How easy is it to see Korean idols while living in Seoul?

Surprisingly, it’s not that hard. Information spreads around through social media and word of mouth, so if you do your research you can find where your favorite idol will be. Having friends who are into K-Pop will help as well.

That’s how I managed to see two members from EXO. My friend, who is an exchange student, asked our group if we wanted to join her to visit the S.M Entertainment building. She said two members from EXO were going to leave to perform on a music show that morning. We all agreed and headed out at 9 a.m. on Sunday to Apgujeong where the building was located.

When we got there, we were expecting a huge crowd of people that we wouldn’t be able to see the front door. It was shocking to most of us that the crowd wasn’t big so we were able to see who would come out of the building.

A white van parked in front of the entrance and I’ll admit that the driver was yelling at the fans to move back. It wasn’t polite. He was yelling but then again those fans weren’t moving when the van came in. Even though the van was parked in front of the entrance, it didn’t stop the fans from crowding around the van and looking inside to see if anyone was in there.

We waited for an hour for the two members to come out of the building. The worst part was that it was freezing that day. It didn’t help that S.M Entertainment was close to the Han River. It made everything even colder. There were times when the front doors opened that we thought they were going to come out but it was only the driver.

When the two members from EXO came out, the fans started moving closer and pushing everyone around just to get close to them. They were screaming and cameras were clicking just to get pictures of them.

The members, Baekhyun and Suho, were out the door and into the van within seconds. I missed capturing Baekhyun in my picture but I still saw the side of his face. Suho appeared more since he was in the back. My friend, the one who invited us, was in the front and saw Baekhyun a few feet away from her. She became emotional because he was her favorite member from EXO. She recalled seeing that he had two pimples on his cheek.

I have never met or seen a celebrity before in my life, so this was an incredible experience. It felt amazing that I actually saw two members from a K-pop group even if it lasted for a few seconds. It was a new experience that I would never forget. If I get the chance to meet Baekhyun and Suho or all 12 members of EXO like this then I would do it again.

When it was all over, I noticed that the fans weren’t only girls. There were a few guys from Yonsei University who were there as well. I recognized one of them because he was at orientation.

There are other ways to see your favorite idols than waiting outside the entertainment building for hours. K-Pop groups hold concerts and they usually post the dates on their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and other websites that might be in Korean. Another method to see them is when they make their comeback. A comeback is when they release a new song, promote their new album, and perform on music programs. Some K-pop groups will have fan-signing events where you have to buy their album, register it, and hope you get in because there is a limit of how many fans can go. It’s the same for music programs except you wait outside for hours until you’re given a number and if it’s too high then your chances of getting in are very low. If the K-Pop group is too popular it’s harder to see them.

What if you’re not into K-Pop? There’s no need to worry about that. Not everything in Korea is about K-Pop and Gangnam Style isn’t played here. It’s about to be two months since I’ve been here and I haven’t heard Gangnam Style at all. There are other celebrities you can encounter here. There are movie premieres, possibly upcoming movies being filmed in Seoul, and film festivals.

Korea also has a big indie culture in Hongdae. Just take the subway from Sinchon to Hongik University and you’ll be in Hongdae surrounded by other college students, clubs, and indie bands performing outside. There are events for indie bands to perform like Hongdae Fest, which happened last month. Even though Hongdae Fest is over there are bands that perform outside every weekend.

Two performers at the Afternoon Stage in Hongdae

FNC Entertainment

Cube cafe which is part of Cube Entertainment

JYP Entertainment

S.M. Entertainment

The front door of S.M. Entertainment

Fans waiting outside the S.M. Entertainment building

The driver telling the fans to move

Suho leaving the S.M. Entertainment building

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As I previously said, I was going to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s a run down of the experience and maybe something one should think about before embarking on such an endeavour.

My journey started at 2 am on St. Patrick’s Day. I caught a bus to Bristol so I could get the the airport. But the bus company I used didn’t take me to the bus station so I had to take a taxi to the airport. I was freaking out because I hadn’t budgeted for one, but a lady was nice enough to let me hop in with her AND paid for it on her own. I rushed to the terminal and made it with 15 minutes to spare. Now, apparently people don’t need to know what gate they’re at until the airport decides which is weird to me as an American, since all that info is typically on the ticket. Nope, on the giant screens in the airport it has your flight and where your heading to, then it has a countdown to when your gate information will be posted. Its a little irritating to me but hey, its not my country so I have no say. And a European would probably think travelling in America to be odd because all the information is put out there for you to do with it as you wish. Anyway, the flight was uneventful. We got to the Dublin Airport and it was decorated in green, white, and orange. Its gotta suck to be an immigration agent in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. The lady was like “how long are you here for?” “Just until the 19th” STAMP. To  my travelling companions: “Same?” “Yes.” STAMP. STAMP. So, I guess technically I can go back to Ireland within 90 days from the 17th of March and still be legal.

