Goodbye Korea

Well, this is it. My final day in Korea. And my final blogpost. I’m not even sure what to write. I feel like I should have something profound and inspiring to say but I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about leaving. Right now I feel ready to go home, get back to my life, and finally stop being a traveler and a foreigner. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and my family and telling everyone my stories, especially the ones too crazy to publish in this blog (yes, there are a few!) At the moment, I am happy to be going home.

On the other hand I know I am going to miss Korea like crazy when I do. I’m going to miss the friends I made here (especially the ones I made in Busan) and the people (yes, even the ajummas) and the food (especially the food!) and the culture (though not the old guys who spit on the street or the squatter toilets), and Busan (especially the beaches) and Seoul (though slightly less than Busan, sorry!) and real kimchi. I’m even going to miss the crowded traditional markets that smell like fish and the pushy ajummas on the subway. I might even miss being looked at by people on the street and the open-mouthed stares of small children. Who knows.

I’m definitely going to miss Busan a lot. Not only because my friends are here, but also because of the atmosphere. I liked Seoul, but Busan is so much more laid-back and colorful. Hence my photo collection of whimsical street art:








So… I guess the moral of the story is the nerd always gets the girl? I’m assuming he’s a nerd because of the glasses and the star on his onsie pajamas.


And don’t forget the mountains!



And of course, the Konglish.


I kind of want that shirt. No… I REALLY want that shirt!


Does this mean the customers are only chaste men or that the clothes so bad that anyone who wears them is subject to involuntary chastity?


Previously tasted chicken?




So… no German women allowed?


Sounds like a REALLY awesome water park!

I don’t really know how to do a final farewell so I think I might just wrap up with a few highlights from the last six months (wow, has it really been six whole months?!?)

I’ve eaten more new foods in the last few months than I can remember. 99% of it was delicious. The remaining 1% was strange invertebrates whose gummy texture completely overwhelmed any taste benefits they might have had. Most of the food I’ve had here burned away some part of my stomach lining (thank you Korean chili powder!) but it was totally worth it.

I’ve been renamed by the natives. You may now call me Dah-na. Though people in Busan tend to call me “Dina”, or they completely mishear and they call me “Jana” so honestly at this point I’ve almost forgotten my own name so you can call me whatever you want and I’ll probably answer.

I’ve experienced the best Korea has to offer: I’ve biked and picnicked along the Han River in Seoul…


…climbed Bukhansan Mountain (barely!)…


…strolled through both Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces (as well as several temples)…


…celebrated Buddha’s Birthday with a traditional lantern parade…


…seen the view from Namsan Tower, vacationed in Jeju Island…


Yakcheonsa Temple on Jeju Island: still one of my favorite places in Korea.


…toured the DMZ…


… and most importantly, eaten a lot of patbingsu!


I’ve also experienced the daily life of Korea as well, like the traditional markets…



…springtime in Seoul…




…college neighborhood nightlife…


…and sharing the street, subway, and bus with thousands of other people.




I’ve learned basic Taekwondo. (And also forgotten much of it over summer break. Oops!)




I spent a weekend in Japan while only using a grand total of 4 Japanese words.



I’ve also been up to see the sunrise at Gwangalli Beach in Busan. This was one of my favorite moments in my entire time here.






And of course, many other things that you’ve already read about. Or maybe you just skimmed it and looked at the pictures. Whatever, I’m not judging. But I do want to say thank you to all my readers. I appreciate you coming along with me on my travels… and for putting up up with a lot of weird humor, geeky pop culture references, and really bad Konglish puns. It’s been a good journey.

I would also like to thank my amazing host family for hosting me this last semester. They were always so kind and wonderful to me. And they put with with my awkward Korean for 4 whole months which is worth like a thousand million brownie points.

And finally, thank you to my friends in Busan who helped me celebrate my last week in Korea. I’ll miss you all, you crazy people.

