till next time!

  • Emma 엠마

Korean Cooking Class, Making Kimbap, and Playing 장구 (Jangu–Traditional Korean Instrument) 02/22-23/19 (NSLI-Y Korea AY)

02/22/19 Friday

Friday was our last day of “Culture Week” if you will. We would be doing two cultural activities: making kimbap (김밥) and playing Jangu (장구). We ended up taking the cooking class at the same location that I had Korean cooking club during the summer program for six weeks back in 2016. We met up at the station together (It was at this point in time that I spotted a pig cupcake in a display case at this cafe and I made the very bad decision of spending my stipend on a cupcake at 10 in the morning. No regrets though! It was delicious!) and then walked to the Food and Culture Academy. The walk was so familiar as we passed by the side street that I walked down with 수진언니 when I met up with her back in November (That blog post here~) and 통인시장 (Tongin Market).

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I was happy that we were being taught how to make kimbap (김밥–rice, veggies, and sometimes meat and egg wrapped in dried seaweed) because I never learned how to make it during 요리동아리 (cooking club). I eat 김밥 so often when I do not want to spend money on real food, so it will be nice to know how to make it when I go back to America. I can easily whip up some rolls when I am missing Korean food and this is something simple I can do for my friends and family back home. Cooking the kimbap was a lot of fun because I was able to joke around about my cooking skills with June and Josh who were at the cooking stations near me. We all struggled to roll our seaweed correctly to make sure that things would not unravel during the cutting process–which they still…kinda did. But regardless, all of our rolls ended up being delicious even if they were not the prettiest!

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We got to enjoy our kimbap rolls with some nice warm egg soup. We received some certificates too for completing the cooking course~

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After having our lunch, we made our way to have our 장구 (Jangu) playing lessons at the National Center of Traditional Korean Music. I have never been musically talented which has led me to not play any instruments throughout my life. Unless you count playing the recorder in the fourth grade. I did DO that recorder competition with the different colored strings that you would wrap around the bottom of the instrument as if they were karate belts. (Who else relates?) The teacher was really patient with us as she understood that everything we were doing was quite new! I struggled a lot trying to figure out how to hold the drumsticks correctly as well as keeping in pace with everyone else. It seemed as if I had one good run through with the music, the next one would have to be a fail to even things out. There was one point where I messed up the order of when to strike one half of the drum and I just put my hands up in defeat and stopped playing because I could not continue on with the others because I lost my spot. However, what made me more embarrassed was that when this happened… I made eye contact with the teacher! I felt ashamed for not being able to keep up. Even though I was not the best at it, I really enjoyed playing the instrument. While we were playing the music, I immediately felt rewarded hearing everyone playing together and when I did follow along matching the beat, I also felt good! I can see how doing this would also become calming once you get in the zone and just following the rhythm however you like.

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After music class, a big group of the NSLI-Yians went to a 찜질방 (sauna/public bath) to celebrate Josh and Kaitlyn’s birthday which was today! (They share the same birthday but were born in different years!) I ended up just going home to have dinner with my host family when a different plan fell through. It was nice spending a chill Friday night in. My host sisters ate 회 together and since coming to live with them, I have become more accustomed to eating raw fish! And I actually do think it is good now! 

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02/23/19 Saturday

I literally have no pictures from this day because I was not feeling well today. I woke up with a bad headache and my stomach was aching severely so I spent the whole day just laying around in bed doing no work whatsoever. I may have written some blog posts or something? But more likely than not I was just watching Youtube the whole time. At around 8 pm, I ended up meeting up with Josh. He was so kind as to come visit me and we went to a cafe near the subway station in the mall. We stayed there for about three hours trying to focus and do some work. Josh worked on workbook homework while I did Quizlet before quickly giving up and resorting to writing blog posts. 

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One funny thing that happened while we were at the cafe was that after we put our stuff down and approached the counter to order, we were being instantly stared at by the worker at the register and the owner (or higher positioned worker…) of the cafe. They were looking at us and watching us discuss what we wanted to order (in English). They seemed almost…nervous. I went up and asked for a hot green tea latte and as soon as those words left my mouth (in Korean if that was not obvious) the male worker smiled and the female worker signed in relief and remarked that she thought that she was going to have to speak in English. I did order in Korean; however, the worker continued to switch between Korean and English while taking my order. I just thought it was so funny to see them, at first, so visibly nervous to have us order and then feel so much relief when we proved them wrong–AKA show them that we could speak Korean. This area really does not get many foreigners.

