Monday, April 29, 2013

The Countdown Begins

How is it that not too long ago I was saying,  "one month in Korea!!!" and now I'm saying, "only one month left". These last eight months have flown by and now I'm looking back at my year and reflecting on the things I have learned and experienced.  In many ways, I am ready to come home to my family and the things most familiar to me, but I also don't want to leave the things I have become accustomed to and started to really enjoy here.
Since my last post, I have switched host families and they are amazing. I have really enjoyed my time with them and I'm sad that I only have one more month with them. I also live closer to school now, which is nice, and saves me lots of money. A few weekends ago my host parents took me to Everland, which is a big amusement park with rides, flower shows and a zoo, sort of like Valley Fair with lots of little kids EVERYWHERE. We got to see a light show parade as well as a big fireworks show. It was quite beautiful. My host parents bought me a pink bow to wear on my head, so I could be like the other people there, so in some the pictures i will be sporting a nice, polka doted, pink bow. My host family also really enjoys going to movies, so in the few weeks that I have been here we have been to about 4 movies, including the new Iron Man movie.

Other than that, life is pretty simple. I go to school, sleep a lot, and hang out with the other exchange students. About ten of the exchange students have already left in the last few weeks, which is too bad and I miss them all so much!! I had the chance to try on a traditional Korean dress called a hanbok and learned how to serve tea properly. I have this week off of school because my classmates are taking their mid-terms so I will just be hanging around at home and enjoying the beautiful spring weather!

This free time is also a nice time to think about the things I still want to do here in Korea before I leave, and also think about all of the little things that I will miss. For one, I will miss the super easy and affordable transportation system, as well as things like the spicy ramen and the neon signs that fill almost every single street. I will miss the network of exchangers that know what I'm going through and are always there to talk and the amazingly nice people everywhere in Korea.

In some ways, it feels as though this year is already like a dream. Looking back at the beginning of the year, I have to remind myself of the things I did and what it felt like for everything to be so new. Now this feels like my life and it will be weird to go back to the things I do and see back in the US. Even two months ago, I'm not sure I would say I want to come back for a semester or long term, but now I really do think I could come back to study here.

It doesn't feel like my time should be almost over here, and these last 4 weeks are going to fly by. after this week I have ten days left of school, to say goodbye to my classmates and to wear a uniform. After that, I will only have a week and a half to get the rest of my goodbyes in and do the last minute things I wasn't yet able to do. I suppose to anyone else, a month would seem like a long time, but I think to any exchanger around the world, one month is short. We have spent 8 months together living in a foreign place in a stranger's home and now that it is almost over, 8 months doesn't even seem very long at all. Just trying to think about going home right now is making my mind blank, like it won't allow me to think about it yet. Which is a good thing, I really want to enjoy my last month here as much as possible.

I'm guessing I will fit in another post in the next few weeks with more reflections and also about my trip home, which involves flying to Tokyo and being at the airport at the same time as Evan, but not actually being able to see him until we are both back in good ol' NFLD.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cherry Blossoms

Japan in late March/early April is amazing. I just returned from a long weekend in Tokyo with the other exchange students from my district here in Korea, along with a few future outbounds that will be going to the US and Taiwan next year. Japan is such a beautiful country, especially during the spring. Everything was already green and blooming where as back here in korean things are still pretty brown.   I have seen a few flowers blossoming along the roadside here but not like it was in Japan. I was taken aback by the sheer number of Cherry Blossoms that are covering Japan. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.
Mt. Fuji with cherry blossoms

Our first stop in Japan was Mt. Fuji. It was a little cloudy that day but we still got a glimpse of the snow peaked mountain in the distance. It would have been amazing to see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. We did some more touristy things around Tokyo like going to the top of the City Hall building that over looks Tokyo and went to a few shopping areas. Again, it was still cloudy so visibility was poor, but we didn't get rain until the third day.

