Back Home: End to a Great Adventure and a Million Memories (posted by Indira in South Korea)

July 8, 2013

I honestly can’t believe I’m back home. When the plane touched down in Frankfurt and I was finally in Europe, I felt weird. It is then that it hit me that my South Korean adventure was over. Last four months have been absolutely amazing and I’ve enjoyed every single bit of it: Trips, friendships, food, classes, culture, history, tradition, but also sleepless nights I spent with the people that have made my last semester as great as it possibly gets.

The morning I left Korea I said goodbye to the people I shared so much with over the past four months; people I got to know so well in such a short period; people I hope to stay in touch despite the fact I won’t be seeing them on a daily basis any longer. Choosing South Korea as my study abroad location for the spring semester was a great decision, no doubt about that. In fall 2012 I studied abroad in Sweden and I already had what I thought to be the best semester yet. When I decided to go to Korea in spring instead of staying in Sweden for a year many were surprised especially since they knew how much I came to love Sweden and my experience there.  To be honest, I was very anxious to see how my semester in Asia would turn out to be. I choose a country I knew almost nothing about and didn’t speak the language, but also a country that was so different compared to my previous experiences. The beginning was rough: Getting used to the new culture where modernity and tradition meet, making new friends, getting used to the new system of classes and teaching style – it was all a challenge. I was, however, more than happy to embrace that challenge and make the best out of it.

It was the embracing the unknown and enjoying the adventure that made my semester in Korea so amazing. Oftentimes I’m asked whether I liked Sweden more than Korea. To be honest, I like them both equally! The two semesters I had were so much different in so many ways and yet they were both so amazing. Each was the best in its own way. I find it amazing how much I’ve grown over the past year I spent abroad and how this year came to shape my personality in a slightly different way than before. I am more self aware of the world, more patient, more flexible and easy to adapt, but I’m also richer for so many new experiences and amazing memories.

My semester in Korea will always be one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I got to live in a big city of 10.6 million people, try all these different dishes, experience Korean and Asian culture firsthand, and travel. I also find it fascinating how little I knew about Korea before going there and how much I know now: All my classes were focused on Korea and I learned a lot about this country socially, historically, demographically, economically, as well as about the relations between Korea and other countries. The best thing was learning about the country and then seeing it all unfold in front of  my eyes: I would learn something about Korean history and a short subway ride would take me to a museum that would add colors to the pictures in my head. I really enjoyed that kind of learning.

Discovering Korea was also amazing: I got to travel all around Seoul, Incheon, Muuido Island, Busan, Jeju Island. All of these places gave me a different perception of Korea that together formed a perfect image about the country I had such a hard time leaving.

A week-long trip to Cambodia was undoubtedly one of the most amazing things I ever have – and possibly ever will – experience. This country in the southeastern Asia with high temperatures and humid air was something I’ve never seen before: Riding elephants, admiring centuries old temples, riding tuk-tuks, and exploring the part of the world I never even thought of visiting. Visit to Cambodia is definitely one of the highlights of my year abroad. Actually, this entire year has been one big highlight and I am so happy I took the chance to spend it abroad.

Possibly the most important part of the semester in Korea are the people I met: My core group of friends, my classmates, my roommate, my Korean friends, my mentor, my language exchange partner, all of them are a reason behind everything great that happened in Korea. Now I know I have friends all over the world, friends I can rely on even if I’ve known them for merely four months. That is the beauty of the study abroad – people bond and create friendships really fast. But that is also the saddest part of it all: Leaving is so much harder when you know that you might never again see some of the amazing people you met. It is all, nonetheless, an important aspect of study abroad.

I can only wholeheartedly recommend Yonsei University and South Korea to any student interested in study abroad. Regardless of your major (Yonsei is a big university and it offers classes in English in a wide range of subjects), weather preference (it can be both hot and cold in Seoul), or size of the city (Seoul is a big city, but you can always find that little street or the part of the city that will just about fit your preferences) Korea won’t disappoint. I promise. I was very skeptical in the beginning and now I can’t wait to visit Korea again. So many great things await students and visitors in this city: Technology is everywhere, cafes too, the food is amazing, it is easy to travel around (just make sure you get a T-Money card and the subway is all yours to explore and use), people are so warm and hospitable, culture and tradition is breathtaking.

I will miss you Korea. Actually, I already do.


Farewell Seoul – Thanks for a great semester!

끝: Last Week of Classes, Exams, Birthdays, and Goodbyes (posted by Indira in South Korea)

June 27, 2013

So here it is, the end. It seems like it was just yesterday when I arrived to Seoul, a place I knew nothing about and kept getting lost in. It seems like I just stopped wearing my winter coat that I had to wear all through the cold months of February and March. It seems like I just moved in to my room on the fifth floor of the International House, met my roommate, and formed strong friendships with people from all over the world just today. But it also seems like the fear of the new and the unknown never existed because I definitely feel Seoul is my home away from home and I feel happy here.

