Food Culture in South Korea

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When you’re traveling to a new and different country, you have the opportunity to try new things and gain new experiences. But sometimes, the best experiences always relate back to food.

Food is a universal asset that every human can relate to; we need food to survive, it’s just as simple as that. But food also represents a culture and the people of a country as a whole. There’s history behind every dish and flavor but we sometimes take it for granted simply due to that fact that we just don’t know. And when you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to explore and learn.

In South Korea, the abundance of food at cheap and reasonable prices will keep your bank account and wallet happy. After living here for a few months, I can see why a lot of people choose to dine out or grab a quick bite at one of the street stalls. I’m not joking when I say this, but groceries in Seoul can get a bit expensive. A friend of mine back home who is from South Korea warned me about the cost of groceries because I told her that I didn’t plan to eat out much and would rather opt to cook my own meals.

And boy was I wrong. I spent about $100+ or so on groceries a month that would only last me a short while if I planned to cook food every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the end, it started to add up. But don’t be alarmed; not everything here is expensive. For the most part, if you’re into eating a lot of fruits and meats, then it will add up. But if you’re more of a simple chicken salad type of person, then you’re more than fine!

Aside from groceries, Seoul is literally packed with restaurants where you can have a whole meal for less than $10. Plus, all the prices on the menu already include the tax and THERE IS NO TIPPING IN SOUTH KOREA. Why? Because everything is so fast paced here, Koreans believe that you should eat and be on your way all while still getting the same high-quality customer service that you deserve, just like every other customer walking through the door.

If you’re in the mood to eat Korean style BBQ, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, Italian, Desserts or simply want a burger from McDonald’s, expect great service with really nice people. When you’re eating out with a big group, remember to be polite and try not to be too loud. You can get unwanted attention that way. But it’s always better to enjoy new food together with people and create memories and experiences.

Food brings different cultures together, and even though we may not realize it until we’re actually sitting there staring at our empty plates, it’s a great way to meet new people and learn something new about yourself or the history behind one of your favorite dishes! Until then, always have a open and welcoming mind and tummy!

Finalmente

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Finalmente

It’s occurring to me that the program Is nearing its end. As I write this, I believe only 2 weeks of class remain. I had a breakthrough this week and am finally feeling like I have grasped some sense of reality and have been able to go places without always looking for directions. I have found things and places and people to spend time with when I feel lonesome, but have learned to reserve my alone time to a reasonable amount of time.

I have just learned through the weeks that writing post cards to my pals and family makes me feel really at ease even when I am extremely stressed. I love seeing things in different places and thinking of how one of my family members would be amazed by being there. The other day, I stood on a street corner and closed my eyes. I imagined 17th & Walnut Street perfectly like I was standing right there and walking to Rittenhouse square. I wonder what stores have closed down and which ones have become incredibly popular. Using that felt like a means of coping because I thought about how I will be able to see that scene once again and feel completely in my element. I have been knitting again which has allowed me to be able to stay warm since I lost my scarf, but also have found a lot of comfort from it.

My tutoring sessions have been helping with my Complu class immensely and I am deeply submerged in speaking Spanish almost all day. I can see the progression of my tolerance for speaking Spanish even when I am extremely tired or upset, it is nice that I am able to wake up and immediately engage in a conversation in Spanish and even be extremely sleepy and also begins and finish a coherent conversation. Coming off of last week, I wasn’t the most excited to still be so far away from my friends and family that I feel need me.

I was able to join my friend from middle school, Gomian, for her 21st birthday in Paris, France. There, I was also able to see my Temple friend, Christopher.

I was able to find strength and healing by seeing friends who were also going to be affected by the president elect and who had kind words to share. Paris was beautiful, but I really feel like I am taking advantage of the things that I see in Madrid. I have been trying to go to an art museum at least once a week until I leave because they are phenomenal and full of so much life.

