The South Korean Impeachment and Election

By a stroke of fate I happened to be in South Korea to witness the entire impeachment and election process firsthand. There were some very prominent differences that noticed between America’s presidential election and theirs. Especially considering how our recent went. This made the whole process all the more fascinating and nerve-wracking to watch.

The dismissal and impeachment of Park Geun-hye was obviously a prominent topic in Daegu. My Korean friends were exited and relieved to see her out of office and explained her corruption to me during the impeachment. In order to avoid a power vacuum, the election was held very soon after she was removed from office. There are six parties represented in the National Assembly and a record number of fifteen candidates initially registered to run. The Democratic Party candidate, Moon Jae-in won with over 40% of the vote, and on March 10th took office. This was a big relief to many, especially us there on a visa.

During the campaign, it was common to see rallies around to city along with the giant banners and trucks that doubled as musical billboards with bright colors and bold print along with each candidates original and unique theme song. South Korea has very strict regulations on how and what candidates can advertise. So each truck, poster, and sign looked like part of a set with all of the other member’s running. All of the messages seemed to be very upbeat and positive. There was little to no mudslinging or discrediting from any side that I could see, and a distinct absence of lavish or grandiose rallies and setups. I doubt billions of dollars were spent in there election, unlike what recently happened back home.

 

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Film and History

My favorite class while at KNU was hands down my Korean Cinema class. The professor, a Canadian-raised Korean, gave detailed historical context for each fil we studied and for the film industry as a whole.

The film my group presented on was centered around the extremely rigorous and strict Korean education system and its effects on modern students. The film, Pluto, dealt with a great del of extremely dark material to drive home the main themes. There were quite a few of the selected films that centered around either the Korean war or military in some way. Which makes perfect sense considering the history of the country and surrounding area. The topic of censorship was very prevalent in our discussion due to Korea’s former and current strict content censorship laws.

He showed us how intertwined the government and the entertainment industry can be and how people tell their stories trough film. My favorite part of the class was our group discussions. We had an incredibly diverse group of students so the conversations could confront a topic from nearly every angle. We all learned a lot not about South Korea, but about everyone else’s home country. So at the end of the semester, when our professor showed us his own documentary that took us into his family life as a Canadian-raised Korean and the transition that everyone in his family went through, it felt much more personal and much more real than most of my classes in the past have ever been.

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Friends in Many Places

Aside from being immersed in Korean culture, I also has the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the other exchange students. There were people from all over the world at KNU along with me. I got to learn some Irish drinking songs and improve my salsa and bachata skills. We were able to fill an air b&b in Seoul with people from seven different countries. Thanks to countless nights of laughs and getting to know each other, I now have a place to crash through most of Europe. There’s a network of friends around the world who I can keep in touch thanks to social media and who are already planning a reunion trip.

Most of my classes are of course mainly Korean students so I’ve made some Korean friends within the classroom who I still chat with as well. It was an interesting experience to be so clearly the odd one out so often. I think that may have helped us bond as a group. (Although some made the association a bit embarrassing at times). There were so many unforgettable moments that’s I’m so glad to have gotten on camera.

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My Internship at the Daegu Arts Center

I applied for this internship for a number of reasons, the foremost being professional development. I knew that I possessed relevant skills for the position and a background in the arts. Also, the chance to learn about Korean culture in such a direct and hand-on way was very appealing to me.

On an average day working at the DAC I would help generate promotional content on various media platforms for the DAC or specific events they hosted. I would also often aid in translation from Korean to English. My other duties included basic classroom management for some of the classes held on the campus. I also got to participate in these classes and learn how to play some traditional Korean instruments. One of my larger projects was helping to write an outreach and partnership letter to UNESCO and researching other music centers within their organization.

I was fortunate enough to be able to see and participate in a wide variety of performances. This gave me a very clear window into the Korean culture that people without this internship would not find as easily. Music has always been one of my deepest passions, and has deep meaning for me personally. So being able to hear and play the traditional music of Korea opened me up to them as a people more than many other things probably could. So, the jangu class was highly entertaining for me.

I absolutely loved being able to go to the concerts and plays. the work environment was very welcoming and my manager was eager to help the interns any way she could.

 

 

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Beauty in Korea

I’ve seen many beautiful things while I’ve been in Korea. I got the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and cover the city in pale pink petals and bring green back to the previously barren trees. I’ve seen conversations between friends break down into five separate languages and eventually devolve into laughter. I’ve seen Seoul lit up at night and people who perfect strangers not a few weeks ago forge deep friendships and let go of most of our inhibitions. Thanks to my internship at the Daegu Art Center, I’ve been able to watch a number of classical and contemporary performances from violin and piano sonatas to modern dance, along with several traditional Korean pieces.