 

So we made our way to the bus station and paid 28 euros for a three day all city bus pass. The bus couldn’t drop us off as close as it normally would because the streets were shut down. So we traipsed through the city enjoying the general merriment of the people. I bought a green hat. It was surprising how few people were in green. I thought the entire country would be covered with it but no. A lot of Irish men, women, and kids were in normal clothes and the tourists were more green-ed out. We sat down and ate breakfast anticipating the day, then we journeyed to find a place to watch the parade from. We ended up further down the route, so even though the parade started at 12 it didn’t start for us until about 1:30. We ended up chatting with an Irishwoman who brought her three kids and two nephews to watch the parade, it being her youngest’s first time to see the parade. They were all very sweet, from the country and spoke some Gaelic for us. The irish have very light features: blondes as far as the eye can see and bright, light eye colours. Unlike the English, they have a more manly presence in the sense that the English have a more youthful appearance while the irish are very mature looking at younger ages. (I hope that makes sense.) The parade was kind of anti climactic, there were a lot of American High School marching bands and LSU was there too. But it was a nice way to kill time. You can check out my instagram @yannichip if you want to see some videos of the parade. We journeyed a bit more and it was obvious people were steadily getting more drunk. We decided to split up and find our hotels. They were staying together and I was staying separately because we booked our trips at different points.

So my journey began. Google maps told me it was 9 minutes walking from the city centre when I booked which is part of why I booked it. BUT, when I made my way to it, I realised it was 40 MINUTES away walking. I could’ve taken public transportation, but the buses were shut down still because of the parade. By the time I showed up, I was even more exhausted than before. I ended up passing out. We were supposed to meet at 8pm in the city centre and I was running late. I felt so bad. I texted them and found out they JUST got to their hotel half an hour before I texted them. Apparently some buses weren’t running so it took them way longer than expected. It was easier for them to stay in the hotel because they wouldn’t have had a way to come back. I was upset, but I couldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t want to pay 60 euros just to get to the city and back. So I walked around the city for a bit and enjoyed the sights. There was a carnival and drunk people EVERYWHERE. It was kind of fun to experience it sober. Even if we did end up going out and drinking, I wouldn’t have let myself get beyond tipsy because I have a rule about getting drunk in foreign places. Even if I were to go to Orlando from Tampa to go out, I wouldn’t get beyond tipsy. So after about an hour, I went back to my hotel and snuggled in for the night.

The next day we were supposed to meet at 1. However, I am horrible with directions… sometimes. So it took me 40 minutes to find them. By then they’d left because they were getting cold. So I journeyed some more on my own while trying to find wifi to text them. My phone was working but theirs wouldn’t so we could only Facebook message.  I ended up sitting in Starbucks for a bit enjoying a cinnamon roll before I left.

I went back to my hotel to charge my phone and we decided to meet up at St. Patrick’s church. I got lost (again) but we finally found each other. We got on a hop-on, hop-off tour bus and enjoyed the sights. We went back to their hostel for a bit so they could put their stuff down, then headed out to a pup.

I finally got to try Irish beef stew! Except, it had lamb but I can live with that, we shared a pint of guinness which I ended up drinking on my own because its a dark stout (?) and the other girls didn’t really like it. It’s not my fave but we paid for it so I was gonna drink it! They both ordered Irish coffee; one with Bailey’s and the other with Irish whiskey.

We contemplated going out but decided against it because we had to wake up early for our flights. I went to bed. I SHOULD HAVE packed but I didn’t. I only brought a bookbag, thankfully. I checked out at about 5:30 and thought my flight had to be checked in by 7:30. So I freaked out and walked the 40 minutes to the city centre to take the bus to the airport. Where I found out my flight check in was at 8:30. Cool.

All in all Ireland was fun. If I could go back and do it again I would go the 15th – 19th because the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration starts the 14th and ends the 17th. I would’ve liked to explore the Guinness factory and the Jameson Distillery. Ireland is a beautiful place and the people are very lively (except for the 18th of March because the whole city is hungover). I’d love to go back one day and explore Cork and Kilkenny.

Bonjour! Sorry I fell off the radar again! Here in Canada, or at least at Concordia, the majority of your grade in a given class rides on your exams. Unfortunately I didn’t do so well in my midterms for Genetics or Org Chem I, BUT I still have a chance at redeeming myself if I do well in the finals. So I’ve been kicking it up a notch as far as studying goes.

