Eating Well and Minding your Manners in Korea

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One of my favorite aspects of living in Seoul is definitely the food. I’ve treated myself to a number of delicious meals both native to Korea in addition to their unique takes on Western cuisine. I came to the country knowing only a few particular dishes, ones that my grandmother would make for me back in Pennsylvania. During my culinary expeditions I have had the opportunity to explore many new tastes and gained insight into what Koreans enjoy in a day to day diet. Going hand in hand with eating culture, are the cultural norms for etiquette and manners. In this blog post I will highlight some of my favorite dishes as well as some of the expected ways of conducting oneself when in South Korea.

Going out for food is often a very communal and bonding experience in Korea. I have had instances of friends, clubs, and even classes meeting after an event in order to grab some delicious food and drinks together. Food is often times served in the “family style” wherein a large quantity of certain dishes are ordered for the entire table to share. One of the most quintessential examples of Korean cuisine is Korean barbecue. The typical way this is conducted is that each table has a central gas/charcoal grill on which patrons cook the meat themselves. The meat varies greatly with some of the most popular kinds being: pork belly (samgyeopsal), thinly sliced marinated steak (bulgogi) and beef short-ribs (galbi). Customers then help themselves to lettuce leaves, garlic, chili paste (gochujang) and soy beans. Then you wrap the meat up in the lettuce adding whatever sides you please and eating it with your hands. The act of cooking the meat yourself in a group adds a fun social dynamic to eating and it is typical to drink soju (the classic Korean liquor) together.

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Korean Barbecue with Banchan and Soju!

South Korea also has a distinct take on fried chicken, this is probably my favorite specialty here. In particular there is a dish where a restaurant will bring out a pan filled with fried chicken, cheese and corn. They then place this on a gas burner which melts the cheese and customers mix the marinated chicken, corn and cheese together for a delicious treat. Fried chicken is commonly paired with beer and it is a common food to get on weekends. Nearly all dinners are served with side dishes called banchan. They are more than just appetizers and are an essential part of the meal; common examples of banchan include: kimchi (fermented cabbage), tofu, seasoned soybeans, and spicy cucumber salad. There are many more distinct Korean dishes but I want to continue my post into a discussion on some of the formalities that one should observe while dining in Korea.

Some Cheesy Chicken Goodness!

Firstly, when a table is brought a drink it is deemed to polite to pour another person’s cup for them. Once doing so, the person should then fill up your cup for you. It is necessary to do this with both hands, both when you are receiving a drink or pouring for another person. I really like this aspect as it demonstrates respect. Additionally, if you are ever to participate in a family meal, it is necessary that everyone wait for the oldest member of the family to begin eating first. Lastly, it is considered very impolite to waste food, even more so than western culture. In fact, in some buffet style restaurants you are charged extra for not finishing all the food you are provided. This is also something I noticed during my stay at a Buddhist temple, where the monks directed us to always wipe our plates with a piece of kimchi to pick up any remaining grains of rice and show respect by completely finishing our meal. I have greatly enjoyed the dining culture in Korea and have also found it relatively easy to adopt its standards for etiquette. Thanks for reading and in my next post I will detail my trip to Busan, the second largest city in South Korea!

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Goodbye For Now….

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10 months ago, I sat in my apartment, surrounded by travel documents and dried-out highlighters as I revised study abroad application essays and scrambled to find a passport photo in which I did not look like an exhausted axe murderer. I was having weekly anxiety attacks, going through a really rough patch of seasonal depression, and living almost entirely on a diet of black beans and Greek yogurt. My hair started falling out in the shower, I was completely overcommitted to work, class, and extra activities, and I was getting at best six hours of sleep a night.

10 months later, I am not depressed, less anxious than ever, and sitting in a very cute Airbnb in Melbourne, quite full of Ethiopian food (red lentils and rice to be exact) and some fancy gelato. I am a resident of Dunedin, New Zealand. I live on Cumberland Street and there’s a little patch of daisies in my backyard that I like to pluck at when I read in the grass. There are two windows in my bedroom; one faces the Otago clocktower, and the other looks out onto a very perky magnolia tree. My room smells like vanilla because I like to light candles while I paint, and under my bed there is a sushi-print sock that I am too lazy to retrieve.

I live thousands of miles away from my entire family and many friends, who I have not seen for more than five months, but I am okay with that. I miss them from time to time, but I know that we love one another and will see each other eventually. I like having a residence that is temporary, not living in the same place for more than a year at a time before going on to the next. I think that after I graduate I am going to keep this up for a little while, go to grad school somewhere far from Philadelphia and travel as much as possible while I’m young. I love to be with people, but I also don’t mind being alone.

