K-pop group BTS at the AMA’s

Last month, something happened that I never would have expected. The K-pop boy band BTS performed at the American Music Awards. Although K-pop artists have occasionally tried to break into the U.S. market, this is perhaps the first time I have seen a Korean artist blow up in the U.S., with the exception of Psy. And while Psy’s American success can mostly be chalked up to a song and music video just asking to go viral, I would attribute BTS’s success to their ever-growing and ever-adoring American fanbase.

In fact, this isn’t the first time BTS’s American fans have brought them across the world to perform in the U.S. Earlier this year, BTS was nominated for and won the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist, one of two Billboard awards voted for by fans. Breaking Justin Bieber’s six-year streak for winning this award, American BTS fans helped their favorite band to win in 2017.


BTS winning a Billboard award


Now, I hear BTS songs on the local radio. My friends who aren’t interested in K-pop have heard of them. In response to this sudden increase in BTS’s popularity, my friend, who has been a big BTS fan for a few years, asked me if I thought this was the opening of the floodgates. Would other K-pop artists now have a chance to come onto the American music scene?

I answered her honestly: I could certainly be wrong, but I find it unlikely. BTS won their Billboard award because of their huge international fan base, but K-pop is a bit of an acquired taste, and most of the Western population hasn’t developed a taste for it. Last year, CL, a K-pop singer, made her U.S. debut with little fanfare. As far as I know, her fans supported her, but she gained few new fans. This is all a matter of opinion, but I think CL’s English language single “Lifted” would sound much more familiar and comfortable to American listeners than the songs that BTS has performed here, both because of the English lyrics and the American sound. Despite this, her U.S. debut was not a success. As a result, it seems that American audiences (meaning the large majority) aren’t particularly interested in K-pop, or Asian musicians in general. I can’t help but think BTS’s U.S. success is entirely dependent on the obsession-level commitment of their existing fanbase to support them, rather than an increase in the actual number of fans. BTS is known in South Korea for having an international fanbase much larger and more dedicated than its domestic fanbase, something unique for a K-pop group. Another factor may be that the U.S. music industry is already flooded. There are so many American musicians vying to hit it big, there isn’t much room for acts from other countries.

On top of that, watching American interviews of BTS revealed that many don’t seem to be taking BTS seriously. Many BTS fans have complained online that interviewers asked the same boring, vapid questions over and over and didn’t take the group seriously. Some interviewers were even borderline disrespectful, asking why the group wouldn’t release any English-language music. Only one of the members of the band speaks more than a little English, and I got the impression that this was one of the reasons why the interviewers didn’t take the group seriously. The language barrier and communication problems made it difficult for the interviewers to connect with the band members. Furthermore, the group’s hair, clothes, makeup, and mannerisms are quite unusual for U.S. audiences, to the point of even seeming a bit alien at times. Some of the interviewers’s treatment of the group was as if they were talking to children. I am not sure the American media is ready to take seriously foreign celebrities who don’t speak fluent English.

I hope I am wrong about the U.S. music scene’s readiness for K-pop and other international acts. Both the U.S. pop music industry and the K-pop music industry are producing a lot of similar, unoriginal songs. But I think that K-pop’s ability to mix American and European musical influences with a (modern) East Asian twist is a strength, and allows for more variety in K-pop than I have seen in American pop recently. I think U.S. pop music could benefit from more variety, and so I hope that in the future more Korean artists, as well as other artists from around the world, will be able to break into the American music scene and get their music on local radio stations and national TV programs the way that BTS has.

Finally, I think that music is a great way to open the doors to cultural diversity and respect. Music is one very accessible element of culture, and interest in the music of another culture may often lead to interest in the culture as a whole. I started listening to K-pop in middle school; that was the trigger to my interest in Korean culture, and especially the Korean language. If it weren’t for K-pop, I may never have ended up studying abroad in South Korea, which was pretty much the best year of my life so far. Now that I am writing this, I actually owe a lot to Korean pop music. While this view is perhaps overly optimistic, I think if the U.S. music scene allows for more international acts to flourish here, more people will develop an appreciation and respect for other cultures.