(Although it looks like I’m going to be doing Org I over again when I come back in May regardless, if I want to be able to move on to Org II.)

That said, I’d like to take this time to catch up on what’s been going on this past month and a half. Concordia had its “Reading Week” a few weeks ago and March 1st was the all-night festival Nuit Blanche. St Patrick’s Day weekend was our trip to NYC, and just last weekend was my excursion to Ottawa, Canada’s capital (which unfortunately Graham could not make it too).

February 14-17

First, “Reading week.” It’s treated like what we would call Spring Break, but it’s really supposed to be a time when students are given time to study and catch up on assignments. Although they should know better than to think that college students are going to spend an entire week off of school just to do that. On Valentine’s Day after class I met up with Graham at Bonaventure to take a train up to Quebec City for a second visit. We heard that there was a parade going on that weekend to cap off the Winter Carnival, plus there were a couple other things in the city we didn’t get to see from the school trip. We stayed at the Clarion Quebec. It was kind of pricey and it was a ways off from all the places we wanted to see so it made transportation back and forth something of a pain (that combined with the traffic), but it was the only hotel we could find that wasn’t all sold out (no doubt because of the Carnival). And it was lovely and comfortable.

That Saturday we headed out to the Aquarium du Québec (Aquarium of Quebec) during the day and downtown to see the Winter Carnival’s night parade.

One of the many seals at Aquarium du Quebec...but one of my few good pictures. The darlings wouldn't hold still!

Seals are very fast and agile in the water. They zip through it like torpedoes.

Hullo there!

 

The walruses were larger and much easier to take pictures of. They've had their tusks removed, presumably so they can't hurt each other. The presentation was unfortunately all in French so I couldn't understand what exactly the trainers said.

Awww. Almost looks like it's in its natural habitat, doesn't it?

 

Most of the exhibits were outside; we were freezing our buns off, but the bears, walruses and seals must have ate it up. I can only imagine what they do for the summer.

I wonder how owls at zoos and aquariums feel about being kept up during the day? To be fair, the place was fairly quiet when we stopped by.

I'm astonished with how well adapted arctic foxes are to their environment so they can blend in. I almost missed this little guy.

 

Daddy seahorses with that tell-tale glow.

 

These jellyfishes were kept in a dark tank with a light that changed colors. Mesmerizing!

 

A view of the Awesome Ocean exhibit from overhead. I love it when you can walk through a tunnel and see the fishes up close.

One of the harbor seals. Unfortunately we missed their show by the time we got to the aquarium, though we did catch the walrus show, which I filmed.

I posted a few videos on the Vlog on YouTube: one is a clip from the walrus presentation at the Aquarium (they didn’t do very much but then they’re not dolphins so I guess you can only expect so much energy and acrobatics from these big guys), and the other are clips from the Winter Carnival night parade.

 

The next day we decided that we pretty much saw all that there was to see regarding the Carnival the first time around and instead visited the Musée de la civilisation à Québec (Museum of Civilization) in Old Quebec. Graham and I are suckers for zoos and museums and the like. Two exhibits that they featured here that caught our attention were the History of Video Games exhibit and “Haiti: A Country in Extremis,” an exhibition of work from various Haitian slum artists (the latter which I sadly could not take pictures of, though that’s probably just as well. A lot of the art featured was dark and provocative, reflecting Voodoo themes and social and political commentary; the sculptures were made out of literal garbage and scrap metal and even featured real human skulls and bones).

At the exhibit entrance, a character from one of Graham's favorite video game franchises, Assassin's Creed.

One of the first arcade games.

Graham having a ball with Legend of Zelda. They also had Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros, Jumpman and more, all free to play with. I thought Graham would never want to leave!

We tried to see a movie later that day, but as it turned out I made a mistake about the theater I’d found. Everything playing was in French so we had to wait until we could go back to Montreal to see The Lego Movie (which we did; for a flick about plastic building blocks it was actually quite awesome! If you haven’t seen it yet I implore you to). The trip wasn’t a complete waste though; we did end up having dinner at a nice rib joint nearby that had a soup and fruit salad buffet. Plus there was a Wal-Mart that had pants at Graham’s size (he’s been harping a lot lately about Canada’s, or at least Quebec’s shortcomings, one of them being that they seem to lack clothes in his size. Poor fella is homesick).

We came back to Montreal that Monday night and spent the rest of the week exploring some of the city’s highlights: Old Montreal and Olympic Park. I will post the pictures for these later.