Well, that is all for this post! I hope you enjoyed~ Thanks for reading~ I hope the next blog post can be more interesting than this one~ Sorry, things were pretty hard to describe and I did not take a lot of photos so…. this is what you are stuck with for today :p

  • Emma 엠마

Escape Room and Karaoke in Hongdae (홍대) with Korean High School Friend {02/21/19} NSLIY Korea AY

02/21/19 Thursday

For the past couple of days, 호영 {one of the boys from my mentoring program at 하나고} and I have been Insta DMing back and forth trying to figure out a plan to hang out with Katie before going back to school. We decided on the date rather early but figuring out what we were going to to do took a little more time. We kept going back and forth saying everything was good. At one point, I brought up 노래방 because I know that he likes music and this boy had the audacity to ask me how I remembered this?? Hello? Cause we once talked regularly! It made me laugh. 

Eventually, we decided to try and do an escape room. I warned him that if it was in Korean, we might have a difficult time helping out. I looked back at my experience doing it with my host sister and it was very very difficult! The puzzles relied a lot on explanations and listening/reading Korean so I was not the most helpful. I temporarily forgot that he’s good at English so with that in mind we decided to just go for it and do an escape room. 

Before that, I met up with Katie in the morning to go to a cafe. I had a presentation in Korean class today on mass media. {I decided to do mine on the adverse effects and positive effects of social media—called SNS in Korea} so I needed to memorize it before class. Within an hour at the cafe (the other hour was spent goofing off with Katie and doing mindless scrolling on my phone), I was able to memorize the whole thing. Once that was accomplished, I left to meet up with Kaitlyn who wanted to go to Daiso to buy some essentials and then walk around the main shopping streets in search of some luggage to buy since she is moving host families. However… while we were walking around, we started to fight about something pretty trivial. I was getting really upset and was practically yelling while walking around with Kaitlyn. I got so mad that I stormed away from her at one point and returned to the youth center by myself. It was definitely not a proud moment of mine. It put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

During Korean class, we covered all the readings and dialogues in the textbook and learned three new grammar points (though like I said… I feel like it is always so rushed nowadays…) We ended up running out of time (even though we did have a four-hour class today) and so I was the only one that was able to present. My presentation ended up going well. I messed up only minor parts when it came to the memorization and my teacher did not have much to fix content/grammar wise. During the class breaks, I was busy talking with 호영 about our plans after class. It was quite stressful as we were both not being decisive and spotty center wifi did not help the situation.

After class ended, I met up with Katie and we made our way to the subway station continuously texting 호영 who was on his way. I was also chugging a bottle of Starbucks coffee that I bought from the convenience store because it took a lot out of me to try to stay awake during class today. We were both so nervous while waiting for him at the right exit. We kept texting him as he was making his way towards us and at one point we were talking about going to a cafe before heading to the escape room since our room would not be ready till 20 minutes after the time we booked it. At one point he messaged with 낫어 레스토랑? We were both confused and thought he was asking to go to some kind of restaurant. When we let him know that we were not understanding, he explained that 레스토랑 was a restaurant but with Korean pronunciation. We both died laughing at this joke because that was not the problem whatsoever. It was the word before it! 

As 호영 approached us, he waved from behind the huge crowds of Koreans and when we finally found each other–there was a little bit of an awkward silence. I told 호영 that he seemed to have gotten taller but I probably just felt that way because I have not seen him for almost three months. We decided to head to 설빙 and share some 빙수 before firing up our brain cells to hopefully be successful with our escape room game! While walking there, we found out that 호영 had only been to 홍대 one time before today which was really shocking! I mean he is Korean! And, he has lived in Seoul for a long while! The conversation went more smoothly than I expected. Katie and I are able to hold our own with our Korean skills now even though we made plenty of jokes about not understanding 호영 before meeting up with him and because he speaks English pretty well too, we were able to casually flip back and forth if needed. I do believe that speaking Korean as much as I can while here is important but also, I think that being able to code-switch is a nice skill to have too–plus, it makes everything more comfortable. 호영 treated Katie and me at 설빙 because he got some money for the new year. We ended up splitting a strawberry and chocolate brownie 빙수.

