A Quick Update

It’s been a busy week with barely enough time to sleep let alone blog. You’ll find that a dull ache in your head becomes present after several days of insufficient sleep.

This week of classes has been considerably more intense than the last in terms of homework. The workload isn’t nearly as bad as it is during the school year. It’s just that by the time I get home after activities like supporter meetings, weekly meetings, and 장구 (traditional drums) classes, I eat dinner with my host family and want to spend more time with them before starting homework. Or, I ride the wrong train, get spotted by some friends off to explore Myeongdong, and decide to tag along. My plans these days are spontaneous, but going along with things always seems to work out

This schedule can be physically and mentally exhausting (sometimes as a result of my own choices). And yet I don’t feel annoyed at all by waking up early, sleeping late, or doing loads of homework. Unlike school, everything I’m learning now is genuinely enjoyable and interesting to me. And for all the studying I do, I go out and have fun just as much.

For someone as introverted as myself, being around people almost 24/7 should be uncomfortable. But I’ve found that it doesn’t bother me, and I’ve had the chance to meet so many interesting individuals from all different backgrounds.

I’m in a pretty good place this week.

Hoping to catch up with other things I’ve been meaning to post this weekend!

Host Family + The Beginning of Ewha Classes

I finally have some time to catch up! I’ve avoided posting for a while now because there’s just so much to write about. This was all supposed to be posted a week ago 😅

On Saturday, we received the last bit of orientation from Better World and our stipend for the first three weeks. More importantly, we met our host families!

I’m living with one other NSLI-Y student (Sarah), a host mother, and host father. But our parents are kind of young and don’t have kids of their own, so they asked us to call them by 언니 and 오빠 (Titles for and older sister and brother from a female’s perspective). The hours before we met our host family were nerve-wracking. I began to worry that the communication barrier would be too difficult to navigate and that our relationship might be awkward.

To my relief, it’s not awkward at all. In fact, we get along with our host family really well. On the first day, I only met our host father because our host mother was working and didn’t come home till after I fell asleep. We went out to eat ddeokbokki, kimbap, and 오뎅 (fish cake), 튀김 (fritters), and 순대 (pig intestines). I had made a mental note before coming to Korea about steering clear of 순대, but there I was trying it within the first few days of my time in the country. To put it briefly, I couldn’t handle the texture and only ate one piece.

For the rest of the day, we watched TV and just chatted. Our host father was surprised at how many Korean celebrities and programs we knew.

I always expected my experience of Korean pop culture to be different from what people actually pay attention to in Korea, but that’s not really the case. Shops on the street blare music that I’m familiar with, and I’ve seen most of the shows my host family watches (Including 아는 형님!).

I met our host mother the next morning. She’s such a sweet and adorable person! We spent the day outside in heavy rain showers because she wanted to show us how to get the university for classes. On our way back, we stopped at Hongdae and saw the LINE store 🙂

I was probably sleep deprived when this picture was taken

The words most often used in my host family are:

“미국에서는…” In America…

“한국에서는….” In Korea….

“인도에서는….” In India…. (Because I’m Indian)

Our host family’s always eager to learn and share cultural differences. The funniest moments are when Sarah and I say opposite things about America. It just goes to show how different two people’s experiences in the same country can be.

On Monday, the time had finally come for Sarah and I to ride the subway by ourselves. We knew that we had one transfer to make and confidently got on the wrong train (Correction: I felt confident). We met another NSLI-Y friend on the way, and she told us she was getting off at a station near the university and would walk the rest of the way instead of transferring. But I was pretty sure of the plan I’d made the night before and decided to stay on the same train. That is, until that peer’s host mother told us to get off with them. We ended up getting off at the right station, and I soon realized that the train we got on was not going to the station I wanted to transfer at…We had been saved.

As a random side note, I’ve fallen in love with the Korean subway system. It’s reliable, convenient, and easy to navigate. It’s so reassuring to know that I can get home from any station. The ability to commute from one place to another without having to rely on my parents to drive makes me feel substantially more independent.