I will leave you with a video of BTS’s performance at the AMA’s. It’s a very catchy song, and the combination of the group’s carefully-coiffed style and skillful, synchronized dance moves make it a fun watch:


The North Korea Challenge in US-China Relations with Dr. Jeffrey Lewis

On Wednesday, October 18th, I had the pleasure of listening to a fantastic talk by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, an adjunct professor and director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Dr. Lewis presented on the North Korean nuclear program and how it relates to US-China relations as well as relations between all three states. I admire Dr. Lewis for his ability to explain complex topics in a simple, straightforward, and interesting manner. His insights were fascinating, and although I certainly cannot explain it as well as he did, I will attempt to summarize a couple of the main points he made.

1) We are underestimating the progress of North Korea’s nuclear program in the same way that we did the Chinese nuclear program historically.

In the 1960s, the US government severely underestimated the progress of China’s nuclear program, thinking they were much further behind than they were in reality. US officials did not believe China had the technology to develop nuclear power without assistance. When the US continued to release statements that the Chinese nuclear program was not that developed, China decided to prove to the US how far it had come, firing a missile across the country. Unfortunately, I don’t remember all the details but the message of this anecdote Dr. Lewis shared was clear–after China fired that missile, the US started to take the Chinese nuclear program seriously and increase efforts toward non-proliferation to lower the risk of a global nuclear arms race.

In the same way that we underestimated China, Dr. Lewis argues that we are now underestimating the development of the North Korean nuclear program. I can’t keep straight all the technical details Dr. Lewis shared about the particular technological advancements that the North Koreans have made, but his point was that the US consistently denies North Korea claims of these advancements. In fact, experts like Dr. Lewis and his colleagues can analyze photographs released by the North Korean regime of their nuclear technology and conclude that in fact, they are as advanced as they claim to be. This means that the US needs to be taking the threat of a nuclear North Korea much more seriously as they create missiles that can reach increasingly greater distances.

2) We are overestimating the power that China has in convincing North Korea to restrict its nuclear program.

There exists a sort of “common knowledge” in the US that China is North Korea’s closest ally. Although it is not true, many think that China assists the North Korean nuclear program. Many Americans assume that the two are close to the extent that China exhibits a significant amount of influence over North Korea. In fact, Dr. Lewis argues, while China may have more influence over North Korea than the US, ultimately no country has significant influence over North Korea. The ideology that the North Korean regime enforces upon its public and advertises to the world at large does not allow room for influencing powers to exist. Although North Korea is reliant on China for trade and goods, China is just as susceptible as the US to nuclear threats. In a way, the US has been reliant on the idea that China can influence and control North Korea, when in fact this is not the case. Dr. Lewis warns that this overestimation of China’s power is dangerous because it may lead our administration to take more risky action than it would otherwise, thinking that China can “handle” the North Korean reaction.

I feel like I have done an embarrassingly poor job at explaining Dr. Lewis’ points, but I wanted to make a post on this subject because I find it so fascinating. North Korea is an isolationist nation, cut off for the most part from the rest of the world, yet it plays an important role in international relations. Its nuclear program is an important aspect of relations between the US and China. Furthermore, North Korea’s possible actions do not just affect the US and China, but also Japan and of course South Korea as well. If we want to stretch this even further, the North Korean problem is often considered a global issue that must be dealt with by organizations such as the United Nations. If the US or another country were to take unilateral action of some type against North Korea without consent from the UN, it could go so far as to create rifts within the organization. It is likely that the majority of the globe will have to be united in any action it takes to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem for significant change to be achieved. Taking all of this into consideration, North Korea is a volatile and unpredictable force in Asia that we need to keep a close eye on.


OU Cousins

I have done OU Cousins every year since I started attending OU (and that I was on campus). Of course, I joined the program again this year, but I had a newfound desire to be a good cousin after returning home from study abroad. At Kyungpook National University (KNU) in Daegu, South Korea, they have a similar program, but they refer to theirs as a “buddy program.” Buddies are randomly assigned, so while both my buddies were extremely kind (I got a new one each semester), I didn’t feel like I became very close with either of them. They were both wonderful girls, we just didn’t “click” in the way I sometimes do with friends I meet organically rather than being assigned as partners. On the other hand, the process to become a buddy at KNU is more rigorous, and as a result I got buddies who were always ready to help me when I contacted them. To become a buddy, you must apply, be screened, be interviewed, and demonstrate some level of proficiency in a foreign language. It’s not at all like OU Cousins where you simply register and are in–your application for KNU Buddies could be rejected. As a result, although they still have some problems, I think the buddies at KNU were much more committed to the program than some OU cousins.