People are always coming up with excuses for not doing things, even things that they’ve thought endlessly about. Before I left for New Zealand, there were hundreds of possible adverse scenarios that I came up with that could’ve prevented me from going. How do you get a visa? What if I get really sick and don’t have enough money to fly home? What if I’m miserable and hate it? As much as these thoughts plagued me, I knew that NOT going to New Zealand would be much worse than not trying to go at all. Even negative experiences produce meaningful thought, experience, and perspective. Living in New Zealand could’ve been a complete disaster, but it ended up being the single most important experience of my life thus far. I feel so much more comfortable with myself, have a much clearer vision of how I want to live my life in the upcoming years, and think in a healthier, more optimistic way.

My final message is simple: just DO things. Don’t overthink! Don’t procrastinate! If you truly are interested in doing something, use every means possible to make it happen, go with the flow, and enjoy the outcome. Doing something is better than worrying and doing nothing. A few bumps on the way to completing the thing of your dreams is better than a regretful life. My dad had an opportunity to live in England for 6 months when he was younger and he STILL regrets not going 30 years later. “No regrets” is the phrase to live by!

Finally, I would like to make one small, shameless plug for New Zealand. This entire blogging experience has been my love letter to the country where I felt like a full-blown adult for the first time in my life. I know that the flight from the United States to New Zealand is a brutal one, but oh mama is it worth it. New Zealand is the land of minimalism, environmental mindfulness, “tramping,” and pure happiness. The water is more blue, the air smells more sweet, and the grass is more green that any place I have and probably ever will visit. There is such a sense of wholesomeness and joy that permeates every sheep-ridden valley and snow capped peak of this gorgeous country. Thinking about leaving makes me want to cry, but I have no doubt that I will return in the (hopefully not too distant future). New Zealand, I love you long time. Thank you for all you have given me.

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“The most beautiful place on Earth.”

Staying Present During Study Abroad

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I have been in Quito, Ecuador for more than 2 months; the longest I’d ever been out of the United States had been three weeks. The moment I’d been here longer than anywhere else outside of the U.S. just flew right by me without feeling like it had been a big deal.

After so much time in this foreign place turned home, I find myself falling into the trap of forgetting how lucky I am to be here and the goals I dreamt of achieving before I got here. My biggest goal in coming to Ecuador was to improve my Spanish, and yet, I haven’t been doing everything I am capable of to improve.

I’m in love with the Spanish language; how distinct the accent and vocabulary is from country to country and how the language (in my humble opinion) sounds more beautiful than English. My listening skills and grammar skills are generally great (thanks to the Temple LASS program), but my conversational and essay writing skills are lacking. Sometimes I tend to be lazy in classes because I can understand 90-100% of what my professors are saying, which is more than some of my peers tell me they can understand. I feel like I can get by just fine if I am able to understand better than the rest of my class.

However good my listening skills are, I need to focus more on the areas that I can’t get by easily in: writing and speaking. Every one of my classes is given in Spanish by Ecuadorian professors. All my peers are Americans with varying levels of proficiency in Spanish. Unfortunately, as soon as class has finished, we all tend to speak in English because we are more comfortable and we are able to express ourselves better.

I have realized that I will not be able to achieve my goal of Spanish fluency if I am not making a constant effort to work on it. So I decided to write out how I am trying to stay present and accomplish what I set out to achieve.

First, I wanted to revisit the goals that I set before I arrived. The most important of all my goals was to improve my Spanish. To reset my focus on this, I thought about the best ways to change my habits in order to better my language skills (Spanish can be substituted for whatever language you’re trying to improve):

  1. Change phone’s language to Spanish
  2. Listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks in Spanish as often as you can!
    1. I love Spotify’s genre playlists – they have a great range of mixes from reggaeton, salsa, bachata, alternative, etc.
    2. NPR’s Radio Ambulante is my favorite Spanish podcast for current events in Latin America, the Caribbean, and even the U.S.
    3. I am currently listening to Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez on Audible and it’s a rewarding challenge, not only for the complex language, but for the fact that everything in that story isn’t quite what it seems
  3. Spend time with your host family or Spanish speaking friends
    1. No one knows the language better than native speakers, and they are a great resource for colloquial phrases or correcting your grammar
  4. Take note of what you don’t understand and ask questions, no matter how silly they may seem
    1. We grow from what we don’t know

And finally, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! We are human: which means learning can sometimes be uncomfortable and messy. If we spend all our time feeling guilty about not improving, that is just wasting time from actually trying to improve. Make sure to take some time for yourself too. It took me a while to get comfortable enough here to read alone in a coffeeshop or just take time to create art for myself, but it is worth it to stay present and focused on what my needs and goals are.