Coming back from Cambodia was definitely a wake up call that showed me that I had less than 2 weeks left in the beautiful place I am by no means ready to leave. The last week of classes was very busy for me as I had so many final projects, presentations, and papers due. I had to work a lot to be ready in time and luckily everything went well and I met all the deadlines. That was, however, not the end of school work – I had exams waiting for me just around the corner. Three out of four classes I was taking this semester had an in-class final exam so I had a lot of studying to do. Two of them were cumulative and quite extensive (my Free Trade Agreements class final exam lasted 4 hours and I actually needed every single minute to finish it). I have to admit that it felt really good to be done with the exams and know I have a couple of days free before I had to leave Korea.

It was great knowing I’ll get to see all of the people I got really close with at a joint birthday party that three of my friends organized. I really enjoyed celebrating with all the people who made the last semester one of the best ever, but I was also sad since I knew that in just a couple of days all that will be left are so many great memories, millions of pictures, friendships that will last, and future Facebook messages, trip planning, and Skype conversations as means of staying in touch and seeing each other. No longer will we be able to gather for a quick dinner at the “Strawberry Place,” one of our favorite places to eat at. Going Seoul exploring will be impossible as none of us will be there. A quick midnight snack run to GS25 (convenience store chain in Korea) won’t happen again.

The last two days in Korea were all about being around the people who became my Yonsei family and who changed me: they made this semester so much better and I definitely wanted to be around them as long as possible. Thursday night we had our very last night together as my flight back home was on Friday so we went to some of our favorite places in Sinchon (area of the city where Yonsei is located). It was really hard to balance the feelings: I was happy to be around my friends, but I was very sad knowing that I will leave the next day.

Out with friends in Sinchon

Out with friends in Sinchon

Packing was very hard in itself: Having to pack 4 months of my life and just go was one of the worst things I had to do. The good (or bad) thing is that I’m already used to it, but every time I leave a place it feels different. It’s the same sadness, but projected in a different way. I have, however, learned that every ending is also a beginning: When I left Sweden last semester I was incredibly sad, but that ending was a beginning to a new adventure – a semester in Korea. This time I was going home. To be honest, I’ve missed home, my family, my pets, and food. That is a great thing to look forward to!

On Friday morning I finished up packing and then met up with three of my friends who were going to the airport at the same time like me in the SK Global House lobby to say our final goodbye to our friends. It was really hard just leaving the most amazing group of people I ever met behind… Goodbyes at the airport were hard too. Michael, Can, and Loreana are three people I got really close with and boarding the plane knowing they won’t be there felt weird and sad. The good thing is that this goodbye, just like some others, is actually not a goodbye. It is more along the see-you-later lines. Some of the people I met in Korea (including Michael, Can, and Loreana) go to school relatively close to Richmond so I’ll be able to see them again. A lot of people live in Europe so I’ll be able to see then when I’m back home in Europe. That made the goodbyes and the end of the semester easier.

Leaving is hard, but I have something to look forward to: Home and seeing all the friends I made in Korea again! So even though this is the end; it’s just the end of the semester, nothing more. 🙂

Many of the friends I made in Seoul

Many of the friends I made in Seoul

Cambodia: Heat, Tuk Tuks, Temples, and Discovering the Country (posted by Indira in South Korea)

June 11, 2013

This semester I spent in South Korea and it was my very first visit to Asia. This continent has always been something different and somewhat far, but once I was in one of the Asian countries I tried to do my best to see as much as possible of it. Even though I decided to spend quite some time traveling in South Korea and discovering the beauties of this amazing country, I also knew I wanted a big trip to some other Asian country. Luckily two of my friends were of the same opinion so we planned a week long trip to Cambodia, a country I actually never even thought of visiting up until we started discussing the possibility of it.

Denis, Michael, and I were all very excited to board our Korean Air flight (definitely the best airline I flew with so far) to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. We left Seoul on Friday afternoon and embarked on the adventure of lifetime. We landed around 10pm Phnom Penh time and were instantly greeted by the heat and humidity. It was quite a shock, I have to admit! A temperature of almost 100 degrees and humid air made it hard to breathe, but one can get used to it after a while. After going through immigration, getting our arrival visas, and making it through Customs, the biggest culture shock of my life took place (and we haven’t even left the airport, mind you). It was really interesting seeing all the tuk-tuks (the most common means of transportation in Cambodia) waiting for their customers, people trying to sell you all kinds of products for a super low price just to make enough for living, and the general atmosphere. We took a short cab ride to the place where we would stay that night before we headed to Siem Reap the morning after. On our arrival we also tried some Khmer (local Cambodian cuisine) so we had some soup, which pretty much discouraged us from trying anything else local.

