Posts Tagged ‘south korea’

This past week was International Education Week (Nov. 12-16)- a week dedicated to demonstrating the importance of studying abroad  and going international.

International Education Week means a lot to me because going abroad changed my life and I do not know who I would have been today had I not gone abroad.  With that said, I highly encourage everyone to study abroad at least once in their lives- you will learn so much and open your mind.

Every day, I am thankful to CIEE, The Korea Foundation, NSLI-Y, iEARN, YesInternational, and the Department of State for giving me the opportunity to have the experiences of a lifetime.  Without the support of these organizations, I would not have been able to go out of my bounds and into a new and unfamiliar culture.

The impact of my experiences is beyond words.  I started out going to South Korea because of curiosity and desire to go somewhere, ANYWHERE.  But that changed within a couple of days of being in South Korea- I quickly became interested in the culture and the people.  By the end of my stay, I had fostered a passion for learning about the relationship between the North and the South.  The second time I traveled to SK, I was prepared to study and learn everything about South Korea- I hoped to gain a true understanding of the country.  And now, I continue to study Korean on my own.  Why?  So that I can help defectors.  I will talk about this in a separate post because the issue deserves its own… but that’s my ultimate goal.

Can you believe that curiosity turned into compassion?  THIS is the impact of my study abroad.  Everyone will have different experiences and meet different people… but these will shape who you are and open your mind to a new level that you do not know you are capable of.

So… do it.  Study abroad and go international.  After all, the celebration of this week is to encourage more people to think beyond by opening themselves up to the world out there.  You will be impacted differently from me, but that’s what makes each and every one of us unique.

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The Flight Memory

The view as I landed in Korea.

The flight to Korea was where my adventure beganI was on a plane for nearly fifteen hours and I was not near any of the other students on the program.  Rather, I was in a middle seat between two strangers.  The man on my right was someone I will never forget.

In some ways, I guess you could say that we kept each other company for the fifteen hours.  The conversation really began when the first meal came: bibimbap.  I was unfamiliar with the dish but I knew that it was supposed to taste good.  He helped me out in terms of telling me how much hot sauce I should put in and when the mixture was good enough to eat.  Then he talked to me about dishes in Korea that are very popular and delicious.  After our little chat about food, he told me a little bit about himself, his family, etc. He wanted to buy make-up for his wife and something for his grandchild.  I helped him pick out a make-up brand for his wife while he decided on a pack of crayons and chocolate for his grandchild.  Then he asked about me and why I was headed to Korea on my own.  I explained that I was on a program for people who have never been to Korea before.  I talked to him about my interest in Korean culture and that this trip was very exciting for me.  He seemed pleased that I was so interested in Korean culture and proceeded to tell me about SKY schools and places to visit in Korea.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

During the second meal, we chatted over what was healthy to eat and what was not healthy to eat on our trays.  The discussion was quite amusing as I refused to eat the salad because it tasted funny.  He kept telling me that I need my vegetables but I kept telling him that the salad doesn’t taste right.  Instead, I ate the carrot cake.  Haha~ I guess this was why he was reminding me to eat healthy—> I refused salad for carrot cake.

After the plane landed, it was time to part.  He was back home and I was miles and miles away from home.  Being that I am quite short, I could not reach my baggage in the compartment by a fingertip.  He found this quite amusing and helped me out.  That was the last I spoke to him or saw him because I proceeded to find my program leader and the other students.

In fifteen hours, I became friends with a stranger.  We kept each other company and in the midst of it all, learned some new things.  As I flew over the sea, I made a new memory… one that is just as special as the others that I made while I was in Korea.  It’s nice to know that I landed in Korea with something good… From that point on, I knew my trip was going to be a blast;  I was going to change into a new person… a better person.

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Me (left) and Shoshana (right)

