Falling for Level 4

It’s only been about a week and I can tell that Level 4 is gonna be fab.

First off, unlike level 3 in which there are 15 chapters spanning two textbooks, Level 4 only has 10 chapters in ONE textbook. Each chapter has three new grammar points and one dialogue as opposed to Level 3’s 4 grammar points and two dialogues per chapter. The second part of each chapter in the Level 4 textbook is dedicated to 토의 (discussion), and as usual, the third and last part of each chapter is reading/writing. Because there are fewer grammar points (and even vocab words!) to cram into our brains, the pacing of Level 4 is slower and more enjoyable, unlike that struggle bus called Level 3. You actually–dare I say–get to PRACTICE, your Korean instead of regurgitating what you just memorized the night before.

The new discussion section gives students a chance to talk in groups about a given problem or situation, formalize their thoughts, and then present them to the class. For example, one discussion was about how to build and maintain healthy relationships; this required us to come up with Do’s and Don’t’s for making friends and the reasoning behind each. (Haha, they’re asking ME?) Another discussion was about solving roommate issues, and for this one, half of the discussion group argued person A’s point of view and the other argued person B’s point of view. In the end we had to come up with some concrete solutions for this dysfunctional pair of roommates (one solution may or may not have been just to find another roomie….) Flipping through the book, it looks like there are some great discussion/debate topics. I’m looking forward to spending one day out of the week doing 토의.

And the talking doesn’t stop at 토의. We have to present newspaper articles in Korean and discuss them as a class. We usually discuss possible writing topics in detail before putting pen to paper. (This also results in us spending less time wracking our brains for writing ideas at home. Major PLUS.) Even when learning grammar points, we are no longer reading example sentences from a powerpoint; we’re given the beginning of a sentence and then encouraged to complete it ourselves. There’s no way you can slide by silent in class because the teacher calls on EVERYONE to talk. It keeps you on your toes, forces you to use your Korean, and it’s fun.

Supplemental material like clips for Korean movies, TV shows, music videos adds to the fun and teach us a bit more about Korean culture. All in all, it’s nice not to stare blankly at a page all day. It kind of pisses me off that they don’t do these kinds of activities in Level 3.  I think it’s especially unfair because there are lots of people (on Light Fellowship or otherwise) who are only in Korea for one semester. If you’re stuck in Level 3, you’ll get jam-packed with grammar, vocab, but you could essentially do these things on your own time with no time to put those things in action during the four hours you’re sitting in class. It’d be fan-freaking-tastic if there were more class discussions, presentations, and supplemental material in Level 3 so those students can get the most out of their time in class too. Now that I know Ewha’s classes can be fun and engaging, I’m giving Level 3 some serious side eye.

Anyway, rant over. Really, Level 3 wasn’t that terrible, but it could definitely be better. I’m sure a lot of other factors (my living situation, lack of sleep, etc) also influenced my experience in Level 3. This quarter, I’m going to bed earlier, eating a healthy and filling breakfast everyday, and I’m hearing Korean before and after school. I’m just ~primed~ for learning right now. I actually bought supplemental material for my school-given supplemental material. Man, if I had been like this all throughout college, can you imagine what I would have accomplished? I could’ve had a 4.0 as a triple major, cured cancer, and become a world-famous contortionist or something…Alas.



Meet My (New!) Host Family

As I mentioned before, I moved in with a Korean host family at the end of November. The family consists of a girl in her early 30s, who speaks English quite well, and her mother, who hardly speaks any English at all. I found them through http://www.homestay.com, but this particular homestay is also registered as an official tourism business, so you can find their own Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/seoulhomestay/?timeline_context_item_type=intro_card_work&timeline_context_item_source=1171437175&pnref=lhc

They’ve hosted many students from around the world– if the number of refrigerator magnets from foreign countries is any indication– and from the reviews online, it sounds like everyone has had a lovely stay here.