Finally, obviously, when the program is ending— I’m actually encountering what I have wanted this whole time. I am finally finding out how to not be bothered by the things that used to bother me and am still being determined and hard-working at soaking up the cultural experience as much as I can. I don’t know if I could have said these things to myself earlier, although I wish I could have, but finally I have a sense of relief and that feels lovely.

Fall Foliage

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Now that Fall has officially hit Seoul in full swing, this is probably the best time of the year to pull out your camera and go for a walk outside. Why? Because if you look around, you’ll notice the wonderful colors emitting from the trees as they call for your attention!

Needless to say, Fall is that time of year that everyone loves. It’s not to hot and it’s not to cold, making it perfect for sweater weather and multiple cups of hot chocolate or lattes if you prefer. As the temperature continues to change in Seoul – some days it’s cold and some days it’s warm – the scenery outside continues to change and everything becomes more beautiful with every passing day. I’m lucky enough to attend Yonsei University. Its campus is amazing as it is but it looks even more incredible now that all the trees are changing colors.

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Fall Foliage is the phenomenon where autumn leaf colors take affect on normally green leaves of many deciduous trees and shrubs. These trees and shrubs take on, during a few weeks in the autumn season, various shades of red, yellow, purple, black, orange, pink, magenta, blue and brown.

Because Seoul – mainly South Korea in general – is made of hills, mountains and trees at every turn, its easily to spot colorful trees everywhere you go. It amazing to see how such a modern city like Seoul, with countless buildings, shops and city lights, is still holding onto nature by preserving and taking care of its beautiful landscape. Instead of tearing everything down to build apartments and big department stores, Koreans have found a way to stay in tact with the industrial evolution all while still maintaining its own backyard.

And this can be seen at a place called Nami Island. It is a half moon-shaped isle, and on it is the grave of General Nami, who led a great victory against the rebels in the 13th year of the 7th king of the Joseon Dynasty, King Sejo (reign 1455-1468). A special feature of the island is that there are no telephone poles. This is because all electric wires were built underground to keep the natural feeling of the landscape. The island is 553,560 square yards with chestnut trees and poplar trees throughout. In the middle of the isle, there is a grass field about 316,320 square yards.

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With a two hour bus ride from the city down to the docks where a ferry is needed to get to the island, the entire trip was worth the wonderful sight of the island. It is really like a park within a park, if that makes any sense! But walking around, you’ll see countless tourists all with cameras trying to get pictures of the wonderful and beautiful changing landscape. Its truly a sight to see and they even have a little zoo of their own!

Nami Island is a wonderful day time trip for anyone that is looking for a peaceful walk with nature. Without the distractions of busy city lights and speeding buses and cars in Seoul, the island was truly a little getaway that everyone needs! Come and enjoy mother nature’s pure beauty to the fullest!

Raisons d’Etre

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Raisons d’Etre

“…And there are so many silences to be broken”                                                               

-Audre Lorde

This past week has been one of coming to terms with the reality of the world we are in and personal growth. When I was a senior in high school, I wrote a personal essay on my identity as being a Liberian immigrant and moving to the United States at a very young age. I remember trying to come to terms with how my family saw me, how the world saw me, and how I tried to fit myself into the perfect holes others had made for me. I never knew what I wanted from myself. Although, I wrote that essay and I asked myself a series of questions of my identity and have continued to, I felt the pieces all meld together when I arrived in Marrakech, Morocco.

I have been writing poems that take pages to finish about how I felt in Marrakech, but I still haven’t found the exact words for the feelings yet. And though I haven’t been able to put my finger on it exactly, it’s the closest thing I could think of as home on this study abroad trip and it gave me an overwhelming sense of safety. I slept in the Sahara for one night and I remember looking into the sky, lying on the Moroccan rugs, and sniffling away tears because I just wanted my mother there with me. In that moment, I felt like I was looking— finally underneath the African sky where I was born. And I wasn’t in Liberia, but it still felt like home. The people, the morals, the excitements, the carefree attitude that radiated everywhere felt like a homecoming I had been waiting years for. I walked the sand dunes barefoot and ate with my hands. I made fast friends with people on the street, and perfecting my bartering skills. I went with friends who could objectively see the value in Marrakech, but I felt in my soul that I had found someplace where I belonged.

And then— suddenly on Wednesday, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

I remember waking up early and crying for what seemed like hours on end. The day before, I had been diagnosed with tonsillitis and had to take antibiotics every couple of hours, but it meant I couldn’t go to a Democrats abroad event to watch the election with my friends and other expats. I felt alone, I felt worried for my family, and I felt like I didn’t know where my identity lied anymore. I felt lied to. I felt that my parents had sacrificed everything for an American Dream, and after we worked incredibly hard to accomplish just a little bit of that, we were given an American Nightmare.

Right now is a confusing, enraging, depressing mess after the election, especially as I am not home and being asked consistently what I think of the president-elect. I never know what to say and wish the questions would stop because I have them too.

What’s important right now is supporting minorities in all groups of all people and caring for one another. I hope you are all staying safe and vigilant. Finding a place where I felt at home and knowing I have people who love me here and at home, gave me so many reasons to live.

Itaewon: Foreigner Paradise

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Wow! It literally feels like ages since I last posted but today I’m going to gift you a little secret about Seoul! Well, maybe it really isn’t a secret anymore, haha!

But have you ever traveled to a foreign country and somehow always end up finding a place that feels like home? Well, for me, running into Itaewon was a little something like that. Literally dubbed as the “Global Community in Seoul”, Itaewon is the place to go to find a variety of different nationalities and diverse cultures. It’s literally a little melting pot in Seoul; once you arrive at the big gate or arch welcoming you into Itaewon, you’ll automatically feel it! It’s like you’ve stepped into a different world.

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Initially, Itaewon was designed as the first “Special Tourism District” to highlight it as a destination for internationals to enjoy a diversity of culture, shopping, and entertainment experiences. Itaewon is in the middle of Yongsan-gu, which borders the northern part of the Hangang River. In the aftermath of the Korean War, American soldiers began to stay in the Yongsan Garrison and, consequently, numerous businesses and housing complexes were formed in Yongsan. In preparation for international meetings and the Seoul Asian and Olympic Games, the government strengthened tourism infrastructures and revitalized commerce, prompting international tourists from other parts of the world (such as Japan, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, etc.) to visit Itaewon.

Itaewon is full of diverse shops, hills and small alleyways that all have hidden gems. If you were given a day to explore the entirety that is this place, I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to get through everything. There’s so much to do and see, it’s a little like New York City but without the funky smell of the sewers and rats! With so many foreigners residing in this area, you don’t have to feel burdened about not knowing how to speak Korean. Feel free to speak English; if anything, you’d be surprised at the amount of English (let alone other foreign languages) you’ll hear when you come to Itaewon. When my friends and I decided to grab pizza here, I was genuinely surprised when the worker greeted us in perfect English. I guess you could say I felt like I really wasn’t in Korea for a moment there.

But with that aside, Itaewon is truly a gem for anyone that is willing to visit. When you’re missing just a little taste of home, don’t be afraid to head down here. You’ll be able to find a variety of ethnic foods you may be craving or you can just walk and shop around and interact with other foreigners. It’s pretty cool to see why they came to Korea and their reasons for staying here. In a sense, it’s a great way to build another blanket of security for yourself – you know that you can have another place to call home when you are feeling a bit nostalgic. Itaewon is the melting pot that can cure your homesickness for the time being!

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Hallows Eve in Madrid 

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Hallows Eve in Madrid 

Obviously, at the beginning of the week, it was Halloween! I was able to hang out with my friend, Kaitlin, who is also studying in Madrid and my friends from Majadahonda. It was very exciting to be able to experience these things with them. I couldn’t decide for a long time what I wanted to be on Halloween, but last minute my friend Anthony helped me be Solange’s new album cover! I felt happy to have a black woman who I could dress up as!

