Empathy Guesthouse

As I had come to Korea well before the semester was set to begin (March 3rd), I had ample time and little idea what to do with it.  My Korean friend with whom I’d planned spending most of my time ended up being much busier than he had originally thought.  Now I had three weeks in Daegu and was unsure what to do.  Last summer, I had stayed in Empathy Guesthouse in downtown Daegu, and they’d just opened a new branch- Empathy Dongseongno Hostel. I decided to stay there.

When I stepped through the entrance to the hostel, the staff immediately recognized me, greeting me with warm smiles.  I felt like I was already at home even though I’d never been to this location before.  I was shown to my dormitory-style room, where I rested after a day of travel.  That night, I was feeling a little bored and a little lonely.  Then, I heard a knock on my door. The staff invited me to share their dinner.  A little effort on both sides to communicate in a mixture of English, Korean, and Spanish led to some fun conversations assisted by the ample use of body-language.

During my three weeks at Empathy Dongseongno, I was treated like a member of their family.  We ate, drank, played games, and even went on a day trip to Andong.  The Empathy staff showed true generosity to me when I was going through a rather difficult time and were patient with my shyness.  They pushed me to practice my Korean so that we could better communicate.  I visited a couple times during my semester and also attended a presentation by a former North Korean dancer who used to perform at parties there.

While talking with some of the guesthouse staff, I learned more about the fact that Empathy Guesthouse was founded by the Center for North Korean defectors and that twenty percent of its profits go toward supporting resettlement programs.  Empathy Guesthouse is a social enterprise, which refers to a company that sells or produces goods or services as a means to raise the local community’s quality of life by providing jobs or social services to vulnerable members of society.  On top of that, Empathy SEEDS works to increase tourism and international exchange in Daegu. After learning about these efforts, I began to appreciate this enterprise and my new family even more.

 If you find yourself in Daegu, be sure to stay at Empathy!  

Global Standards of Beauty

Modeling at Daegu Arts University and Part-time Princess

I’ve never considered myself particularly beautiful.  Of course, there are some features of my appearance that I like more than others, but, overall, I’d consider myself to be quite average … And I’m perfectly content with this.

When I came to Korea, I became aware that my appearance was ‘exotic’.  Strangers would tell me that I was beautiful and inquire as to where I came from.  … This led to some interesting opportunities which I could never have entertained back in the U.S.  At my internship company, I was asked during the interview if I would be okay to model for them.  Thinking it was a joke, I laughingly agreed to the suggestion. A couple of weeks later, I was called upon by my superior to receive free facial treatments which they would record and use for advertisement purposes.

Later, my friend offered to recommend me for a part-time job which she held—acting as a princess in an amusement park.  I just had to smile, hold a sign, and take pictures with guests while dressed as Alice (Alice in Wonderland).  The pay was good, there were free meals and snacks, and the job was actually pretty fun! I am not the type who fantasizes about working as a princess at Disney World or anything of the sort, but I enjoyed the part-time work nonetheless.

Most recently, I met some art students while drinking with friends in downtown Daegu.  They took my contact information and requested for me to be a model for their final projects. Along with two of my French friends, I made my way to the little arts school tucked away in the nearby mountains and modeled in some different outfits and themes.

Never before had I imagined these types of opportunities during my semester abroad in Korea. Modeling and the like  are certainly not an area in which I excel, and I don’t plan on pursuing anything related to that in the U.S. (not that it would even be an option :P) . Either way, these were certainly some memorable experiences.

Second First Impressions

Landing for the second time at ICN, I carried with me memories of my previous summer, expectations for the coming 5 months, and two giant suitcases.  As I wandered out from customs, I was bewildered again by my surroundings.  All of my senses were bombarded at once, so much that I didn’t even notice the face of my friend who had taken time out of his busy schedule to surprise me. Having a friend with me immediately removed my stress of having to navigate my way to the guesthouse alone. Instead, I could enjoy the taxi ride and take in the sights of Seoul.