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Eventually, it was time to head to the escape room! While we were walking there, 호영 literally almost got hit by a car or motorcycle about two to three times. At one point, I had to grab his arm and pull him to the side because he was cutting it so close. We made jokes about him dying before even being able to attempt to escape a room! We chose to do the easiest room at the place and it was about 12,000 won per person which is such a good price! Most places are 20,000 won per person and in comparison to American escape rooms with prices as high as 30 dollars or more, it was such a good price.

The escape room was such a good time! We were given a maximum of 4 hints and we did use them all; however, that does not matter. We were still able to escape with about 10 minutes left on the clock! Most of the escape room was actually in English as the puzzles only included numbers and riddles in English, so honestly, it would have been easier for us being the Native English speakers in the room. It was the first time both Katie and 호영 had done an escape room (Katie and I did do a virtual one together, though) but we were so successful with our teamwork! Each of us had a little moment to shine where we were able to figure out different puzzles to help us continue along until we were finally able to escape. In one of the rooms, there was even a fake turd in a toilet! It was hilarious when we forced 호영 to pick it up cause we knew it would be a clue. All in all, this escape room was a lot of fun! When we finally made it out of the room, we were so ecstatic and couldn’t help but high five (and I might have been jumping up and down and not able to stop smiling.)

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We finished off the night by getting some sticker photos done at this place that I seem to frequent now (literally though… I am looking at all the photos I have on my vanity right now in my host family’s home… and a good amount are from there.) We then headed to a coin 노래방. We played about 8 songs including Bohemian Rhapsody, Let it Go, 보여줄게, Love is an Open Door, 사랑했지만, Just the Way You Are, and even What Does the Fox Say. The last one was completely 호영’s decision but we all enjoyed screaming the absurd sounds and lyrics in the small room. We went all out–especially me–not caring and just screaming. I may not be able to sing well but screaming is definitely my talent. And it showed! We got our highest scores from singing really loud! We did get up to 98 and 99! 

Well, that is all for this blog post! We ended up separating after getting to the subway station. 호영 rode the subway with me for a couple stops before transferring and then I made my way home to be greeted with my host mom and sisters installing a pole in our living room!! I came in and heard yelling and was greeted by them all as they stood on chairs and tables with different heights screwing in the metal pole to the ceiling. I knew my host mom was considering installing one after she started pole dancing classes but this made me want to laugh out loud. That was all for my Thursday night! I hope you enjoyed this blog post!

  • Emma 엠마

Visiting the DMZ, Dorasan Observatory, and a Secret North Korean Tunnel (02/20/19) NSLI-Y Korea AY

02/20/19 Wednesday

Today was our first cultural excursion of Culture Week (or of all of February as a matter of fact)! We would be visiting the area around the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone–border zone that divides both halves of the Korean peninsula) with a pre-orchestrated tour that had planned stops throughout the day. To start off our day, we all met at 시청역 (City Hall Station). This stop was about an hour away from my home station which was a little bit annoying seeing that we would need to go up to 파주시 (just south of the 38th parallel) anyway… which is actually close to me! I live literally two stops away from the city! For once, we would be going somewhere close to my home and yet I had to meet everyone somewhere else… Oh well, I was able to write some blog posts during the hour train ride.

We took a shuttle bus to our first location which was also being shared with several other English speaking foreigners who booked our same tour guide and then another separate group of Japanese tourists that had their own tour guide. We ate breakfast on the shuttle bus and then mostly tried to sleep till we arrived at the first place: 임진각 (Imjingak). 임진각 is the last settlement in the city of Paju right before the DMZ. Most tours make this place a pit-stop because it has a lot of famous statues and monuments from the Korean War.

임진각 has the bridge of freedom (a bridge that South Koreans used to return after the signing of the armistice agreement), a peace bell, a pool shaped like the Korean peninsula, observation deck/lookout, and a bombed-out steam locomotive still standing on its original tracks. Also… a bit more on the touristy side… this area also includes gift shops, a convenience store, fast food places (like a Popeyes!), and even an amusement park called Peace Land! I mean I guess that is Capitalism for you… I could never imagine why anyone would want to build a theme park near a zone brewing with so much tension and memories of pain and anguish… it really beats me… 

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View of the said amusement park. You can see a couple of rides. 

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I think my favorite place of the large settlement was the barbed wire with all of the colorful prayer ribbons tied on. These ribbons had messages of hope and reunification on them–many were written by individuals with family members or loved ones still living in the North. It brought up images of hope but also sadness as no one knows how long it will take for these people, these two counties, to be united once again.