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Stay present by making new friends!

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Exploring the Many Attractions of South Korea

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Before coming to Seoul for exchange, I had created a short list of things that I’d like to do during my semester abroad. As time went on however, the list quickly grew and it became apparent that there was no way that I could fit in everything that I had originally hoped to do! There are simply too many things to see and not enough time. I am proud to say that I have accomplished a lot during my two months here and am eager to continue my exploration of myself and my surroundings during the last two months of my stay. In this post I want to highlight some sights that I particularly enjoyed and recommend some activities in the case you ever travel to Seoul!

One of my favorite trips that I have taken and would recommend to anyone visiting South Korea was my journey to the island of Jeju. Jeju is commonly referred to as the “Hawaii of South Korea,” and is a common travel destination during the warmer months. The island itself has beautiful beaches and breathtaking natural phenomena as a result of its volcanic origins. Additionally, it boasts its own culinary delicacies in the form of black pork (which refers to the dark-skinned color of the pigs) as well as its own regional dialect. Since it is a common vacation spot for Koreans, the public transportation is very well organized and it is simple to take a bus from the central city to any corner of the island. On our first day in Jeju, my friends and I explored the Manjanggul lava tube. Lava tubes are created when molten lava flows underneath the surface of hardened lava, this results in the creation of a tunnel/cave system. The Manjanggul cave was a very expansive system measuring over 13 km long, of which 1 km is open to the public; it is ranked the 12th longest lava tube in the world. Additionally, I had the opportunity to hike Hallasan national park. Hallasan is a shield volcano that is located in the center of Jeju Island. It is the highest peak in South Korea and provides an incredible view from the whole island. It was definitely the most arduous hike that I have ever undertaken and it took about 8 hours in total to reach the peak and get back down, including ample breaks. The view itself is worth it though, and sitting above the clouds gives a feeling like nothing I’ve experienced before. These are just two aspects of my trip to Jeju that made the visit so memorable and I would definitely love togo there again.

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View from the top of hike to Hallasan

Yet another experience that I had the opportunity to go on was an MT for the Kickboxing club. MT stands for “membership training” which consists of travelling outside of Seoul with your club to enjoy a full night of eating, drinking and socializing. My club traveled to the small district of Yeonsuri and stayed in a resort area, that provided us with beautiful views of the autumn foliage. It took around 2 and a half hours to get to the location but once we got there we enjoyed grilling pork barbecue (samgyupsal), participating in karaoke (noraebang) and lighting sparklers. It was a great chance to meet new friends and commonly considered to be one of the “quintessential Korean college experiences.”

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The kickboxing MT

In conclusion, I have had a great time exploring and adventuring in South Korea. While I still have many more things I want to do while I am here, I am very thankful for the experiences I have had so far. Thanks for reading and in my next post I will talk about some of the cultural aspects of Korea, including dining and etiquette.

A Thrift Paradise: Minimalism and NZ Fashion Thoughts

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What movie instantly comes to mind when you hear “the nineties?” I think immediately of the Clueless crew- Cher Horowitz, Dionne, Ty, and their band of glamorous Californian sidekicks. The quintessentially nineties fashion, music, and chaos that ensues in that movie has made a serious comeback in American mainstream culture. Interestingly enough, it appears that 90s culture is also thriving in New Zealand. On my first day at the University of Otago (after getting severely lost and frantically asking the international office for directions), I felt like I had stepped into Cher’s high school in the Valley. Never before had I seen such a concentrated group of long-haired boys carrying longboards and sauntering around in high top Vans! Or girls wearing overalls! Or dreadlocks! Or denim jean skirts! It was as if I stepped out of Doc Brown’s Delorean and into a grungy nineties wonderland!