I can pretty much say the same thing. At least, so far. The apartment is located on the fourth floor of a building in a residential area of Hongdae. You can get to Hongdae station in about 15 minutes by bus. And lucky for me, there’s a bus stop ~3 minutes away where I can catch a direct bus to the back gate of Ewha (where the language center is). The apartment itself has a spacious living room, kitchen, and three bedrooms. I’m renting the largest room in the house with an en suite bathroom.  It’s well-lit and very clean. It’s got a double bed and a wall of south-facing windows. Plants that I can’t kill since I’m not the one taking care of them. The only thing is….it’s cold ya’ll. It’s just my luck that I met the Koreans that don’t like to turn on that heavenly ondol (floor heating). I thought that en suite bathroom was gonna be the bomb diggity until I realized that there’s a window in the bathroom that DOESN’T CLOSE because there’s a hose for the AC sticking out of it. So, any steam that might build up from the shower just floats straight out the window. Oh wait, except there’s no steam because the WATER DOESN’T GET HOT. It gets slightly warmer than room temperature for a few minutes and then plummets back to freezing. If this was summer, I’d just say it’s a blessing in disguise, but…

mulan cold

But what keeps me the warm from my head to my toes is heat-tech, the thought of Jay Park my loving host family ❤ I took a liking to them from day one. My host sister studied abroad in Finland and Japan and has traveled far and wide. She’s open-minded and is always willing to engage in conversations about cultural differences. One of our first conversations in Korean was about Korean welfare, the gap between rich and poor in Korea and the demanding work culture. (Don’t think I can actually talk intelligently about these things in Korean because I can’t, but because she speaks English, I could stop her every once in a while to ask about a word I didn’t know.) Because she’s working at Lotte everyday, though, I end up spending most of my time at home with her mother, who is wonderful. She doesn’t speak any English, which really isn’t a problem for me, but it sounds like previous guests didn’t spent much time talking with the mother because of her lack of English ability. It’s their loss; she’s hilarious and very loving (in that always telling you to eat more and get a boyfriend already kind of way, haha.) Her Korean is very fast, so sometimes it’s hard to catch everything she says but that just means at the end of my three month stay, my listening will be ON POINT.

That was my main motivation for wanting to live with a host family in the first place– to get better at Korean. Classes are great and all, but I was very irritated by how little time we spend putting a what we learned in level 3 into practice. I was also irritated by the hunt for a decent language exchange partner. With a host family, I can get all the practice I want with native Koreans without leaving the house. They’re open to speaking with me about whatever topics we covered in class and offered to even help me with homework. Plus, I get to watch Korean TV and eat home-cooked Korean food every day for breakfast and dinner. It’s Korean style breakfast though, so don’t get too excited. That basically means whatever you have for dinner. It’s not breakfast food. It’s just food. It took my stomach a while to adjust to it, but I am eating twice the amount of vegetables per day, so, can I really complain? Just look at it:


(It’s beautiful, but real talk, I want some pancakes and eggs. Send some STAT.)

This also means I don’t have to bother with going to the supermarket, washing dishes, or cleaning, so I actually have time to myself now. This is a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. (Well, except for the shower thing.) I know choosing to live with a host family isn’t the most popular option among Light Fellows and other students who come to Korea; the most popular options largely seem to be goshiwons or single apartments, but for me living with a host family Korea has enabled me to get the most out of my time abroad. I might have to give up a little freedom and freeze halfway to death, but it’ll be worth it.

Moving Day

What should’ve been a simple move from Sinchon to my host family’s apartment in Hongdae turned out to be quite the ordeal.  I did have more luggage than I did when I originally came to Korea. To accommodate the books, thick winter sweaters, and skin care products I’d accumulated since arriving in August, I had to put some stuff into a box separate from my rolling luggage. I’d also bought a comforter, so I had to take that in its own container…and not to mention a small totebag of snacks from my apartment that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. But even with 6 things to tote to Hongdae, I didn’t forsee moving day to be this much of a challenge, especially because my Singaporean roommate was kind-hearted enough to lend a hand.

