August 22, 2012
I made it to South Korea!
I can't explain how amazing this is. When I left Florida, I was scared and excited. I promised myself I wouldn't cry but when my mom hugged me, it was a tear fest.
About 20 hours later, I arrived in South Korea. I didn't worry about who would pick me up or what should I do. I just wanted to find my luggage and get out of the crowd. Once I found heather, we managed to get all of our belongings out to the front of the airport and meet our P.E. teacher who took us to Seocheon.
After being here a week, I have learned so much. My host family does their best to teach me Korean even though they don't know English at all. We try to communicate in many ways but if we don't understand, we use Google Translate.
I still have a lot to learn and I will do my best to succeed.
Thank you so much for making this possible!!! I couldn't have got here without you Rotary!
April 8, 2013
It's been about seven months since my last journal and all I can say is man have things changed drastically. To start off, I have switched families twice and am living with my last one now. My second host family was very welcoming and always included me. They wanted me to explain the culture differences between Korea and USA often. I had a little sister named Yuri who just started middle school and parents who have daytime jobs. My sister always looked up to me and mimicked what I had done. Since I am the youngest in my American family, I never realized there was such thing as the 'older sister' role. It benefited me in ways I would have never known. I have responsibility here more than I've ever had in America. My current host family is much different than the others. I live at a church with my parents and yet again, another younger sister, Boyoung. My father is the pastor and my mother is a housewife. Boyoung is a 9th grade student who will be coming to Florida on exchange 2013-2014. She absolutely loves K-pop music and playing the piano. My whole family enjoys watching television. Usually we watch a Korean comedy show called Running Man or KPOP STAR which is similar to American Idol. Although I don't enjoy living in the most rural part of town, this family makes it all the better.
During the first semester of school, we only studied Korean and did not participate with the normal classes like Math, Science, and History. Two volunteer teachers came in to help us and teach conversational Korean. They also took us to visit nearby historical sites since we weren't able to go to by ourselves. Every first, third, and fifth Saturday of the month, we had to attend a sport class of our choice. Three of the exchange students choose bowling, Heather, the other exchange student from Florida, decided to give swimming a try since we could already swim. It wasn't what I had expected at all. This is probably when culture shock first hit me. After I bought my swim suit, cap, and goggles, it was time to hit the pool. When I first walked through the door to the women's locker area, I was flabbergasted. Naked old women EVERYWHERE!!! First I thought "Get me out of here now!" Then I remembered a quote, 'Do as the natives do.' Luckily I wore my swimsuit to the pool so all I had to do was adjust my vision to the ground and head to the pool. After was a different story. We had to undress and shower with every other female in the locker room. I've never felt so many eyes piercing my body before. Awkward. In the shower area, an old woman went up to heather and motioned for her to scrub her back! "You scrub mine, I'll scrub yours" is a rather easy way to explain the situation. After going to the class a few times, thee weather outside began to get colder as the days went on. Our counselor allowed us to switch the class to bowling. Thank god!!! However, if you go to a 찜질방, the same routine for the swimming pool occurs. On the bright side, after attending so many of those classes, I've gotten used to showering with old women and their eyes now feel like Jello. Once they look at me, they realize I am the same species and then their gaze slips away. Now that it is the s econd semester, I chose to do golf instead. What a wonderful decision that was. The only thing I have to adapt to with golf is immense pain in my back and old men staring at me haha.
The winter break started from January and ended mid-February. We went to school for a week and then had spring break. Spring break turned out to be freezing temperatures and a little snow. On March 4th, we began the next school year. Three days out of the week we attend Donggang middle school, the other two days are spent at the Animation High school where kids from all over the country can go to. At first I didn't have many friends due to the fact that I was in a middle school with nobody my age but the other exchange students. Now I have made many friends at the high school that help me my Korean. One interesting fact about Korean teenagers is that if you want to make friends with them, you have to initiate the meeting. Most of the students would stare for a few minutes and then run away like lightning. Once you become friends with one, the others will join.
Korean language is by far the hardest language I have ever been interested in. Not only is the grammar different but the 한글(Hanguel; Korean alphabet) was created by using phonetics. Making the sound of each character was the most difficult thing to do. Many characters sound alike but have a slight change. In the beginning of my exchange, I hardly knew how to read Korean. As of now, I can understand most of what is said to me and reply with hesitation. For Korean, I'd say that's a pretty good deal since I am surrounded by other English speaking exchange students.
Along with the language are other culture differences. Before winter break, all exchange students had to attend culture classes after school such as 사물놀이 (Salmulnori), cooking, calligraphy, and a sewing class. 사물놀이 is the most common and played all across Korea. It consists of a barrel drum, an hour-glass shaped drum, a gong, and a larger gong. I played the hour-glass shaped drum called 장구. Playing it was fun but hard. 사물놀이 has a lot of syncopation and requires you to multitask (I'm not too good at multitasking so you can imagine how off beat I was). I also got to choose a 한복(Hanbok) to have made for me at the sew. 한복 is the name of the traditional dress worn to festivals and celebrations. As pretty as the dress is, it does not compliment any body features so wearing it made me feel like a pumpkin. Many people wear the 한복 on the Lunar New Year when they tell the elders Happy New Year.
The fashion in Korea ranges but as of today, the teenaged girls tend to wear oversized shirts and leggings mainly because the baggy shirt makes them look skinnier. The boys wear sweat pants and a shirt. For the young adults, the women wear very trendy clothes along with high heels to make them look taller. Men typically wear either suits or top of the line clothing. I've tried to wear clothes that match with the 'Korean style', but some things are better looking in the closet than on me.
Food is another interesting topic. Obviously there are huge differences but some things I wish I wouldn't have tried, I'm glad I did though. There are side dishes that come with every meal called 반찬 (Banchan). It usually consists of some sort of Kimchi, Pickled Radish, and Beansprouts. Kimchi is eaten with every meal and can be made from any underground vegetable such as radish and cabbage. Fresh Kimchi is much easier to eat than fermented Kimchi. There are many main dishes that people enjoy like 비빔밥 (Bibimbap), 떡볶이 (Dukbokki), and 불고기 (Bulgogi). Currently, 비빔밥 is Korea's signature dish. It literally means mixed rice. There is vegetable, herbs, rice, and a spicy sauce mixed together. 불고기 is a more traditional meal and is not as common with native Koreans but enjoyed by many foreigners. It is made by grilling thin slices of beef marinated in soy sauce and other ingredients. However, there are meals that are not well-known by foreigners but eaten by many Koreans. A good example of this would be a type of Korean sushi. Sadly I don't remember the name but it was a very memorable moment for me when I ate it. I was with Heather and her family at a fish market. In the back of the market on the second floor, there was a small dining area that served raw fish and other seafood. They ordered a huge plate of 2 different fish. Then her father showed us how to eat it. You first take a leaf or lettuce and place it in your hand. With the other hand, you pick up the slice of raw fish and dip it in ether a spicy chunky red sauce or a black bitter sauce. Once the fish is folded in the leaf, you put the entire ball into your mouth and eat it. Heather and I were in sync when we prepared it. Lucky for her, I was the first to chew it. Once I bit through the leaf and fish, I immediately began to gag and proceeded to vomit in a cup. That was embarrassing. Everyone was laughing so the owners took no offense to my action showing I didn't like the food they prepared. Ever since, I have been very attentive to the foods I eat.