Dunedin students are at a definite fashion advantage due to an abundance of local thrift shops. At home, I thrifted loosely, getting a cool sweater or pair of jeans from Philly Aids Thrift or the Salvation Army in Manayunk, but the majority of my clothing came from chains like Urban Outfitters or Zara. As soon as I got to New Zealand and realized how much I would be spending on hiking/camping/skiing/living the outdoorsy but also not cheap NZ lifestyle, I decided that shopping for new clothing from expensive, popular chains was not a priority. Instead, I decided to scope out the best thrift shops in Dunedin, get rid of clothing that I no longer liked/wore, and spend my time looking for inexpensive, funky pieces that I could love for a little while and later recycle. At first, I started out with a specific clothing item in mind- I love turtlenecks not only because they make me look like female Steve Jobs but also because there’s something very snuggly and safe about having your neck covered. After scoring a few really cute turtlenecks, I branched out to high-waisted jeans. It’s really hard for me to find pants that fit me in the legs and waist, so I started buying comfy men’s jeans and re-sewing them so that they fit properly. Two months in, I had a pretty solid set of basic thrifted pieces (all for a total of 25 NZD!!) and started to look for brighter/more unique items to add. My most recent favorite is a bright pink short sleeved sweater that makes me look like an extra in an 80’s exercise video.

Now, with only two (sad!) weeks left in Dunedin, I own a wardrobe that has been almost entirely thrifted. After accumulating so much funky vintage garb, I decided to sort through the clothing that I brought with me to Dunedin and ended up donating a lot of it to Salvation Army. As I mentioned in a previous post for the Temple Study Abroad blog, consumer culture has really gotten me down recently. Through thrifting, I have escaped from the sameness and apathy that is associated with massive clothing chains and fast fashion. Rather than just wearing whatever clothing item is currently popular, I find it rewarding to hunt for special items that no one else will own. To me, hunting through a thrift shop is a therapeutic experience. If I’m having a particularly rough day, I can pop in my headphones, grab a hot chocolate, and wander through rows and rows of orphaned clothing. Sometimes I feel like my mood is particularly cyclic or lacking in some way, and finding/wearing the right clothing item can help to put me in a healthier mindset. Being able to recycle and replenish my wardrobe in a way that is so cheap and entertaining has also taught me to be more conscious about other products that I buy. I realized a few weeks ago how bothered I am by the amount of waste that is produced just from my weekly food shopping, so I started buying almost exclusively items that do not require packaging, carry a reusable bag/mug everywhere, and decided to go vegetarian (for the animals but also for the ozone layer)!

Once again, New Zealand has proven that minimalism triumphs. This, more than anything else, is what I am going to take back with me to the US in two weeks. I cannot emphasize enough the increased mental ease, happiness, and appreciation of life that I have gained through living a simpler life in Dunedin. This has been a result of multiple small changes that all started with my thrifting excursions. If you do not deeply connect with personal belongings, people, or jobs, cut them loose.  Time passes ridiculously quickly. Life is too short for rude people, bland food, and boring outfits!

For any friends reading this who are looking to thrift a little bit in Dunedin, here is a tiny list of my top 5 recommendations:

  1. Salvation Army – this is my personal favorite! I like to start at the front where all of the women’s pants are located and work my way back to the 50 cent rack (I have scored many cute 50 cent items here!). Salvation Army is also cool because you can buy other neato things in addition to clothes. I got a nice little needle/thread set and some books the last time I popped in.
  2. Vincent de Paul – the first time I visited this shop, I was not impressed but went back again and found so many things I liked. St. Vincent de Paul is more hit-or-miss than Salvation Army, but will deliver some really awesome items from time to time. My 80’s sweater (as discussed earlier) is an example!
  3. The Hospice Shop – in terms of pants/tops, the Hospice Shop is not great. However, my friends and I have had a lot of success with finding cool coats/jackets here. Slightly pricier than the first two but worth it for a nice fluffy jacket.
  4. Paper Bag Princess – in terms of ambiance/cool stuff, Paper Bag Princess definitely wins! I’ve been to locations in Dunedin and Wellington and both have unique clothing. PBP is also expensive for a thrift shop- be prepared to spend a little extra $$ if you plan to shop here.
  5. The Dunedin Vintage Market – to be honest I have no idea when this will happen again but it’s a real good time! The market is a pop-up event that lots of local Dunedin vendors come to to sell vintage jewelry, gifts, costumes, clothing, etc. I bought a really awesome pair of jangly earrings with blue stones for $10 and my friend Alex got a really suave looking velvet jacket that makes him look like a magician. When I went, the market was right by the Octagon in Burns Hall.
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Modeling a groovy turtleneck and (not so well seen) high-waisted black jeans that I resewed! Hooray!