March 1

Nuit Blanche is an all-night festival at the end of Montreal’s Festival of Lights, where activities (mostly free) are hosted all over the city until 3 am.

We got a pamphlet from a booth at Place des Arts listing where and when everything was going on for the festival. We checked out the Biodome at Olympic Park first because we read that a “murder mystery” game was being hosted there that would give us an excuse to walk through it for free.

To our dismay however, it was all in French. Actually, just about all the activities were in French. Plus we ended up overestimating our stamina; even though I wanted to be out all night we ended up calling it quits around midnight. But it was worth having a look around the city regardless.

Penguins in a special exhibit outside the Biodome, for tonight only!

Me with a blonde French-Canadian knockoff of Elvis. He serenaded me before we took this picture; I don't know what he said but it sounded gorgeous~!

 

The neighborhood around the Olympic stadium seemed to be going by a 1930s San Francisco theme. Here are some kids fooling around with a couple "Alcatraz inmates" at the ice skating rink. Who knew cons could be so good with kids?

 

The centerpiece of Nuit Blanche at Place des Arts. The noise, cold and crowds just about drove Graham crazy!

 

The Grand Choir of Montreal at St. James United, performing excerpts of Mozart. Probably the one thing Graham enjoyed all night. This church has seen better days and we made sure to make a donation on the way out.

 

A guy playing U2 in the Metro car in front of ours. The kids in there were going crazy; boy I wish we were in that car! Although there are sometimes musicians playing at the station, they don't usually rock out right in the train. Tonight was just that special, I guess.

March 15-17

This St. Patrick’s weekend we tagged along with CISA to see New York City. We were confided mostly within Manhattan and stayed at this really neat place called the New York City Hostel International. It’s like a hotel except you share a room with up to 9 other people and share a bathroom/showers with the entire floor. From what I understand, a lot of the students that reserved spots on this trip had to cancel because they didn’t have passports or couldn’t get them in time. Good news (at least for us two) was that it ended up with just Graham and I in one room at the hostel. Bad news is that we ended up driving to NYC and back in a much smaller bus. For 7 hours each way.

While we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do here (let’s face it, it’s impossible to see everything in just one weekend, especially if you’re with a group of people that keep holding everyone else up so they can go shopping), it was nice to be back in America for a while. The food was fabulous and we took many pictures. Plus Graham got a nice new pair of gloves from a street vendor.

A shot of Central Park. We'd been in the cold for so long it was almost shocking how warm it was up here in NYC that weekend. Not a trace of snow in sight!

Graham seems to have gotten very comfortable with the Metro system in Montreal. I have to say, Montreal's system is a lot cleaner and faster than NYC's, and the trains don't make as many strange noises. Then again, NYC is larger than Montreal...

 

The notorious Times Square.

Gustavo (or "Gus," as I call him), the coordinator of our trip. He's a colorful character; he'll direct oncoming traffic and eat leftovers from someone else's table at a restaurant, but he's always cheerful. He might appear dazed because we just finished dancing at Times Square; somebody filmed us and put us in their music video! (Point of reference: I'm in the big blue goose-feather jacket and glasses.)

 

Central Park from the "Top of the Rock" (the Rockefeller Center).

 

Another view from the Top of the Rock: The Empire State Building on the left, and off to the right on the one of the islands is the Statue of Liberty. We went on the Staten Island ferry later on to get a closer look.

 

The Empire State Building, from ground level.

 

The Flatiron Building, down the street from the Empire State Building. What a stroke of ingenuity to be able to build a skyscraper literally shaped to fit into the curb!

 

A panoramic view of the city, shot from a park by the water.

 

The Statue of Liberty, taken from the deck of the Staten Island ferry.

 

The Bull of Wall Street. Go Bulls!

 

Does anyone else find something symbolic about a church graveyard situated in front of the American Stock Exchange?

 

Presumably the prospective new World Trade Center. The 9/11 Memorial was nearby but due to construction and time constraints we unfortunately didn't get to see it.

 

At our dad's recommendation, we went to see the American Museum of Natural History by Central Park. I don't think we got to see even a quarter of what this place had to offer before it closed (NYC is known for among other things its massive museums) but we made do with what time we did have. Here's a shot of the Hall of Biodiversity.

 

The centerpiece of the Hall of Ocean Life: the Blue Whale, only the largest animal to have ever existed on Earth.

 

A slice of a 1400-year-old sequoia tree in the Hall of North American Forests.

 

Our ancestors at the Hall of Evolution.