While in Korea, I haven't been able to tour the country as much as I want to but I still have a little time. The Rotary club here has sent us on two trips so far, one being sponsored. The first trip was to Seoul. We stayed in the Olympic Park Hotel for two nights and three days. Within that amount of time, we visited the N서울타워 (N Seoul Tower/Namsan Tower), 이태원 (Itaewon), 동대문시장 (Dongdaemun Market), 한강 (Han River), 인사동 (Insadong), and 교보문고 (Kyobo Bookstore). Since you may not know what these places are, I will explain. The Namsan Tower is the north tower in Seoul with a spectacular view of the city! Itaewon is known for the foreigners that reside there. It is also a major red-light district so we only stayed during the daytime. The Dongdaemun Market is a very large area full of somewhat cheap shopping areas. The Han River is the 4th largest river in Korea with a length of 319 miles (514 km). Many tourist attractions are along this river such as the Gimpo Bridge and the Banpo Bridge. I haven't visited the Banpo Bridge yet but it's on my list. The Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain is the world's longest bridge fountain. Insadong is the most traditional street in Seoul. Many Foreigners travel here to buy trinkets and other antiques. Lastly the Kyobo Bookstore is the largest bookstore in Korea. When we went to Itaewon, we were allowed to venture off on our own for about an hour. In that time, I found the Korean War Memorial. I was extremely upset that the group was not scheduled to go there. My time was limited so I couldn't go inside but I plan to go back there for a day.
The Rotary sponsored trip was to제주도 (Jeju Island). It was about a 30min flight. Our plane was held up for 20 minutes but I will explain why soon. Once we arrived in Jeju, my heart was racing. You wouldn't believe how similar Jeju is to Florida. There were Palm Trees everywhere, not to mention Jeju oranges!!! The entire island was absolutely gorgeous. Jeju is a volcanic island. The volcano that erupted on Jeju 5,000 years ago is named성산 일출봉(Seongsan Ilchulbong) and is 180 meters high. We hiked all the way to the top. Talk about pain but worth it. We also visited용두암 (Yongduam; Dragon Head Rock). It was named after the natural lava formation on the coast. Around it were other lava rocks that I climbed to get a picture with. On the way down, a gigantic wave came and soaked me from my knees to my feet. My friend took a picture as the wave came... priceless. In the middle of the trip, we visited 한림공원 (Hallim Park) that had stone statues throughou t it. Later I found out the name of it is돌 하르방 (Dol hareubang; Stone Grandfather). They are made of porous basalt and are believed to ward off demons. This is a huge symbol of Jeju Island. Hallim Park was separated into three sections, Stone Garden, Caves, and Folk Village. The Hareubong statues were mainly located in the stone garden, the lava tubes had many features but the one that stood out to me most was the Pillar of Wisdom. It is said that if you walk around it, you become wise. My trip to Jeju was magnificent!
I have many other things I want to tell you about but this is getting pretty long so I want to tell you about one more subject that I have had many people ask me about.
It's on the news worldwide, and now blowing up my inbox from people with questions such as "What is going on, are you safe?" As most of you know, North Korea has been very active this year and now has become a major threat. In previous years, N. Korea threatened that they will cover S.Korea in a sea of fire, bombs, and things of that sort. It really is a tradition as I see it. Every year this occurs. However, currently the threats are worsening. Missiles are prepared in launchers on the east coast that are said to be capable of reaching S.Korea, Japan, and Guam where U.S. Military bases are located. The U.S. showed military power by doing drills consisting of B-2 Stealth Bombers, F-25 Fighters, and Naval Missile defenses. This is why my plane to Jeju was delayed. A military base is very close to where I am living and drills are taking place in case something happens. Missile tests in America were halted due to possible tension with N.Korea. I have researched everything going on right now and even talked to few Koreans about it and what they think. As an American, we all think a little too much and sometimes overreact. With South Korea, from what I can tell, it's the opposite. Many people say "Oh it's just a threat' and continue to live an ordinary life as if nothing is wrong. When I first heard about the nuclear test in February, I didn't think much of it. The Korean culture has definitely had some effect on me and I'm not sure if that is a good thing in this situation. It didn't hit me until a few days ago when I did all the research and concluded that this is reality. Regardless if it is just a threat, threats can escalate into the real deal. As for now, I feel safe here and am very curious to what is going to happen. I have many ideas about why these threats are getting out of hand but we will never know until decisions are made. Any misstep can be detrimental to relations between countries. Now it's just a matter of time.
For seven months, a lot has happened during my exchange. It really has been life changing and I couldn't be more thankful that I was chosen to be one of the first Rotary Youth Exchange Students to South Korea. My eyes have been opened to a whole new perspective. With every exchange student comes another step to world peace. Let's make it happen!!!