On Saturday we traveled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus. This was not a really good idea. Very cheap, but not a good idea (that is why on the way back we got a private car: A bit more expensive, but much faster and comfortable). We spent over 8 hours in the bus with almost completely broken air conditioner. I tried to sleep through most of the trip in order to avoid the heat. Once we arrived to Siem Reap we were overwhelmed by all the tuk-tuk drivers who wanted to take us to our hotel and be our tour guides for the time we stayed in Siem Reap (there are not that many tourists in Cambodia at this time since it gets too hot and humid and the wet season is starting).

During our 4 day stay in Siem Reap we visited all the major temples including Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Angkor Thom. It is amazing to see how an ancient civilization managed to build such impressive temples a 1000 years ago but this beautiful country is facing such poverty nowadays. The temples we visited were by all means fascinating and something that is worth seeing just to understand how small a human being is compared to what he can make.

Ta Prohm temple, Tomb Raider

Ta Prohm temple, used in the film “Tomb Raider”

We also went to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat but unfortunately due to bad weather we weren’t able to see it. Another day we tried to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng, a temple located on the top of the hill. We actually rode an elephant to the top of the hill and it was quite an interesting and fun experience. Unfortunately, there was no spectacular sunset that we were expecting due to the fact it was cloudy. Nevertheless, we had fun since the view of the jungle and Angkor Thom was very nice. Siem Reap is a really great place to visit as you can see the temples, but also get a more up-to-date Cambodia experience since the city is quite modern. Most of the city, however, caters to the tourists so there are lot of shops where you can buy souvenirs and there are plenty of western restaurants. We also went to see the floating village located on the lake just outside the city.

riding the elephant

Riding the elephant

floating village

The floating village

Our last day we spent in Phnom Penh visiting the Royal Palace and the Killing Fields. It is quite a contrast to see the streets of the Phnom Penh and then the riches of the Royal Palace. It is very beautiful and worth a visit!  Visiting the Killing Fields was a very emotional experience since I learned more about the genocide that happened during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Seeing the mass graves, the killing tree where babies were killed, and hearing personal stories of the people who survived the atrocities of Pol Pot’s regime was very moving and I learned  a lot. Even though it was very hard being there, I am happy we got to visit the Killing Fields and learn more about the history of this beautiful Asian country.

royal palace

The Royal Palace

killing tree

The Killing Tree

Once you get past the humidity and heat, and get used to the tuk-tuk rides, it is very easy to enjoy Cambodia. No matter whether you visit the temples, the Killing Fields, or just engage in a conversation with the friendly locals (they all speak at least some English!) the beauty and the rich (no matter whether gloomy or fascinating) history of Cambodia shows through. The most impressive part was meeting Cambodians who are so helpful and have this great will to live and to be happy. Cambodia won my heart and it is definitely a country that I would visit again and recommend others to visit. This trip is surely one of the biggest highlights of my semester.

제주도: Jeju Island is a Heaven on Earth (posted by Indira in South Korea)

May 31, 2013

As the time I have left in Korea is slipping out of my hands like the grains of sand, I definitely try my best to balance traveling and school. Korea is such an amazing country and I don’t think that a lifetime of traveling and exploring would be enough to see everything the place I now call home has to offer. Knowing that I have about 3 weeks left and so much to see, do, and experience, and also to make sure I finish all my assignments on time is somewhat putting me under pressure. But the motto should be “work hard, explore hard” and it is all possible.

Last weekend a group of 15 of my friends and I decided to go and see Jeju-do, an island that contains the natural World Heritage Site Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tube. The entire Island is dominated by the Halla Mountain (Halla-San) and there are many beautiful waterfalls, caves, cliffs, and beaches to see and spend time exploring. The island itself is located to the south of the Korean peninsula and it undoubtedly offers a scenery that is truly unforgettable.

Out trip started by taking a plane (fairly inexpensive one hour fight) Seoul to Jeju City from where we took a two hour bus ride (5000 won = less than 5 dollars) to Segowipo, a city in the south of the island. It is interesting that the Jeju Island consists of two cities only: The entire north part of the city is Jeju-City and the south half is Segowipo. We stayed in Segowipo as most of the tourist attractions are located there. First day we went to one of the waterfalls that is very close to the harbor. The area is really beautiful and there are quite some tourists. Afterwards we went for a lunch at one of the numerous Korean restaurants serving famous Jeju black pork, which was by all means delicious.


