KrissInKorea: My Pre-semester Activities

March 15, 2019

I had approximately nine days after landing in South Korea before my semester started. Even though that sounds like a lot of time, it went by pretty fast. I spent the first couple of days trying to become more acquainted with the area I was living in. There’s actually quite a bit in the neighborhood where I am staying and in the dorm building itself. If you walk a little ways away from SK Global, you’ll be able to find a convenience store, a Paris Baguette, some coffee shops, and a bunch of different restaurants.

In the basement of the SK you can find a 24-hour convenience store, a cafe, a burger spot, an ice cream shop, and a bunch of other small places to eat. Even though only international students live in SK Global, during lunch and dinner hours, you can find this area packed with all different students from Yonsei. My favorite places so far have to be the restaurant that sells spicy beef pho and the cafe that makes super good iced mocha lattes!

A few days before the semester started all of us international students attended our orientation. It lasted about two hours and we were given a lot of information. We learned about class add and drop periods, visas, alien registration cards, public safety, and different clubs that are easily accessible to foreigners.

After the orientation we were able to sign up for some of the clubs mentioned, as well as sign up for one of the two day tours that were set up for international students. My friends and I decided to go on the “Day 2” tour which would take us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), the War Memorial of Korea, a Korean style buffet, and lastly, a cruise ship ride on the Han River.

The 경복궁 palace was absolutely stunning. It was about a twenty minute drive to the palace from Yonsei University. As we neared the palace, Seoul started to take on a different look than what I was used to. Seoul is usually filled with skyscrapers and large businesses, but the town that surrounded the palace looked more traditional and more like a modernized Korean village. The tour guide mentioned that there is legislation in Korea that prevents the construction of buildings over a certain height in the district surrounding the palace. The Korean government is trying to preserve a part of traditional Korea by taking care of the old-style houses that surround the area and by protecting the integrity of the palace. What impressed me the most was the existence of a massive palace in the middle of a bustling city. When you enter the palace walls, you enter a different time period. It is a place filled with a history and culture that is foreign to me. I very much enjoyed learning about the different practices held in the castle, as well as the power dynamics in place during this time.

One of the first things we learned was about the monkeys that protect the different parts of the palace. According to historians, the more monkeys that are atop a roof, the more protection they provide to that certain area. The palace builders strategically placed them where the king would be most often, as well as in places where he would meet with his court to make important decisions.

The queen and king did not live together, but their houses are diagonal to one another. Although the king is allowed to have numerous wives, the first wife is primary and gets to be closest to the king. When I first arrived in Korea, one of the first things I noticed in the dorm was that the floors were heated. This was very foreign to me, but after learning that the palace was heated via the floor, it all made a lot more sense. I learned that people in old-time Korea slept on the floor mainly because there were fires underneath the floor to heat the house from the ground up.

Once we left the palace we headed to the Korean War Memorial where we had the chance to learn about the many aspects of the Korean War. The museum had a bunch of interactive features and a lot of authentic war materials that were preserved. Our guide in the museum was the cutest old lady and you could tell she really loved the history she was talking about.

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Korean War Memorial

I learned a lot, and I was very happy to go because I now have a more informed outlook on Korean society and how the U.S. is connected to South Korea.

After we left the museum we went to an underground shopping center that had like 5 floors! It was so cool! We went to a Korean style buffet where they had tons of food. I ate until I almost died. Literally. My favorite dish was definitely the stir fried udon noodles and the Korean glazed chicken. I would 10 out of 10 visit again.

Next on our agenda was a cruise ship ride on the Han River. Although I had so much fun at both the palace and the museum, the boat ride was definitely the boat ride. The boat had a bunch of twinkly lights and the area onto the loading dock was pretty too.

While on the cruise ship we got to see Seoul’s breathtaking skyline while traveling at a comfortable pace on the boat. The night was pretty chilly, but the air was so crisp and fresh that it didn’t matter. We passed under more than four bridges and they each looked different. Since it was nighttime, the water looked black but you could see the lights of the boat reflecting in the water and it gave the whole experience a very dreamy effect.

The ride back to the dorm wasn’t too long but we were all so beat. We were out from 12pm to 10pm, which for many of us who were still trying to get over our jet lag, was killer. After a day of fun, learning, and sight seeing, though, it was great to finally get in bed and sleep!