To any future NSLI-Y applicants who are directionally challenged like me, please don’t worry too much. I thought I’d be getting lost every single day, but the subway system (if you end up using it) is far more easy to navigate than the maze of colored lines on the map would suggest. Also, do download the blue subway app (literally just called Subway), so you can access the maps and see what transfers you should make offline.

Korean Classes

The first day at Ewha consisted of a placement test, orientation, and a tour of the campus, which is absolutely beautiful.

I ended up in the 은하수 (galaxy) class. I don’t feel like I’m struggling, but it’s definitely challenging. It’s particularly heavy in vocabulary, which I’m lacking in. We’re often forced to articulate our thoughts in complete sentences, and I think it’s helping a lot. Four hours of class tends to go by pretty quickly for me.

I feel like I should probably leave it here for today. Check back for posts on Gyeongbokgung Palace, a Joseon King’s tomb, and the Odusan unification tower!

Evening at the Han River

It’s Friday!

After class ended, we had our first cultural club meetings. I was put in the music class, in which we learn how to play a traditional Korean drum called 장구. My first choice was cooking, but the drums now seem equally as fun! There’s a lot more technique that goes into playing this drum than you would expect (or maybe that’s just me). There’s a certain place on the drum you have strike, a certain way to hold the sticks, and a certain way to keep the drum in place with your feet. By the end of today’s lesson, we were physically exhausted, and I had an acute aching sensation on my left pinky from the way we had to hold the stick.

But we still had enough energy to go explore more of Seoul. A group including myself and three other awesome NSLI-Yians spontaneously decided to go Yeouido to see the Han River.

It was lovely!

But before I continue on about the wonderful time we had, I want to take a second to mention our the most intense train ride any of had any experienced. I used to think my morning commute to the university was decently packed since I occasionally have to push my way to get off the train.

Everything I’ve experienced up until today is now laughable in comparison.

We had to get on an express train to get to Yeouido, and we were all pressed up against other passengers’ bodies and couldn’t take a step in any direction. Every time more people got on, I found myself deeper lodged in the massive crowd. At one point, I had to lean back slightly to make my body fit in the limited space, and I maintained this position for several minutes. It was an effective core exercise.

When we got off the train, all we could do was laugh hysterically. I felt like I was finally able to breathe.

After the life-changing train ride, the four of us walked around Yeouido and toward the Hangang Park. We saw some beautiful scenery on the way there!

We first saw this cool statue of King Syejong, the man credited with the creation of the Korean writing system. 한글 is an incredibly simple and logical writing system, so I have quite a bit of respect for the man.

When we finally got to the river, we were met with lively music, crowds, and a bunch of food! I had some 튀김 (fritters) made with pork, and those who know me won’t be surprised that I also got spicy 떡볶이 (rice cakes). I further stuffed myself with amusingly named dessert: the “오빠 크레이프”. It was a crepe with Nutella, whipped cream, bananas, Oreo, and cereal(?). It was delicious.

The atmosphere around the Hangang River is relaxing yet festive. There were some cool performers too!

I’d definitely recommend coming here, but it’s not somewhere you’ll want to spend an entire day at. Plan the rest of your activities and maybe come here in the evening, when the view is prettiest.

That’s it for today! I apologize for the lack of consistency with these posts. I’ve truly been making the most of each and every day this week, and the time just slips by. Thanks for reading.

First Time Exploring Seoul

It was an exceptionally long and wonderful day.

I came here knowing that breakfasts were savory, but it didn’t make eating vegetables and meat for breakfast any less odd. I actually really liked it and can see myself getting used to eating that kind of food in the morning. Enjoy this picture of Ashley dining on a wholesome breakfast.

We had some presentations and broke up into ten groups of five plus one alumni helper per group. The goal was to learn how to use the subway station, and I can’t explain the relief I felt when I heard someone was going to guide us.

We went to a place called Sadang and on the way completed some mortifying tasks, by which I mean engaging in conversation with complete strangers. We would ask them questions that usually had obvious answers (Ex. What station is this?), and I felt so burdensome and had to fight back a strong urge to flee after asking the question. Unfortunately, the embarrassment was prolonged by the need to take pictures for proof and to get each of our five members to ask a question. But it wasn’t all bad.