But I have experienced all of this form a unique position of privilege that I didn’t really think about before coming here. South Korea is a culture in transition. their country has gone through incredibly rapid urbanization in the past few decades. This relative leap into modern industry has also pushed them to the forefront of fashion, cosmetics, and the beauty industry. However, their beauty standards are extremely westernized. A large percentage of the population gets “double eyelid” surgery, which basically makes their eyes fit into general white beauty standards. plastic surgery of all kinds is actually quite common and relatively inexpensive in South Korea.

In a bizarre and somewhat compelling turn of events, I found myself now held in a higher esteem of beauty. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this and didn’t quite know how to handle some situations. From complete strangers stopping me on the street to my boss saying she envied me, I was confronted with these awkward scenarios. This feels self-aggrandizing and narcissistic, which is why it was so uncomfortable to deal with. But it got me thinking about the beauty industry on a global scale and how it differs from country to country. I already had a some awareness of this topic, but being exposed to a completely new culture really deepened my understanding of how profoundly the ideas of beauty and success can affect a culture.

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Korean Food and Alcohol Culture

For these months I’ve been abroad I’ve been able to try a wide array of new food and explore a bit of the alcohol culture in Korea. I find it really interesting to find out how different cultures view drinking and see how it fits into the society. I found myself surprised at the very prevalent drinking culture here in Korea. Along with all of the amazing food I was able to try, soju and beer were available at practically every restaurant, but there is a wide and rich cuisine to explore outside of the party scene. (Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed)

My favorite Korean dish was probably jjimdak (see below) but it’s honestly really hard to pick. As far as desserts go, bingsu definitely takes the cake!

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Feeling Overwhelmed

Studying abroad in general can be a somewhat stressful experience, but it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons in so many ways. And while all of that was very true for me, I am also someone who struggles with anxiety. So, living in such a fast-paced dense and bustling city with over two million people who are part of this extremely homogeneous society which was completely new to me was definitely a challenge. Nearly all of the buildings are made up of three of four separate businesses all stacked onto each other. everyone of them equipped with a flashing neon sign all fighting for attention.

After the first month however, everything started to click for me. I started branching out more and exploring as much as I could. I tried to eat at a new restaurant every day, and talk to as many people and take as many pictures as possible. Some days definitely needed to be rest days though.

This exchange program has been the longest I’ve been away from home by far. Although I’ve been out of ten country twice before, it’s never been for more than a month. So getting the chance to engrain myself in a culture for an extended stay is very new to me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my home since I’ve been here. I’ve grown more independent and confident in my abilities. I now have friends from all over the world who I can keep in touch with by the touch of a button. So the seemingly endless list of things to do ended up being just enough. It’s been overwhelming in the best possible way, and I’ll be sad to leave, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience.

 

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Easter Break Extravaganza

Are you ready to hear all about my spring break trip? I sure hope so!

In Austria, we get a two-week long Easter break. While many Austrian students stay home and work for these two weeks… the international students take adventures of a lifetime! My two-week adventure did not disappoint, but it certainly wore me out. Between the 8th and the 23rd of April, I traveled a total of 2,694 kilometers (1,674 miles) through four countries and six beautiful and unique cities.

Our first stop was Venice. I traveled there with Lauren and our friend Janine (Sie kommt aus New Jersey.) It was a 7-hour bus ride from Graz to Venice, and then a long walk to our hostel, which was on the mainland. Luckily, our hostel ran a bus service to the island several times throughout the day, so after a night of rest we hopped on the first bus to the island the next day. We were only going to spend two nights and one day in Venice, so we had to absorb as much as we could into a very short time span. Thankfully, Venice is a very walkable city, so I feel like we got everything done that we needed to do. We visited the Doges’ Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Torre dell’Orologio in St. Mark’s Square (which we stumbled upon by accident), the Rialto bridge, and several other gems of Venice. We ate gelato and cannolis and pasta. My favorite part of the day, however, was the Gondola ride. We went through the Grand Canal, as well as the smaller canals where the locals live, and our gondolier even serenaded us with his angelic voice.

Another exciting thing about Venice? It is very easy to get lost. There are so many bridges and alleyways, the whole place is just a huge maze. Thankfully it’s so small, that you can’t ever be lost for too long. Besides, getting lost in Venice is hardly an unfortunate occurrence. Of all the places I went over the break, Venice may have been the most magical.

Our friend Peyton joined us that evening in Venice, after a fairly traumatic incident in which we thought we would never see her again. It’s a long and dramatic story, so I won’t try to relate it here, but if anyone who ever reads this wants to hear the story, feel free to ask, and I would be happy to tell the tale.

Our next stop was Florence. The bus ride took about three hours, and by the time we got to our hostel on a hill that happened to be about 6 miles away from the center of the city, it was too late to go back.

The hostel in Florence was probably the coolest hostel I will ever stay in. It wasn’t party central, like some people would think an awesome hostel would be. The internet didn’t really work. It was at the top of a really steep hill, about half a mile away from the nearest bus stop, so you had to walk all the way. You had to pay 8 euro every night to eat pasta for dinner, but there usually wasn’t enough pasta to fill you up completely. And, to be quite honest, it gave me bed bugs, which I haven’t even told my mom. So, definitely not your typical “cool” hostel. But this place. This hostel? Was awesome. Because it wasn’t really intended to be a hostel…

IT WAS AN OLD MONASTERY.

IN THE MIDDLE OF TUSCANY.

WORDS CANNOT DO IT JUSTICE, so I’ll have to post pictures, but suffice it to say, it was really, really cool. Also, there was a cat who lived there named Gianna, and she took Janine and I on a proper adventure through some beautiful olive orchards to what I truly believe could be the best view of the city of Florence. I will never forget that cat and I will never forget that evening.

Back to the point of the blog, however: Florence is the place to go in Italy, and probably the whole of Europe, if you want to see art. You have to shell out a lot of money to skip the hours-long lines, but if could definitely be worth it to some people. We didn’t have that much money to spend nor time to stand around in lines, so we didn’t go to that many museums. In fact, the only museum we went to was the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s statue of David. I loved Florence, and I loved the Duomo and everything else that we got to see, but I feel like I just didn’t have time to see everything. One day, I’ll go back.

Peyton and Janine went back to Graz when we were done in Florence, and we met Lauren’s cousin Matt, who has been studying in Hamburg, Germany this year, in Rome.

If there is one place that I need to go back to, it is Rome. How did I develop such an intense relationship with the old city in such a brief period of time? No one could know, but Rome holds my heart all the same.

We visited countless historic sites: the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, the Pantheon, the Roman forum, the Vatican, the Vatican Museums (including the amazing Sistine Chapel!) and so much more. I even thought that the underground train system in Rome was a sight to behold.

The one thing I will say about Rome, is that during the high season there are far too many tourists. I know that is very hypocritical, because I myself was a tourist, but it’s still a valid point. I know Rome will never be completely free of tourists, but the next time I go, it will be in the winter, so I can have a little more privacy while I take in the life of the city.

Our next stop was Zürich, Switzerland. Zürich is the economic capital of Switzerland… and is very, very expensive. Thankfully, we only stayed there for about 24 hours, but in that time, I still spent an ungodly amount of euros on one serving of fondue. I also bought a swiss army knife, which I am quite proud of. Immediately upon arriving to the city, we had a few hours to kill before we could check into our hostel, so we decided to take a two-hour long “vintage” trolley city tour. The coach bus was no “vintage trolley,” but we still got to see everything in the city that we wanted to see.

Next on the Itinerary was Innsbruck. Now, let me preface what I’m about to say with a short summary of the weather that we had been used to in Italy: perfection. The weather in Italy was perfect. It was sunny and at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time we were there.

That all changed on the way to snowy, cold Innsbruck. But what else should we have expected? 😊 Innsbruck is a perfect little Austrian town settled in a valley of mountains much larger than those that surround my quaint, but still just as lovely, Graz. Every angle of the Altstadt of Innsbruck was picturesque. The snow-capped mountains in the background everywhere you look makes it feel like a beautiful dreamland. Even though I didn’t have the proper clothing to handle the snow and cold in Innsbruck, I loved our time there dearly. Matt had to make his way back home to Hamburg when we left Innsbruck, but we still had one last stop.

Munich, Germany. Is it sad that I’ve already been here almost 3 months and this was my first time in Germany? Hey, at least I finally made it!

I am really glad that Munich was our last stop, because it is a really great city, and I would love to go again. I’m not sure if I was just really digging the culture of Munich or the culture of Germany, but either way, like I said, I was diggin’ it.

The Englischer Garten of Munich is an ENORMOUS and wonderful park that runs about 2 or 3 miles through the city of Munich. There are lovely wooded walking paths, horse riding trails, ponds, a river, and huge open fields. There is also a Biergarten, where we may or may not have forgotten to return our glasses and pfands. We saw the Glockenspiel and Marienplatz in the Altstadt, as well as the Hofbräuhaus, where we gorged ourselves on German beer and food.

We also a day paying our respects to victims of WWII at the memorial and site of the Dachau concentration camp. We felt it was an important site to visit, and wanted to reflect on something profound before we headed home for the end of our long adventure.

So, that was it. It was the most eventful 16-day period of my life.

Along the way, I gained much more than a few trinkets. I feel like I lived an entire lifetime in those 16 days. Acquainting oneself with new people, places, cultures and beliefs is something that cannot be overpriced or undersold. The knowledge gained from travel is immeasurable.

And with that brief note, I am off to sleep, to adventure another day.

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My First Few Weeks in Daegu

As my days abroad continue to rush by, I haven’t had a great deal of time to sit and process everything around me that has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time. So far, my study abroad trip in South Korea has been a whirlwind of new experiences and new friends to share them with. However, I find myself noticing so many little things within daily life here in Daegu that are so similar to back home. despite the wide array of difference, there is so much that seems fairly universal.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring Daegu and trying to find the best coffee houses and restaurants I can! My KNU buddy has been extremely helpful in navigating the campus and their online systems. Most of my exploring has actually been with other exchange students. there are people from all over the world living right next to each other in this new environment. My roommate is Russian and I’ve become good friends with people from France, Portugal, Ireland, Mexico, Italy, and Japan to name a few. Most of my classes are of course mainly Korean students (besides Korean 1 XD) so I’ve made some Korean friends with the help of group projects! Most everyone is very friendly, although I definitely feel the shift of perspective from majority to minority.

Korean is slowly but surely coming more easily to me. the alphabet can be a bit confusing due to how similar the syllables can sound, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Making Korean friends has definitely helped with this! Also, I’ve been trying to eat as authentically as I can while I’m here, which can be a bit difficult when fried chicken and beer is on of the most popular group-hang destinations! But I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve eaten thus far.  (except the dorm cafeteria)

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Visa Adventure

Good news: I finally got my Austrian visa. The process of gaining a visa from Austria as an American, for some reason, is very complex if you do not live in or near California or New York. If an American cannot get it from one of those two locations in the states, then it must be granted at the Austrian Embassy in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

I’m certainly not complaining about the complexity, because it gave me the opportunity to travel to two new countries; Slovenia and Italy.

Myself, as well as a large group of students who needed to get their Visas, as well as other students who signed up for the sight-seeing portion of the trip, boarded the bus by the Opera house in Graz at about 6am on Thursday morning. In a little less than two hours, we were in Ljubljana, waiting in line at the embassy to turn in all the required documents. The process of approving and printing visas takes about one business day, so once we finished the visa business, we all piled back onto the bus and headed for the beautiful border town of Trieste, Italy.

Thankfully, Trieste is only about an hour away from Ljubljana. When we arrived at our hostel, which sat right across the road from the Adriatic sea, the sun was shining so bright I felt like it was trying to blind me. The water was perfectly blue. Our large group dropped off our overnight bags in the lobby of the hostel (we couldn’t quite check in yet because not all of the rooms were ready), and headed back out for a short trek to the nearby Miramare castle and gardens.

We spent about two hours at the castle, and took far too many pictures of the scenery. Afterward, all ~50 of us hopped on a public bus to go toward the heart of the city. Let me tell you, that bus ride was uncomfortable! We were squeezed in and I was standing right by the door, so anyone new who got on the bus had to squeeze in next to me. Even though I couldn’t understand a word of their Italian, the locals who surrounded me on the bus were pleasant and kind. I shared some chuckles with some elderly Italians, and that was the extent of the conversation that we needed.

Finally, after what seemed like a hundred bus stops, we arrived at our destination, and were quickly ushered onto a short walking tour of the city center. Unfortunately, there was only one guide and fifty of us, so I didn’t hear much of what was said, but I did admire the sights.

That evening, our large ESN group ate pizza at a local shop. The pizza was great, but my favorite part of the meal was the pint of beer that I ordered. I’m usually not a fan of the taste of beer, but it was just right. Unfortunately, I have no idea what kind of beer it was. I hope to taste it again someday, because I am still thinking about it.

After dinner, a small group of us crossed the street to get some fantastic gelato, and then we traveled with the large group to a small bar where we sang karaoke and partied well into the night. I won’t bore you with the details, but just know that we brought the house down with our epic renditions of several classic songs.

By the time we got done at the karaoke bar, the buses had stopped running, so myself and a group of about five others went off into the wee hours of the morning, searching for a taxi that could take us to our hostel. We made a pit stop at a Kebap shop that I will never forget, because I had a wonderful conversation with one of the men who worked there. He was from Bangladesh, and we spoke about the importance of accepting and loving people no matter where they come from.

Finally, we made it back to our hostel at what must have been about 3am, and after a short while on the rooftop terrace conversing with some other students, I passed out onto my hostel bed without even properly putting the sheets on.

The next morning, we returned to Ljubljana to get our visas, and luckily had no trouble. We then spent about 5 hours aimlessly wandering the beautiful city, but we were very tired from the previous night, so we didn’t do anything more exciting than walk around and try to soak in some sunshine.

We got onto our bus to head back to Graz that evening, and made one delicious pit stop at a famous Krapfen shop. Krapfen is a donut-like pastry usually filled with apricot marmalade, and they. Are. To die for.

All said and done, the trip was very short, and even though I thoroughly enjoyed it, I feel like I only got a tiny taste of the two cities (and countries) to which we traveled. I know that I’ll be back, and soon.

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