 

 


Justine in Russia: Week 1!

February 7, 2018

Hi! It’s been able a week since I arrived in Saint Petersburg.  I’m a little surprised at how much and how little time I’ve spent here so far (makes no sense, but let me elaborate).

My first day in Saint Petersburg was not actually in the city, but instead at a hotel in the outskirts of the city, next to Pulkovo International Airport. CIEE holds orientation at the hotel for the first two days and depending on our housing situations, we all leave the hotel separately. The first days were stressful because the people who chose to live with a host family, were not given any information about them up until the day we arrived. I found out that my host family was just one person named Lyudmila, who was most likely going to be a grandma. I was not afraid of the fact that she was an older woman, but I was afraid of our language barrier considering I only know 1 semester of Russian.

 

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My hotel room (during orientation)

 


At the end of our two long days of orientation, it was finally time for us to be picked up by our host families. I finally met Lyudmila (she insists I call her Lyuda). I was terrified as I walked out to meet her, but everything turned out to be fine. I found out that she has hosted students with zero knowledge of Russian, which is a bit interesting to me considering she only knows a few words in English (like mushroom, chicken, day, morning). 

So far, we understand each other alright. I would say I understand 80% of her sentences, but occasionally I do have to pull out Yandex Translate (not Google) in order to respond to her. We have breakfast and dinner together every night (all 3 meals on weekends), and I have enjoyed our conversations so far. About 20% of our meals are just us smiling at each other, but it’s okay. I got a bit sad my second night here because I really wish that I am able to talk to her more about her life, but she said it’s completely normal for me to not know much right now. As days go by, I am able to talk to her more since I have language class almost everyday and I am happy with my progress so far.

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My bedroom in my host mother’s apartment!

An interesting thing I realized the past week is that Saint Petersburg has about 5 million residents, but I found the city to be extremely quiet. There are tons of people walking around and tons of cars/buses/trolleybuses going up and down the streets, but there is something extremely peaceful about the city. The only downside to this city so far is that there is so much snow to the point that the sidewalks are completely iced over and I even see locals slipping and falling (I fell only twice so far). My apartment is close to the city center, but far enough for it to be non-touristy.

As for the city, I have not explored much so far, but I did go to The Church of the Savior on Blood. I am not going to try to describe how this place blew me away, so I’ll just provide pictures of it.

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Outside the The Church of the Savior on Blood.

 

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The ceilings inside the The Church of the Savior on Blood.

 


My commute to school is approximately 40 minutes, but I am used to longer commutes since I am from New York City. We actually did not have class the first day of school, but we did have our language placement exams. I actually placed into Intermediate I (equivalent to 201), which I was happy about since I did not really review at all the past 1.5 months of winter break.

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I’m sorry, no one told me I would be going to school in a PALACE.

So far, I’m really enjoying this city, but there are still many things I have not done nor have I seen and I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences.

До скорой встречи (see you soon).


Justine G.

Жюстин, not Джастин


Olivia in Sweden: Back in Stockholm!

February 23, 2017

Went back to Stockholm!

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We went to one of the Royal Palaces that hosted the Treasury! This museum hosts some of the monarchy’s most treasured jewels, crowns, and swords. We were not permitted to take photos of the artifacts but here’s a stunning picture of what you see when you first enter the museum.

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The Hallwyl Museum allowed for some photography! This house once belonged to the Count and Countess von Hallwyl and boy oh boy did they live up to their noble names. It was a really cool insight into the late Victorian period of Stockholm (and it was free!) Check out their pool table, their marble bathtub, and marble shower!

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We also swung by the Royal Dramatic Theatre. The beautiful building was founded in 1788 and renowned architects, artists, and interior designers worked to make it so breathtaking. Unfortunately, most of the shows are solely Swedish, but maybe if I learn Swedish in time I can give it a try?

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Here is also a pic of Gamla Stan, or the Old Town. Very interesting to see where old meets new. It’s one of the greatest preserved medieval areas in Europe. Stockholm was founded in 1252.

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There were many attractions, such as bookstores, bars, restaurants, and little ice cream shops, including this Nutella haven.

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There’s so much to do in this city. It is so convenient that it’s only 40 minutes from Uppsala. Uppsala itself has some great historical attractions, which I can’t wait to share.


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