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.