The Good, the Bad, and the Squidly

So far I have received two conflicting pieces of advice about being a pedestrian in Seoul: one foreigner told me, “This is Seoul; you don’t need to worry about cars,” and another told me, “This is Seoul; you can die crossing the street!”

Thanks guys. Thanks so much.

I have noticed that although cars will not look like they’re going to stop, drivers will never hit you. However, I would never want to drive here; I think you’d have to be either suicidal or completely mad in order to try it. I’ve seen buses go through red lights if it didn’t look like anyone was going to cross, and apparently motorcycles and mopeds don’t have to abide by any traffic rules whatsoever. On the bus it seems like the bus drivers are having a seizure or something because it’s always lurching and swerving and you get thrown all over the place. Surprisingly, the percentage of traffic-related deaths in Korea, though higher than the U.S., is still below the world average (I looked it up!) Still, on days when the weather is nice I actually walk to school even though it’s over a mile and Yonsei is literally built on the other side of the mountain (so I do have to walk uphill both ways!) Better a long hike every morning than several near-death experiences.

What’s that? Did I say I was going to school? Maybe…

In fact, this week is orientation week. Well, more like Tuesday was all-day orientation and the rest of the week has been a mad scramble to get registered and sign up for classes and open a bank account and get my phone working and buy school supplies and figure out where the heck all my classes are and walk back and forth and up and down campus all day. So much fun! Throw in a little food poisoning on orientation day (I almost threw up on a bank teller!) and it’s been quite a party. Now now, don’t be all worried; I’m over it now. I think it was just that everything here is different – the air, the water, the food, the germs, etc – and my body put up a valiant effort for the first week or so but eventually the Korea cooties had to take over. Now I say bring it on! My stomach can take it… I think.

Today my sister sent me an email in which she told me she envisioned Korea like this:

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Wow! So cool! So beautiful! Unfortunately (although I can’t speak for the rest of the country) I think it’s only fair to warn you that a lot of Seoul actually looks more like this:

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Sorry to burst your grand illusions of Seoul, but unless you’re in one of the super-rich areas, like Gwangwhamun Square, things look like they’re falling apart. Sometimes there are construction materials just abandoned in an alley or whole bits of a wall eaten up by vines. In the neighborhoods it looks like everyone was in such a rush to build! build! build! that they stepped all over each other and then just sort of patched-up around it afterward. Often the sidewalks are mismatched or just unfinished.

Oh, and see how the sky in the bottom two photos is a little foggy? That’s the smog that blows in from China. Apparently it’s pretty bad this week.

Wow, now I just made Seoul sound like it’s some third-world country or something when it really doesn’t feel like that at all. Despite it’s rugged exterior, it’s probably the most modern city I’ve ever been to. I mean, Seoul probably has the best wi-fi of any city in the world: it’s everywhere! The people here are super fashionable (more on that another time!) and the public transportation is amazing. And when it comes to food and entertainment I think it must be against the law for any building not to have at least two restaurants, a salon, a supermarket, a boutique, and a karaoke bar. Seoul is also known for being very, very safe, and it definitely feels that way too. Also, practically everything talks to you. Trains and buses automatically announce the stops (okay, not that unusual), crosswalk buttons will tell you to “please wait”, cars will tell you they are out of gas, and I’ve even heard rice-makers announce when your rice is done cooking! Koreans are also super up-to-date on their technology; everyone, even the frumpiest old lady, has the newest, shiniest phone, and while both families I have stayed with do not have dishwashers, they do have really nice televisions and surround-sound systems.

Throw in all the palaces and ancient stuff as well and overall Seoul is super old and super new at the same time. People check their text messages while riding high-speed super trains on their way home to eat traditional foods whose recipes have barely changed in a thousand years. I think that’s pretty cool.

Oh my goodness, speaking of traditional foods, this is probably what most of you have been waiting for: my oh-no-good-lord-what-is-THAT-in-my-stew-oh-eww-I-can-NOT-eat-that-no-no-no moment

Spoiler alert: it was tentacles!