Jeju black pork

Afternoon was reserved for a lazy day at the Jungmun beach, which is one of the most famous beaches in Jeju. Since everything on the island is located somewhat far from each other taking a cab or a bus is highly necessary. Beach was about an hour or so from the city. Even though the swimming season was not open and the water was cold some people were brave enough to swim. I didn’t dare to do so. Laying in the sun was also nice  and relaxing! Since Jeju is in the south, it is much warmer and sunnier there so it was perfect weather for sunbathing and frisbee on the beach.


Playing frisbee on the beach

The second day at Jeju was by far the most intense day of my life. Hallu-San is 2000m high mountain and smaller group of us decided to hike up to the top to see the crater. After about 5 hours of hiking steep mountain in extremely high temperatures, I made it to the top! This was one of the biggest challenges of my life and I was actually able to prove myself wrong (I am not much of a person who does sport or exercise, but I definitely did manage to hike up to the top of one of the tallest mountains in Korea). Since it is a drought season we were not able to see beautiful lake in the crater (Google “Hallu-San” and you’ll know what I’m talking about) and the view was blocked by the clouds of smog. It was very disappointing not to be able to get any reward after enduring so much pain to hike up the mountain. The hike down was, however, really nice and the trail was very beautiful, which somewhat made up for the bad summit. The aftermath came right after I made it down to the starting point 8.5 hours after the hike started – my whole body was aching. Despite my muscles being sore and my ankles swollen, this was definitely one of the most interesting experiences that will shape my semester in Korea and the idea of pushing personal borders. It is good knowing that I can challenge myself and actually win the challenge.


Trail down the Hallu-San

Our last day in Jeju we spent visiting yet another waterfall, which was very hidden. We heard from the locals that it is a great spot to visit and not so many tourists know about it. The small waterfall hidden from the world was definitely one of the most beautiful wonders of nature I’ve ever seen. We spent quite some time there climbing the rocks and swimming in the crystal clear water. The rest of the trip we spent in Jeju City exploring the cuisine of the region.


Hidden waterfall

Overall, Jeju is definitely worth a visit and I am so happy I managed to visit this island before leaving Korea. Coming back to Seoul was a bit hard since we were welcomed by rain and loads of schoolwork. Now I am trying to finish everything before I leave for an adventure to Cambodia on Friday. I can’t even put into words how excited I am about this upcoming trip! 🙂

부산: Buddha’s Birthday and a Weekend Trip to Busan (posted by Indira in South Korea)

May 27, 2013

Last week was sure a week without much sleep and a lot of going on. Friday right after Akaraka it was Buddha’s Birthday so there were no classes and the weekend after a group of my friends and I decided to go exploring Korea so we visited country’s second biggest city – Busan (or Pusan, depending on the spelling).

Even though it was Buddha’s Birthday last week there was a huge festival in the honor of this holiday on the streets of Seoul about a week earlier. It was really something else. It was one of those experiences that make me extremely happy that I decided to study abroad at Yonsei and in a country I knew nothing about and that is so much different from anything I’ve ever experienced. So many citizens took part in the festival processions wearing traditional costumes, playing different instruments, controlling big sculptures that were lit up etc. It was really great to see how much pride Koreans take in this holiday. One of my favorite parts of the procession was the dragon who was breathing fire! It was amazing. And the unity of the people was also something that I enjoyed very much. After the procession we went to the temple that was really nicely decorated and enjoyed the events happening there. Choosing Korea as my Spring semester study abroad location was definitely the right decision and everyday I am happier and happier I decided to come  on exchange here.

Dragon at Buddha birthday

Dragon breathing fire at Buddha’s birthday


The decorated temple

Even though Seoul is very metropolitan and traditional at the same time and it offers a wide range of events, it is always nice to also explore other parts of this country. Busan is the second biggest city in Korea located about a three hour train ride in the Southeast. One of my friends was participating in a Frisbee tournament in Busan past weekend so some of us decided to join and explore the city as well. Traveling on a train in Korea is very convenient (for foreigners I definitely recommend getting a Korail Pass that will allow you to travel on any train for the amount of days you chose). Busan was an interesting city. We visited a temple, UN cemetery,  a bridge, and we walked around and explored the city. It was actually nice to see another Korean city besides Seoul and I have to admit that I like Seoul better. This may be due to the fact that Seoul became my home and I spent past three months in this city. One thing I really liked about Busan was how much more tamed the taxi drivers were: No one drove through red light or was driving extremely fast like they do it in Seoul. In general, Busan has a completely different atmosphere than Seoul: It is less metropolitan and yet it still is a big city with everything a city should have. Busan is worth a visit, for sure!