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The next place on our itinerary was 도라산역 (Dorasan Station) on the 경의중앙 subway line (The one I take from Korean classes back home!) This is the train station that is the closest to the border of North Korea (about 17Km I do believe… according to our tour guide!) Currently (as you could probably guess), this train station is not in use. A train does come into the station about twice a day but this train is the DMZ tour train (owned by the Korean Government) and is not actually public transportation. You cannot take a train on the 경의중앙 line and end up at this station.

At the station, we were able to pay for a fake ticket and gain access to the station platform (which was called 통일–unification–platform) for about $1. The air felt kinda eerie as it looked just like any other outdoor train station platform except for the fact that there was no one there.

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Our next stop was 도라산전망대 (Dorasan Observatory) which looks out across the demilitarized zone. On the very top floor, there are special viewing areas but because the dust was really bad today (or maybe it was actually fog this time; I have no clue) it was pretty hard to see anything. All of the photos we took up there literally looked like they were taken in front of white backgrounds but nope… that is the color of the sky!

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I also took some time to go to the gift shop and buy some products only available at the DMZ tourist stops–and that would be all food products of course. I bought these DMZ soybean chocolate and chocolate eggs as well as this special Choco Pie (famous Korean snack) that is made with ingredients grown around the DMZ. The reason that the choco pie became a famous snack to buy at the DMZ is because there is one famous North Korean refugee that escaped North Korea by car by crossing the 72 hour bridge (or also known as the Bridge of No Return– it is named the 72 hour bridge because it was only built in 72 hours). He was shot countless times while crossing the bridge but still happened to make it to the other side alive. When he made it to South Korea, the first thing he wanted to eat was Choco Pie and so the CEO of the snack brand vowed to give him free Choco Pies for his entire life! It was a really interesting story. 

The last thing we did for the day was going underground and walk through the Third Tunnel which was a secret tunnel that the North Koreans built trying to find a secret passage from North Korea to Seoul for sudden sneak attacks. We were not allowed to take our phones inside to take any pictures so I have nothing to share besides my words! We had to wear yellow hard hats and walk down to get to the tunnel. The ceiling and the walls were quite moist and the tunnel was quite low. I was able to stand up straight most of the time (without any worry of hitting my head) but I am only five foot three or so…anyone taller than me probably had a sore neck after walking through the tunnel. At the end, there was a sign and viewing area for looking into the North Korean side of the tunnel. Something that we noticed which was interesting was that we could see an actual plant growing on the other side! There was life! Walking down to get to the tunnel was not too difficult (besides the fact that it kinda hurt my knees…I love having weak joints!) but walking back up was pretty exhausting. 

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Once we finished exploring the tunnel, we walked around the area and took lots of group photos (We had to take a banner photo in front of the iconic DMZ letter sign.) before heading back into the bus for our return back to 시청역. I was able to pretty much sleep the entire way back which was much needed seeing that I could not go home right after we arrived… I was going to do community service!

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Usually, the Wednesday squad consists of Shada, Kaitlyn, and I but Josh had nothing to do for the rest of the day so he decided to join us. We had about three hours to kill before community service so we chilled at this cafe in the subway station called Tammy’s House or something like that. While we were there… I tried finishing my workbook but it was hard. I just wanted to hang out and talk with the others. While we were there, Josh and Kaitlyn were getting really existential and asking really deep philosophical answers and it was interesting to see how their answers more often than not differed. Today, I learned, that Kaitlyn is such a nihilist at times! One of the questions that I remember vividly was “Are Humans or Animals More Free?” Kaitlyn was on team animals since they are not constrained by society and its rules/standard while Josh argued that they cannot even understand the concept of freedom with their small brains. It was such a fun conversation! I love hanging with them two!

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We did our community service which ended up probably being the last one for a while (We could not go the following week because of orientation and now that school is starting soon… I do not know if I will have the energy to do community service every week.) I really enjoyed spending the time helping out with my fellow NSLI-Yians and the kids have really begun to open up to us~ It was fun being able to have more conversations with them today. It was probably the best service yet! I will definitely miss it…

That is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed~ I put in a lot of effort into this blog post to make it interesting and educational at the same time. Honestly, it is probably one of my favorite ones. Well, until next time!

  • Emma 엠마

 

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

02/18/19 Monday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/19/19 Tuesday 

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

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

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My favorite chocolate banana smoothie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Emma 엠마