20 Things I’ve Learned in Korea (so far)

  1. If a middle-aged person wants to talk to you in English on the subway, just let them do it. No matter how much you want to practice your Korean, I assure you they are just as persistent (if not moreso) with wanting to practice their English…especially 아저씨 (middle-aged men)
  2. Always have a fake name/email/address/phone number to give out to said persistent English-speaking Koreans. Some will chase you until you give it to them…especially 아저씨 (middle-aged men)
  3. You can definitely make it on Korea on free wifi alone, though this means you won’t be able to join reward programs or order food delivery.
  4. How to use your roommate’s food delivery app Yogiyo (on her dual sim phone) to order food.
  5. As soon as Sept 22nd passes, Korean dress in full fall garb, complete with turtlenecks, boots, and coats even if it’s still 75 degrees (F) outside.
  6. How to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit in my head (See here: https://lifehacker.com/5917331/quickly-convert-between-fahrenheit-and-celsius-without-a-calculator)
  7. How to make lemon ginger tea from scratch. It actually does help fight off colds, by the way!
  8. Crack your eggs carefully and never directly into a pan…there might be a chick inside….
  9. How to explain there is a baby chick (complete with feathers and beak) inside an egg to the poor student working at the convenience store.
  10. How to say vegan in Korean: 비건
  11. It’s a real struggle to cut dairy out of your diet when you’re in the land of bingsoo.
  12. Korean clubs are a bit different from the ones back at home (lol listen to me talking about clubs, haha) Some of my friends and I went to Madholic in Hongdae, and everyone was standing in lines and rows nodding their heads to remixed hip-hop. Not really much dancing, but tbh there wasn’t any room to dance, so….
  13. Oh, unless you go to NB1 or NB2. Lots of space, actual dancing happens. NB1 > NB2 in my opinion because there are fewer creepers.
  14. It’s extremely easy to get a boyfriend here. Nothing special. You change them like socks.
  15. If you speak Korean to the ladies giving out samples at the grocery store, not only will they encourage you to eat more samples, they’ll also give you free paper towels. After an hour in the grocery store, I had like 5 free rolls of paper towels.
  16. I don’t need to date because I get all the love and free food I need from Korean  아줌마 (middle aged women)
  17. Apparently 나는  애교가 많다. (It’s not on purpose, I swear)
  18. Listening to Korean radio is one of the best ways to practice your listening when you can’t be around Korean people.
  19. People still submit song requests to radio stations.
  20. My Korean teacher knows “It’s Raining Men” and can sing the whole song in Korean. (하늘에서 남자가 비처럼 온다면 좋겠어요…Hallelujah!)

For Whom the Midterm Tolls

I knew we were learning a lot at Ewha, but I didn’t know exactly how much we had learned until I was faced with about 800 vocabulary words and 34 grammar points to review for the midterm. Now, I could’ve done better by simply studying bit by bit over the one week break (for 추석) but I felt I had a good grasp on everything and didn’t need to start studying THAT early. Haha…

That changed several days before the exam, when I learned about the structure of Ewha’s exams. The midterm is split into 5 mini-tests: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and grammar/vocab. Listening and speaking are scheduled on the same day and reading, writing, and grammar/vocab are on another day (that’s right; two days of testing). My confidence was in grammar and vocab, so I was most prepared for the grammar/vocab section (naturally) and the reading section. However, I had no idea how to “study” for listening, writing, or speaking. So, I spent those several days before the exam listening to all the book dialogues over and over again; I also made sure to review all the mistakes I made in my writing homework and rewrite each writing assignment with the corrections. As for speaking, I just figured I should probably just wing it. I think speaking tests are almost impossible to prepare for unless you’ve been talking with a  native speaker all semester (*cough cough*) and/or you know exactly what topic(s) you’ll be asked to talk about.