Apart from sightseeing and walking around Busan, we also spent some time on the Dadaepo beach where my friend played frisbee. Being a European, frisbee is not that known in Europe and I never thought it was a real sport. The way I saw it was more as a hobby or recreation, not a real competitive sport. Last weekend I was proved wrong. People played with so much passion and dedication, but there was no tension at all. People on the opposite teams were friends and they enjoyed each others’ company. It was definitely a much different experience from what I would have ever expected. The best thing is that my friend’s team actually won the tournament, which made watching my first frisbee games that much more special. I also got a chance to meet a lot of people, many Americans and Canadians (since frisbee is mainly popular in this part of the world), who either study or work in Korea (many of them teach English here). Overall, it was a really good weekend and I learned/experienced some new things.

Beach in Busan

Dadaepo Beach in Busan

Since the end of the semester is approaching I also have quite some work to do: I have final presentations and papers due almost every week so it is really hard to balance traveling and school. Even though it is hard to do it, it is by no means impossible. Doing more work over the weekdays gives me weekends off and I can travel. This weekend I am heading to Jeju Island, a beautiful island in the south. I am very excited for it as I’ve heard from so many people that it is one of the most beautiful places they have ever seen. Let’s see how it ends up being! 🙂

푸른: Akaraka Festival at Yonsei University (posted by Indira in South Korea)

May 27, 2013

In some of my previous posts I have already written about the unbelievable school spirit that is so well present on the Yonsei campus, but over the past week I actually experienced it first-hand. There are two big events at Yonsei every year that attract many students and that are given a lot of attention: Sports games against Korea University in the Fall and Akaraka Festival in the Spring. I am very lucky to be in Seoul during the Spring since that gave a possibility to take part in the Akaraka Festival.

So what is this Akaraka thing? Just the best thing ever! No, seriously. I have never before experienced anything like it: It is a festival, a huge party, something like a carnival, big concert, and so much more. I think one could somewhat compare it to Pig Roast, but it is so much more. This year May 14-16 Yonsei turned blue. Literally. Everywhere you would look there were people in blue, which is Yonsei’s color. It was so hard to locate anyone as all the students were wearing blue shirts as a way of showing the school pride and belonging to the best University in Korea (yea, I might be a bit biased but I do think Yonsei is amazing).

Students at Akaraka

Yonsei students proudly wearing the school color (blue) at Akaraka

The first two days of the festival there were so many street vendors selling delicious Korean street food (such as Korean pancakes, fish cakes etc.), concerts all across the campus, games, and open air parties. There was even a huge trampoline-bungee jumping that many students took their turn on. The first night of the Festival Mentors Club (similar to the Ambassador Club at the UR) organized an amazing “Gentlementors” (reference to Psy’s “Gentleman” song) party in front of the main auditorium. There were so many students dancing and having fun. Definitely one of the best nights I had in Korea so far. Before the party we also had a Zombie Run. This was the event organized by the student council and both Korean and foreign students participated. The basic ideas was to walk/run down the path while escaping zombies. There were five zones along the path each with their own topics and rules. Thriller zone, for instance, was probably one of the most interesting. Runners were only able to move when the Korean song “Thriller” was played, if they moved when song is not played zombies would take their life (each participant had 3 lives). Zombies were amazing! Yonsei hired professional make up artist who made a lot of people including some of my friends look like real zombies. A huge number of students participated in this event and the reward for the last man standing was 300.000 won (about 300 dollars). The Zombie Run was truly very fun and I enjoyed it a lot!

Zombie Run

Preparing for the Zombie Run

Second day of the festival was all about the concerts and food! I really enjoyed walking down the main road and trying different Korean street foods (it is very delicious and extremely inexpensive, definitely a must try while in Korea!). It was fun seeing the Korean bands and performers in concert too: So many Korean students were super excited while I knew none of the performers and understood none of the lyrics. It was very entertaining nonetheless.

After a two day warm up, Thursday finally came. Most of the students had their classes cancelled (all 3 of my Thursday classes were cancelled!) and starting from about 2pm celebrations started. Many students went to the outdoor amphitheater around 1pm already in order to see K-Pop starts who performed before the real Akaraka started. We were advised by the Korean students to come to the amphitheater some time between and 5pm. Akaraka was mind-blowing! So much energy, dancing, cheering, many performances and artists! I’ve never seen anything like it. We were on our feet dancing from 4 until 10pm. And it was amazing! Many famous Korean bands performed such as Girls’ Generation. The entire amphitheater was going crazy. Everywhere you would look you would see a sea of blue. It really shows how important the school spirit is for the Yonsei students. Being part of Akaraka and one of the thousands of students who were present there made me feel like a part of the Yonsei community. I realized how much I love this place and how Seoul feels like a home. I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words what happened on Akaraka Thursday; it is simply something one has to experience in order to understand it.

Girls' Generation

Girls’ Generation performs at Akaraka

I have to admit that the three days of the Akaraka Festival were the highlight of my stay at Yonsei so far. I loved every bit of it and I sure would love to relive it. Yonsei is such a special place that grows on its student and becomes a true home. Too bad I will have to leave this places I learned to love so dearly in only 4 weeks… But I’ll think about leaving later. Now I have to enjoy the time I have left!