My next few days in Seoul, I saw the city through new eyes.  What had before seemed hectic and crowded was now a beautifully orchestrated performance –each person had a role to fill and a place to go.  But what was my role? Where did I fit in?  These are questions that many foreigners ask ourselves as we try to find our place in Korean society.  The former Joseon ‘hermit nation,’ which has become increasingly friendly to Western foreigners, is a precarious place to reside.  As foreigners—waygookin—we may never succeed to become ‘Korean,’-but- nor will we be held to the same standards as Koreans.  Many western foreigners residing in Korea find freedom in this. I am beginning to navigate my way through the language and culture and hope to learn many new things during my time here.

I Love You, Japan, But What the Heck? A Collection of Random Observations from My Time in Kyoto

I Love You, Japan, But What the Heck

Being in Japan has been an amazing experience so far, but there have definitely been some things that have stood out to me as bizarre, out of place, or just downright hilarious.  Rather than trying to make these into some sort of deep cultural analysis, I thought I’d start by compiling them into an amusing list.  Enjoy.

1) English phrases are super popular, but may or may not make any sense whatsoever.  Examples from t-shirts I have seen: “Is the cost of world domination too high?”, “Each need sun she need need son sea,” and “Hearts as one brave aspiration.”  Signage is often not much better.

English Does Not Compute

Thank you, I really want to eat those now.

2) The toilets look like something out of Star Trek, with heated seats, privacy music, and lids that open and close automatically.  Yes, I’m being serious.  You can google them if you don’t believe me.

3) It’s 95 degrees outside with 85% humidity, but everyone is impeccably dressed in long sleeves and pants.  It’s also a normal thing to carry at least one fan and a towel to wipe off sweat.  (Could these possibly be connected?)

4) Convenience stores actually carry edible food.

Conbini Bento


5) Items in the 100-yen store really only cost 100-yen. Shocking, right?


6) Everything is streamlined and efficient, except all transactions are done in cash.  (P.S.  1-yen coins are known to spontaneously multiply in wallets.  You will never be able to spend them all, so just give up and buy a coin purse.  It will be your best friend.)



7) Learning to properly recycle is an involved and essential skill for survival.  But don’t expect there to be recycling cans, and especially trash cans, in any public places.  You bought that plastic bottle, so you will carry it with you until you go back home.

8) At 5’ 3”, I’m taller than most of the women and many of the men, even though platform shoes abound.

9) Fruit in general is expensive, but you can literally buy a $50 cantaloupe at the supermarket.

10) My strawberry-blonde hair is so unusual that random strangers walk up to me and ask to take my Gion Matsuripicture.  (Note the two kids in the background giving me awkward stares.)

Squid Snack





11) Ice cream comes in red bean, sesame, and matcha flavors, and dehydrated fish and squid fill up an entire shelf of the grocery store snack aisle.

12) I have yet to go somewhere and have hand towels, paper napkins, or tissues provided.  Except at restaurants, where you will usually be given a moist towelette to wipe your hands.

13) This conversation: “Where in America are you from?”  “Colorado.”  “Oh… So, is that in New York or Los Angeles?” :/

14) There is no such thing as a “too small” parking space.  You  just need to try harder.

Mad Parking Skills


15) But really, why do I even live in America, we have NO CULTURE.


The Coast of Peru

My last post encompassed the general happenings of my plane ride and first night in Peru, but there is so much to say and discuss about the trip in its entirety. Our group spent time in the three regions of Peru: the coast, the mountains, and the jungle, so I’ll discuss each region in a separate post.




For the first seven days of the trip, we stayed with host families in a wealthy district of Lima called Miraflores. The climate of Lima was relatively dry and cool, it was always cloudy (at least, it was when we were there), and there were hardly any bugs. For me, this was the most pleasant climate of the three regions, and I truly enjoyed every day in Miraflores. But after finishing the trip, I’ve realized that it’s almost silly to say that I enjoyed Miraflores. It’s almost like saying that I enjoy being safe and comfortable and having a full belly… who doesn’t? Miraflores is very safe, well-maintained, and much more politically, economically, and socially stable than much of the rest of the country, so it’s hard not to love it. I was not forced to adapt to anything strenuous or radically different.