On the first day of exams, we did the listening and speaking portions. Listening wasn’t too bad; all the questions are multiple choice and you’re given little time before each recording to read the questions, and they let you listen to the dialogues twice. It started out fine and then got progressively harder. The most challenging part was closer to the end, when the number of listening comprehension questions per section doubled or tripled in number (so, from 1-2 per dialogue to 4-6) and it was nearly impossible to read all the questions before the dialogue started. This resulted in me reading questions as I was listening which is a dangerous game because it’s easy to miss what’s being said. Only one dialogue really threw me for a loop, and that was because there were words in it we definitely hadn’t learned. And once you encounter one or two words in a dialogue you don’t know, you’re kind of screwed for the rest of it, so…that was that. But other than that, I felt it was a very fair test.

The speaking portion….went. Haha. You sit one-on-one with your teacher and do three things: read a paragraph, make a dialogue (based on one from the book), and free talking. Reading and free-talking went pretty smoothly for me, but the dialogue part was just awkward. You’re given a scenario (from the book) and supposed to have a smooth conversation with the teacher using key phrases and vocabulary from that specific chapter. The dialogue happened, but there were lot of awkward pauses as I tried to remember exactly which key phrases had been in that chapter (plus I tend to be awkward in general when it comes to speaking tests anyway, so….that wasn’t working in my favor either.) By the end, the teacher looked disappointed, I felt disappointed. I went home and sat in my own puddle of disappointment.

The second day was reading, writing, and grammar/vocab. I blazed through grammar/vocab and, to my surprise, I also blazed through the reading section. See, on the placement test, reading was my lowest score and they held me back from level 4 mostly because they didn’t think I could handle the reading. When I got the reading test and thought it was relatively easy, I was a bit shocked. And proud. (HA! I can read!) But that writing section was a blood bath. We had 80 minutes to write two essays. The first one, while it wasn’t the best, was all pretty and nice looking with long sentences. The second one, however, was a hot mess. I couldn’t decide what to write about, so I just scribbled something in the end. Pretty sad.

My test scores reflected exactly how I felt, for the most part. I did very well on grammar/vocab and reading, speaking and listening were decent….that writing score though….Well, let’s just say I passed. That’s what’s important, right? I PASSED.

I think I would’ve done better on the writing portion if I had also prepared an outline of a backup essay. The prompts on the writing test were the same as our previous writing assignments, so if I just come up with several ideas for the same prompt beforehand, I won’t spend so much time thinking about what to write on the test. It’s an easy fix (in theory)! I think I can also improve my speaking score if I group all the grammar and key phrases by chapter, so I know what “goes together.” Honestly, I find it rather frivolous to do that (because will that really make my Korean any better…?), but if they want me to use the key phrases from a specific chapter, fine.

At least I know what to expect for the final! Onward and upward.

What’s Open During Chuseok?

This past week I had the opportunity to see Seoul the emptiest I’ve ever seen it. “How empty?” you might ask. Well, empty enough for Simon and Martina to dress up in costumes and dance in the streets:

That video was from several years ago, but I would say it’s still a good representation of what Seoul looks like after the mass exodus of hometown-bound Seoulites. Often called the Thanksgiving of Korea, Chuseok is Korea’s harvest festival; traditionally, this was when families came together and gave thanks to their ancestors for the plentiful harvest. Even today Chuseok is still a time meant to be spent with family. I heard that one tradition is to visit ancestral graves and clean them to show respect. On the morning of Chuseok, families hold memorial services in honor for their ancestors called charye, wherein freshly harvested rice, alcohol and songpyeon are prepared as an offering to the family’s ancestors. I’m not sure if every family still does all the traditional Chuseok festivities every year, but at the very least, everyone does seem to go back to their hometowns and enjoy a whole mess of delicious food. More recently, it’s become more common for people to give gifts to friends, family, and even business partners during Chuseok. If you go into any market, there are huge displays of gift sets containing a variety of goodies like cookies and traditional Korean snacks…oh and, spam. Spam is crazy popular. I know we (Americans) consider it junk food, but it seems to enjoy an elevated status in Korea. I would never ever want to receive spam as a gift (and what would you do with 10 containers of spam, anyway?) but hey, whatever floats your boat.