5월: Birthdays and Planning Trips (posted by Indira in South Korea)

May 15, 2013

It happens often that I take a look at my calendar, and I’m surprised to see what date it is. I can’t believe it’s already May. I feel like it was February just yesterday when I arrived to Seoul, moved into my room on the fifth floor of the International House without knowing anyone, and got lost so many times trying to get to the Sinchon subway station. Now, I can walk all around Sinchon blind folded without getting lost, navigate Seoul public transportation system as if I lived here my entire life, order food even if everything is in Korean and I speak almost no Korean (I can say hello, goodbye, thank you, yes, and no, which almost doesn’t really count.), and I have made so many friendships that I already know will last. I don’t think study abroad can get any better.


Last week I had my midterms. It was really weird to talk to my friends at Richmond who were preparing for their final exams while I was “only” dealing with midterms and had two more months of classes to go. But, now I’m done with first part of the semester at Yonsei. I had quite a lot of projects and papers to write, and an in-class exam. It was a lot of work, but it was all worth it. There is not all that much difference between the examination here at Yonsei and at UR. Depending on the class you can get a project to complete (That was the case with my Free Trade Agreements (FTA) class where I had a project on EU-Japan FTA to finish.), paper to write (I had papers for my Modern Korean History and for my International Conflicts and Cooperation class.), or an in-class exam (My only in-class exam was a 75 minute long exam for my US-Korea Relations class consisting of multiple choice, True/False, and short essay questions.). All in all, I would expect something as similar at Richmond, too. It is funny to think I was slightly freaking out about my midterms just 10 days ago as I didn’t know how they’ll go, but now that they are over I am more than ready to enjoy beautiful Seoul.


Even though the midterms are over I still have  some projects and presentations due in the next couple of weeks. The work never stops. I, however, still get more than enough time to enjoy Seoul and the beautiful weather we have right now. Campus also looks amazing. Everything is blooming and blossoming, and the plenty of sunshine we get can only make everyone that much happier.

And people having birthdays lately only add to the good time we are all having here. Some of my friends had their Birthdays recently, so there were some group dinners and celebrations going on. For one of my friends we prepared a surprise Birthday party which we all enjoyed.


The only thing that can top all the things that happened up until now is creating the opportunity for more adventures to happen. Currently I am planning some trips around Asia. Right now I have  plans for Jeju (beautiful island located in the very south of South Korea). After all, I have to make the best out of the time I have left in this part of the world.

봄: I Smell Cherry Blossom and Midterms (posted by Indira in South Korea)

April 29, 2013

The weather in Seoul has been quite weird lately. It happened on two different occasions that we experienced all four seasons in a single day: the morning would be very sunny with clear skies, then suddenly it would rain a bit and before you know it you’d see some snowflakes here and there before the sun appeared for a little bit again and then set. In the last few days, however, we had real spring weather which was so great. Springtime in Seoul is definitely amazing: everything is blooming and Seoul looks very beautiful. Even a short walk through the campus or down the street will show you trees covered in blossoms. Temperatures in the high 60’s and plenty of sunshine definitely scream “spring is here!” If only we didn’t have midterms…

Since spring is such a nice and eventful time of the year, Yeouido Park in Seoul has a week long flower festival that takes place in mid April. One can go to the park and walk around enjoying the blossom of about 2700 trees.

Cherry Blossom in Sinchon, a park in Seoul

Cherry Blossom in Sinchon

Beautiful Yeouido Park, where we went to enjoy the Cherry Blossoms

Beautiful Yeouido Park

The best part is that there is more to it than just beautiful blossoms: since it’s an actual festival, there are street vendors everywhere and it’s easy to get a refreshing ice cream or extremely delicious street food, there are also performers and shows, as well as the light show during the night, and there are bike, scooter, and rollerblade rentals. The park itself is super beautiful and it’s relaxing to walk around. Two of my friends and I spent an amazing afternoon simply walking through the park and sitting close to the river relaxing and soaking in the sun. Yeouido Park is also a great place to simply learn more about Korean culture, especially couple culture. It is really fascinating how many couples there are in Korea. Everyone is obsessed with being in a relationship, and that is very obvious in Yeouido Park as there are so many couples enjoying the walk down the alley full of  blossomed trees, riding the tandem bikes, sitting at the Han River bank, or simply enjoying the sun and nice weather. Since the National Assembly is quite close by, it’s easy to walk over and enjoy the sight of it, too.