Several random people took interest in the six of us sporting matching NSLI-Y t-shirts and Better World bags. They asked us about our program and volunteered to help us with directions.

We were waking past some shops in the station, and a guy behind us said, “Hello” in a way that really didn’t sound like English, so it didn’t register for a second. Then, a girl beside him was like “왜 이래?” “Why are you being like this?” to which he responded, “Nice to meet you.” It was funny because I was the only one who had heard him, and everyone else was already walking away.

Old people stared us all day so much that I began to feel self-conscious, but I feel like a lot of them were merely curious and weren’t necessarily as annoyed as they looked.

We had some awesome bingsu at a cafe and wandered through a cool bookstore in the station before returning back to our hostel for more presentations from the alumni who had helped us out all day.

There’s a real copy of the book that appears in the drama 김비서가 왜 그럴까?

Just walking around and seeing the city makes me feel so happy to be here.

First Night in Seoul

I crashed last night before I could write anything down, but yesterday was amazing.

After getting off a twelve-hour flight, our group walked into the incredibly beautiful Incheon airport. The bathrooms were immaculate, and the toilets were the high-tech looking ones you hear exist in Japan.

Just hearing the buzz of Korean conversations around me and reading all the signs written in Korean (and several other languages) felt so surreal, and I found myself smiling for no particular reason.

On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, I continued to obnoxiously read all the signs out loud and laugh whenever I saw a celebrity promotion, which is far more prevalent than I ever dreamed. Enjoy this picture of Gong Yoo carrying groceries on the back of a truck.

Another thing that struck me was the ubiquitous karaoke places (노래방). They were everywhere. It seems I’ve greatly underestimated the popularity of karaoke.

Once we got to the hostel, we had Korean pizza with of one our teachers and a member of the staff who took videos and pictures. For all the Hawaiian Pizza haters out there, get ready for sweet potato pizza! I loved the sweetness and texture, but it didn’t really seem to meet the taste of my peers 😁. Like usual, taking a picture completely slipped my mind. But, I did take a picture of a sweet fan with my name and Better World (our implementing organization) written on it.

The nine other girls in our room and I got ready for bed while a Korean variety show played in the background. Korean showers are really only separated from everything else by a sliding door. No one seemed to have trouble falling asleep, but we all woke up at strange times. I was very convinced that it was 7:00 a.m. when I started moving around at 2:00 a.m. One of us got up to take a shower in the middle of the night. Jet lag symptoms?

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading, and check back for more updates!

Pre-departure Orientation: Day 2

So there was definitely a lot more that happened today!

Most of the day was presentations about topics like being a citizen ambassador, being safe in Korea, being an active language learner, being a good host student, etc. While I was slightly tired by the end of it all, I didn’t hate listening to people speak about the program for hours. If anything, it just reaffirmed my passion and reason for wanting to join NSLI-Y in the first place.

I got to have several more conversations with others on my program today, and everyone’s so intriguing. We all have our own unique backgrounds and connections to the Korean language and culture. The group’s incredibly diverse, and I just found myself in so many interesting conversations. It’s a nice feeling to be able to nerd out about language and not only have your enthusiasm accepted but reciprocated.

In other news, I got my OPI score back today! I was placed at Intermediate Mid on a scale that looks like this:

I was pleasantly surprised by my score; I’d been hoping for Intermediate Low at best. The goal for a student at Intermediate Low is to advance to Intermediate High, but I can’t help but wondering if there’s a possibility I could end up at Advanced Low. Definitely not going to bet on that happening for fear of disappointment…but I’m still going to try as if that were my real goal.

I’m so incredibly hyped for language classes because I’ve never studied Korean in a classroom setting. It’ll be really nice to get immediate, personalized feedback from native speakers. HiNative is incredible, don’t get me wrong, but it’s gratifying to speak with people off of the internet.

