Photo 1: I am wearing a hanbok inside the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea on July 8, 2022.
Photo 2: I am posing in front of cubes signed by multiple donors at the Beautiful Foundation’s building in Seoul on July 7, 2022.
Flying to Korea felt way more stressful than what I have been used to in the past! I have visited Korea quite a few times to see family, but it was always with my mother when I was very little. Plus, there was not a pandemic occurring in 2019 which is the last time I visited Korea. Korea required a PCR test within 48 hours of departure which I had to input into their Q-code system. Without this Q-code, I could not get a boarding pass to take my connecting flight to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Thankfully, I got my results at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning just in time to get my boarding pass and go through security at the Philadelphia International Airport.
Ironically, the five-hour flight to LAX was more uncomfortable than the 12-hour flight to Incheon International Airport (ICN). I was able to sleep on the Asiana Airlines flight much more easily than on the American Airlines flight to LAX. While flying to South Korea, I had bibimbap and bulgogi on the plane which was super delicious! When landing in South Korea, I got overwhelmed with emotion because I was so excited to finally be here. I landed at 3:30 a.m. and went through immigration and customs very quickly. As soon as I stepped outside of the doors at the airport, a wall of hot air hit me immediately and I realized I was experiencing one of Korea’s extreme heat waves. Local Korean people would tell me how this humidity and temperature are not normal and that global warming has heavily impacted the climate and weather patterns. It was overwhelmingly hot, and I had to take two showers every day this week to feel slightly comfortable. The situation was made worse when the air conditioning unit in my dorm room was not working properly. Don’t worry, it was fixed after five, long, hot days.
As for my studies here in Seoul, I am attending Soongsil University and staying in the residence hall on campus. In the mornings, I take the “Discover Korea: Politics, Economy, and Culture” course and in the afternoon, I take a course through Kean University, my home institution, where we participate in a research internship with a non-profit organization called the Beautiful Foundation and contribute to a community mapping project designed by Dr. Wansoo Im. Here are links to both organizations if you want more background information:
For my internship, I am expected to research and compare other non-profits, NGOs, and/or think tanks around the world that are comparable to the Beautiful Foundation. I will report my findings to the organization with the hopes that the information will help them build upon their existing structure model and/or expand their partnerships to other parts of the globe.
For the community mapping project, I was tasked to observe signs around Seoul to assess how proficient they are in using English and the effectiveness of their delivery in terms of accessibility, placement, and visibility. We utilize Dr. Im’s application called Mappler with a designated project name of “Signage Treasure Hunting.” With the app, we can upload a photo of the sign, rate the sign as poor, good, or excellent, and write a description about why we rated the sign as such and what suggestions we might have to improve it. At the end of the community mapping project, our data will be given to the City of Seoul to improve their English signs. It feels great to affect real change in the world.
In addition to these projects, I have been practicing my Korean a lot! I am Korean American but did not grow up speaking it. I studied a year of Korean at Rutgers University but stopped when I had two kids (who I miss dearly). It has been scary, but I have improved quickly in my comprehension and pronunciation because I am forced to use it when I am outside of my room. Navigating public transportation has also proved to be very rewarding. I also have an assigned student buddy who helps me with my Korean. I feel really encouraged to continue practicing and feel empowered by my independence in South Korea as a university student from the U.S.
As for fun experiences, I have visited both the Changdeokgung and Gyeongbokgung palaces this week. They were both recreated from the Joseon Dynasty because they were destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the early 20th century. When visiting Gyeongbokgung, I even got to wear a hanbok and feel like a princess for a few hours. I have worn hanboks many times before, but it is always fun and special to experience traditional clothes. In addition to the palaces, I have tried a lot of amazing food that never falls short. I could have Korean food forever.
Thank you for reading my Week 1 journey! I look forward to what week two has to show me! Some things to look forward to being: the National War Memorial of Korea, Nanta performance, and a family gathering.