I’ve heard that after a long time abroad, the returning culture shock can be just as bad as the original one. I know it will take me time to adjust to American life again, but I think I can get through it alright. If I end up a kimchi addict living in my parents’ basement I’ll let you know but I think as long as I cope better than this I’ll be okay:

(Silly Jack. You spent the first 4 seasons trying to get OFF that island!)

I do want to return to Korea someday. I don’t know when I will be able to come back, but who knows, right? So I’m not saying “goodbye”, just “so long for now.”

We’ll meet again, Korea. I know it.

또 만나자!



Oh My Ajumma!

Many westerners don’t know this, but Korea actually has three genders: male, female, and ajumma (아줌마).


Literal definition: technically, any woman is an “ajumma” after she marries and starts having kids, but this term usually refers to a middle-aged woman. Calling a woman “ajumma” is similar to calling her “ma’am.” You can use this term for the women who sell street food, or the fancy housewives at the department store, or just any middle-aged woman whose name you don’t know.

Actual definition: the loud, pushy, and badly-dressed middle-aged women of South Korea. Ajummas can be distinguished by their permed hair, bright and mismatched clothes, and intimidating presence. You can find ajummas everywhere, but you often hear them gossiping and arguing in their gravelly old-lady voices long before you see them. Ajummas pretty much only exist in Korea.

Koreans have a lot of pressure in their lives: you have to be polite to everyone, you have to work/study hard all the time, you have to always be dressed fabulously… so when a woman becomes an ajumma she experiences a backlash from a lifetime of extreme politeness. Ajummas can get away with just about anything. They push and shove people on the subway, argue and gossip loudly in public, and dress terribly. The most distinguishing fashion features are the short, permed hair, visors and the flower-patterned pants.

Note: No matter how “ajumma” an older woman is, you probably shouldn’t call her “ajumma” to her face. It’s a little bit rude because you’re implying that she is rude, has a bad perm, and is poorly dressed and no woman wants to hear that (even if she is rude, has a bad perm, and is poorly dressed.)






Ajummas can be found everywhere in Korea, but especially at the traditional markets, where you can see them arguing viciously over the price of groceries, and at any of the public parks, where they will be out power-walking at any time of day or night. You can also see ajummas hiking in large, loud groups at any of Korea’s many mountains. They’re also 5 feet tall but can mountain-climb twice as fast as any of you. No matter how good of a climber you are, when you’re hiking in Korea you WILL be passed by every single ajumma on the mountain, and they won’t even be breaking a sweat!



So how does a woman become an ajumma? Koreans haven’t really been able to give me a straight answer on this yet. I guess it’s kind of like asking westerners how they know when to call a woman “middle-aged.” You just sort of know. But there are middle-aged women here who are technically ajummas because of their age, but they don’t have the ajumma style yet. And some of them never go through an ajumma phase. Personally, I think Korean women must just go to sleep one day and wake up the next day as an ajumma. To me that makes more sense than deciding to get a perm, a bad attitude, and terrible fashion sense. Many of you may have seen this comic before. I think it sums up the ajumma metamorphosis pretty well.


They may not look it, but Korean ajummas are actually quite frightening. They are surprisingly strong for their size and they are not afraid to yell at you or bully their way into a good seat on the subway. Ajummas can also haul enormous backpacks full of kimbab (for a mid-mountain hiking snack) or several dozen shopping bags (full of brightly-patterned stretch pants, obviously.) Basically, ajummas are super-human and you don’t want to mess with them. I have been yelled at by ajummas a few times. I don’t think they were actually that angry, but ajumma voices seem to have only one volume: loud and angry, so even though their intention might have be completely harmless it still scares the crap out of me. I usually give them the deer-in-the-headlights look and then run away as soon as possible.

That being said, there are good things about ajummas too. Young Korean women can be very shy (which actually makes conversation in the cafe very difficult sometimes) but ajummas like to talk. Actually, they LOVE to talk, and that boisterousness can be very refreshing. It’s hard to have an awkward silence when there are ajummas in the room.

Oh ajummas. You can’t help but love ’em!


Not my pic: stolen from internet.


Also stolen from the internet. But this is soooo typical ajumma. Look at those visors!