It started when Grandma and Grandpa (my host dad’s parents) came for the weekend. Grandma has this sweet, endearing little habit of adding strange invertebrates to every meal. First these little clam creatures started appearing in the deonjangjjigae. Okay, I could deal with that. I just ate around them.

And then there were bigger, lumpier clam creatures. Still okay, I can handle that, no big deal.

And then at breakfast this morning there were tentacles in my stew and that’s when I was like, “nope. Nope. I do NOT do tentacles. ESPECIALLY not for breakfast. Thank you but no thank you, Grandma.”

I mean, I’ve seen tentacles in food before and it never grossed me out, but this was my first time staring at them in my own bowl and contemplating putting them in my mouth, contemplating what the texture might be like… if the little suckers would get stuck in my teeth… Maybe some of you love to eat squidly appendages but it was too much for me. Luckily no one seemed interested in force-feeding me, so I just tried not to look at my suckered little friends waving at me from my stew (the smug little things!) and tried to look enthusiastic about eating rice instead. Dinner was better, but Grandma kept forcing me to eat dumplings. I don’t know if she was worried about me not eating as much earlier or if she just wanted revenge because I didn’t eat the lovely octopus she cooked.

Alright now, let’s give your gag reflex a break and move away from the seafood. Have I mentioned Korea’s latest musical obsession? Strangely it’s the “Let it Go” song from the movie “Frozen”. They play this song everywhere. I’ve heard it in the train stations, while walking by shops, while eating at restaurants, as peoples’ ring tones and finally, just now in the school café. There was even a TV advertisement for the Olympics that played it in the background. I’ve never seen anyone over the age of 5 so in love with a song from a Disney movie but they just adore it here.

Oh, and more fun examples of American media here in Seoul: I’ve seen posters for the movies “Robocop”, “Hercules”, “Nonstop”, “Pompeii”, and that new Kevin Costner movie where he’s a retired spy or something. They seem to be really fond of our action movies. I’ve also seen a TV spot for the Korean rendition of the musical “Wicked” or “위키드”, but Glinda looks kind of funny when she’s an Asian woman in a blond wig. Sorry.

Not that I have time to go see musicals this week because school starts on Monday! I have met a few international students already and honestly… I don’t like them that much. It’s weird but when I see another American or European (actually I can usually hear them first, they’re pretty loud and obnoxious) I’m torn between “omg you speak English be my best friend!” and “eww you repulse me, why are you such an obvious tourist?” Now I sound like a major hypocrite but seriously, most of them know almost no Korean so they’re walking around saying, “anyoonghaysay-yo!” and being generally ignorant.

Damn foreigners. Who needs ’em anyway.

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Surprise Train Trip!

But first, a little history – literally. On Friday my Korean tutors from Kyung Hee U took me and another student to see Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) palace. We made it there too late to get into the palace grounds but we still got to see the famous Gwanghwamun (광화문) gate right outside it.

Edit: So, I guess “gung/궁” already means palace and “mun/문” already means door or gate so “Gyeongbokgung palace” is sort of redundant but you get the idea.

The view from the inside

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The second gate

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And that’s the third gate behind us. The palace is waaaay in the background. I guess the emperor was either not fond of door-to-door salesmen or he was just a big fan of large, impressive gates.

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Gwanghwamun from the outside. Sweet view of the mountains in the background.

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The palace is guarded by several haechi (해치), an imaginary animal that often guards homes and gates.

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Sometimes he also looks like this:

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I don’t really know how to describe this animal; it’s sort of a combination of a dog and a lion and a troll doll. Wikipedia says it’s a “unicorn-lion”, but basically it is a 1700-year-old Pokemon.

If that didn’t scare you away there’s also these guys. They’re a lot like the fuzzy-hat guards in London; they won’t move no matter what you do to them.

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Gwanghwamun gate faces Gwanghwamun Square, which is a ritzy part of town full of glass skyscrapers and banks and important international trade. And also this guy. Look familiar Seattlites?