The problem started with the property manager (surprise, surprise). I was scheduled to check-out of my apartment by 12pm. At that time, the manager was supposed to come by, inspect the apartment, and, if there was no damage done, give my security deposit back. That would give me a little less than an hour to hail a cab and get to my host family’s apartment by the agreed upon move-in time, 1:00pm. Well, by 12:15 the apartment manager had not arrived to inspect the apartment. So I send a very nice text to the manager asking why no one had showed up. They essentially kept giving me the runaround, saying it would only be 5 or 6 minutes more, but no one arrived until about 12:40.

Now, I woke up early and was all packed up and ready to go by 11:30, but ya’ll can’t even show up on time? Disgraceful.

Anyway, after I went through the check-out process, together, by flatmate and I (okay, mostly me) managed to get 2 rolling luggages, a carry-on, a comforter, a box of books, and a totebag of snacks on the curb in front of our apartment. We were going to the closest main road to hail a taxi and lure it into the side road in front of our building when a beautiful shiny golden taxi cruised right in front of our apartment building. I thought it was a sign from above because I’d never been able to get a taxi so easily on the weekend and I’d never seen an empty one cruising down these tiny side streets. We stopped it and asked the driver if he could pop the trunk to we could load the stuff into the back. And once he saw how much there was, he gave us a lot of lip about “not being a moving service,” but let us shove everything into the trunk and backseat anyway. Halfway to my host family’s house, I realized I couldn’t fine my wallet, got out of the taxi, jogged back to the apartment to check for it. A fruitless endeavor—it wasn’t there. The taxi then circled back to pick my up and my roommate was holding my wallet out the window to show me that she’d found it. Great! But of course, the meter had been running the whole time I was looking for my wallet so already the cost for the taxi was higher than I’d calculated it to be. But at least I had my wallet to pay him with right?

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. The taxi driver didn’t try to cheat us and drive around in circles (He was probably secretly happy I’d had to go back and look for my wallet, the vindictive little toad.) But he didn’t take me to my host family’s apartment. He stopped us somewhere in the general neighborhood, kicked us out of the cab, and pointed in some vague direction, saying the house was “somewhere over there.” Well, fine and dandy, but when you have at LEAST 100 pounds of luggage to move “somewhere over there” just ain’t gonna cut it, sir. And then he had the nerve to ask me for a tip? Gurl….

Anyway, so two foreign girls were standing in the middle of the road with a bunch of luggage wondering exactly where the hell the apartment building was. I’d only been to the area once, so some things looked vaguely familiar to me, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to pinpoint the apartment’s exact location. So while we tried using my flatmate’s phone to find it on google maps, it started to rain. Because of course. That was only the next most logical turn in this grueling tale.

Oh and I hope you do remember how my Singaporean flatmate feels about the rain…?


So, while she took cover in the entrance of a building, I look a third of my luggage and set out to find the apartment in the maze of tiny twisting streets. After about 15 minutes, I did manage to find it, lug my luggage and the (now soaking) box of books all the way up to where my host family lived on the fourth floor. (Yep….4th floor.) Though I was about an hour and some late, my host mom welcomed me with open arms, helped me relocate my flatmate, and get the rest of my stuff to the building. Yes, it was a long arduous struggle getting all my crap up the stairs, but not a single jar of Cantu hair product was left behind.

My flatmate, despite being a delicate little snowflake, despite the rain, really toughed it out for me. And, after all the moving and unpacking was over, I had a nice new room with a bed twice as big as the old one, my own bathroom, and a nice host family to cook dinner for me practice Korean with.


Fall Quarter Wrap Up

Finals didn’t go as well as I had hoped, but they went. I was particularly worried about the writing and speaking portions this time, so I focused on sharpening those skills for the final. Long story short, these extra preparations did pay off, but at the cost of my other test scores being a bit lower than last time. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Now that the semester is over and I know I didn’t fail, I can give you my honest opinion of the third level of Ewha’s Korean language program. You might think it’s crazy of me to worry about failing, but about 40% of my class didn’t pass Level 3, which is a ridiculously high number, in my opinion. The thing is, daily class activities and homework aren’t that difficult, but overall you learn A LOT of material in Level 3, so you’re almost sure to forget a few words or small grammatical rules.

Let’s talk a bit about the textbook and how class is structured first. Each chapter in the textbook had 3 sections. Section one contains two grammar structures, one dialogue, and a listening portion; section 2 contains another two grammar structures and a dialogue; and section 3 was a reading passage, writing, and studying a special group of vocabulary words. We covered one section per day (on average) and homework usually consisted of writing your own example dialogue, writing a short (4-5 paragraph) essay on a topic related to the reading passage, and of course, the workbook pages for each corresponding chapter.

When we were learning new grammar, the teacher walked us through example sentences and proper conjugations with a powerpoint presentation. We would practice making sentences using the key grammar with a partner and then as a class, and finally we used a supplemental packet to make example sentences with a partner again. The fun thing about level 3 is the grammar. You learn a lot of grammar points that aren’t super basic, but are used a lot in natural everyday conversation. When I started to use this grammar with my friend/language partner (from Tinder of all places LOL) he was quick to compliment how natural my Korean sentences had become. I have to say, that was a really nice feeling. When it comes to actual speaking, though, I’m not sure if Ewha’s teaching methods really help. For speaking practice, we read the example dialogues in the book, practice it as a class and with a partner, and finally students come up with our own dialogues similar to the example ones and present them to the class. This is all fine and dandy, but the example dialogues focused so much on that chapter’s key grammar that it kind of excluded grammar from previous chapters. I think including a bit of everything from previous chapters would help me see all the building blocks of grammar come together. Plus, it’d definitely help students remember the grammar points.

I don’t really have any complaints about the textbook listening practice at Ewha. But the speed of the recording was much faster than the speed at which either of my teachers spoke in class. The hours and hours of teachers speaking slowly undermined anything we would have gained from the listening practice, which was done every other day or once every 3 days. And because listening isn’t something you can really cram the night before the test, you have to make an effort to listen to Korean radio or watch TV (or live with a host family…) to really improve your listening.

The star of Ehwa’s language textbook is definitely the third section of each chapter, the reading/writing portion. Whereas Sogang’s teachers kind of rushed through the reading portion of a chapter (at least in Level 2), Ewha’s teachers really walk you through every reading passage paragraph by paragraph, highlighting how written language differs from spoken language and paying special attention to understanding the rhetoric, tone, and format of each article, not just the overall meaning. Of course, understanding how to read different kinds of articles in Korean is really helpful when it comes to writing too. I don’t write much in Korean outside of homework, but my writing has definitely come a long way from what it once was. And, if you’re planning to take TOPIK, like most of my classmates are, being able to quickly outline and write an essay in the proper tone and format will help you ace TOPIK’s writing portion.

Another thing that really helps with reading comprehension is the sheer amount of words you learn at Ewha. By the end of the 10 weeks, we had learned about 1500 new vocabulary words (or about 100 per chapter) and you can best believe a lot of those show up in online articles, magazines, and advertisements. However, I think cramming so many words into such a short period of time also drastically slowed my speaking speed. Now that I have so many words floating around in my head, it’s taking me a while to pick one with the exact connotation that I need. This is something that can be overcome with practice, but there was no time to really get a good grasp on these words between the time we learned them and the exams. I mean, you roughly have 3 days to learn 100 words before you’re tested on them and then you have to dive right into hammering another 100 words into your memory. On top of that, we were learning new material all the way up until the day BEFORE the exam, so where was the time to let it all sink in?