Miraflores sits right against the coast of the beautiful Pacific Ocean, so while the district itself is beautiful and bustling, there is also much to do at the ocean (swimming, surfing, or paragliding, for instance). It’s a gorgeous place, and I felt very secure and tranquil there, but as I said, it’s hard not to. My roommate (Hoai) and I had a generous host family that took good care of us, fed us well, and made sure that we could find our way around Lima with the help of taxis.

Each day, we’d wake up around 7:00 to eat breakfast and hail a taxi for our 9:00 class, and at breakfast I immediately noticed how fresh and delicious all of the food was, specifically the fruit, but that was no surprise to me. Interestingly, I always felt refreshed and clear-headed when I awoke, even if I’d only slept for a few hours. Perhaps this was due to the nice weather?


This was our host family! Pictured from left to right are Andrea (host sister), Esther (host sister), Hoai (my roommate), me, María-Esther (host mom), and Alfredo (María-Esther’s novio). They were absolutely wonderful and so generous to us. This photo was taken after they invited us to a good-bye dinner.


This was a typical breakfast with our host family. Pictured is oatmeal with apple slices and coconut shavings, herbal tea, and fresh papaya juice.

This was a typical breakfast with our host family. Pictured is oatmeal with apple slices and coconut shavings, herbal tea, and fresh papaya juice.


When we didn’t have a group activity, we spent a lot of time exploring Lima, trying interesting desserts, and asking Peruvians for help with directions (we got to practice our basic Spanish skills!) Generally, people dressed nicely in Lima. Women often wore heels and dress pants or skirts, and men wore button-down shirts and nice shoes. The atmosphere was one of dignity and pride, and I appreciated it.

Because we were on the coast, seafood dishes were especially popular, and I made sure to try as many as I could. We don’t eat a lot of raw fish in Oklahoma (besides sushi rolls, which are delicious), so I wanted to indulge as much as I could. Below is an extremely popular seafood dish called ‘ceviche.’


Ceviche is typically made with raw fish cured in citrus juices, corn, sweet potato, onions, and a little garnish (lettuce, in this case). I absolutely loved it and ended up ordering it several times in Miraflores.



This is a beautiful sundae that I got at Pastelería San Antonio, a very popular eatery in Lima.


The district of Miraflores was absolutely beautiful. The climate, the buildings, the activities, the restaurants, and the people were all incredible, and I loved being there. It was easy to find fun things to do, like searching for cool stones along the beach or exploring the bustling districts nearby. The problem was that Miraflores is very comparable to Los Angeles, so I didn’t feel as “out of the country” as I could have.

This feeling changed, however, when we boarded a bus and traveled the three or so hours to Canto Grande.


I took this photo at the top of a hill in Canto Grande.

I took this photo at the top of a hill in Canto Grande.


We arrived in a district of Lima called San Juan de Lurigancho. Within that district, there are several poor, urban areas, one of which is called Canto Grande. Marginalized and more neglected by the Peruvian government, Canto Grande struggles to maintain public sanitation, political and social stability, and the general functions of a healthy community. Transitioning from Miraflores to Canto Grande was the most sobering experience that I have ever had.

We boarded a bus in Miraflores, and I remember that as the hours ticked by and the bus passed houses, businesses, and restaurants, the quality of what I was seeing diminished. Little by little, the roads dissolved from hard and well-paved to gravelly and dirty. The buildings that were once gated and well-groomed became smaller, shabbier, and less guarded. The traffic (mostly buses) was congested, the vehicles worn down and outdated.