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Sometimes I almost forgot where I was.

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(That says “Starbucks Coffee” Or 스타벅스 커피)

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Seriously?

In Gwanghwamun square are statues honoring Emperor Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun Shin and underneath the square is a museum where you can learn about them. Emperor Sejong oversaw the invention of the Korean writing system, Hangeul. They even have the first official words written in Hangeul, which is the speech announcing the creation of Hangeul. Apparently Korean children memorize this speech in school, kind of like our Declaration of Independence but several centuries older.

Admiral Yi Sun Shin is also a pretty cool guy. He was in charge of the Korean navy during a war with the Japanese and he noticed that, “gosh, those Japanese sailors are really good at boarding our ships and killing everyone on them. What if our ships didn’t have decks? What if our ships had roofs with metal spikes coming out of them instead, Temple of Doom style? That would be so sweet!”** And thus turtle ships were born!

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(Note: picture stolen from internet)

They’re like regular ships except that everything below the masts is enclosed under a spiked roof. Yi Sun Shin used these ships to fight navy battles with crazy odds – like 70 ships against 30 – but he’d kick enemy butt without losing a single ship. Unfortunately no official portraits of the admiral survive except for one, drawn by yours truly:

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We spent several hours playing around in that museum and then it was time to go home. I moved in with my permanent host family the next day. Weeks ago we arranged to meet at a certain train station at a certain time and after a whole week of train riding I was like, okay, no big deal, I got this. I said goodbye to my current host family, hopped on the train and off I went. I got off at the right station to transfer to the #2 line – so far so good, considering that I was awkwardly hauling two suitcases with me the whole way. I even set off an alarm at one point because I swiped my train card but then took too long to drag my luggage through the little gate.

And…. then I goofed. Okay, I know where Yonsei University is (I’ve been planning this trip for how long?), and I know what the train map looks like (so I didn’t feel a need to check it), and I know I have to get off at Sinchon station…

…but Sinchon (신촌) looks a lot like Sincheon (신천) and both happen to be stops along the #2 line, so off I went, blissfully following the train signs. A little while later I noticed that we crossed the Han River, which runs east-west through Seoul and I thought “oh, that was weird. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be going this direction. Oh well.” (No seriously, total brain fart. I don’t know what was wrong with me.) A few stops later I was in Gangnam. You know how I knew? Not because I was paying attention to the train announcer or any of the posted signs (stupid me!), but because this older gentleman comes up to me and goes “Gangnam, you know?” and then does the Gangnam Style dance off the train. Finally I decided it might be a good idea to check the map. It’s very simple and it looks something like this:

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Surprise! Wrong direction!

Fortunately I happened to be on one of the few train lines that go in a circle, though at this point it would have been no faster if I turned around so I treated myself to a little sightseeing. I borrowed a phone from a fellow passenger to inform my host family that I would be embarrassingly late but I couldn’t get through. They told me later that they assumed I was just lost but not dead or anything, which is a relief I guess.

I finally met up with my family – they are very nice! – and we went to lunch and then back to their apartment where I unpacked and settled in. Tomorrow I have international student orientation but until then I am chilling here and getting to know my two new little sisters. We’ve been watching the Olympics (and rooting for Korean figure skater Kim Yeona!) and they’ve been practicing their English with me but I think they are adorable so I don’t mind. They’ve also beat me at every game we’ve played so far and I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

Also, there is a Kpop group here in Seoul that is very popular. It’s a new band and I guess they made it big by only picking high-profile gigs. They say that they go wherever the money takes them, which inspired the band’s name: Won Direction. You should check them out; they’re pretty good.

Until next time, y’all.

**Actual quote from Admiral Yi Sun Shin and, coincidentally, the second thing written in Hangeul.

Let Them Eat (Rice) Cake!

