Keely, outbound to South Korea

Wow, okay so five months went by faster than I expected. In these past five months I have spent three amazing days on Jeju Island, tried live octopus(sannakji), preformed with my school in a Korean traditional instrument performance, switched families, and have given a speech in Korean to my school. When they say that you live a life in a year, they aren’t exaggerating. You are going all the time but it’s the most amazing thing and feeling ever.

So first thing’s first. Jeju Island. Jeju is probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. But that could also be due to the fact that it reminded me of Florida. The beach was gorgeous (even though it was raining when we went) and the country side was like something out of a movie. Seriously, dozens of Korean dramas were filmed where I was.

We also hiked up an inactive volcano. It was the most memorable and beautiful part of the trip for me. Besides doing something I never would have dreamed of doing, I got to witness one of the most incredible view ever and meet so many nice people. Once we reached the top of the volcano, we naturally wanted to take our district picture. Me, with my backwards flag, the Canadian Jessa, the Taiwanese girl Julie, and the German Leonie all stood ready until we heard a group of people yelling at us in Chinese. We had no idea what was going on until Julie translated that they wanted a picture with us. That led another group of people wanting to take pictures with us, which led to another group of wanting to take pictures with us. I honestly have no idea why they would want a picture with a random group of foreigners besides the fact that I looked super cute that day but still...

Another memorable moment is when we went around asking people to take a photo of us in Korean only to find out they didn’t speak any Korean at all. It was so confusing when asking something to only have them stare at you like you’re crazy before speaking English. Also, because my nickname is Pig here, I can’t fail to mention the amazing chocolate the island has. They make the chocolate and add a flavor to it like the island orange, or the pink cactus on the island (my favorite), or green tea. 

Speaking of food, Korean food is amazing. From the live octopus I mentioned to the best barbeque you will ever have, Korea has it all. Before I came to Korea the only thing I was really told about was kimchi. It’s the food Korea is known for, right? It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but why is this country not known for its meat? They have meat in almost every dish for almost every meal and it is just amazing. Korea knows what it’s doing when it comes to BBQ.

There are some other foods though that some people would consider strange though, like the live octopus and larvae. The live octopus is surprisingly delicious. Looking at the wriggling tentacles, you’re not sure what it’s going to taste like. Salt water, slime, or your worst nightmare? Try none of the above. It doesn’t really have a taste until the waiter puts the sesame oil on it and you dip it into the chili paste. It’s actually amazing and I would recommend that everyone who doesn’t have a seafood allergy try it.

The larvae however, is more of an acquired taste. They soak the larvae in boiling water and I’m not quite sure what they use to season, if they do. My first host family loved the stuff so I thought it was safe to assume it was pretty good. Everything else they ate was good so how was this going to be any different? Boy was I wrong. But you’re not going to like EVERYTHING you try, right? Again, please try it if you come, but just know that this one may not be the best thing you try so don’t be surprised if you don’t enjoy it.

One thing you have the opportunity to do if you are in my school is the traditional music class. It’s an afterschool class that you take with the other students in the club and, if I remember correctly, you have around three months until your first performance. You pick your instrument (the janggo, buk, gwanggari, and the jing) and then you practice every day after lunch and then Thursdays after school. I played the janggo and I needed the practice, it was difficult. Our first performance was for a talent show hosted by Rotary and our nerves were through the roof. In the end though it felt so rewarding and the feeling only increased as we did more performances and improved. Definitely a rewarding experience I hope all exchange students here get to experience. 

I also was given the chance to go to Taiwan for two weeks where I visited my friend Wenny. Travel rules in my district are very strict so I have honestly no idea how I was able to convince my teacher to let me go. Whatever magical spirit possessed her and had her say yes was what allowed me to visit my best friend and experience another culture along with my amazing grandparents.

The strangest thing for me had to be almost panicking after I couldn’t find the trashcan to throw the toilet paper in, only to realize that I could actually flush it down the toilet. It was like I went back to my first month of exchange: barely understanding anything and having no idea how to get around. I think that’s what made me realize how far I had come.

Unfortunately I couldn’t visit my friends in Taiwan but that didn’t stop me from having an amazing time. I visited night markets, went to an exhibition for Kobitos (I guess they’re a Japanese character but I’m not 100% sure due to it being my first time ever seeing them), went to a Taiwanese high school where they have nap time like all high schools should have, lit a lantern, went to a theme park that I said I wanted to go to at the beginning of my exchange before I found out that it was in Taiwan, went to a beautiful aquarium, and met amazing new friends that I will never forget. The food is amazing, the people are nice, the country is beautiful, and some words in Korean are the same in Chinese so I could understand some things. It also comes in handy when you’re watching Ellen and she asks what the Chinese word for ‘king’ is and you’re able to respond because it’s the same. It will make it a whole lot easier when I start to study Chinese next. 

Overall my exchange has been amazing. I can definitely tell how much my language skills have improved too. I’m nowhere close to being fluent, but I’m able to converse with my host parents now and ask questions with little difficulty now whereas in the beginning I could barely ask where the bathroom was. I can watch TV without subtitles, understand jokes, tell jokes, and hang out with my friends and keep them entertained with barely any awkward silences as I try to translate some things in my head.

I wish I could go into more detail with these journals but how can you begin to describe every experience and all the feelings that you have during this time, no matter how small and insignificant they seem? It’s something you have to truly experience yourself and I can’t thank RYE and the Rotary club of Homosassa Springs and everyone else involved enough for this opportunity. This exchange has taught me so much about myself and has shown me what I’m capable of doing and I can’t wait to see what the next 5 months has in store.