I felt very strange while I watched this gradual evolution in scenery, almost as though I was sinking into despair along with my surroundings. This was the kind of place that the government had largely turned its back on. The streets (purely dirt) were littered with garbage, emaciated and sickly dogs slept in alleyways and in front of stores, and everything looked like it was about to fall apart.

I didn’t take pictures of these things, because it seemed inappropriate. There I was, comfortable and safe, taking a little vacation into this community to gawk at the relative poverty before returning home to more materialistic comforts. I didn’t like that.


This is the monastery where we stayed for three days. It was completely enclosed with a brick wall and barbed wire.

This is the monastery where we stayed for three days. It was completely enclosed with a brick wall and barbed wire.


We stayed in a monastery where we ate meals together, played sports together (soccer, volleyball, and basketball), and essentially lived as a mini community. We did service projects, which included spending time with children at a school called Fe y Alegría, helping at a disabled children’s school, working at a medical clinic, and constructing/painting small houses for families in the area. I worked with the disabled children and helped with the home construction, both of which were incredibly eye-opening and fulfilling. As for my feelings, there were many. I was pleased to see a community that was trying to improve itself. People ran their own businesses, there were many vendors on the sidewalks (this is true for most areas of Peru), and after visiting the schools, I understood the pride that the people of Canto Grande had. They did not wish to be seen as marginalized and poor, rather, they were hardworking Peruvian citizens who were fighting for visibility and rights from their government.


The monastery was built into a hill, and this is a photo that I took overlooking the basketball/soccer field as well as the rest of the monastery and the hills beyond. This was my favorite spot to visit early in the morning, as it was very quiet and peaceful, and I felt overwhelmed with thought and emotion at the time.

The monastery was built into a hill, and this is a photo that I took overlooking the basketball/soccer field as well as the rest of the monastery and the hills beyond. This was my favorite spot to visit early in the morning, as it was very quiet and peaceful, allowing my mind to overflow with thought and emotion.


I said this already, but being in Canto Grande was the most life-changing experience that I had ever had. Up until then, I was quick to believe that I understood the world and its socioeconomic tiers. I thought that browsing Google Images, reading a short article from The Economist, and discussing other parts of the world was sufficient, but I was so wrong.

Being in Canto Grande, physically and emotionally, humbled me and altered my perspectives completely. Amidst all of my thoughts and feelings surrounding this particular place, one idea stood out several times. It was the idea that I should use my privileges (my ability to get an education, my connections to people, my health, and my future career) to do good things wherever I go. I realized that I must endeavor to be informed, kind, and helpful, and that I must do my best to be an informed global citizen.

Experiencing Lima, Peru, was personally transformative, and the lessons that I learned will never be lost on me.

the first day in peru

After a seven-hour plane ride and then hours on a bus, all nineteen of us made it to our host homes at approximately 2:00 in the morning. I was excited to finally be in Peru, and I remember feeling both anxious and thrilled upon arrival, as I had never been outside of the United States before. The bus ride was surprisingly calming, as it was early in the morning (1:00 A.M. or so) when we began, and I kept my forehead pressed against the window to look out at Peru’s bustling capital city, Lima. My first, most notable observations were the buses, restaurants, and other businesses whose signs and advertisements were completely in Spanish.
An hour or so later at about 2:00 A.M., my roommate and I walked up to the tall, wooden gate that surrounded the front of our new home. We were greeted by our host sister, Esther, and as it was so late, and we were overly tired, we didn’t observe a lot inside our house at first. Instead, we allowed ourselves to be led up a winding metal staircase to our living quarters, and I was shocked at first to feel no difference between the temperature outside and that inside the house. The stairs began in the kitchen, and when we reached the top, we were on a sort of rooftop patio, so the house was open to the outside. At first, I worried that we would have to worry about insects (mosquitos in particular), but there are hardly any bugs in Lima because of the climate. Even better, the temperature in Lima is typically in the 60s, and it is always cloudy, so there’s no need to ever wear sunscreen or sunglasses. I loved it.
Our room and bathroom were disconnected, so we would walk outside to get to each one, and the first night, I remember opening the door to our room and looking up into the sky. The night was completely silent. Even though Lima is a busy city, nighttime at our house was deafeningly quiet, the sky was lightly grey, and it was so peaceful. I felt tranquil and calm even though I was overwhelmed at being in another country without anyone familiar to me. In that moment, I was so grateful for the opportunity to be in Peru, and I could not imagine what experiences were yet to come.