 

Managing Academic Life while Abroad

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The stress and constant workload of midterms has finally ended here in Seoul. After a hectic week of exploring during the Chuseok Holiday (Korean Thanksgiving.) Myself and other students were quickly plunged back into the responsibilities of a student, including papers, group projects and a quickly approaching midterm schedule! The academic side of my stay in Seoul has been not too overwhelming and fairly comparable to my workload back at Temple. The only difference is during my stay here I feel very compelled to explore and find myself engaging myself in responsibilities that clash with my classes (ex. visiting cultural sites and travelling.) With this in mind it is extremely important to manage the balance between work and your studies.

 

I have a full 15 credit course-load here consisting of 5 classes. This has allowed me to continue fulfilling my fly-in-four obligations. Graduating in four years was a big emphasis for me and with this in mind, any possibility for studying abroad needed to allow me to stay on schedule. Luckily, with ample courses to choose from Yonsei University provided me multiple options for classes to take and Temple’s supportive staff helped me along the way. All of my courses are taught in English with my gen-eds/electives consisting of mostly other international students. However, my business classes have a majority of local Korean students with only a handful of students on exchange. This set up has allowed me to befriend many people from various backgrounds, from both Korea and abroad!

Yonsei’s oldest building – Photo credit to Temple Study Abroad!

Of course, one of the most important aspects of class while abroad has to be understanding when you have class and when to pursue absences in order to explore once in a lifetime opportunities. My class schedule if pretty ideal to my situation, since I have a fairly condensed chunk of time when my classes are, which allows me to pursue whatever I please during the rest of my day. Additionally, I only have one class on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays! Luckily my professors allow for a fairly liberal attendance policy, in which I can miss three classes without penalty. I have only utilized one absence in two classes throughout my entire stay so far, so it is not so difficult to fit in travelling despite the fact that I am managing a full course load.

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The fall colors coming to campus

The most stressful of academic life so far has definitely been the midterm period, especially after such a relaxing holiday and such a short study week. I had it easier than some of my friends with no midterms on the same day and most of my work consisting of papers. I found it hard to get back into the rhythm of consistent studying since so much of my time here has been about experiencing the culture and landscape of Korea as opposed to devoting my time to my studies. However, as the pressure of midterms got closer and I sequentially completed my assignments, it became easy once again to slip into the cycle of work. I think the most important aspect of managing the two sides of studying abroad is that you need to realize how essential your classes/grades are to your future and the fact that it is an extended stay, so say that even if you can’t pursue a trip with your friends you could always go by yourself at a future date.

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Taking a study break at a nearby park!

In my next post I hope to return to the more enjoyable aspects of studying abroad, including my travels during holiday and visiting various tourist attractions in South Korea! See you next time!

Abel Tasman and New Zealand Backpacking Psychology

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What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word “backpacking?” My mind immediately wanders to the Gilmore Girls revival, in which Lorelai Gilmore abandons her attempt to do the Pacific Crest Trail after realizing that she can’t fit freeze-dried mac n’ cheese into her pack. Maybe you think of adventure, campfires, and fresh air. Or perhaps you cringe at the thought of spending even one night in a tent. In New Zealand, backpacking culture is everywhere. Tourists come from all over the globe to explore New Zealand’s national parks and live for a week in the bush. Much like the other international students at University of Otago, I arrived in New Zealand with the intention of hiking, camping, and adventuring all over the country as frequently as possible. Although I had a good amount of experience car camping, I had never been backpacking before, but knew that my first backpacking adventure should absolutely take place in New Zealand.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to do the Abel Tasman National Park coastal track with several friends. Our plan was to conquer a total of 60 kilometers (37.5 miles) in four days, with three nights of camping. To be honest, I didn’t think much of our trip until the morning of our departure arrived- I was an experienced camper and hiker, and didn’t see how backpacking could be much different. After cramming bug spray, cooking gas, and a sleeping bag into my already bulging pack, I felt ready to conquer Abel Tasman.

During the first day of our trek, I felt tranquil and completely at ease. Although we arrived at Te Pukatea, our first campsite, a bit later than expected, our first meal and night in the tent went smoothly. However, the hours that ensued were much more challenging than I anticipated. After about 3 miles into the day, my head began to hurt from dehydration. Unlike much of New Zealand, the water at Abel Tasman has to be treated before consumption, so I was unable to fill my bottle at a stream nearby. My pack, which weighed about 25kg, dug into my shoulders and made it harder to march along the path. After hiking, driving, and being slightly uncomfortable during my first night on the ground, I felt exhausted. However, we had a total of eight hiking hours to catch up with friends who started the track a day earlier, and I had to find ways to entertain my mind- otherwise time would pass excruciatingly slowly.