Okay, so I lied. I was going to wait until this weekend to write another post but I just have so much to tell you all! Luckily I haven’t forgotten anything because I have been keeping track of my daily activities in my journal. Yes, I have a journal. No, you can’t read it. It’s in Korean, so most of you won’t know what you’re reading anyway. I figured what better way to improve my writing than by practicing a little bit every day. Right now my Korean is still pretty limited so each entry is like; “Today I saw an old palace. It was beautiful. I ate bibimbap. I eat kimchi on the train. I eat kimchi in the rain. I like kimchi, Sam I Am. I eat it with green eggs and ham.” Yawn!

Anyway, about that palace… After class on Tuesday I went with two other international students to Changdeokgung (장덕궁) Palace. It’s weird; you can just be just strolling through some neighborhoods (wondering if you’re a little lost, maybe) and then you turn the corner and BAM! Humungous Joseon dynasty palace right in the middle of Seoul. And ‘humungous is not an exaggeration: Changdeokgung has several giant courtyards and gates and throne rooms, and apparently it’s only a fraction of the original compound that existed hundreds of years ago. Changdeokgung was the major clubhouse for the emperor and his buddies since like 1400 or something. This isn’t supposed to be a history lesson though, mostly I want to impress you with the incredible detail that went into dozens of buildings. Take a look…

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In Korea, the homes are traditionally heated by heating the floor, rather than by hot air from the ceiling. This kind of floor is called “ondol” (온돌). In Changdeokgung, all the buildings are about half a story off the ground, and here is one of the little cubbyholes where the servants would keep the fires going to heat the palace. So cozy!IMG_0047

Continuing this week’s tradition of doing traditional things, yesterday I took a Korean cooking class at the Tteok Museum. The class was offered through my language program and I went with several international students from my Korean class. Tteok (떡) means “rice cake” and yes, there is a museum dedicated to rice cakes. Apparently there are over 200 kinds of traditional rice cakes, all of which I will tell you about right now.

Just kidding! Did I scare you? I only made two kinds of rice cakes yesterday: kkotsangbyeong (꽃상병, or “flower mountain rice cake”) and the less-interestingly-named pumpkin cupcake.

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See how the little cakes look like a little flower on a mountain? There is actually sweet red bean paste in the middle. Yum. They were very sticky. Hard to believe that it was all made out of rice.

(Sorry for the bad photos. I’m not… yikes, I was going to make a reference here but I realized I don’t actually know any famous photographers. Let’s just say I’m not an expert, saavy?)

And I wore a traditional hanbok. Not my best look, but it was comfy.IMG_0053

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In case you can’t tell, in the photo above, I’m the one on the far right.

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Tasty as it is, rice is hardly a sufficient meal, so later I found myself in need of nourishment (in fact, I’m starting to notice a potentially disturbing lack of protein in the meals here) so I sought out the sketchiest, hole-in-the-wall dining establishment I could find. It was a one-room mom-and-pop joint run by too-much-makeup grandma and much older, very tiny, shriveled-up grandma. This was my chance to finally try doenjang jjigae (된장 찌개), a stew made with fermented soybean paste. I had heard about deonjang jjigae for a while, but it turned out to be not my favorite dish. Oh no! The first thing I’ve had so far that wasn’t super delicious! Oh well, it was still nice of the stew’s resident fish to share it with me, even if they did stare at me with little dead fish eyes the whole time.

Oh, I almost forgot! Yesterday I also met my first Korean actor. Kyung Hee University invited Lee Sun Ho to visit our class. Never heard of him? That’s okay, me neither. He showed us a list of all the dramas he had been in and I had never heard of any of those either. My first famous person and I’m not cool enough to know who he is. Whatever, my English is better, so I’ve got that going for me.

Ha, but you think all that is exciting wait until you hear about today!

Today…

…after class…

…I went home…

…and took a nap. It was beautiful. Seems like I can only handle so much adventure at one time.