I say this because I myself wasn’t very committed to OU Cousins in my freshman and sophomore years. I joined with good intentions, but I felt like I dropped the ball and really let my cousins down. I didn’t contact my buddies enough; even if I didn’t have time to hang out, I should have checked in on them more often. I might use the excuse of being busier than I thought I would be those two years, but I certainly wasn’t as busy then as I am now, and I like to think I’m doing a better job as a cousin now. I could certainly be better–the last few weeks I really have been feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, so I haven’t seen as much of my cousin. But before that, we met quite a bit, and I plan to keep searching for time in my schedule to meet her. After studying abroad, I know how important it is to have a good buddy, especially when you first arrive. I want to be someone that exchange students can go to for help if they need it, or just to be a friend (with a car to go places) that is always open to hanging out.

This year, my OU Cousin’s name is Yooseung Lee. She attends KNU (where I studied abroad!!), although we never actually met there. We met for the first time at OU, at one of the first meetings for the Korean Conversation Club. Immediately, I could tell Yooseung had a very bright and fun personality.Her English is excellent and armed with that and her outgoing, fun personality, she has been able to make countless friends at OU. I tend to be a bit shy upon first meeting, but she was friendly and very easy to talk to. Hanging out with her reminds me of hanging out with my friends in Korea; we talk in a mix of Korean and English about anything and everything.

As I mentioned early, I haven’t been able to meet Yooseung as much as I wanted to, especially in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, we have been a few places together. For example, we went to the Oklahoma State Fair with her roommates (also exchange students), and it was fun to watch the child-like wonder of the girls experiencing their first state fair. They were amazed by things I took for granted. That, by the way, is one of the best things about meeting people from other countries–they remind you how good, bad, or just strange something is that you normally take for granted. One of Yooseung’s roommates is from Austria, and she said that although they have festivals sort of similar to the state fair in Austria, there was something uniquely American about the greasy fried food and garish landscape of the state fair.


Yooseung and I have also gone to Oklahoma City with some other Korean exchange students. Norman is nice, but OKC is where my ol’ stomping grounds are, so I wanted to show Yooseung a place with which I was more familiar. We went to the area near my high school and ate South American food at Cafe Kacao, shopped ’til we dropped at Penn Square Mall, and visited the asian market where they were shocked that we carried so many products they had at home (and also at the high import-taxed prices). Afterwards, we went back to Norman and one of the girls was kind enough to feed our hungry bellies. We went to her apartment and although she made just simple ramen and rice dishes, it was delicious, and more so because we ate it all together, talking like old friends.



KCC Chuseok Party

Although OU does not (yet) offer any Korean language courses, we do fortunately have a Korean Conversation Club (KCC) at the university. This organization allows me to meet native Korean speakers as well as other learners who share my interest in the Korean language and culture. It gives me a chance once or twice a week to practice my Korean (which unfortunately, is becoming increasingly rusty due to disuse). On Wednesdays, KCC offers beginner and advanced lessons, and on Thursdays, they hold a hang-out session where members can practice and review their Korean as well as just have fun and talk with friends.

KCC also holds several events throughout the semester, some of them celebrations of Korean holidays. The Korean holiday of Chuseok (추석) began on October 2nd this year. I actually wrote a post on Chuseok back when I experienced it in Korea last year, during which I partook in a traditional Chuseok meal at my friend’s grandma’s house with her family. As I briefly explained in that post, Chuseok is a Korean harvest festival that lasts several days. In Korea, many people return to their hometown to celebrate this holiday with their extended family. Increasingly, however, people are using their time off during Chuseok to travel (although often still with family).

I attended KCC’s Chuseok event this semester and had a great time. Of course, the event was not a traditional celebration of the holiday, as it is a family holiday and thus its customs revolve around the family. For example, families often conduct ancestral memorial rites that involve preparing special foods to offer to ancestors on Chuseok. Instead, the KCC president Sarah began by giving a brief presentation about Chuseok. KCC had also prepared Korean food for the attendees, including foods traditionally eaten on Chuseok. These include beef bulgogi, a type of marinated beef, and japchae, glass noodles made from sweet potato starch that are mixed with vegetables and meat.

After eating, we mostly talked among ourselves and played several games. The weirdest game would have to be–well, I don’t know the name of it. But we had to wear a party hat over our faces to severely limit our vision and ruin our depth perception. Then we had to place a sticker on targets drawn on a board, with ranging points according to difficulty of placing. It was a strange game, but it was certainly funny to laugh at how silly everyone looked with the cone-shaped party hats on their faces. Take a look for yourself:




Today, I’m going to talk about some issues that I have had upon returning to the US and my normal life after spending an exciting year studying abroad in Daegu, South Korea. This post may be helpful for others in knowing what to expect when you return home from studying abroad or any other lengthy experience overseas.

Before returning home, I was warned multiple times about reverse culture shock. When I got back, people told me, I was going to be so confused by American habits and customs. These people were right–I certainly did experience some reverse culture shock when I got back and it seemed that all of a sudden, a bunch of strangers were wanting to talk to me. However, this shock wasn’t as severe as everyone made it sound. In fact, I felt that most of it had dissipated within a couple days, a week maximum. In the same way that I was quick to adapt to Korean customs, I was quick to fall back into my old American habits.

Instead, the issues I faced had more to do with returning to the life of a regular student, rather than returning to a culture that had become unfamiliar. I was able to spend an amazing year full of experiential learning, but the flip side of that was that the courses I took were not that demanding. I had a lot of free time to explore the city of Daegu, as well as many other cities in Korea. While I appreciate my professors’ willingness to reduce our workload so that we had more time to explore Korea and am certainly not complaining about it, facing reality when I returned home was difficult. I am in a five-year accelerated program to receive a BA and MA in International and Area Studies, s0 when I returned to OU this semester, not only did I have to jump back into more time-consuming classes, I had to jump into more time-consuming graduate-level classes. This semester, I had to take one undergraduate course and my first three graduate courses. I have much more responsibilities here than I had in Korea. While I know that many of my classmates also have equally difficult (or more difficult) course loads, it has nevertheless been a challenge to switch back from playing a lot and working a little, to playing a little and working a lot. Despite these difficulties, as time has passed, I am slowly readjusting to more challenging coursework.

In accordance with this sudden spike in time-consuming coursework and resulting shortage of free time, a general lack of freedom upon return has presented challenges. For several months after coming back to Oklahoma, I felt a nagging sense of restlessness in the back of my mind. In Korea, not only was I living in a bigger city than Norman or Oklahoma City, but I had the time to explore it, as mentioned above. I hiked the mountains and saw Buddhist temples around the city, I took walks along the river nearby school, I shopped in countless clothing shops, and sipped coffee in as many cafés as I could visit. This doesn’t even include my frequent trips to other Korean cities like Seoul and Busan. In Norman, I have fun with friends, but we often run out of new places to go. Even when new places pop up, I often don’t have time to visit them during the semester. It doesn’t help that everything is spread out in Oklahoma; it was much faster and more convenient to travel somewhere new in Korea. I often miss my life in Korea and feel bored, itching to travel somewhere new and different.

Studying abroad is a valuable experience, and you should definitely go if you have the opportunity. That being said, be ready for it to infect you with the travel bug. After you return home, you may find yourself restless and wanting to go somewhere new. You may also struggle with some readjustment issues like I was (and still am), but at least you know you aren’t alone.


Advice to students going abroad

Ignore the photo, I just wasn’t sure which photo to include in this post and I thought this one was funny. Obviously, this post is about a couple pieces of advice I would like to give to any students planning on studying abroad.

The first thing I would like to tell you is that if you can study abroad for a full academic year instead of one semester, do it! I originally planned to study abroad for one semester and ended up going for two. If you make mistakes the first semester, you get a fresh start second semester to do things differently. There were several things first semester that I wish I had done differently, and I had a more fulfilling second semester because I changed those habits. The rest of my advice is based off these habits that I changed. Some of this advice may be a bit obvious, but I tried to include some more detailed points that hopefully refine the advice and make it more useful.

Don’t spend all your time with people from your own country. I think this is sometimes easier said than done; once you are in a foreign country and are out of your element, it can be so reassuring to talk to another American who understands how you feel and what you miss from home. Try to resist the temptation. I spent way too much time with other Americans my first semester in Korea. On one hand, I made some amazing American friends, but on the other hand, I found myself stuck in my comfort zone, surrounded by friends who were also native English speakers and had similar outlooks, behavior, and backgrounds to me. I expended more effort the next semester to make friends from other countries, and in particular to make Korean friends. As a result, I was able to have a more multicultural experience and I was able to practice Korean much more and I improved a great deal in comparison to first semester.

This brings me to my next point. If you are studying the language of the country in which you are studying, use it! First, try to use it as much as possible in your day-to-day life, such as ordering food or asking for directions. But if you really want to improve, you need to make friends with whom you can have extended conversations. My first semester, I was quite adept at ordering food or asking where the bathroom was but could not hold a sustained conversation in Korean. It was only during winter break and my second semester that I made a concerted effort to speak in Korean as much as possible with Korean friends, and that was when my Korean conversational skills improved remarkably. You can only gain so much from short exchanges with employees and strangers; friends will help you when you get stuck and correct you (if you ask them).

Get involved on campus as soon as you can. I know it can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning when you are trying to get settled, but this really does make a difference. In Korea in particular, it can sometimes be difficult to make Korean friends in class as they tend to be rather quiet and do not talk to classmates they don’t already know. As a result, joining a school club is a much easier way to make friends if you struggle to approach people in class. My first semester, I didn’t join a club until several months in, and while I still had fun, it was difficult to get very close with the other members who joined at the beginning, since they had already formed bonds with each other. I joined the club from the start of my second semester (I happened to be the only returning member for various reasons) and I became much closer with the other club members and made many close friends.

Travel as much as you can, and don’t procrastinate on your assignments. I place these two together because if you save all your work for the weekends, you won’t have time to travel. It’s tempting to just rest after you get done with class on a weekday, but if you have to spend all your weekends working, you lose the best time to travel. Don’t stay in the city you are studying in, even if it is a big one with lots of things to do. Get out and explore other parts of the country. I enjoyed some of the smaller cities in Korea just as much as the big and bustling city of Seoul. Try to travel outside of the country as much as you can as well. Especially if you don’t know if you will come back, you may never be able to get plane tickets to nearby countries as cheap as they will be in that moment. In addition, try to figure out your traveling style in order to enjoy your trips to the fullest extent. Do you prefer traveling alone, or with friends? (Of course, be careful if you are traveling alone somewhere with higher crime rates.) Do you prefer exploring one spot or city for a long time, or would you rather bounce around and get a little taste of each place and see as much as possible?

That being said, remember to take a break every once and awhile. When I am abroad, I worry about regretting not taking full advantage of my time and seeing everything that I possibly can. This isn’t the best mindset to have, especially if you are like me and can’t keep going and going endlessly. Give yourself some downtime, and don’t be regretful if you aren’t using every second of your time to do something exciting. If you don’t, you may end up overtired and not enjoying whatever you went out to do. You could even get yourself sick, and then you really end up stuck at home unable to go out. Focus on being well-rested physically and mentally so you can enjoy everything you do as much as possible.

I’ll stop here, but I hope my advice can be of use to some students going abroad. Above all, remember to have fun and not stress too much about if you are studying abroad “the right way” because there isn’t one. Just enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to study every once and awhile.




Korean, Russian, and Italian friends

It’s a real shame to finally be leaving South Korea. As cheesy as it sounds, I made so many wonderful friends in this country and I grew a lot as a person. Although I attended some fascinating classes about international affairs and Korean culture, most of the growing  and learning I did happened outside the classroom. I think a lot of people don’t realize that you learn about your own culture just as much as others’ when you interact with people from other countries. I didn’t hang out with my friends with the intention of learning anything in particular, but by observing and conversing I naturally began to notice both how we were different and how we were alike. What I noticed above all is that despite cultural differences, I was able to become incredibly close with people from around the world because there were so many more ways in which we were similar than different.  Everyone loves to talk, laugh, eat, and have fun, and at the end of the day, the ways that we do those things aren’t all that different. All of my friends in Korea liked to try new restaurants, watch movies and plays or go shopping, listen to music, and talk about anything and everything just like my American friends.


Korean friends

One of the things that I feel allowed for closer relationships and better communication was the ability to laugh at oneself, on both a personal level and a cultural or national level. My roommate Migle from Lithuania told me that Lithuanians and many Eastern Europeans in general love to make fun of their country’s neighbors, but are just as willing to make fun of themselves and take a joke. Having a sense of humor about both myself and about the U.S. allowed me to get along with others better, whether we were just small talking or discussing our nations’ differences. Of course I am not suggesting that you just laugh it off if someone says something seriously offensive about your culture, but if a friend is making a light joke or an earnest and well-meaning constructive critique, reacting with a sense of humor and a willingness to accept other viewpoints is important. On a side note, you might find that many other cultures do not value extreme political correctness in the same way that many Americans do, and if you travel abroad you should be prepared for some jests or questions that are more frank in their phrasing than you are used to.


Taiwanese friends

I’m not exactly sure what the “moral of the story” is here, but I came away from this year abroad believing it is just as important to unite over human universalities and cultural similarities as it is to share and accept what makes our cultures different. I believe that finding a balance between these two will lead to more friendly international relations around the world.


Lithuanian, Chinese, and American friends



School Festivals

There is an interesting phenomenon at Korean universities that is made possible by Korea’s strikingly different attitude towards alcohol in comparison to the U.S. During the spring semester, Korean universities hold school-wide festivals. These festivals include games, music and dance school club performances, and musical performances by famous artists. International students set up booths and sell traditional food from their home countries. More than any of that, though, these festivals are about drinking.


In stark contrast to the University of Oklahoma’s dry campus policy, Kyungpook National University holds a festival where each department sets up booths around school and sells overpriced alcohol and side dishes to students. A LOT of alcohol is consumed during this three-day event. Koreans are famous for heavy drinking, and this festival turned out to be no exception. All across campus, students ate, drank, talked, and played games in these small booths beginning in the evening and going late into the night. Although there are definitely some issues with the excessive drinking that can occur at these festivals, it is an exciting event where a strong feeling of university-wide community can be felt. I have not been to an event at OU that made me feel such a sense of unity, not just among certain groups of students, but among the whole student body. The festival is a time for hard-working students to relieve stress with their friends and classmates, and even occasionally with professors.


On top of that, these festivals are a chance to attend a free concert of a popular Korean singer. At our university, each night we had multiple artists perform. This element, however, becomes a point of competition among schools as schools with more money (usually private schools) will be able to afford the biggest names of the moment. Although some students complained that nearby private schools had better performers, most students I talked said that KNU had been able to bring in some very popular singers this year. I was perfectly content, as I was able to see Crush perform, a Korean R&B singer whose music I quite enjoy.


Korean university festivals are an interesting mix of performances, student body-wide bonding, and borderline alcoholism for three days in a row. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the festival, however, was that it started on Wednesday and only some professors were willing to cancel classes on festival days. As a result, while some students simply skipped class, there were a great number of students who would stay up late into the night drinking, and still drag themselves to class the next morning. That determination was likely the most amazing thing I saw during the festival.



Gamcheon Culture Village and the Generational Gap in Korea

Last week, I went to Busan and I visited a very popular tourist site called Gamcheon Culture Village. Gamcheon Village was originally a slum town on a hill that grew during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Many of the houses there are very, very small and the members of this town had little money and lived very difficult lives.


In the early twenty-first century, many people living in the town started leaving because of poverty and poor living conditions. With support from the government, artists used the empty houses and the village in general as an exhibition for their artwork. This drew tourists in flocks to see the newly beautified town. Coffee shops and restaurants sit invitingly at the front of the town and some novelty shops dot the landscape. Everywhere you look, there is a clever art piece, some of them big and attention-grabbing, others quietly hidden in corners like easter eggs. I had a lot of fun looking around the village with my friends and taking pictures of and with the beautiful art installations.