We were dancing and talking for so long that we forgot to even go to the Halloween event we had planned to go to! It was a mixing of my old friends and new friends all in one place— where I never thought all the lines in my  life would cross. We ended up going to Daniela’s family’s bar and having a bit of wine and talking to her family members.

Halloween is fairly new in Madrid as it is seen as more of an American holiday. In Spain they celebrate Dia de los Santos, which is similar to Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, but less of a party and more a day of remembrance. One of my host family members said they thought Spain and Latin America had a lot in common, but I don’t really think that is true. Although, I did notice with the celebration of these days, there are similarly based morals and points of reference. I was a huge fan of it as we got a day off from school because of it! I was able to sleep in a little and practice some self care by staying in bed and watching Gilmore Girls, but I also was able to get a lot of work done with Anthony and it made me feel at peace to be able to organize myself. It makes me feel less stressed and prepared to move on with the week and be able to center myself.

My homesickness is growing weaker as I start to break some patters of my stagnant routine in small, but beneficial ways. I especially find solace in being with the children whom I teach English. Being with them makes me incredibly happy and they are always so curious. This week I showed them a video of Philadelphia in a blizzard and their eyes glowed up! It doesn’t snow much in Madrid and they loved seeing my city where I live. They all told me they want to visit after that. As I was watching the video with the children, the teacher I work with— Claudia—turned to me and said, “I can tell in your eyes that you miss this place.” I felt so surprised that she could see that in my eyes from just watching a video. And she wasn’t wrong. I do miss Philadelphia and the way it looks in the snow, and how people take their shirts off of their back for other people, and waiting behind someone who doesn’t know how to use the token machine, but I also know that this is something I will one day look at and miss.

I am where I am now for a reason. And that is something I am starting to believe.

Cabin Fever

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Cabin Fever

It’s been hard writing recently because, frankly, the feeling of being alone in Madrid is overwhelming. It’s not like I don’t have friends or people that care about me, but the schedule I work on is extremely static. There are about 40-50 students in my program so it feels a little bit like high school. I take the same route to school everyday, have my 9am, and see the same cliques that surround me. I almost feel like I’m suffocating in a high school like situation. There is rarely any variety in my day. I really miss that about Temple. When I was home, I rode my bike to school in different routes every morning. I was able to spontaneously see one of my friends walking to class; I was able to change buildings often or casually start a friendship with someone new by being in the same class. But here, it is very hard to not already know everyone and know which group they fit into. The groups at this point feel impenetrable and even so, there is no one new to meet.

I was able to talk to some friends from home this week and it is nice to have that support and understanding coming from them, but they are so far away. When I visited Budapest to see my friend Annalise the other weekend, I was able to meet so many people.

My day had so much variety and we decided to do everything spontaneously, but as soon as I came back to my hackneyed routine, I felt trapped again. Friends who I have expressed this to who have also studied abroad have felt the same in their programs, and they said that I’m writing blog posts about things no one talks about— feeling lonely or down abroad. I am in such a beautiful place, receiving so much love and support from back home and some from here too, but it is affecting me to not feel 100% comfortable with my program and how small it is.

Small things I was able to do this week to improve my mood, was talk to a counsellor about my feelings and be listened to and affirmed. Those are the best feelings. The directors of the program have also been very good with listening to my concerns and trying to accommodate me as much as they can. I was also able to write postcards to friends and family so that they knew I was thinking of them. That felt more gratifying to me than anything. I visited a place called the Gatoteca with friends. It is a cat cafe and you get to go in and pet and play with stray cats who need homes. People even adopt the cats!

I had a great time being there, and being able to show the kids I teach English a short video about Philadelphia was really exciting! I even saw a Spanish movie with my film class called Tarde Para La Ira in theaters, and it was cool to be able to see contemporary Spanish film! I was shocked that I really understood everything that was happening WITHOUT SPANISH SUBTITLES! That was kind of the high point of my week.