Other than the time difference, I have been very surprised how stress-less my trip has been so far. Oops, let’s not jinx it though; I’m sure in a few weeks I’ll have an emotional breakdown and start craving American food and fluent English conversation. Maybe I’d better start scoping out where to find Ben & Jerry’s, just in case. Although, Baskin Robbins are very popular here, surprisingly.

But seriously, it is so easy to get around in Seoul. The trains really are amazing and I actually could write a whole post on just the trains and all the weird stuff I’ve seen on them, but I’ll save that for another time. It is unbelievably freeing to be able to leave in the morning with just my train card and $25 worth of won in my wallet and know that I can go anywhere I want, entertain and feed myself for several hours, and then come home again perfectly safe with cash to spare.

Ha ha. Hear that? That is the sound of my mom starting to hyperventilate. Don’t worry, I keep an extra 50,000 won (about $50) hidden on me at all times. However, I have never felt unsafe, even when traveling alone. There are a lot of a people though, especially at the train stations, and everyone is scurrying around like crazy while watching K-dramas on their cellphones, but somehow they all manage not to run into each other. People do look at me, but no one stares On the other hand, no one seems too impressed that I know my way around a train station either. I get treated with more or less the same indifference everyone else gets, but it’s not a cold indifference. It doesn’t feel… scowl-ly, I guess is how I would describe it. People are in a hurry and seem to acknowledge that everyone else is in a hurry and if someone shoves you a little bit on the train it’s not because they are mean, it’s just because they have somewhere to be and they have to be off the train NOW. Actually what is most incredible is that it is never more than 5 minutes between trains. I don’t think they even make train schedules because I haven’t seen any.

And now here’s where I get really deep and philosophical, guys. Sometimes I’m walking along the street or sitting in class not really paying attention and I think, wow, here I am with all these other foreign students, far from home, experiencing another culture and learning a new language, how cool is that? And then I realize that these people are from literally all over the world, and I get this feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself and I feel really big and really small at the same time (sappy, I know. Shut up.) I am actually part of that mysterious “globalization” that you learn about in high school social studies, but it doesn’t feel like as modern as that. Instead, I feel like an explorer! I am part of a centuries old custom dating back to those old silk road merchants, or vikings, or Christopher Columbus, or those Polynesian fishermen 6,000 years ago who may have made it to all the way to Mexico on straw boats (Yeah right National Geographic).

I am the next Marco Polo and children all across the world will be shouting my name in swimming pools. Just you wait.

Day 1… Or, How My Cafeteria Food is Better Than Yours

I woke up only slightly dead this morning. Still sick, still pretty tired. Anyone who saw me must have thought; “yikes! What awful place does she come from that leaves you red-eyed, pale and sickly looking?” I don’t mind too much because all the food here is delicious. Literally all of it. In the dictionary under “Korea” should be written nothing but “The country where Korean people come from and WHERE ALL THE FOOD IS DELICIOUS! YUM YUM!” Because seriously, if you don’t like soondubu jjigae (soft tofu stew) you are a godless heathen.

I met my host family for the week:  I now have a Korean mom, dad, and 6th grade brother. I also have a miniature poodle that forgets I live there and barks hysterically whenever I exit my room. The family also has a daughter but she is off attending high school, in Idaho of all places. This morning my host mother made me the most elaborate breakfast I’ve ever seen: rice (of course) and stew and sausage and kimchi and eggs and other little side dishes. Yum!

I started language classes this morning at Kyunghee University. Out of 12 people in the incoming group, wanna guess how many were American? That’s right, just me! Yay! My fellow orientation-mates are from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Japan. We had a quick orientation and a placement exam, which put me in a class level that was about half review, but the teachers thought I would have more fun if I didn’t have to study my brains out for the next five days, and the next class up was completely beyond me anyway. I’m kind of glad it turned out that way because now I can just practice having conversations and get into the groove of things and not have to worry about overloading my brain until I go to Yonsei U. next week.  My class is part of a longer language program that started a few weeks ago, but I was able to join in okay. I have classmates from literally all over the world, and the most outgoing person in the class is a German girl who has already mastered English and Japanese. She’s got a lot to say and 4 languages to say it in.