I made it to the airport a little early, or so I thought.  At 2:00 PM, I was going to take-off for South Korea.  It had been awhile since I had been in an airport, so I was a little lost as to where to go.  Plus, JFK is quite large… and easy to get lost in.  But, I had my mom and my sister escorting me until security check.  We walked up to the Korean Air desk and I told them which flight I was on.  As the lady checked my information in the system, she looked to her right and said that the girl next to me was on the same list and heading to the same place.  I looked over to my left and saw this tall girl.  I swore she was not there a moment ago.  There was a little gap of awkwardness and confusion.  And then, I think it hit us that we were on the same program.  I waved a little “hello” and introduced myself.  She told me her name was Shoshana.  Now I definitely knew she was on the program because I remembered her name on the list that was sent to every participant that was meeting up at JFK.  Her father was accompanying her and was very friendly as well.  He said that other participants had already arrived and were meeting up at the cafe.  I told her that I would catch up with them in a little while.  When I made it to the cafe area, I saw Shoshana and her dad sitting at a table.  Both of my parents and my sister all sat down and Shoshana and I were able to get to know each other a little bit better.  She was the first friend that I made on my trip to South Korea and I’ll never forget her or that day.  It was nice to meet someone new.  Before departure, I had been having some issues with my [ex] friends so things were a little rough for me.  And I have to say, though no one on the trip knew, every person that was friendly and every friend that I made had an impact on me and my life.  These people lightened up my mood which had been overcast since late May until that August.  Coming back from the trip, I think I matured because of the friendships that I made, despite the fact that I had only known these people for a mere 2 weeks.  This whole process of change began that day at the airport with Shoshana.  Above is a picture of my friend Shoshana and I at Samsung Delight.  I remember after that picture was taken, she was like “that shadow on my shirt looks like a water stain…”

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The day started off quite boring… a visit to the Folk Museum.  In some ways, this could have been fun, but the environment was just not right.  I mean, it was too hot and the tour guide’s voice just buzzed in the background.  She had to explain every, and I mean, EVERY, little detail about each of the artifacts.  It’s her job, but was that really necessary?  She could have given us a brief summary and given us more time to explore for ourselves… that’s why there were notecards next to each item.  Anyway, at one point, my friend Tuyen and I roamed off and came across a bench.  Now, if you did as much walking as we did on the program, you would understand how lovely it was to see something that can be sat on.  The bench was made out of wood and on any ordinary occasion, I would have complained about the wooden bench.  But as of that moment, it was rest time!  So, Tuyen and I popped a squat on the bench and leaned our backs against the wall.  A couple of minutes passed before the camera man (yep, he showed up everywhere we went) walked into the area that we were in.  He had the camera in one hand and the other hand was wiping sweat from his forehead.  I must repeat, it was just too damn hot.  He saw us resting while everyone else was exploring the museum.  A staccato of a moment was spent in silence and staring back and forth.  Then laughter entered the atmosphere.  It was funny- the situation, the bench, the camera man walking in.  The moment is so hard for me to describe, but it was one of those awkward but funny moments.  The laughter kind of cooled down the atmosphere and it was just a good moment in time.  Resting on a bench, back against the wall, staring at the near-empty gift shop, echoes of silence, laughter.  Life doesn’t always get that good.

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A couple of days after I first arrived in South Korea, I went to Insadong- THE tourist shopping centre.  Insadong is a district of Seoul where many traditional shops are located.  If you’ve ever been to Chinatown or Flushing… it’s very similar.  Anyway, I remember that Insadong shopping was scheduled right after a visit to the Blue House Promotional Hall.  The day was not sunny and clear… rather, it was dark and muggy.  By the time we arrived in Insadong, it was raining already.  A couple of my friends and I ended up running into shops just to stay out of the bouts of heavy rainfall.  It was most certainly not the best time to enjoy the beauty of Insadong.  We had a time limit… be back at the bus at some time.  The rain was taking away from the fun.  Eventually, my group of friends scattered.  It was finally just me and my friend Shoshana.  The rain was lighter and time was almost up.  We decided that it was a good idea to head back to the bus slowly and take a peek into some shops if something caught our eyes.  As we headed toward the buses, a man called out to us.  Turning around, we saw a guy behind a little window of a street food vendor.  He was motioning for us to come over.  Now, we both knew that these people like to catch our attention and draw us over so that they could convince us to buy something.  Both of us quickly shook our head and said a polite “no thank you.”  The man was persistent.  He said, “No, no.  Come.  Don’t have to buy, just watch, okay?  We put on show.”  Shoshana was a little hesitant, but I felt bad for the poor guy.  So I went over.  Suddenly, he and two other guys started singing a rhyme of some sort in unison and they took this solidified honey and dunked it in flour.  With their magic skills, they stretched and stretched the honey until it was in thousands and thousands of skinny strands.  The entire time, they described what they were doing in a song… kind of like an a cappella.  I can still hear them saying, “wooooowwwww” and “in english, oh my god!”  hahaha~ As Shoshana and I enjoyed this spectacle, a bunch of other people from the program joined in to see this amazing show.  So many people were crowded around that little shop that the camera man (yes, there was a camera man for our trip) had to film some of this.  He even bought a box for 5000 won to share with the program people.  I was too busy watching the encore and buying myself a box.  🙂 That night, I tried this lovely treat, called kkultarae.  Yum.  It was not too sweet and crispy at the same time.  I wish I bought a box for my family to try, but it only lasts in the air for 2 weeks and the timing wasn’t right… it would not have been fresh if I bought it then.  I hope to go back this summer.  Now that I know what I am looking for, I will be sure to buy 3 boxes,  with each of the fillings, before I come back to America.  Well, that is, if I do go back this summer.

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Another quick memory from South Korea summer 2010:

It was August 19th, last day of activity with CIEE before heading back to the U.S. On our way back to the Yonsei dorms from the DMZ, everyone was tired and sleeping on the bus.  The ride was going to be long and the sun beating through the windows made us all drowsy.  Well, I’ll assume that was why everyone was sleeping on the bus because that’s why I was a little sleepy too.  I sat next to my friend Tuyen and she tried showing me how to master the Rubik’s Cube.  Honestly, I just didn’t have the willpower to learn.  It was too hot, the tour guide’s voice was droning in the background, and I was a little upset to be leaving Korea in 2 days.  So we listened to her ipod (similar tastes in music!) and we drifted off to sleep.  It was quite a comfortable nap- her head on my shoulder and my head on her head, the warm sun baking my skin, and a nice silence creeping in the air.  When we woke up, we looked at the program schedule booklet and discussed our favorite memories of our trip to South Korea.  Then we creeped on the chaperone information in the back of the booklet.  I have to say, this was one of those rare and pure moments of friendship and bonding.  I am so lucky to have had one of these moments.


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Sweet Reminiscence

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot… A LOT… about my trip to Korea this past summer.  I really don’t know why, but every little thing reminds me of Korea.  Even if I’m sitting there doing homework or something, I think of Korea.  It’s been about half a year since I left and I can’t even describe how much my heart aches to be in Korea again.  And on top of all of that, I miss my friends from the trip just as much.  I feel like there was so much in Korea that I did not get a chance to see, to experience.  Honestly, I still have Seoul time set in my phone.

To ease this heartache that I’m feeling, I’ve decided to share 1 memory of my Korea trip per week until I get my NSLI-Y notification of acceptance (in my dreams) or rejection (the more likely one).  So, I’m going to share one right now:

It was the last day before flying back to the U.S.  Elissa, Maria, and I decided to take a cab to Shinchon station to meet up with some people for karaoke, after a long day of shopping.  Now, we were in the cab and the guy didn’t seem to understand us very well.  Elissa tried to tell the guy to stop at Shinchon station and the guy smiled, chuckled, and kept driving.  Clearly, he didn’t really get what we were telling him, but we waited patiently until WE saw Shinchon station ourselves.  So as we were stuck in traffic, I heard that the driver was listening to Chinese music.  I said to Elissa and Maria, “Hey, he’s listening to Chinese music.  Maybe he’s Chinese.”  They laughed and said that I should test him out.  Nonchalantly, I said “Ni hui jiang guo yu ma?”  -Silence-  All three of us burst into laughter and well, obviously he was Korean… he just enjoyed listening to Chinese music.  When we got the cab to stop, I heard Elissa and Maria say “kamsahamnida.”  I decided to twist it up a little and said “Xie xie, zai jian.”  Being the silly cab driver that he was, he looked at me and started giggling and said “AHHH… xie xie NI!  Zai jian!”  What a fond memory… The cab driver was a real entertainer… ㅋㅋㅋ~

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1. Capri Island, Italy– How can anyone resist the beautiful waters?

2. Jeju-do, South Korea– Still waiting to try Cactus Chocolate and all of the other specialties of Jeju.

3. Kyoto, Japan Not as urban as Tokyo… but rich with history, since it was the old capital of Japan.

4. Moscow, Russia– Reminds me of a fantasy Candyland.

5. Zaragoza, Spain– A lovely, personal experience with old European architecture.

6. Paris, France– It’s just one of those places that you HAVE to visit.

7. San Diego, California– Just because it’s on the opposite end of America, from NY.

8. Venice, Italy– I would love to ride on a gondola with someone special and attend Carnevale…

9. Toronto, Canada– Fresh air is always sweet.

10. Zurich, Switzerland– Now, I’m not a party animal, but word is that the night life is amazing.

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