Photo source: http://asiasociety.org/korea/chuseok-korean-thanksgiving-day

Seeing as I am a foreigner in Korea without any family, I did not take part in any Chuseok festivities, but I did enjoy some staple Chuseok foods–songpyeon and jeon–with my housemate. We made the jeon together and bought frozen songpyeon from the store (too lazy to make it by hand…). We sat on our rooftop with some traditional ~spirits~ and had ourselves a good time.


(PC: housemate)

So, from left to right on the wooden serving plate, we have perilla jeon (perilla leaves filled with meat and fried) and zucchini jeon (zucchini tossed in jeon flour and fried) on the top row, shrimp jeon and goju jeon (peppers stuffed with meat and fried)on the second row, and meat medallions made out of the jeon filling on the bottom. On the right side of the serving plate, you’ll see a dish of japchae, which is noodles, vegetables and eggs tossed with soy sauce and sesame. The yellow and white balls above the jeon are songpyeon, which are rice cakes filled with with things like sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beans, etc, and steamed with pine needles (traditionally). Even the store bought ones were pretty tasty!

Other than this mini-feast, I had a pretty chill Chuseok. I was told that a lot of things would be closed because of the holidays, so I was relaxing at home for the most part. Sure, a lot of shops and small restaurants around the city were closed, but there’s still some fun to be had if you’re stuck in Seoul during Chuseok. Everland was having a special discount price for foreigners during Chuseok, but I didn’t get to go; I was kind of pissed that none of my friends were willing to go with me (I should’ve just gone by myself…!) Most major tourist attractions, cultural facilities, and department stores also seem to be open during the Chuseok holiday. Korea’s tourism organization releases a Chuseok holiday schedule every year, so if you’re going to be in Korea during Chuseok and need to get the skinny on holiday hours, hit up their website: http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/AKR/FU_EN_15.jsp?cid=2507616

I would have gone on a trip during Chuseok, but I hear that airports, trains, and roads are MOBBED with people. I was texting some of my classmates that went to Busan and Jeju Island and they said that both places were so crowded, that they wish they had just stayed at home. So, I absolutely don’t regret staying in Seoul for Chuseok…!

I’m Here to Exchange Languages, not Saliva

In line with being a proper student of Korean, I’ve been on the hunt for a language partner. I guess by language partner, I mean a native Korean speaker I can meet once or twice a week, who will let me fumble through embarrassing stories in Korean, correcting me as I go… someone who will teach me how to not sound like a textbook. And, if such a person would like to use half of our time together to practice their English, this is completely fine with me as well. Even better if we like each other enough to look forward to our weekly meetings and–dare I say–even become friends.

I thought it would be relatively simple to find a language partner, but I’ve realized that this is might be a tall order because so far everyone I’ve encountered is looking to exchange saliva or other bodily fluids, not languages.

To be fair, I’m probably not looking in the best places. The first place I tried was an app called HelloTalk, which lets you connect with native speakers of the language you want to learn. They’ve had quite a presence on YouTube lately, having sponsored several of my favorite (black, female) YouTubers (living in/visiting Korea). Both KennieJD and Megan Bowen (used to be a big fan!) made some videos about their experiences on the app. Of course, they said you get some creepers, but not everyone is blatantly trying to get into your pants. So, I thought I’d try it out. (Am I just a sadist?)

As advertised, I was quickly able to connect with a lot of Korean speakers. Unfortunately, most of them only wanted to message me in English, so I was kind of put off. Also, all of them were men. I got some messages from people who said they were really interested in African culture and African dance, so they wanted to be friends with me (sorry, can’t help you there buddy….) some avidly expressed their love of “Black music” (Dear God, I hope they don’t actually call it that in Korean….) and some conversations just went like this:

Him: Hi

Me: Hi.

Him: U r prety

Me: Thank you.