National Assembly, which we could see from Yeouido Park

National Assembly

It is really sad how less and less time I have for enjoying the springtime now that midterms are just around the corner. Next week is the midterm class and I have to write two big papers for my International Conflicts and Cooperation and Free Trade Agreements classes. Apart from that I will have an in-class exam for my US-Korean Relations class. To be honest, I am quite anxious to see how it will all go. I understand that the standards and educational system here are very much different from everything I have experienced up to this date (Bosnia, IB, Richmond, and Sweden) so I am not quite so sure what to expect. Every time I ask a Koreans, or other exchange students, who have been at Yonsei for a while about the examinations here they all tell me that a lot of it is based on memorization. That is very much on the opposite side of the educational spectrum since at UR and at Uppsala University one is more pushed to use the information one gets from the class and integrate it into real world issues thereby using a bit of memorization in a combination with logic, reasoning, and problem solving. I can’t say that I have experienced the issue of mere memorization here yet, as the assignments and papers I have had so far have very much been on the level of the assignments I have had at Richmond. The in-class midterm will therefore be the most challenging, I would guess, but I will have to wait and see how it goes.

Also, it is very hard to think that I am not even done with half of my semester yet while my friends at Richmond are almost finished with a year! This way, at least, I will get to see Seoul in summer 🙂

지평선: N Seoul Tower, Richmond Reunion, and Our Husky Friend (posted by Indira in South Korea)

April 24, 2013

Seoul is a big city and it is always interesting to go and explore different areas as each part of the city is very unique: Sinchon (where Yonsei University is located) is very busy and there are many young people, Ewha is full of cute little stores and shops as this is where Ewha Women’s University is located, Insa-dong is a touristy place, while Itaewon is very Western-like as most of the Westerners who work in Seoul live here, and Gangnam is very modern with skyscrapers everywhere. This city has so much soul and spirit that it is rather hard to comprehend it all. There is, however, one place where you can take a good look at the entire city of nine million people and enjoy the view of a place where modernism and tradition coexist – N Seoul Tower.

Last week a group of my friends and I decided to go to N Seoul Tower and see Seoul in its full beauty. It was really good that we had nice weather as the sunset was beautiful and the skyline was breathtaking. Getting to N Seoul Tower gave us a view of different parts of the city  as we had to go to the subway stop in Sinchon, walk through Myeondong, take a cable cart and finally hike up to the Tower. The best part of it all was seeing how different Seoul is and then getting a good view of the entire city, which makes you wonder how is it possible that so many diverse areas are so united and make this city what it is. The view is rather breathtaking – you can walk around in the 360° observatory platform and see the city from all the sides. We managed to see the sunset from the outside before we took an interesting elevator ride (they show you a short video clip that basically takes you from the Tower to outer space when going up, and when going down it takes you from the outer space to the Tower in Seoul in a mere 30 seconds) to the top of the Tower. This is definitely one of the top touristy activities I’d recommend to anyone (even though it took me over a month to do it). I’ll definitely go back to N Seoul Tower in late spring!

Sunset over Seoul from the N Seoul Tower

Sunset over Seoul

View on the City of Seoul from the N Seoul Tower one of the biggest tourist destinations in Seoul

View on the City of Seoul from the N Seoul Tower

Being so far away from Richmond doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find Richmond affiliated people in this part of the world. Since Ms. Leslie Stevenson from the CDC was on a conference in Seoul, she invited all the Richmond graduates and students currently in Seoul, as well as Yonsei students who either were, or are going, on an exchange to UR for a dinner in Gangnam (unfortunately no one thought of getting a group picture as we were all too excited for the reunion). It was really great having dinner in a Richmond spirit, as well as getting to know so many new people. I also enjoyed talking to three Yonsei girls who will be studying abroad at Richmond in Fall 2013. I tried to give them some advice and they seemed super excited to start their semester at UofR. Seeing Ms. Stevenson was also great! She accompanied my Leadership and the Common Good SSIR group trip to Spain in January last year and seeing her in Korea this year was just wonderful. It truly shows how global Spiders are!

Seoul is a diverse, modern, and global city full of surprises – you never know who you might meet/see. One of my favorite things in Sinchon is seeing a Husky dog that is usually chilling outside one of the numerous Korean restaurants in the area (supposedly since his owner works there or something of a kind). This big fluffy ball of fur is just about the most amazing dog ever. He is so friendly and playful and it is always great running into him when walking around Sinchon.

Husky dog we always see when walking around Sinchon.  He is the dog of a local restaurant owner

Husky dog we always see when walking around Sinchon

I have also noticed that as midterms are approaching (last week of April) I have more school work to do. The beautiful spring weather, blossom, and temperature of about 67 degrees is unfortunately hard to ignore. However, it is very much possible to stay on top of the schoolwork and also enjoy the life in Seoul. All it requires is a bit of sacrifice and hard work, but it is completely worth it.