 

Graham next to a meteorite in the Hall of Meteorites/Gems/Minerals. He says that if the math weren't so hard he might have wanted to be an astronomer instead. Only my brother could look so happy standing next to a rock.

 

Graham in the Hostel Lounge room, pensive as usual.

 

The St. Patrick's Day Parade. I have to say I found it rather underwhelming; I was expecting more along the lines of Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. But this was mostly marching bands and cops. From what I heard on the radio, Guinness withdrew sponsorship which might explain that. Something about protesting for the gay community's inclusion, I believe.

 

Feeling lucky!

 

The Woodbury Outlets in Central Valley, our last stop. One drawback to traveling with other students is that they get so caught with shopping that they end up holding everyone else up for almost an hour at a time. By the time we got back to Montreal it was 2 am; boy, I was so tired and frustrated I was crying by the time we got to the border (where, again, we were held up so some of the kids could buy beer and cigarettes and other "duty-free" things). I know that sounds silly, but I have a thing about schedules, especially when I was supposed to go to class the next day.

March 23

March 23 was CISA’s last day trip for the school year, this time to Ottawa, Canada’s capital in Ontario. After what happened with the NYC trip I was hesitant to go along, but then I thought, “This might be the only chance I have at seeing the city.” Unfortunately Graham couldn’t come along because he had too much work to do for school. Which is too bad; I loved New York but he was kind of overwhelmed by it. Even though Ottawa was about -15 degrees Celsius (the tour guide mentioned that it’s one of the coldest capital cities in the world), I think he would have liked it. We mostly spent the day touring the city’s hot spots and the government buildings. I didn’t see any tulips naturally; their tulip festival starts May 9, and we’ll be back in Florida by then.

(Fun fact: Ottawa’s Tulip Festival commemorates Canada’s role in helping the Dutch royal family when Germany occupied the Netherlands in WWII; as thanks the Dutch gave them thousands of tulip bulbs after the war.)

Canada's Supreme Court. Looks pretty austere for a court, doesn't it?

 

The Parliament with the fire fountain in front of it: perfect for a chilly day like this one was.

 

The Terry Fox memorial across the street from Parliament. Terry Fox was an athlete who tried running across Canada for cancer research. He didn't get to finish, having been battling cancer himself that would eventually kill him, but this statue was raised by his parents in his honor.

 

The War Memorial erected to commemorate WWI (and in the wake of WWII, no less). Elgin Street, where this is located, is a sort of literal line between the Irish-British and French-Canadian cultures that have influenced this city.

 

Parliament Hill is made up of West Block, East Block and Center Block (where the Parliament is). East Block is on the left, and across the street on the right is where the Prime Minister works. In the center a group of people are holding a demonstration; I'm not sure what they were protesting. I couldn't read their signs and everyone seemed to play dumb when I asked.

 

The exterior of the Parliament Library, the only surviving feature of the original 1867 Parliament. A fire in 1916 destroyed most of the original building, though the iron doors of the library spared it from this fate.

 

A view of the entire city from the top of Parliament Hill; the channel is completely frozen over.

Monument of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, two men who met in secret to unite Canada. The monument stands on top of a "whispering wall," where you can stand on one end and ear what the other person is saying on the other end.

 

The Fairmont Château Laurier, one of swankiest hotels you'll ever find since 1912.

 

The House of Commons inside the Parliament.

Inside the Parliament Library. In the center is a statue of Queen Victoria, who was Queen of England when Canada was established. She picked Ottawa to be the capital; Montreal was considered for a while but there was too much social turmoil going on at the time and it was too close to the US border (War of 1812 and all). Her image is all over Parliament.

 

Victoria's coronation portrait. Of all the royal portraits displayed, only hers and the painting for Queen Elizabeth II are originals. The rest are replicas.

Coronation portrait for Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England. Notice that the Crown Jewels are not present in her picture.

 

The Senate's chamber inside Parliament.

The Parliament rotunda. According to the tour guide, the rotunda's always changing to reflect new chapters in the country's history.

At the end of the tour I ended up winning a free coffee mug for answering a trivia question right about what Ottawa means (“To trade” in Algonquin), and I bought some maple syrup for my mom at the farmer’s market. I hope she likes it!

Well, that’s pretty much all I’ve got for now. Next time I’ll fill you in on some of Montreal’s highlights. Until then, good luck with finals, everyone!

Two of my friends from Tampa came to visit me  for their spring break. Since I live alone and have an extra bed they were able to stay with me for the week. It was nice have familiar faces around. I got to introduce them to all of the new friends I have made here, and we went on a trip to explore Amsterdam together.