Him: Kakao?

Me: …….

Him: Hi

Him: Hi

Him: Hi

Etcetera. But there were two people that really stood out to me on this app. One was a guy we’ll call Horseface (My roommate named him.) He lived in Australia for several years, so his English is quite good, but if I message him in Korean, he will happily answer me in Korean. All in all, seemed like a regular guy on the app. But, once we switched over to Kakao it become more and more apparent that he wasn’t exactly trying to keep up his English. (He was trying to get something else up, y’know what I mean?) He kept bugging me for pictures, for one, and being way over the top with the compliments when I did finally send him a picture (OF MY FACE). But the icing on the cake was when we finally agreed to meet on a Saturday evening. To me, 6 or 7pm is a decent time to meet in the evening. So I asked if we could meet around then. He said that was fine. Then, a little voice in the back of my head told me to also make up a curfew so he wouldn’t try to keep me out so late. So, I told him I had to be back by 10:30, to which he replied….

Horseface:  Heyyyy, why the rush?

Me: Oh, I haven’t really talked to my parents since I’ve been here, and they’re really missing me. It’s the only time that works for them (LIE LIE LIE)

Horseface: Oh, I see…Well, we can hang out when you have more time.

Me: What? But if we meet from 7-10, that’s three hours… isn’t that enough?

Horseface: I was hoping we could hang out longer.

Me: How long did you want to hang out, exactly?

Horseface: I dunno….just depends on how well he get along 😉

Me: I think 3 hours is more than enough if we’re meeting for the first time.

And then I didn’t hear from him for a while. GURL, these people think they’re slick. Puh-leaze. Anyone with two eyes could see straight through that “I just want to spend more time with you” cutesy act. And then he had the nerve to pull a classic f*ckboy move and text me at midnight two weeks later, saying “Heyyyy. It’s been a while. Wanna hang out tonight?”

What did I say to him? The world will never know. Because he was blocked and deleted. NEXT.

The other guy I met on HelloTalk seemed quite normal. We messaged once or twice per day in Korean, just talked about our hobbies or what we did that day. We ended up switching to Kakao after 3 weeks of using HelloTalk and then things got weird. (I feel like shit gets real on Kakao…)

He went from chill to desperate real fast, girl. He messaged me good morning and told me to eat breakfast everyday. He texted me mid-morning and said “good luck with school”, asked me what I would eat for lunch, what I planned to eat for dinner. It was kind of creepy, to be honest, so I just started lying about everything I did (It’s still language practice, so who cares?) If I said I was going to a cafe, he would say 그 카페에 가고십네~ If I said I ate soondubu jjigae for lunch he would say “Ah I wish we could eat together…”

I didn’t mind talking to him, or meeting him in person, honestly, but because he didn’t have a profile picture on Kakao and he later admitted to me that his profile picture on HelloTalk was a fake, I didn’t know if I was actually talking to a 29 year old Korean guy or some 60 year old ajusshi. I know you can’t always trust photos, but somehow it was even creeper that he had no pictures and absolutely refused to send me one when he’d seen my profile picture and asked me to send other pictures before. So I stopped answering him, hoping he would cool his jets.

When we started chatting again–about hiking, this time– I thought everything had gone back to normal. But when I mentioned that it’d be nice to go hiking again soon, he sent me: 같이 가요! 같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이!!!

Sooo…that sat unread in my inbox for a long while….

Honestly, I’d like to have a female language partner so maybe I won’t run into these issues as often, but they don’t seem to be as responsive on HelloTalk, which is a shame. I think it might be better to go to language exchange events so I can get a read on people in person. But even then, events like those have a reputation for drawing people who are looking for dates… *sigh*

Surprisingly, the closest thing to a language partner is a guy I met on Tinder, who has a girlfriend and actually just wants to practice his English with me. He teaches me Korean slang and is actually really nice. No creepy vibes at all so far! One point for Tinder….? (It’s got a lot of strikes too though…!)