I bought lunch today for 2,8000 won! That’s right: 2.8 THOUSAND! It actually comes out to about $2.64 and it was probably the best $2.64 I’ve ever spent, because (surprise!) everything was delicious. I immediately went straight for the Korean food, but you would be surprised how many of the other foreign students won’t eat it because it’s “weird” or “too spicy”. I’m sitting there surrounded by these little tiny Chinese girls who pick at their rice and I’m slurping down tofu stew and bulgogi (grilled, marinated beef) like there’s no tomorrow. Ha! Their loss!

After class I was paired with another foreign student and we met our tutor buddies; I now have two girls whose sole purpose in life is to show me around Seoul and chat with me in Korean. They are taking us to one of the old palaces on Friday.

After class I had to make my way back home… by train… by myself! I could have sworn we took line 1 on the way out, but the map didn’t show my station on that train, so I spent several minutes wandering around a little bit until I honed in on the one white person in the whole train station. At last! Someone who looks like he knows what he’s doing, and he probably speaks English! But no, he just looked like he knew what he was doing, so I found a train conductor/expert person who pointed me to the line 3 train and saved me from a surprise trip to who-knows-where. Narnia, probably. Or John Malkovich’s consciousness.

The trains are crazy busy. The overhead announcement for each train arrival is preceded by some kind of musical diddly ranging from traditional Korean tunes to trumpet fanfare, which is kind of cute, but there’s like a million people on each train at any given time and they all push and shove their way past you to get on. Nevertheless, I rode the train like a pro and got home in time to make kimbap (like Korean sushi. Think rice rolled in seaweed with stuff in the middle, but usually without raw fish, like real sushi) with my host mother. Had some tea, and now off to bed at (gasp!) 7:30. Whew!

Oh, want to hear a pun? I promised puns!

In Korean, an egg is called 계란 (geran). So, what did the bus driver say to the egg?

“Hurry up and geran!”

Comic genius!

That’s all for now. I will have an update at the end of the week. Until then, go enjoy your next meal knowing it’s not as delicious as mine!

5470 Miles

11 hours

10 hours with a runny nose

3 hours of turbulence

17 times the guy across the aisle opened up the window to make sure that, behold! there is still blinding sunlight outside at 36000 feet!

4 “uh oh… what have I gotten myself into? Turn the plane around!” mini-heart-attack moments

1.5 hours on a bus

2 in-flight “meals”

1 hour of sleep

And I only made it as far as Tokyo

Just kidding! I’m in Seoul! And all that was still better than my train ride from Portland last week. (8 hours of lies! Yeah, sure we’ll be in Tacoma in 3 hours. Right…) I even made it here more or less in one piece, though leave it to me to be sick on my first day. I’m hoping that some sleep and some real food will take care of that.

But you know what’s even better than food? Bamboo-salt-flavored toothpaste! Not really, it tasted kind of weird, but they had lots of tiny tubes of it in the airplane bathrooms along with little toothbrushes. What is bamboo salt? Is it salty bamboo or salt made from bamboo? Perhaps we will never know. Alas, the ancient mysteries of the Far East.

Weirdest experience so far: when I got off the plane I was first greeted by the smiling, billboard-ed face of Robert De Niro inviting me to visit Paradise Casino. Why yes, Mr. De Niro, if you say so, then gambling away all my money in a foreign country must be a fabulous idea!

Oh yeah, by the way, Korean currency is called “won” (원) and I have several hundreds of thousands of it in my pocket. Muahahahaha!

It’s been a little harder than I thought to get people to speak Korean to me. I think there is something about me that makes everyone assume I’m a native English speaker, but I can’t imagine what it could be. On the plane I sat next to a girl about my age, but she was more interested in 11 hours of Angry Birds than in friendly conversation. Literally, all 11 hours. She only took breaks to eat or play Candy Crush. Even when I got off the plane, people were pushing in front of me in line to pick up baggage, to buy bus tickets, to get on the bus, etc. Oh well. Communication is not helped much by the fact that I have trouble annunciating through a stuffy nose.