Our Amsterdam trip was booked very last minute so the flights were a little pricey. If you were to plan ahead, it should not cost more than $100 for round trip. It was not as expensive in Amsterdam, drinks were very cheap! However, it is not a place I would recommend for shopping. They had a lot of coffee shops everywhere, but marijuana is not legal, merely tolerated. Overall, I really liked Amsterdam! If you are planning to visit, I recommend going on a bike tour to start off you trip there.

I have gotten together with a few other friends and booked trips to other cities in Europe. I am very excited for the upcoming months!

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South Korea has a lot of things to discover that I won’t see back at home. Fast food places deliver, celebrity advertisements, and mirrors. Lots and lots of mirrors. Those are just a few things right now but they were shocking to me when I got here. After being in South Korea for a month, I’m used to it. I don’t think I’ll try fast food delivery anytime soon though. It’s been tempting to eat burgers whenever I pass by a fast food place because it reminds me of home. The reason I try to avoid fast food places is because it’s expensive here and the portions are smaller. It’s better to eat Korean food.

I’ve seen mirrors outside of bathrooms, in the hallway of Yonhi Hall, and next to the water fountains in the cafeteria. I see students checking their appearance more often than I see it back at home. It could be that image is important here. The mirrors are not only at Yonsei. I see them in the subway stations and there’s a big one outside the U-Plex department store. I’m used to it now and I often find myself checking my hair or straightening my clothes. It makes me wish my dorm had a full-length mirror.

The subway is slowly becoming a method of transportation I’m getting used to. In Florida, I use my car to drive wherever I need to go and the city I live in is small so you don’t see a lot of buses. Anyway, the subway is cheap and fast, and the system is easy to understand after a few tries. Also, it’s very clean! I’ve been on the subways in New York and it’s dirty with rats running across the tracks. The subways in Korea are clean and safe, some have cute alerts telling you the subway is on its way, and videos showing proper subway etiquette. For example, if you’re sitting down and an elderly person walks in then the proper thing to do is to give your seat to them.

The buses are cheap as well when you want to get around the city that’s too far to walk to or you don’t want to take a taxi. However, they aren’t as smooth as the subway. Traffic in Korea is crazy because drivers are trying to get to places, honking at cars and people to hurry them up, and cutting others off. Buses make it a bit more scarier. The bus drivers weave through traffic as if they’re small cars. It’s shocking at first.

I joined a club called ISF (International Student Fellowship) where I can make friends and learn Korean. It’s almost like the Language Exchange program they offer at Yonsei except with more room. The club also has the word “fellowship,” which reminds me of the first Lord of The Ring film. The welcoming party was two weeks ago and I was introduced to other exchange students and Korean students. They were all very kind and the Korean students weren’t disappointed when I told them I barely knew Korean. The first class was last Thursday and I learned more words as well as Hangul. It’s fun right now and I’m looking forward to the next lesson.

As a reminder, make sure to make copies of every important document you receive such as your acceptance letter, housing payments, TB test reports, passport, etc. I ran into a problem with International House at Yonsei because the front desk lost my chest x-ray report, which was the TB test report. I gave it to them on the day of check-in, their book had a check mark proving that I turned it in, but they lost the paper. I didn’t have a copy of my report because I didn’t think they would lose it. After talking to the front desk, I asked for an extension and they gave it to me since it wasn’t my fault. I had no luck getting in contact with my doctor so I couldn’t get it emailed to me. Instead, I had to go to a clinic in Korea to get another report done. My roommate came with me since she knew where the clinic was and knew that the directions given to us at orientation wasn’t going to help. The best part was that the x-ray was very cheap, barely $2. Back home, my x-ray would cost a fortune if I didn’t have health insurance. Once I got my report back, I went to the front desk and asked them to make a copy of it before giving it to them. Problem solved.

The next entry will be a bit more entertaining because it’ll have something to do with Korean music.

The mirror in front of U-Plex

Subway Station

Celebrity advertisements in Myeongdong

SHINee's Minho and Taemin advertising Etude

EXO on a commercial for a mobile phone game.

EXO's Luhan at a Nature Republic store.

Super Junior-M above the Tony Moly store.

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I told a Korean-American classmate that I loved Korea, that I loved Seoul, that I’m so happy to be here, that there is a seemingly infinite amount of exciting and wonderful things in this city.

“Yeah, that’ll wear off,” he said.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine that I could be only experiencing a phase of culture shock. I feel so truly, incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to study at Yonsei. I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, where I have wanted to be for so long.