And with that, pre-departure orientation has come to an end. It was an exciting two days, and we will be flying out to Korea tomorrow!

Pre-departure Orientation: Day 1

I woke up this morning to jitters and my digestive system waging war on me. My mom made my favorite breakfast (upma) and a cup of chai, and we were off.

Even though it’s a Monday, both of my parents and my younger brother accompanied me to the airport, where I was pat down by TSA for the first time in my life. I must’ve looked terrified because they kept feeling the need to reassure me that there was nothing to worry about. The experience was every bit as awkward as I imagined it to be, but they were just doing their job. My family was allowed to walk with me all the way to the gate, and I met three other NSLI-Y participants who also live in the DFW area. My mother tried (unsuccessfully) to hold back tears as I boarded. It is an understatement to just say that I will miss her and the rest of my family these next six weeks.

And I know no one’s asking, but my flight to Seattle was alright. It was four hours long and filled with vocal children, and I had the pleasure of sitting next to an adorable baby. On my other side was a kind older gentleman who put my carryon in the overhead compartment for me. I then helped him peel a banana.

I made several attempts to read one of the books on Korean politics our RD recommended, but I ended up staring off into space and going through a Korean phrase book for travelers the majority of the flight.

I was delighted to finally meet others from my program at the University of Washington, which has the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen. We all had dinner together and did some icebreakers, but the real icebreaker was a game of Cards Against Humanity that Ashley had the sense to bring with her.

I’m a bit tired, so I’ll just call it a day for now. Tomorrow’s a bunch of presentations!

Goals for My Time in Korea

TEN DAYS LEFT!

Ahem.

Our implementing organization, iEARN, emailed us all a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting worksheet to complete by Pre-departure Orientation. They had us list out a language learning goal, a goal for building cultural understanding, and how exactly we plan to achieve these goals. They weren’t exactly all that interesting (viewable through this link), but they got me thinking about what my personal goals are for the six weeks I’ll be spending in Korea. Continue reading

Pre-departure Thoughts + RDs + OPI

18 days left!

The moment we entered June, I began freaking out. I can’t believe it’s so close. I swear it was just a few days ago that we were counting down from sixty days in our group chat…

Needless to say, I’m the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. But it’d be a lie if I said that I’m not nervous. I’ve never been away from home so long, and I have a pretty justified fear of getting lost. It’s so much worse than whatever you’re thinking. I get lost within buildings. Within hallways…that I’ve been in before…

And the thought of navigating my way in a foreign country where I need to coherently articulate myself in Korean if I end up getting lost is just a tad bit overwhelming.

But hey! There’s so much more to look forward to, and even I can’t get lost every day.

I think.

It also occurred to me that there’s a lot I meant to write about in this past month. To any prospective NSLI-Y students, know that the months after you’re accepted leading up to your departure are filled up with preparation.

There’s video conferences where you meet your residence directors, your oral proficiency interview (if you have prior knowledge of the language), A LOT OF FORMS TO FILL OUT, pre-program language preparation, thinking about what gifts to bring your host family (which I’ve kind of done), and thinking about what to pack in general (which I haven’t done at all).

So this isn’t actually all that much. It’s just that balancing all of this with the last few weeks of school (A.K.A last-minute finals cramming) can make you feel a bit stressed out. But now that school’s finally out, everything’s so much easier to deal with it. I don’t know how the kids getting out a few days before departure are staying sane.

So, I want to go more in depth about some of what I’ve mentioned above, but it’s not super exciting. Read on if you’re curious, but you won’t hurt my feelings if you couldn’t care less. Continue reading

Weeks Three and Four of Korean Challenge + Final Thoughts

So I did it! I studied Korean every single day for thirty days. As someone who struggles with procrastination and creating structured study plans, I was really happy with the consistency I achieved through this challenge.

My attempted weekly blogging schedule, on the other hand, wasn’t as successful…

In this post, you will find:

  • A dreadfully late recap on the last two weeks of this challenge
  • Details on how exactly I studied
  • A video I recorded of myself speaking about the challenge in Korean!

Continue reading