At first, all I could think about was my own discomfort, but I gradually became appreciative of the fact that my body was physically capable of hiking so far while carrying such weight. I noticed the way that my feet softened to the contours of the track, the way that my lungs filled with air as I stopped and took a look at the view, the manner in which the muscles in my legs hardened as I clambered uphill. This consciousness reminded me of the self-consciousness that I struggle with in my daily life- specifically how others perceive my personality and intentions. I started to wonder how and why this personal discomfort came to be, and tried to focus on my own experience and thoughts rather than what others were seeing in me. This led me to take in my surroundings more deeply. I examined the changing landscape of the trail- from tropical forest to sandy coast- and inhaled the scent of fresh growth. As I approached the six-hour mark of our hike, I realized that I had entertained my mind with a constant cycle of self-examination that I had never accomplished before in my life.

Unfortunately, the last two hours proved to be much more of a challenge than the rest of the day. As my toes began to blister and my legs weakened, my psychological thought cycle was punctuated by thoughts of discomfort. Eventually, pain consumed me psychologically, and I had to concentrate solely on forcing myself to complete the hike.

Every day of Abel Tasman that followed led to hours of sleep lost, increased dehydration, and exhaustion. Although my psychological musings continued each morning, they were broken increasingly rapidly by thoughts of discomfort.  On the last morning, I awoke with a fever, and had to resort to sheer psychological willpower to get myself to our final destination. After exiting the trail, driving home to Dunedin for 10 hours, and finally laying in my bed, I gained a profound sense of gratitude for civilization.

What did I learn from Abel Tasman? I have thought about this question thoroughly since my trip, and compiled the following list of lessons:

  1. Backpacking, like many other things in life is NOT a race, but a journey. Rather than going as fast as possible, it is so important to take things slowly and enjoy the experience.
  2. Isolation leads to self-discovery. Along the trail, I was able to identify things about my life that bother me that I am usually unable to pinpoint in daily life. After backpacking, I am committed to identifying those problems and erasing them.
  3. Things will go wrong! The best way to handle any adverse situation is staying calm, not jumping to extreme conclusions, and allowing a solution to slowly materialize.
  4. I want to be a vegetarian! This one is super random, but I have been thinking about going veggie for a while now for environmental reasons. After spending 4 days eating only dried fruit, nuts, beans, and rice and being perfectly satisfied, I’m doing it! Hello veggie life!
  5. Life is too short to surround yourself with negative people. Shed the ones who bring you down, and gather those who make you feel happiest.
  6. There’s nothing like a challenge to make you appreciate your life. After spending 4 days in the wilderness, I have never cherished running water, hot showers, my bed, or my laptop more.

On a final note, nothing fuels my passion for environmental conservation like a backpacking trip. Being totally immersed in the natural environment makes a person so much more aware of the intricate biological, chemical, and geological systems that drive life on our planet. I’d like to think that the current American administration would stop whining about how climate change is a hoax if they were all forced to backpack for a week. At a time in history when unprecedented sea level rise, global temperature increase, and environmental degradation are wreaking havoc around the globe, it is imperative for individuals to gain greater understanding of the natural world that serves as our home. As we attack the natural environment with increasing force, she will only come back with a more powerful vengeance.

Comfort in Isolation: Unravelling Ease and Examining Expectations

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As of September 27th, I have been in New Zealand for three entire months. Despite this relatively lengthy portion of time spent abroad, I’m not quite sure that, psychologically, I have accepted that I am living in New Zealand. Rather than feeling like my American accent sticks out like a sore thumb, I tend to forget that my voice sounds different at all. I walk to class surrounded by seagulls and the occasional palm plant, unfazed by the fact that I am currently thousands of miles from my permanent home. Without blinking, I digest Kiwi colloquialisms and respond in my own American slang. I am used to spending my weekends underneath the stars at some gorgeous national park on the South Island with a hoard of international friends. This is NORMAL to me now. To be honest, the level of comfort that I have attained in New Zealand is startling. To reference the unbelievable and frankly profound Lizzie McGuire Movie, I have reached a level of abroad-chill that only Ethan Craft can speak to.