I have read from several sources that Koreans tend to be more reserved or “closed-off” than Westerners, but I haven’t found this to be true in any valuable sense yet. The people here express their feelings and readily talk about things that are important to them. I enjoy listening to people talk about their families especially; I think the general Korean family dynamic interests me because it differs so vastly from my own.

Being here has made me realize the extent of my past apathy and lack of direction. The Yonsei students I’ve met know what they want to do in life, and they have known since they were in middle school. The amount of energy and passion that it takes to accomplish what they have is so admirable and inspiring to me.

Now that classes are starting to kick into gear, I’m beginning to see that I could possibly maybe hold my own with the native students. Nevertheless, my classmates, exchange and native alike, are usually willing to help me out if necessary.

There is not really a clear topic or specific story to serve as the main point of this post, but if I had to pick something, I would say that the honeymoon phase of culture shock may be the backbone of the things I am writing now. The negative aspects of life in Korea are not yet apparent or important to me as of now, and again, I cannot fathom that this is a temporary state. Random people tell me I’m pretty and that I have a “small face” (considered attractive in Korean culture). I have a Korean friend who held my hand or linked arms with me while we walked along the streets of 인사동 (Insadong). I can sit down in a restaurant and eat 비빔밥 (bibimbap) at 1 in the morning for less than the equivalent of $5. The language barrier only results in occasional awkward laughter, and I actually enjoy not being able to inadvertently understand strangers’ conversations. The words I do not understand have a mysteriousness about them… I can imagine that the (most likely) inconsequential things that people around me are discussing are interesting and unique.

Though when I gaze upward at Seoul’s starless night sky, I know at heart that the same rhythm of daily human life, the same universal pulse is present beneath the superficial layer that, until some point in the foreseeable future, is still so exotic and intriguing to me.

A singer performing near 신촌 station

Sticker pictures with LE (Language Exchange) partner

 

강남 (Gangnam) at night

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Mardi Gras

This post is about two weeks late, since the start of classes resulted in my blog posts being a little back-logged, but the Mardi Gras parade was an incredible event very much worth documenting! We left for the city early in the afternoon to meet up with some other friends and grab dinner at a pub located in outer Sydney, which meant quite a lot of walking–though the food was certainly worth it!

The parade was a combined celebration of the LGBT community in Sydney and of Mardi Gras. The atmosphere surrounding each crowded side of the street was overwhelmingly positive, as people stood on milkcrates or on balconies to get a better view, and the outfits of many parade-goers were creative & flamboyant.

I was very surprised to learn that gay marriage had not yet been legalized in Australia, and there was a great deal of frustrated undertones throughout the entire parade. Bystanders I chatted with spoke strongly against the current prime minister, Tony Abbott, and his opposition to marriage equality legislation. There seems to be a substantial amount of animosity directed towards this current prime minister, as I have been asked at least half a dozen times on campus to sign a petition that aimed to oust Mr. Abbott out of office.

The floats that passed were flashy and often lit & synchronized with music while marchers, adorned in coordinated outfits, would follow with choreographed dances/rhythmic movements. Many people were dressed in almost farcical get-ups, with men wearing nothing but glitter and g-strings and others with huge, neon butterfly wings…there was never a dull moment watching from the sideline!

 

The parade was certainly a celebration of individuality and self-expression while at the same time containing a very powerful political statement. I was told that this was the second largest LGBT pride parade in the world, second only to San Francisco, and I was so excited to arrive in Sydney with enough time to be part of it!

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The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of new sights, sounds, and experiences here in the vibrant city of Sydney! I have been amazed not only by the iconic sights of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but by the abundance of green areas in an otherwise metropolitan area. This country has nearly seamlessly integrated the natural world with our man-made structures, and it is an incredible environment to behold. For example, I was walking through Circular Quay around the harbour when several immense, dark creatures began flying over the skyscrapers, passing above the Opera House and continuing over the habour. After a few minutes, it dawned on me that these were giant bats flying out of the Royal Botanical Gardens–I later looked them up and found they were a grey-headed flying fox, a megabat that is unfortunately in severe decline throughout Australia. Nonetheless, it was such an unusual but wonderful thing to see such fantastic wildlife coexisting alongside us.

Our university sponsored a themed harbour cruise after our orientation session on February 26th, and we all dressed up as hipsters and hippies and took a long loop around the harbour! A storm moved in while we were on the water, and it was incredible to watch the lightning light up the entire bay. Below are a few of my favorite pictures from the night :)

As this was our first time in the city, we weren’t one hundred percent sure of how the trains operated (it costs about $5-7 AUD and takes 40 minutes to get into the city) and so we ended up simply following the masses of people spilling from one train into another and trekking through the city. We knew they had to be going to the harbour cruise since everyone was dressed in full hippie costumes–which made it pretty easy not to get lost.