Shibuya Crossing
Saturday was a free day to wander around Tokyo, so about half of us ended up at Shibuya and Harajuku for a good part of the day. Shibuya is known for the HUGE crosswalks that allow for all sides to cross at the same time, creating a mass of people trying to get across the road in every direction.  The best place to watch the crossing is from the second story Starbucks that faces the entire intersection.   Good luck trying to find a seat though. It is a very popular place to stop and get coffee. Shibuya and Harajuku are also huge shopping areas with malls and stores lining the streets. Fashion in Japan ranges from very stylish to quite unique. It is very different from Korean. There is a lot more variety in fashion in Japan. Also, cosplay is a big trend in Japan where people dress up as anime/tv/game characters. It would be quite strange to see a cosplay walking around Minneapolis or even New York but it seemed so normal and acceptable in Japan. With shopping comes food and coffee, so of course restaurants and coffee shops are everywhere as well. One of our exchange students has a few Japanese friends that we met up with to have dinner and go to purikara (sticker sajin in Korean). It is a photo booth that can fit like 10 people (uncomfortably) and then you get to edit the pictures, make your eyes HUGE and put silly sayings all over. They are a great way to make memories that can stick anywhere like your phone or computer. 

The next few days were filled with more touristy things like visiting a temple and going to a traditional Japanese garden. I really wish we could have visited more palaces and temples in Tokyo but time was limited. When I go back to Japan in the future I will definitely be staying there longer than 3 1/2 days.

Time has passed so quickly here. I have exactly 8 weeks left from today. It feels far away yet so close at the same time. Other than my Japan trip, life has been pretty uneventful and easygoing with going to school and going to Seoul occasionally on the weekends. I have been able to make chocolate chip cookies and a few brownie treats that tend to be eaten only by me. Partly because they are so good and partly because many adults here are not used to eating such sweet food. More left for me and my classmates!! (: 

I am switching to my third family on Saturday, which I am excited about because I will have a host sister about the same age as me. I am so grateful to my current host family for their generosity and love. They have been so wonderful. 

As for things with North Korea, I really never hear anything about what is going on. My host family and classmates don't worry too much about it. I hear most of what is going on from family and friends back home. So for those of you that are worrying about what might happen, I want you to know that I feel safe here and please don't worry too much. If anything happens they will get me out of here and back home. (: See you all in 2 short months!! Happy spring time!! 

Japanese students. Uniforms are so much cuter than Korean Uniforms!

Almost everyone from the trip

Cherry blossoms

Japanese ramen. 

SOOO many cherry blossoms

A small portion of Tokyo

a temple nearby our hotel

Harajuku. SO many people


Visiting a temple

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


It's been a while. I promised a new blog a few weeks after my last post but time just slipped by and here we are almost two months later. I will keep this one short, life has been pretty easy going and non eventful the last month or so.

Break ended at the beginning of March. Going back to school has it's ups and downs as usual. I now get to see my school friends more and I get a chance to hang out with the other exchange students everyday, but, that does involve getting up at the crack of dawn to get to school on time. It's like coming back from summer vacation, only now, it was winter vacation and I am in a foreign country. (:

Last weekend I went back to Jeju Island with all of the exchange students from my district plus Adam from our very own North Star District back home who lives in Seoul. I had so much fun hanging out with everyone again and seeing Jeju Island in the spring was beautiful. I got to see new places that I didn't get to see the first time and also went back to a few places that I visited before. I got to eat some great food, had free time to explore a little and got to sink my feet into the warm sand at the beach. (even though the water was still freezing cold).

I think pictures will better explain my experience than any words can.

Horse back riding- total time=10 minutes going in a circle

first glimpses of the ocean after the plane ride


Mt. Sanbang
District 3750 

Natalie and Adam

Mt. Halla through the haze

I am heading to Japan for a few days at the end of March so check back in at the beginning of April to see how it goes!! Only 2 months and 9 days left here in Korea. Making the most of it before time runs out! (: I hope everyone back home in MN is enjoying the lovely blizzards and staying safe while I enjoy the beautiful spring weather in Korea!

Monday, January 28, 2013

More Than Halfway!

The last day of school before break. Class 2-1 <3
I have reached my five month mark. Only 4 more months before I return home and I already know that will come way sooner than I want and faster than I expect. So now is my time to live it up and enjoy every second I spend here even if that involves spending a few days hanging out at home not doing much at all. I am one month into my winter vacation and I have one month left. I have gotten a lot of reading done and I have been able to do a lot of exploring in Seoul.