What I took from this week is that I wish I had done more research on program size and asking people how they really felt during their time abroad. Doing so might have better prepared me for having the best yet most challenging time of my life coincidentally. But I am determined to still leave with lots of irreplaceable memories and feel like I am still enjoying all my classes and my Spanish is improving tremendously!

I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately, so I leave you all with this.

Americans run to Dunkin’

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IMG_2219.JPGPart of me is too proud to admit to how long I waited in line. However, I mostly want to scream with glee that I spent more than four hours in line at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

It wasn’t just any Dunkin’ Donuts, but SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST.

And let me tell you, it was an event.

Social media effectively drew my attention toward the day. For weeks, the Dunkin’ Instagram promoted the new coffee and donut-based fast food.

Dunkin’ supplied a bouncy house, trampoline, face paint, and balloon animals. Live music demanded the neighborhood’s attention. A cheer team hyped the gathering crowd. A photographer captured the entire day.

After this day, I am most likely plastered all over the Dunkin’ Donuts website, Facebook, and advertising department. A Dunkin’ representative quoted me, recorded my cheering, asked me to pose for multiple pictures and, of course, I said yes.

After this day, I might just be the next face of Dunkin’.

My thrill could have energized all of Cape Town. My excitement originated from my homesickness for the famously wonderful (and cheap) coffee and donuts. This coffee took me back to early morning walks to class. I held the iced coffee, closed my eyes, and remembered North Philadelphia.

The truth is that I’ve waited in long lines for Dunkin’ many times before. All of Philadelphia knows to migrate to the nearest Dunkin’ if the Eagles happen to win. Never to this extent, but crowded Dunkin’ Donuts are a staple of my version of American life.

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My goal for the Dunkin’ Donuts opening wasn’t to eat six donuts, or drink a mediocre coffee; it was to leave with a South Africa specific T-Shirt. I’m proud (and a little grossed out) to report back that all three were accomplished. I also found a place to buy hash browns and bagels with cream cheese. The whole event proved to be a spectacular and exciting experience.

I listened to the radio, later that same day. A South African reported on the opening of the country’s first Dunkin’ Donuts. He mentioned the embarrassing fact that people waited in a line for hours to get the iconic American donuts.

American capitalism, once again, invaded the soul of South African society. So this specific reporter was less than thrilled.

South Africa may not need Dunkin’ Donuts. In reality, I don’t need the sugar or very large portion sizes. I frequent many other coffee places, which are much closer to my new home. I found places where I can drink coffee and either study, watch movies, talk, read, or even play board games. I love to get Billy Boos before going to the beach. I sit in Mimi’s to get homework done. I laugh in Truth Coffee with my friends. I happened upon the Big Box Cafe while wandering in town.

However if I am homesick, I will take the long trek to South Africa’s first Dunkin’ Donuts. And with an iced coffee in one hand and a donut in the other, I will remember my time in city of Philadelphia.

The Doors of Learning shall be Open

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It started with a single announcement, which shook the entire nation of South Africa.

I found out just before my Political Science class. I sat with my friends near the back of the 300 student full lecture hall. From down my row, a student gasped. Quickly, the room filled with whispers in English, Xhosa, Zulu and I’m sure other languages, which I am unable to identify.

Two minutes until class, my strict lecturer walked in and demanded silence.

However, the news of possible nationwide drastic university fee increase captivated the attention of my peers more than any class could. The girls behind me reflected on how they already struggled to pay for tuition. The guy in front of me did the math for his new tuition costs. I leaned over to my friend and asked what this meant for the universities.

He laughed and simply stated,”Protests.”

For weeks, conversations of potential protesting sat like a rumbling thunderstorm above our academic year. One by one universities all over South Africa congregated toward protests. As universities got more seriously involved, it became an act of solidarity for the other universities to join. So inevitably, the schools in and around Cape Town joined.