How does any person, completely isolated from everything that they know, cope with solitude? When I was little, I wanted more than anything to be older and living on my own. I used to build leaf forts in my parents’ backyard and pretend that I was a research scientist camping in the Amazon rainforest. I imagined that my bedroom was an apartment, that I was an adult professional living my best life in a beautiful city. The older and more independent that I become, the more comfortable that I feel. Truthfully, I think that my most blissful moments of happiness have been spent completely alone, fully aware of my of self-reliance. In this way, I believe that solitude is something that I have never needed to cope with, but an experience that I crave. Perhaps the ease with which I conquer daily life in New Zealand is simply due to the fact that I have, for the entirety of my life, desired to experience total independence.

Sometimes, when I talk to my family members or close friends from home, I wonder what it will feel like when I return to the US. Will I slide again comfortably into the niche that I abandoned in June? Or will I carve new spaces for myself as a result of my foreign travels? I think that I will slip rapidly back into my life in Philadelphia, hopefully armed with some wisdom from my international meanderings. If I can quickly adapt to life in New Zealand, I have full confidence that my transition back into American life should be just as simple. What I am not prepared for, however, is the emotional aftermath of my Kiwi life.

At Aoraki National Park, I gazed upon enormous glaciers and pristine blue pools. I hiked through shrublands and up volcanoes at Tongariro; I conquered fields of frozen wheat in Queenstown. And what did I feel upon completion? Exhaustion, hunger and sleep. I was terrified and humbled by the marvels that I encountered, yet this was broken by the conscious thought that I had to continue on my designated trail. In order to complete the journey at hand, it was crucial that I briefly indulged in my surroundings before moving on.

Am I as tough and independent as I’d like to believe? Or is my relative ease in New Zealand due to the fact that I know, subconsciously, that I cannot be homesick because that would prevent my own psychological stability and general happiness from flourishing in Dunedin? Who knows. I may still not by the time that I depart for LAX. What I do know is that eventually, perhaps several weeks after I return to Philadelphia, my life in New Zealand will hit hard. At certain random moments in my life, it seems that I have a ridiculous sense of clarity- like everything around me is suddenly so real and tangible and makes life seem utterly glorious. When one of these moments hits back in the US, I am positive that I will immediately think of my life in New Zealand and be brought to tears. In just a month’s time, I will dream of the Otago peninsula with its bird-infested piers and deep gray waters and feel lucky to have lived such an incredible life. Despite each day that I pass the Otago University clocktower without so much as a glance of appreciation, Dirty Dunners is slowly, and without conscious detection weaving its way into my heart.

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Taking in New Zealand and all of her glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in Seoul!

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The first month of my four month stay in Seoul has passed much faster than I would have liked. Thus far I have done many things that I had hoped to accomplish during my journey here, including visiting Seoul Tower, eating lots of barbecue, and hiking through nature. While I have checked off many things off of my to-do list; I have also had the luxury of trying things I had never imagined myself doing. In this post I want to highlight the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking advantage of every opportunity that the world presents you with!

 

Traditionally, I have never been someone who identified as a big sports fan. I used to enjoy playing soccer in middle school and tend to watch the super bowl most years, but that’s about the extent of my passion for competitive sports. That being said, when I heard about the long-standing rivalry between Yonsei University (my study abroad university) and Korea University (another prestigious private university) in the form of an annual multi-sport competition, I knew I had to attend. The Yonko games (or Koryo games, depending on which university you attend) is the most hotly contested collegiate rivalries in South Korea, in which both universities compete against each other in baseball, basketball, ice hockey, rugby, and soccer. These games are a historic tradition, with the origins of the athletic rivalry dating back to 1923. Both sides eagerly support their teams through vigorous cheering through the games and while it is called a rivalry there is never any bad blood harbored between the universities, but more on that later. The games were an extremely fun and social time, which included me waking up at 7 in the morning in order to get good seats at a baseball game (something that I had never imagined myself doing!) I met a number of great people at these events and did an exhausting amount of cheering. Luckily for us, Yonsei ended up winning the competition 5-0, their first win in seven years! After the games, both students from both universities celebrated in Sinchon, the town in which Yonsei is located. Despite the rivalry during the games, students came together to socialize, drink and eat together. In Sinchon, myself and hundreds of fellow students formed “trains” that headed to restaurants in order to receive free food and drinks. Overall, the games and the resulting celebration will be remembered as one of my favorite moments spent in South Korea.

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Storming the field after Yonsei’s victory!

Another way I expanded past my comfort zone during my study abroad experience is my recent pursuit of kickboxing! I had never practiced martial arts (excluding a brief 1 month stint in karate during elementary school) but it has always been something I was interested in trying. Therefore, when a few of my friends revealed that they practiced kickboxing back home and that the club here accepted exchange students, I quickly volunteered to join. I was also inspired by my grandfather, who was a winning boxer while my family lived in Korea! Thus far, I have attended a few practices which I found myself enjoying quite a lot. More importantly, it has exposed me to native students and allowed me to befriend people that I could otherwise never meet.