Another trip to the city (nonsponsored this time, so we had to navigate without our trusty flower-crowned guides) took us into a place called The Rocks, which is just beside the harbour.

After our obligatory touristy photos, we decided to grab some dinner at a place called Pancakes on the Rocks. And what a place it was! I had half of an unusual but delectable pizza with pesto, ham, pineapple, and tomatoes :) And of course, we were in a pancake house so we indulged in the Coco Berry pancake dish–a pair of chocolate pancakes covered in chocolate and raspberry sauce, then topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of coconut.

My friends and I quickly agreed that Pancakes on the Rocks should be our go-to food establishment in Sydney, and after all, it was open 24/7. It’s interesting that most shops and restaurants close early here relative to places in the United States. After the harbour cruise, we walked back to the train station at 10:30pm, and nearly everything was closed. It’s a very interesting switch after being used to eateries and/or convenience stores being open 24 hours a day.

As a whole, Sydney has far exceeded my all of expectations and I am thrilled to have another 4 months to spend exploring this beautiful city!

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Leaving Early

I am legally allowed to stay in England until July 25, but I made the decision to leave as soon as the semester is over.

You see, in England student have “Easter Holiday,” where they get the entire month of April off to go home or on holiday. I will be using that time to travel and explore England and potentially go to Morocco and France. After I come back I will be packing, moving out and heading to London for one last fling in England. Hopefully I will be seeing to theatrical performances in the West End (London’s version of Broadway). I’m really sad to walk away, but I have opportunities in America which are time sensitive and I know the wonders and joy England has brought me cannot last forever. I’m headed off to Ireland for St. PADDY’S (nooooooot ‘Patty’s,’ Patty is a woman and Paddy is the nickname for Patrick) Day. So sometime next week once the sobriety kicks in, I’ll be writing all about my journeys in the wondrous country of Ireland. I’m really excited for the future and I know leaving early is the right choice for me.

I have been in South Korea for about two weeks, getting settled in the dorms at Yonsei University and preparing for classes. Time hasn’t been on my side until now.

My name is Tatiana Cubas and I am a student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. I am a mass communications major, which is the reason I decided to join the exchange program to study in South Korea this spring. Yonsei University provides courses that count toward my degree.

It was easy to sign up for the program but it was stressful with all the paperwork and funds to worry about. At one point I wanted to quit and stay home just so the stress would go away. However, a friend of mine told me to keep going because I would regret it if I quit. Leaving my family was hard and the flights were a bit harder. Since I live in Florida, my flights had to depart from Tampa, Chicago, Japan and then finally arrive to South Korea. It was an extremely long day but thankfully none of the flights were delayed.

One of the things that did bother me was the decrease in pressure while on my flight to Chicago. I got this horrible pain above my left eyebrow. When my flight landed, the pain went away but I looked it up to see what it was. I found out that it was because of the pressure and other people experienced the same excruciating pain. I was afraid the pain would come back on the 13 hour flight to Japan but nothing happened. Also, 13 hours in a plane is very long. Half way through the flight I didn’t know how to sit anymore. The good thing was that United Airlines provided a lot of foods and drinks.

The moment I landed at Incheon International Airport, passed through immigration and picked up my bags, I felt out of place. There were signs in English so I didn’t get lost but being a country different from my own made me feel lost. I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to be easy getting used to South Korea. It was too late to turn back anyway and I certainly didn’t want to be stuck on a plane for so many hours again anytime soon.

February 24 I checked into my dorm at International House on campus. The process went by easily when I gave them my paperwork and they gave me my room key. My roommate wasn’t in yet so I had the dorm to myself for a few hours. I unpacked a few things, went to get something to eat and took a nap once I got back to my dorm.

I met my roommate later on that night and found out she’s Hispanic just like me. It was comforting that I could speak to someone in Spanish if I wanted.

Orientation was the following day and that went on from 9 a.m. to almost 10 p.m. It ended nicely with the Mentors Club taking the exchange students to dinner. I was able to meet other exchange students and make friends. After a few days of settling in, I went exploring with a few friends to see what was nearby. I also found out Korean food is very spicy.

I think I’ll save culture shock and the other adventures I’ve been on for another entry.

Yonsei University

Taking a picture of these guys taking a picture of Yonsei

Nightlife in Seoul, South Korea

Spicy Ramen with Dumplings from Food Cafe

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