Aren't they lovely? 
This last month has consisted a lot of just hanging around and going to a few Rotary events, Ski trips and meeting me new family members. I moved in with my second host family right before the new year  and spent the holiday at a relative's house.  On New Years Eve I got my first chance of the year to go skiing at a small ski resort close to my host uncle's house. I had a great time skiing with my host cousin for a few hours. For those of you back home that ski, this ski hill had more vertical than Welch but as many runs as Buck Hill. We ended up spending most of the day on one run. I got my first experience skiing in rental gear as well. I got to wear some nice Rossignol boots that are older than I am and some skis that were in pretty rough shape. Surprisingly though, the skis and boots held up pretty well.  In my last post, I mentioned that the new year was a pretty big holiday but I was wrong. It is actually the Solar New Year that is the big holiday here which is in a few weeks. So brining in the new year was very low key, just sitting around the table talking for a while then heading to bed pretty early. I think the Solar New Year will be much bigger and with a lot more family. We will be heading back to the same small town for the Solar New year that we spent New Year's at. I look forward to meeting more cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents!
My host cousin SangWook. A day of skiing!
My entertainment at RYLA while we listened to the Korean speakers
About two weeks ago I spent three days with all of the exchange students at RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) along with about ninety Korean university students that are part of Rotaract. Most of the time was spent listening to speakers (all in Korean), working in groups to create a dance performance and playing team-building games. It was a great time. All of us exchange girls decided to cram into one room together, so that put about fourteen girls in one room about the size a regular hotel room but all sleeping on the floor (the traditional Korean way). It was a great three days and very exhausting.

The day after I got back from RYLA I went on another ski trip with an English teacher from my school and her son who speaks English very well. He spent a year of middle school in England and now attends an international middle school here in Korea. I had another great experience getting to ski for three days! The only downside was the first day of skiing I was on skis that were a little too short and had poles that were too short as well... but that night, the rental place was very generous and brought new skis and poles to our hotel room so I was able to exchange them. The next two days were much better and I could actually make some turns through the piles that built up throughout the day. Even though this ski resort was pretty small, the weekend was VERY busy. With a ton of crowds and a lot beginner/intermediate skiers, I found it nice that there were some harder runs that weren't as crowded. Our trip was originally meant to be just two days but we came to the conclusion that another half day of skiing would be worth it to have some runs to ourselves without the crazy mass of people from the weekend. Monday was a great day of skiing, although it was white-out conditions it was great to ski on some fresh snow. I spent that half day skiing by myself while my English teacher and her son took a snowboarding lesson. By the end of the day all of my clothes were soaking wet and frozen but it was so fun!! Those three days of skiing definitely showed me how out of shape I am... I miss the days when I had coaches telling me to train and get in shape for the ski season. I was supposed to go on another ski trip with my host mother's church a few days later but I couldn't find the energy to go skiing again that soon. That, and I was still fighting a pretty nasty cold that I picked up the week before.
the sunset over Seoul, the locks are at the base of Namsan,
 the fences surrounding the tower are filled with locks like
the bridge in Paris.

Since then I haven't been up to a whole lot. I have gone to Seoul a few times to see some things I haven't gotten a chance to see like looking at Seoul from the top of Namsan Tower and spending time in Jonggak helping my host cousin work on his English.

Of course I am missing things from home like Hogan Brothers and my car... and my family, as always. But I know those things will still be there when I return in four months so the homesickness isn't too bad. One thing that is a big change here is the amount of independence I don't have. There are a lot more restrictions than I am used to but that is part of this culture and a part of being an exchange student. Although it has been hard, It has been a great lesson on taking a step back from what I am accustomed to and allowing myself to be taken care of so diligently by my host parents. That may not sound like a big accomplishment but as many people know, I am a very independent person and I like to do things for myself. My sister gave me a great reminder that I need to enjoy being taken care of while I can before I have to start living on my own and have the responsibilities of an adult. That put some great perspective on my situation.

I suppose that is all for now. Once the Solar New Year passes I will post another update on my life in Korea! I hope everyone's new year is going well!

YeJin, Last day of School. 

Ski area near Chungju

Playing screen golf with my host family, cousin, aunt and uncle. I am horrible.

Night view from the top of Namsan Tower