여행: A Weekend Trip to Muuido and Silmido, Silkworms, and Korean Hospitality (posted by Indira in South Korea)

April 19, 2013

If you ever get sick and tired of Seoul (which is by any means absolutely IMPOSSIBLE) or you just need a couple of days away from the big city, the rush, and the notion of being busy all the time, you can always take a trip. A group of eight exchange students at my host University – including myself – decided to take advantage of a free weekend and go on a trip to a nearby island – Muuido. Muuido is a small island located about a 15-minute ferry ride from Incheon (which is a city located an hour subway ride from Yonsei University) and it is the perfect getaway place for a weekend: you can go hiking, climb the rocks on the beach, walk around, ride horses, go zip-lining and much more!

Our trip started with an early Saturday morning gathering in the SK Global House (one of the student dorms) lobby, meeting some people at the subway station, and a long subway ride to Incheon airport. From there we took a bus to the place where we hopped on a ferry that took us to Muuido. Upon our arrival we noticed many stands and Koreans willing to sell corncobs and silkworms (!). Being tourists, we got a cup-full of silkworms. A very bad idea, I may add. Only three of the people from our group were brave enough to try the silkworms: it must have been one of the worst things they have tried, according to their faces and their reactions (which made me happy to be one of the group who didn’t dare to try weird smelling silkworms). Unfortunately, the silkworm adventure did not end here. Right after we tried the silkworms, the bus that was supposed to take us to the other side of the island, where the beach is, arrived. So we got on it (with the cup of silkworms, which ended up being the worst decision possible). The bus was full! Crowded! It was so hard to stand while being pushed from all sides and, of course, my motion sickness kicked in, especially since the silkworm smell was so overwhelming. I honestly don’t know how I survived the 30 minute bus ride which definitely was the worst bus ride ever, but the torture stopped once we reached our bus stop close to the beach entrance. I have never felt move relieved or happier to get off a bus and get some fresh air!

My friends - Denis (France), Jina (Germany) and Mike (USA) - eating silkworms on our way to our weekend getaway

My friends – Denis (France), Jina (Germany) and Mike (USA) – eating silkworms

Since we arrived to the island during the low tide we used this chance to climb the rocks along the beach and enjoy some amazing views (despite the fact it was very cloudy) right after getting a quick lunch. It was so much fun climbing big rocks and racing to see who would make it to the top first. Afterwards we went on a three hour hike to the top of the island. That was a challenge for me. I am not really a person who does sports, but I very much enjoyed this hike. The reward – the view from the top – made me forget the pain and the thought of how sore I was going to be the next day. It also happened to snow for a couple of minutes while we were on the top, which made this experience so much more unique and special. When we got back to our huts on the beach we got dinner and then made a bonfire. It definitely was a day of new experiences and bonding with people I had met fairly recently (some of them I met that day).

Rocks we climbed along the beach on Muuido when the tide was low, on our first day on the island

Rocks we climbed along the beach on Muuido when the tide was low

The second day of our weekend trip we went back to the bus stop thinking we would have to endure another horrible bus ride in order to get to Silmido, a small island that you can walk over to when the tide is low. Luckily, we met the most amazing, generous, and hospitable group of Koreans ever. Jina, a German-Korean girl who speaks perfect Korean (it’s very useful to have her around as it is much easier to get by with someone who speaks the local language), approached the group of Koreans to ask them about the bus and they happened to be producers of a Korean TV broadcaster KBS, and after a short conversation they gave us traditional Korean snacks and offered us a ride to Silmido as they were heading there too. KBS had rented a whole bus for the crew and they had nine free spots on the bus, which worked out extremely well for us (there were eight of us). Their generosity did not stop there: once we arrived to Silmido they invited us to join their barbecue on the island. They were so welcoming and warm. I couldn’t believe that a group of people would be so nice to eight strangers they had just randomly met on an island. Afterwards we walked over to Silmido, picked up some trash (since it was what the KBS producers did), and then joined in for an afternoon of games (frisbee and a sport that is a mixture of volleyball and soccer). As if that was not enough, the KBS crew gave us a ride back to Seoul for free. We were all very much surprised and happy about meeting the greatest group of people possible. They definitely made our weekend trip that much more enjoyable.

Enjoying the barbecue provided by the KBS producers, the most generous and amazing group of people I have ever met.  KBS is a Korean television broadcaster

Enjoying the barbecue provided by the KBS producers, the most generous and amazing group of people I have ever met

Coming back to Seoul meant that we had to get back to school and our regular everyday duties and work, but this weekend will definitely be one of the best weekends in Korea. Not only have I experienced so many new things and seen a new side to this country I now call home, but I have also met an amazing group of people who will always be on my mind when I meet strangers that might need help or are on a search for good time. 🙂

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