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Celebration in Sinchon (after some free food and drinks)

In conclusion, my experience abroad has allowed me to pursue things that I never pictured myself doing. The trip as a whole has revealed many new insights into what I enjoy and the person I am. Keeping in theme with trying new things; this upcoming week is a national holiday and I am excited to be doing a temple-stay program, in which I will be doing meditation and learning about traditional Buddhist culture. As always, I am extremely thankful to be granted this opportunity and in my next blog I aim to discuss the academic side of my stay as well as managing the balance between work and exploration during study abroad!

(Culture) Shock and Awe!!

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Have you ever ate pig stomach or noodle soup with ice cubes in it? How about travelling to multiple department stores at an attempt (and eventual failure) to buy trash bags? Before coming to South Korea I had not done any of these things, but these are just a few apparent examples of some of the many different things that constitute what people label as “culture shock”. While many aspects of culture shock are not immediately visible to the eye, in this post I will attempt to breakdown some of the various unfamiliarities I felt after moving to Seoul.

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Some (very) large crab I found while exploring a small seaside town.

There are a few differences that are immediately brought to mind when I ask myself, what exactly is different between the US and South Korea. One thing that threw me (and many other exchange students) for a loop was the fact that used toilet paper is not flushed down the drain. Instead it is thrown into a waste bin that is then emptied in the trash at a later date. While there are a few exceptions, notably in some public bathrooms, most Korean plumbing is not equipped to disintegrate toilet paper so it is necessary to throw it into a separate container to avoid clogs. While I’m on the topic of bathrooms, it is also a common practice for the shower and toilet to be separated into two rooms. This is due to the belief that toilets are generally perceived as “unclean” while showers are for the purpose of cleansing. Another difference I noticed during my stay here is that soap bars are much more popular than liquid soaps. One of the funniest examples that I encountered of this was found in the subway, where a bar of soap was fixed onto the end of an extendable rod, which you then had to stroke in order to wash your hands!

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog post, I had recently journeyed to one of the southern-most regions of Korea, the island of Wando. Wando is a small ocean town, known for its seafood, seaweed, and friendly culture. In addition to seeing many wonderful sights it was here I also had the unique experience of tasting pig stomach for the first time. Somehow in my group of friends, I have become the one that is commonly relied on to order food and translate the menus for everyone. In this scenario, we ordered a plate of fried chicken and a plate of what I presumed to be shrimp (basing my opinion not on what the item said but rather a picture of fried shrimp directly above the dish in question.) To the surprise (and dismay to some) of my group we were instead served a dish with a suspicious looking meat with some delicious sauce. After thorough inspection and tasting we later decided that it was indeed pork stomach, which has an extremely chewy yet crunchy texture.

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The view from Wando Tower!

Lastly, I want to highlight some of the aspects of culture shock that are not immediately apparent to someone once they embark on an extended international stay. Culture shock is usually broken down into four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and adaptation. The honeymoon phase is experienced upon arrival and involves a fascination with the new culture. This was very accurate to my personal circumstances, as I found myself utterly absorbed and romanticizing the differences between Korean and American culture. After this phase is negotiation, in which individuals may experience anxiety as the result of cultural differences. Homesickness is very common and the body has to actually adapt to living in a foreign environment, including adjustment to your circadian rhythm and digestion to account for the differences in food/beverage. On the whole, I have not experienced much anxiety from my trip but I have noticed changes in my diet and sleep schedules. For example, during my first few weeks it was common for me to nap excessively and I often felt abdominal discomfort following my meals. However, this passed with time and I can confidently say that I am mostly adjusted to my daily life in Seoul! While a semester is a long time to spend in a foreign environment, four months is not an excessively long time in the grand scheme of things so I will most likely not experience the final stages of adjustment and adaptation; since they tend to happen after six months.

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It is common practice to sit on the floor in order to enjoy traditional Korean meals!

Overall, I like to perceive the differences in South Korea in a positive light and am thankful for the opportunity to be exposed to cultural standards, foods, and societal practices that are very different from my home. While adjusting to a new environment can be challenging, I believe that it will ultimately result in insights and personal strength that could never be achieved otherwise. Thanks again for reading and in my next blog I will highlight on how I have been expanding past my comfort zones, see you again soon!