Week 1 has been… a week of adjusting. I had orientation on Dec. 3, and actual classes start Dec. 9. I have been waking up at 6am every morning because of jetlag. I love being up early, but eventually I will hit the inevitable wall of “I hate mornings.”
Seoul is a huge city. The buzz, the vibrancy, vitality, and bustle is amazing. In 50 years, Korea’s per capita GDP went from 100 to 35k, and it makes sense why. The city’s sprawl and sheer size is jaw-dropping. During the day it’s impressive architecture and mostly concrete everywhere, but during the night it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
This accurately depicts my frequent places I’ll go – out at night, on campus, eating ramen, and holed up in my cozy goshiwon (box room). I love the architecture at Goryeo (shorthand name for Korea University). It is such a beautiful campus. I walked across the main pavilion and gratitude hit me like a punch made of smiles and private school tuition fees that I got scholarship for. Goryeo has one of the highest regarded reputations in Korea for its education.
Okay, next for me, is paradise. There’s a big market that’s really close to where I’m living. I was really lucky that I spent my money on some sheets, a blanket, and a pillow, and had 3 dollars left in my wallet (which I promptly bought some dumplings with). Otherwise, I’d go broke faster than you can say “kimchi”. This will be my first step into the language too. I’m dedicated to learning what it takes to haggle the women that run most of these carts and stands.
I love the colors, bustle, and thrum of the market. There are so many people milling about, arguments over prices, and some irresistible food stands. I couldn’t believe some of the eel, stingray, fishes, giant tubs of dried shrimp, and other oddities that people sell.
On Saturday, the last day of my week, I went to Gangnam with some German friends that I made. Gangnam is known for being a lively, modern, and stunning area of Seoul. All of the food and shops charged almost twice that what we could get back by our school, and everything was at least twenty stories tall. The Octagon, is a club in Gangnam, that apparently was ranked #7 in the world by a DJ publication. I’m not a huge fan of house music, but I love to dance, so we danced for five hours or so and it was a blast.
Honestly, after a week like this… I’m TIRED! It is going to be a balance for me (and my wallet) to want to experience a lot of new things, but also take time to rest and relax. One of my top priorities on this trip is to take time to meditate, journal, and pay attention to myself. Having physical and emotional distance from a lot at home will give me the emotional space to reflect and grow.
It’s been very interesting simply being here, observing, and listening wherever I go. My ear for Korean is already improving, and even using simple words and greetings everyday is feeling more and more natural.
A harder thing that I am feeling my way around is a deep shame (and conversely freedom) that I have around my Korean identity. My Korean-ness has lacked, been rewritten, discovered, embraced, and missing throughout my life. So, coming here without a lot of cultural and langual (word?) knowledge has been a bit stinging. No, Korean people aren’t judgmental or critical, but I have some mix between expectation and desire to fit in and “be Korean.” So, of course, admitting that I don’t speak Korean, blowing my nose at the dinner table, even having an English name have caused a lot of hurt to come up for me.
Growing through this, though, is giving me a lot of freedom and liberation. I feel more empowered when I remember that people are just people. That I hold the highest, most outrageous expectations for myself. No one is judging me, I have the freedom to own my identity – American, Korean, creative, emotional, and otherwise.
This has been Korea Notes 1. Stay tuned for more. If you see my parents, drop them a nice word or two, they’ve been the most supportive through all of this. I miss you all! I am so so grateful for the love that you freely and unconditionally have for me.