However, this gentrified town is not without disadvantages. My friends and I took a taxi to and from Gamcheon Culture Village, and both taxi drivers were interested in where we had come from and where we were going. When we mentioned the village, the drivers didn’t necessarily sound angry, but they expressed some dissatisfaction about the village. They felt that turning the village into a tourist spot was not respectful to its painful past, nor its present in which most of the villagers are elderly and have been living in the villages since it was still just a slum. They said that many of the people there are still poor and living in bad conditions, and the money made from the businesses there are not going towards the villagers, as they are owned by outsiders. Tourists are often loud and disruptive despite the village still being a place where people live, just like any other neighborhood. Although the village is now beautifully decorated and has greatly benefited financially from tourism, the complaints of the residents are still something to be acknowledged.


This experience made me feel the wide generation gap in Korea. Koreans my age generally acknowledge that they sometimes have difficulty connecting with their parents’ and grandparents’ generations because they are so different. This isn’t all that surprising: the political, economic, and social atmospheres that these generations grew up in are very different. Generational differences in their mindsets can be seen in situations like that of Gamcheon Cultural Village, where younger Koreans enjoy touring around and takes selfies with the artwork, while older Koreans express discomfort and unhappiness and feel that this kind of behavior is disrespectful and making light of the hardships experienced during the Korean War. There is no easy solution to disagreements like this, and I’ll be honest, I still shamelessly enjoyed taking photos and admiring the artwork with my friends at the village. I’m not sure whether that was the wrong thing to do, but there is no denying that the art scattered around the area is captivating. Now that Korea is a somewhat more stable and developed country, it will be interesting to see if future generations have a smaller gap than the current ones do.



Korean Cafes

I think I have mentioned this briefly in a previous post, but I love Korean cafe culture. Korea is full of cafes, some chains and others local. There are so many cafes surrounding my campus I would have to spend months going to a different cafe every day to visit them all. Even then, it would probably be a never-ending process because there’s always a new cafe opening up. It seems to be almost mandatory to go to a cafe for coffee or tea and maybe a dessert after having a meal with friends. A hobby for some of my Korean friends is using Instagram, Facebook, or Naver (basically Korean Google) to find the newest “hot place” (yes, they use the English term) around town. Usually, the hotter the place, the more expensive the beverages, but most of the time it is worth it for the taste and the experience.

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Since there are so many cafes, businesses have to work hard to pull in customers. Of course, the coffee has to taste good. Often, cafes will have some kind of “signature drink” or a drink that is very pretty. The prettier the drink, the more likely the customer will take a photo of it and upload it onto their social media, essentially doing your advertising for you. The interior has to be nicely decorated and usually goes with some kind of theme: sleek and modern, cozy and warm, vintage and nostalgic, etc. Again, the interior or at least certain parts of it are often designed with the intention of making a like-worthy Instagram photo.

 IMG_0624    IMG_0675Although some may find this culture shallow, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Yes, you may pay  extra for a fairly normal latte because it has fancy decorations, or because the cafe interior is nice. If you are willing to pay that extra amount, that’s just fine with me. There are also plenty of cafes in Korea with low price point instead of Instagram-worthy drinks as their selling point. In other words, there’s a cafe for everyone.

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Finally, another great aspect of Korean cafe culture is specialized cafes. Of course, many people have heard about cat cafes (and dog cafes, sheep cafes, raccoon cafes, etc.) in Korea. Those are fun as well, but there are also some less-famous themed cafes in Korea. Study cafes or book cafes are particularly nice for students looking for a quiet place to study. A book cafe near my school will serve your coffee together with a book on a tray. There are also cartoon cafes that have many different manga and manhwa (Korean manga) books. There are also hanok cafes, where the building the cafe is in is a traditional Korean house (hanok). Now that summer is fast approaching, rooftop cafes are growing increasingly popular as great places to enjoy a drink with a nice view in the open air.

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Although Korea is full of chain cafes, I personally think that, just like anywhere else, the local shops are more charming. If you come to Korea, make sure to try a signature drink at a local cafe nearby.

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