Except, the University of the Western Cape quietly trudged through the academic year.

Every day, I took the hour long bus ride to school to show up to lectures, which had less people every day. At first, I thought the dwindling population grew from natural semester exhaustion, but people were mobilizing.

For weeks, public attention turned to University of Cape Town. The school was shut down day after day. Twitter told a narrative of their demands, which varied if you spoke to a medical student or a law student, first year or final year, woman or man, white student or black student. However, most could identity that the protesting had not been produced by a simple rise of tuition. What is called the #FeesMustFall movement calls for much more than just cheaper or free education (another basic internal disagreement). It explores the necessity of decolonizing education.

As media focused on the increasingly complex situation at University of Cape, the city wondered if University of the Western Cape, a school with a history of powerful protesting, had an intention of joining.

Week after week, I went to school normally, while my friends at University of Cape went on an indefinite sabbatical. On the days their classes were canceled, I continued taking my early morning bus. When they returned to a campus full of armed security, my campus had their annual student body election. When they  had students arrested, I heard rumors that my university would finally join.

It was an act of brilliance for University of the Western Cape to wait until the elections to end. From what I can understand, the student representatives act as an important mode of communication between administration and students. Last year, they were not on the side of #FeesMustFall, but after these elections that is not the case.

Immediately following the elections, students of the University of the Western Cape stood with the nationwide shutdown. Students have been forcing the school to be inaccessible, so I haven’t had school since. Every student that I know is repeating the words of the South African Freedom Charter by saying, “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” Some scream in solidarity of the struggle of the colonized. Some yell on behalf of their own education. However, all are watching, living and breathing what will soon be a new era of South African history.

 

Capitalizing on Opportunity

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Capitalizing on Opportunity

Now it has been more than a month in Madrid and something funny and strange is starting to happen to me. When I was in the States, sometimes after a Spanish class, I would still be thinking in Spanish for a couple of minutes or rarely, I could only remember a word as it was in Spanish. Now, I literally forget English words all the time or pronounce them in a Spanish accent when I am talking to someone who speaks English. Even writing this right now is a little bit difficult because I feel like I’m supposed to be writing this in Spanish.  My friend says that means I’m really immersed and that feels good! My friends from Majadahonda told me that my accent is definitely improving and that my Spanish is also getting better. I thought I spoke well when I came, but by staying in Madrid on the weekends and talking to local people via taking taxis and meeting other young adults through my friends who attend Complutense full time, I feel that I am better than I have ever been.

Although, I do still feel different within the realm of my program, I am glad that I chose to use IES Abroad Madrid. The program coordinators are very warm and caring and they plan a lot of nice activities for us to participate in. There are flamenco shows, classes, and trips to various places with a group of Spanish students. They offer us free printing in the office, which is small, so I am able to know all of my coordinators and have good relationships with them. I was even able to take a Spanish cooking class with my peers! We made paella, cake, and tortilla de patatas with the teacher. It was great to take the class for free and also be able to eat the food.

The teacher also told us the history of each dish and also a little history about Spain. It was really fun and educational and I was glad that I was able to benefit and experience something so unique!

Something very exciting has happened! I keep getting wonderful gifts from the universe. This time it is the form of my friend Anna and her parents coming to visit Madrid for a while. Anna and I were on the trip to Spain in high school together and stayed with our friends in Majadahonda. When we all gathered for dinner, we all had a lot to catch up on. It really was extremely nice to be able to have that piece of home!

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Photo by Andrea Hemman

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Photo by Andrea Hemman

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Photo by Andrea Hemman

Not just that, but my mentor from the summer has been sending me books from a fund I received from the program. The books about womanism and guides on how to write are trickling in and I almost want to stop all my actual school work to read these amazing books. Having familiar things around me like books I have been wanting to read, friends visiting, and the weather cooling down enough for me to wear my North Face make me feel like I’m not alone in this.