End of Summer School

It has been an eventful and unforgettable month in Daegu. To start off first, the class I chose to take, South Korea and International Relations, was more interesting than I had expected it to be. I definitely learned how globalized the world is and how interconnected we are.

Outside the classroom, I learned how to communicate better. I was able to practice my poor Korean with taxi drivers and older ladies at the market.  I learned how to order food and ask for directions. At times I found myself completely unable to understand what a Korean person was saying to me, but luckily they saw my scared face and were patient enough to explain everything the best they could. One thing I’ve noticed here is that while people seem unapproachable, they are always willing to help if you ask. And if they see you struggling with Korean, they try to the best they can in English to help you.

In two days, KNU Global Summer School officially ends, and while many students will head back to their home country, I will be in Seoul, preparing for the start of my academic year at Seoul National University. Although I will be alone, I’m excited and curious to see how different Seoul is from Daegu.





Digging at Megiddo

Over the last three weeks I worked on a dig at Tel Megiddo, located in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. Every day, Sunday through Thursday, I would wake up at 4:00, fumble through my morning routine, walk zombie-like to the bus, and end up at the site before 5:00 A.M. Then the real work began. The very first day of the dig we spent hours removing brush and large stones and piles of manure, courtesy of the cows from the nearby kibbutz, while also erecting a huge shade that would be our only protection from the Israeli sun. On a more typical morning, though, we would begin the day by going to our assigned squares and digging down. For most of my three weeks I worked in square S/5, on the western side of a wall that pretty much divided the square. By the time we closed the square, we had dug down over 1.5 meters—and that was just in a little over two weeks! After working for a few hours, we would begin our trek down the tel for breakfast around 8:30, where we had everything from cereal and eggs to chocolate-spread sandwiches (which I basically ended up living off of). At the end of breakfast Margaret, the volunteer coordinator, gave the daily announcements: reiterating the class schedule, giving the closing and opening times for the kibbutz store, and any other miscellaneous things we should know about. By 9:30 it was back up the tel, but unfortunately this time the sun was out. We often joked that we needed a break from just walking back up the tel! But once we were all up and had recollected ourselves, it was back to work. We would pretty much just continue whatever we were doing before breakfast—digging down, articulating walls, sectioning, brushing and cleaning our area. We did this until a little after 11:00, when we’d have a short fruit and (occasionally) coffee break. Then we’d work again (surprise, surprise) until 12:30, when we would begin to clean our area and pick up all the tools. By 1:00 we would be on our journey down the tel and to the buses. By 1:20 we would be back at the kibbutz and in the dining hall for lunch. After a meal that consisted of many glasses of lemonade, meat, and some sort of corn dish (we seriously had corn at least once a day at the kibbutz), we were gifted with free time until 4:00. I usually spent this time writing my field journal and showering, and unfortunately I had time for little else. When 4:00 all to quickly rolled along, we all journeyed down to the field office where we spent the next hour and a half washing pottery sherds and bone and flint fragments that we had found the previous day. Immediately following pottery washing, we had a Field Techniques course, where we would discuss everything from identifying and analyzing stone tools to operating a total station. Then at 7:00 we ate dinner, which was basically just a watered-down version of lunch. We had a little bit of free time until 8:00, when the lecture courses began. These lectures spanned the Early Bronze Age to the Iron Age and every topic in between. Usually by the end of the lecture it would be around 9:00, so everyone in the course would stumble out of the classroom and immediately fall into bed. Then our alarms would go off at 4:00 A.M and we would do everything all over again.

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