But I guess it IS an intensive program, so you just have to learn to take it all in stride…

I can’t draw any big conclusions about Ewha yet (because I’ve got 2 quarters left!) So far I can say that I recommend this program to learners of Korean who want to go to college or graduate school in Korea and/or those who just need to focus on reading and writing. If you want or need to take TOPIK, I think Ewha would put you in a good position to pass. But if you’re looking for class to provide a lot of speaking practice, Ewha’s classes might irritate you (at least level 3).

I hear Level 4 is structured differently and is not jam-packed with as many vocabulary words as Level 3, but I don’t have a lot of details yet. I’ll let you know about that in a couple of weeks!



Making Kimchi

So, I have finals next week (time flies!) and while I have been faithfully previewing and reviewing the material every day, listening to the textbook CD, and using supplemental materials to get a good grasp on grammar usage on top of THAT, I’m still a little concerned about how this final exam will turn out. I think I’m at the point where I have a good grasp on things taught in class but as far as using the new Korean things I’ve learned in everyday life, I’m pretty shaky. And from my experience with the midterm, I think getting a good grasp on everyday language usage is the thing that will give you an edge on the exams.

My solution? Instead of locking myself up in my room and pouring over the books this weekend, I went to make kimchi with a lovely Korean family that I will be moving in with at the end of the quarter~! (More on this later!) Hopefully this will give me some conversation practice before the exam, and it’ll be a nice opportunity experience a bit of traditional Korean culture.

I got up early (9am on a weekend…whyyyyy) and figured out the bus(es) I needed to take to get from my current apartment around Sogang to a residential area of Hongdae. When I arrived, they made me take off my sweater (because the red pepper flakes would stain) and set me up with super long kimchi-making gloves that came up to my elbow. My host mom, host sister, and her aunt were all sitting on the floor around a huge tarp covered with a mountain of spice red paste. The red paste is a mixture of garlic gloves, onions, fish sauce, salted shrimp, hot pepper flakes, green onions, and radish and carrots cut into matchsticks. To make kimchi, you use your hands to paint this paste on each leaf of napa cabbage.


Apparently I’m a little heavy handed when it comes to painting on the paste because they kept telling me to only add a little of the paste per leaf, but every cabbage head I finished came out distinctly redder and heavier than everyone else’s….oops. But I mean, who doesn’t like a little extra flavor with their kimchi?? POW!

After finishing about 35-40 cabbage heads, we stored them all in some heavy duty containers and stored the kimchi in the kimchi fridge. You can eat it while it’s fresh–in fact, it’s tradition to have one freshly made bunch of kimchi with pork and rice–but the kimchi is left to ferment for about 3 weeks before consumption. The longer it ferments, the better it is. Can’t wait to see what it’s like after I move in in several weeks!



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…!)





“That’s Just Asia”

Well ya’ll, I might’ve spoken prematurely when I said I couldn’t have asked for a better housemate. In my defense, she did come bearing gifts and she DID offer to handle the cooking for the household and she DID buy me bingsu for my birthday, so I might’ve been a little biased when I spoke. One thing that happens when you meet someone decent in a foreign country is that the pace of your friendship is accelerated– the honeymoon phase of friendship hits you fast and hard, you open up to each other too fast too soon to imitate the intimacy of (real, stable) friendships back home, and just as quickly, you’ll hit the sink-or-swim part of the friendship, in which flaws are exposed, you find out you have opposing values, and you might even start arguing. The reality of spending the rest of the semester with this person looms large…and I’m looking for a life vest so I can jump ship.

We don’t have any problems when it comes to day-to-day living. She’s very clean. She’s not loud. We have opposite schedules– I wake up at 7:30 everyday and (ideally) go to bed around midnight and she wakes up at noon and goes to bed some time between 3-5am. It’s not our opposing schedules that create a problem, it’s her habit of blaming every difference we have on the fact that I’m American and she’s Singaporean. For example, this girl loves shopping, like big brand names. When she comes back from shopping, eager to tell me all the name brand bags or shoes she’s bought, I just nod and smile. I think she’s almost offended by how little I care about a bag or shoes; several times I’ve said to her, “I just never thought things like brand were very important; I just buy what I like.” To which she replies, “Well, I guess it’s just because you’re American, but welcome to Asia–bags and brands are important here. So, get used to it.”

She also loves taking pictures….of everything. We can’t get on the subway or the bus without her whipping out the camera. You might think, “Well, Carmen, maybe she’s just excited…it’s her first time in Korea, after all.” Well…it’s not. She’s been to Seoul 7-8 times, so none of these common city views are new and yet, snapshots of everything, all the time. She’s even taken several photos of me without my permission and sent them to some other friends in Korea and at home. I’ll let the manic tourist picture-taking slide, but when I confronted her about taking pictures of me and sending it to people I don’t know without my permission, she said, “Oh, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal….it’s very normal in Asia.”

(That gives me flashbacks to that time a group of Chinese tourists chased me around Gyeongbokgung to take creeper pics of me, but whatever….)

Once, she promised to take me to a store in Hongdae that I was having trouble finding online. Halfway there, it started to drizzle a bit and she insisted we go home right then because she didn’t want to get sick. “You said the store is like….5 minutes away from here. Can’t we just run there and take a quick peek, so I know where it is at least?” I asked.

“No,” she insisted, covering her head with her hands and turning towards the station, “If a drop of rain touches my head, I’ll have a fever by tomorrow. I’m not getting sick for this.”

“I don’t think you’ll get sick if we just run there now….”

“I guess you don’t understand because it’s an Asian thing, but in Asia people get sick from the rain.”

I wanted to say, “Oh really, because YOU are the only person on this entire street freaking out about a little drizzle. Every other ASIAN person here is completely fine.”

It’s not that I have a problem with her wanting to stay out of the rain. I don’t have a problem with her liking brand names, or liking photography. The problem is that every time we disagree about something, she’s quick to blame it on “cultural differences” when it’s really just her own personality quirk. Yes, I know that in Korea and Japan (maybe less so in Japan…?) brand-names, how you dress, what car you drive is extremely crucial to how other people see you. In America, though, there are also tons of people who also think brand names are very important and will judge you (perhaps less overtly) on what bag you’re carrying, or your shoes. I can easily run off a list of friends who care deeply about brand names. She had an equal chance of meeting an American who REALLY cares about brands.

Similarly, people who live their entire lives through instagram, snapchat, etc, are all over the freaking world, so the obsession with taking pictures isn’t an “Asian” thing. I wish she would just own up to it and say, “Yes, I am one of those people who will never put down the freaking camera (phone).” Instead of speaking for the entire Eastern Hemisphere.  I’m very sure there are people living in Asia who don’t feel this compulsive need to record every single moment of their lives on camera.

Most of all, I’m reluctant to categorize “Asia” as one big culture. When she says “That’s just Asia or it’s an Asian thing,” I think she’s speaking from her experience of Singapore, China, Malaysia, and maybe even Korea, and other countries I know she’s lived in or visited very frequently. But these aren’t the only countries that make up Asia. What about Japan? Countries in Southeast Asia? What about India? After being exposed to its diversity, it’s hard to think of Asia as this one big homogeneous blob. I’m not saying that these countries don’t have anything at all in common, but it irks me when she uses such a broad brush. There’s no way I’m going to travel to Indonesia or Nepal expecting it to be like Japan. Korea and Japan, though often lumped together, are radically different. Hell, even Okinawa, Japan, and Tokyo, Japan are worlds apart.

At the same time,  her experiences growing up and traveling in Asia as an Asian (Chinese-Singaporean, to be specific) person are valid. Clearly the culture she was raised in values things like brand names and photos and being terrified of the rain, and she has incorporated those values into how she lives. How can I respect that while also telling her, “No, that’s not all of Asia, sometimes, it might be Singapore, or it might be just YOU”?