Sorry I don’t have any pictures yet. It is dark out and there really is not much to see right now. I won’t lower myself to taking selfies, and you all wouldn’t want to see them anyway because after 14 hours of travel I look gross, I feel gross, and I’m pretty sure if I checked my passport right now my middle name would legally be changed to “eww gross!” I feel bad that this is how I will meet my host family. I’m actually writing this on the bus from Incheon International Airport to the bus station where they will pick me up. My first words to them will probably be something like: “Hello. I’m Dana. Nice to meet you”, because I am a civilized person and I have manners. And then: “can I go to sleep now?”

And speaking of sleep, the middle-aged couple in the seats behind me are asleep holding hands. And snoring. I think I might take a cue from them and try and get some rest. I will let you all know how my first day goes tomorrow.

Whoa… I just saw a Starbucks!

24 Hours and Counting…

Yeah, I’m actually counting down the hours. No shame!

At this time tomorrow I will be in the air on a plane bound for Seoul, South Korea, where I will spend the next 4 months at Yonsei University learning Korean, living large, partying hard, and engaging in wild merry-making and reckless shenanigans. Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming, Mom and Dad!

I think that starting school a month later than usual has made me a bit lazy. I am supposed to be getting back in school-mode – taking computer science classes (like, to finish my major, or something? I forget), worrying about grades, writing code at all hours of the night – but I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming semester as one big vacation. Thanks to my enthusiastic parents and several guide books, all I’ve been hearing about for the last several weeks is extravagant festivals and busy shopping markets, modern museums and ancient palaces, mystic mountains and volcano islands, delicious street food and midnight karaoke parties. It still hasn’t really hit me yet that I am MOVING TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD OMG WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?!?! All this is so new and wildly adventurous that I have trouble taking it all in, but I can guarantee you that as soon as my plane takes off tomorrow I will have a sudden “oh crap” moment that is 45% pure joy, 45% pure terror and 10% why-on-earth-didn’t-I-pick-an-aisle-seat-for-a-12-hour-flight??? all at the same time.

You might be wondering if I even speak Korean. Surely that would make things easier, right? Thanks to three semesters of fine tutelage at Washington University, I can, actually (though to what extent is debatable). I’m not fluent, but I should be able to get around alright. I can hold a slow and small-vocabularied conversation akin to that of a very small child. Perhaps pre-kindergarten? I don’t really know, actually. I’m sure my teachers, who have heard me stumble through many painful conversations, might have some idea. My verbal limitations will most likely hit me like a brick wall about 5 minutes after I de-plane in Seoul and I’ll have some very interesting and embarrassing stories to share.

And what comes after that? Well… I don’t start classes at Yonsei right away. Next week I am signed up for an intensive Korean language class at another university. They assigned me a host family for the week, and classes are only in the morning so I have the afternoons free to explore Seoul. Expect lots of pictures! Then, next Saturday I move in with my permanent host family, where I will stay for the next 4 months. I have a week to settle in and do international student orientation-type stuff before classes start at Yonsei on March 3rd.

That’s about all I have for now. It’s not too exciting… yet. I haven’t even finished packing! There’s stuff all over my floor and I know I’m going to forget at least one thing. Probably pajamas. I always forget to bring pajamas. I’m almost tempted not to bring them on purpose so I don’t break this sacred tradition.

So goodbye friends! Goodbye family! Goodbye my mopey dog who has been making sad faces at me while I pack. Goodbye random strangers who may have stumbled across this blog. Goodbye nobody, goodbye mush. Goodbye old lady whispering “hush.”

Goodbye comfort zone! Goodbye America!

Hello Seoul! 안녕하세요!

 

And now, in the spirit of international travel, and as an example of foreign language skills that are (hopefully) much lower than my own, I invite you to enjoy 3 minutes of humorous video, mostly because I find this hilarious: