It’s been three weeks since I concluded my semester in Aix and one week since I returned to the States. I have taken this time to reflect on what I learned, on how I’ve grown, and the differences and similarities between French and American culture. I wanted to take a moment before returning to you to offer my final thoughts.
If I could summarize in a sentence: time flies, so do it all. I wish I had studied in France for an entire year. I felt like I was just figuring things and tricks out and getting into the groove by the end of the semester, and I knew my French would improve so much more. That being said, I was surprised at how much my French progressed and I’m sure you will find yourself feeling the same.
If I may leave you with a few final suggestion…. Take advantage of the opportunity to have a language conversation partner. Working with French students helps not only your understanding of French language and culture, but also can lead to some meaningful friendships. When you are packing to move to France, try and cut down what you bring as much as possible. You can get all your basic items at French department stores like Monoprix. I know figuring out how to manage a phone plan abroad can be stressful, but I found getting a SIM card from the French company Free to be the easiest. It was just under 20 euros each month for basically unlimited calls (even to the US), texts and data. Many students want to use their semester in France to travel all through Europe. While this is a fun adventure, it can quickly drain your student budget. This is something to be conscious of. Besides, southern France has almost every type of geography you could desire!
I never wanted my posts to be just about my adventures, but more about lessons you could take from me. Things I learned that I felt were valuable to pass down. At the end of the day, you will find your own adventures. You will be the one that creates your own experiences. You don’t need someone to tell you how great their weekend was, you’re going to experience that very sentiment. When you study abroad you meet some very interesting people. Everyone has a different path they took to their time abroad, but we all share the value of expanding our education. What I learned from my peers was that you could either have a great time or a horrible time, it’s up to you. I met people who had the privilege to study abroad in a breathtaking place with wonderful educational opportunities, who chose to squander it by staying focused on what was back home. Don’t do that to yourself. You left to come to France for a reason. Find that reason and hold on to it.
About a week ago, I went to a celebration for Buddha’s birthday!
It was a massive later festival and it lasted for roughly a week. Here is Korean Buddhism is a large part of Korean society. Although it is the second largest religion (behind Christianity), quite a few families still operate under Confucian and Buddhist teachings. Needless to say, the festival was amazing. It was massive, several thousand people coming to the temple, to bow and show respect.
Throughout the day, there were several performances, from children, to grandparents, professional choirs, and people just wanting to have a good time. There were some performances that made you want to cry, and others that had fire shooting off the stage as a 10 year old girl sings a rock song. It was mildly overwhelming.
The “ceiling” was made out of thousands of lanterns strategically put together to make a different patters and pictures. Every single one had a different prayer from someone on it, and at sunset, the lanterns lit up and bathed the entire space in this beautiful golden light. All of the lanterns had different designs, some being simple, and some extremely elaborate, massive lanterns.
When you go into the temple to bow, you have to take off your shoes, go into a specific space (usually it’s an open space but they divided it because so many people were there) and bow if you’d like to. I bowed next to a very old Korean woman and she looked extremely happy that I was making an effort, so if you visit don’t wear anything potentially revealing, bow three times (if you’re not sure just follow the people around you), and lose yourself to the energy in the room. It can knock you off your feet a little bit — the three giant Buddha statues make you feel like they’re looking at you, and although it’s usually looked down upon, if you asked, people would let you take one picture of the room.
I went to Jeju! Okay I have a few things to say about my trip. Yes I had a great time. Yes I would go back again. Yes I never want to get on a bus again.
Allow me to clarify:
Jeju is an extremely beautiful place. It’s much more temperate than Seoul is, so the weather stays within a 60-80 degree range. The flight to Jeju was extremely easy, it takes about 50 minutes to get there, and they have something called the Jeju tour bus that will take you to all of the cool places in the North.
The main issue is that Jeju doesn’t have the best transportation system, they have busses, but you end up sitting on there for about two hours in one direction and that can be extremely exhausting. I know it’s not recommended that people drive while abroad, and I agree because I would die here, it’s so different than the US, if you’re going to Jeju, having someone over 21 with an international drivers license will make your entire trip easier. I stayed in the South (I really recommend it) and my hostel was sooooooooo cool. Everyone was extremely nice, it was right by the ocean, the staff was friendly, they gave you breakfast, and they had an incredibly rooftop where you can hang out in hammocks, beanbag chairs, and couches. I picked a weekend that was supposed to be sunny, but it ended up raining for three of the four days I was there. The rainstorm was intense but also really fun — I enjoyed the fact that it was like a warm shower and was dancing in the rain like a crazy person.
While in Jeju, I went to an Art Museum, the Chocolate Museum (it’s the second largest in the world), a Teddy Bear Museum (they tell history through different bears), briefly visited an interactive Kpop Museum (I didn’t think it was worth it, just listen to the songs and feel good), went to a beach to swim and surf, and visited these waterfalls that were in the middle of a forest, that is known historically to be the place where the gods went to bathe.
So. Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and it has been concerning for the Government that the population has gone down, and Jeju is also famous for the Loveland Museum, which students at Hongkik University (it’s pretty close in Hongdae) made, with permission from the Government, to encourage Korean couples to want to procreate if you catch my drift.
The entire park is hilarious, and shocking, and kind of freaked me out. I was torn between “wow what a beautiful piece of sculpted art!” to “WHY would anyone think of making that?” Everything was related to sex, and I was very confused because the country is so conservative and then you come to Loveland and there’s nothing that can prepare you for how explicit some of the statues are.
Also the people that went threw me off because it would be like a bus full of very old Korean people going there for entertainment and acting like little kids, and then younger couples casually strolling around, to parents and their children, and then foreigners looking around with humor and shock. I think it was fun? I still haven’t figured out how I feel about it yet. I think if you find yourself in Jeju you should check it out.
On a more PG note, Jeju is famous for its black pork dishes, and tangerines. I don’t eat pork so I didn’t try any, but I heard it was life changing, and the tangerines I can safely say were one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had in my entire life. Very much recommend both! There’s also a really cool pasta place in the South that I went to two nights in a row because it was so good. The man was very nice, he did everything himself, from cooking, to bussing, checking people out — I really wanted to support him because he was so kind and so busy, and the food was absolutely delicious.
Thanks for coming on this wild ride of my brain put on paper!
After my trip to Israel with Kristen, I had to face the reality that I had less than two weeks left in my study abroad experience. I started applying for summer jobs and making appointments back in the U.S. rather than booking flights to new destinations. While I was excited to return home and see my friends and family, at some point I had fallen in love with Ireland. There are so many places I wanted to go back to and even more I didn’t get to see. But my life and bank account said it would soon be time to go back home.
However, I wasn’t about to leave Ireland without visiting a few more of its historic sites. Luckily, Kristen hadn’t visited me in Ireland yet and decided to tag along for the last leg of my journey. After landing in Dublin, we visited the Hill of Tara, a site that I’d wanted to visit since learning about it in my Celtic Mythology class. The Hill of Tara dates back roughly 5000 years, with various modifications over its long history, and has long been associated with kingship in both mythological and historical contexts.
At the Hill of Tara, we followed the coronation path with which begins over the Banquet Hall and ends at the Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny. In Celtic mythology, it is said that when a true king touched the Lia Fail at his coronation, the stone would cry out. Kristen and I both touched it, but sadly, it looks like neither of us will be the next king of Tara.
After visiting the Hill of Tara and Dublin, Kristen and I headed back to Galway, so I could give her a tour of where I’d been living for the past five months. Since she hadn’t seen the Cliffs of Moher, we had to go there again. We got lucky, as it was remarkably sunny and clear. I will admit though, I kind of missed the foggy, Irish aesthetic.
However, we didn’t only stop at the cliffs this time. Since I wanted to experience more of Ireland, we took a tour that also showed us a variety of other sites around the area. If I hadn’t already been in love with the Irish landscape, this trip would have convinced me otherwise.
Saying goodbye to the place and people was hard. No way around it, I didn’t feel ready to leave and truthfully, I don’t know if I will be able to return, although I hope I will. Because of the latter, I felt more homesick leaving Ireland than I had leaving the U.S. However, it is comforting to think about the people I have back home and the opportunities I’m looking forward to upon my return to Linfield.
Now that I have experienced traveling abroad, I know that should there come a time when I can return to Ireland or travel to another country, I will be ready for it. I have already been planning to teach abroad after college, and this experience has just shown me how incredible an opportunity like that can be. This is not the end!
The littlest things about being back in the United States have made me miss Chile the most: the way that we use balsamic vinaigrette instead of just lemon juice and olive oil as salad dressing or how we don’t greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I’ve now been back home for almost three weeks, and although they say that re-entry is one of the hardest parts of study abroad, I guess I didn’t think it would feel like this.
I left for study abroad in a pivotal time in my college career, I had had a less than perfect sophomore year and my lifelong lust for travel had finally reached its boiling point. When I think about taking off in August I remember being terrified of the unknown but excited to temporarily leave all of my trivial issues behind.
Everyone back home asks about my experience out of courtesy but I almost don’t even know how to respond. No one here can ever know what I went through, what I learned or how I’ve grown. And that is both lonely and lovely. I now have this one precious thing that’s mine and mine only, but I can’t help but feel like I wish I had someone who could relate to my experience to be with me here at home right now.
I’m going to miss Florencia, Claudia, Diego, Gabriel, Ivan, Pablo, Cata, Javier, and Ro, the English students I tutored, and the intriguing people I met while traveling. I’m going to miss the fresh produce from the street markets, the bright green palm trees and the reggaeton music heard on practically every corner. I’m going to miss all of the new places I saw– from the arid north Chilean desert to the chic skyscrapers of Buenos Aires and the lush Peruvian jungle to the deep blue of the sea off Patagonia’s coastline.
But the thing perhaps I’ll miss more than any of that other stuff is the way I’ve changed. I’ve never been as confident in myself as I was when I was abroad, just figuring out how to communicate and travel and study in what seemed like virtually a different world completely on my own. I’ve now seen and lived through things that no one will understand but me, and although at some points in the past two and a half weeks it’s felt like I’m losing the part of myself I grew into in Chile, I know now that it’s something that will forever be a part of me. And that’s absolutely priceless.
A mi querido Chile, volveré por ti. Gracias por todo lo que me ha enseñado.
After departing London, Phoebe and I arrived at our Airbnb in Madrid, Spain, and largely spent the first day resting. Boring I know! But it was clearly what we, and especially Phoebe, needed, as she recovered soon after. We shared our Airbnb apartment with the permanent residents, so it almost felt like a home stay experience. Our timelines didn’t match up perfectly with those of our other travel companions, so we spent the first few days exploring and getting acclimated before we were joined by Kristen Huth and Sophie Stensvad, Phoebe’s friend from Pacific University.
Maybe the first day of sunshine went to my head, but we spent a little too much time shopping in Madrid’s gorgeous downtown. However, we also spent time at some famous sites, including the Palacio Real and Cripta de la Almudena.
Traveling around a beautiful city like Madrid can work up an appetite, so after a day of exploring, we would try some delicious Spanish dishes like tapas or paella.
Unfortunately, I had to cram two English essay finals into our travel plans which was a challenge because I felt like I wasn’t committing enough time to either travel or study. Although the essays probably weren’t my best work, I did finish them, and I don’t regret the added challenge of completing them while traveling. There was no way I could miss out on all of the incredible experiences we had in Spain.
After we all met up in Madrid, we traveled to Barcelona. Navigating a country where you don’t speak the language can be difficult, but luckily Kristen played translator when it came to Spanish. Catalan was another story though! The language barrier wasn’t too much of an issue in our day to day activities since it seemed like most Catalan speakers also spoke Spanish. However, we did see a performance of El Despertar de la Primavera (Spring Awakening), the musical, that we thought would be in Spanish and ended up being in Catalan!
I will admit that I understood very little of the dialogue of the show, but it didn’t matter because the performance was incredible! A quick Wikipedia synopsis helped me get the gist, and the exceptional acting and singing made for a stunning performance. The fact that it was in Catalan just made the show more fun and unique!
Of course, no trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the Sagrada Família. While we were unable to get tickets to go inside, it was clear why the cathedral is world renowned for its architecture.
From Madrid to Barcelona, with new friends and old, our trip to Spain was unforgettable. But with only half of my journey behind me, there are still many new places to see! While Phoebe and Sophie returned to York for finals, Kristen and I will embark on our first trip outside of Europe.
One of the questions I’ve been asked a number of times since deciding to travel to Israel during my time abroad is, of all the places, why Israel? The short answer is that for me, Israel represents a part of my family and heritage that I want to feel more connected to. Much of my mother’s family is Jewish, and a significant portion, including many family members I have never met, live in Israel. Being only a four hour plane ride away, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore that part of my identity and have fun visiting a new country!
Luckily, my family was kind enough to let us stay with them in Tel Aviv. I’m so grateful for their help with accommodation and activities, and my absolute lack of Hebrew skills and a phone plan could have made things much more challenging without them. However, clinging to WiFi and my Hebrew speaking cousins, Kristen and I were able to navigate without much issue.
One of our first stops was to Carmel Market where they sell all manner food and clothes in stalls along the street. I had never been to such a large open market, so I was thrilled by the colorful array of products and bustling shoppers.
A fun fact imparted by a tour guide, shopkeepers use red awnings to make the produce appear fresher, so it can be better to buy from stalls with white awnings. The red seems to be working though, as everything looked delicious to me!
Since we visited during Passover, most shops and restaurants were kosher and weren’t selling any breads for the first few days of our trip, to observe the holiday. However, this didn’t stop us from trying a variety of tasty dishes.
One way to work up an appetite for all of the yummy food was to spend a day swimming in the Dead Sea. Everyone says the salt content makes you feel light, but the reality felt far stranger than it sounds. I stood straight up in the water and could float without sinking! It was a truly unique sensation. The mud of the Dead Sea is also famous for its nourishing exfoliating properties, so we made sure to lather up and take a bottle back as a souvenir.
The Dead Sea may be iconic, but no trip to Israel would be complete without visiting Jerusalem. For the sake of time, we primarily explored the Old City, but even in limiting ourselves to that, we could have easily spent another day or two there. Old City is packed full of significant historical sites and monuments, markets, and people from all over the world.
Another way we explored history, specifically that of Jaffa and Tel Aviv, was through a culinary tour. Hopping from one spot to the next, we experienced the evolution of cuisine in Israel from hummus to shawarma to ice cream. This was a fun, interactive way to learn about the history of the city. Here is a taste of what we tried:
It was so fun trying out a bunch of foods which may be common among the local culinary tradition but were completely new to me. My personal connection to the place and the time I was able to spend with my family celebrating Passover, traveling to the Dead Sea, and living together enriched the trip to something beyond another just another travel experience. I definitely want to go back!
This was written a MONTH AND A HALF AGO so sorry I’ve been stupid busy
Hope you had a fantastic weekend. If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to the coming weekend already (and it’s Monday for me haha).
This weekend I went to an island very close to the North Korean border called Ganghwa. It’s about an hour, to an hour and a half bus ride north of Seoul. We left early Saturday morning and made it back around seven pm so it was a much longer day than usual.
Ganghwa is a much older area, you can tell the moment you step off the bus. The people are older, the pace of the city is much slower, clothes, style of buildings, everything. It’s kind of like taking a step back into 2009. It was really interesting to see such an immediate contrast to Sinchon, where Yonsei is located, a place filled with people all the time, where no one is really looking out for anyone else because you don’t have enough time, to this smaller, quaint town where the restaurant owners come out to comment on how cool you are, provide details on the food, and which ones they consider most delicious.
I can’t really tell which one I like more. I love Seoul much more than I thought I would, everything is exactly where I need it and there’s never a moment of pausing to ask “what else can I do” because there’s always something new you could be trying. Conversely, Ganghwa is a place where you have to have a plan when heading there. There isn’t anything that you could do other than sightsee and even then it doesn’t take long. The appealing part of it is that everyone seems much more interested in getting to know you (that might just be because we’re foreigners but whatever). It felt nice to be noticed by Koreans when usually you’re looked past or looked at with disdain). Majority of towns outside of Seoul are like this because so much money is pushed into the big cities, there is less support and infrastructure in smaller towns.
We went to Ganghwa because of the rich history. In Ganghwa there used to be several palaces — most of which were burnt down by the Japanese — but some still stand, or they have reconstructed where the palaces would have been if they were once standing.
Ganghwa Island is the fifth largest island in Korea, and is considered the first line of defense for the nation, as every foreign power that has came to Korea — Russia, the US, Japan, and China — have all had to get past Ganghwa, considering it originally stood as a fortress to defend Joseon (that’s the name of the longest dynasty in Korea). The historical museums and the palaces aren’t as large as the original buildings of course, but it was very cool to see just how much history is in this country that I have yet to learn about.
There’s also a lookout where you can see North Korea but it was too long of a bus ride to get there and back in order to get home in time so we didn’t go (I think we’re going to the DMZ which is cooler anyway).
Also I would go when it’s hot because it was VERY WINDY AND VERY COLD AND WE ALL WERE DYING.
THE SKY! HAHA GET IT? LIKE WHAT’S UP? THE SKY! HEHE… NO? NOT FUNNY? OKAY..
Sorry for the long break between writing, I have been SO busy. Midterms are coming up so everyone is just living with their heads shoved in their books haha.
A few really fun things have happened.
First we had the Korean Cultural Fair — it was amazing! There were performers that came to Yonsei to showcase traditional music and dancing. After the event there were areas where you could try on hangboks — Korean traditional dress, and play games for prizes (I beat this kid Ryan in arm wrestling — go me!)
Then after school and then school and then school and then school….It was sunny! On a weekend! When I had free time! Wow!
it also happens that the weather aligned perfectly with the Cherry Blossom Festival that’s famous in Korea and Japan 🙂
It was 22 degrees Celsius, everyone was at the Han River celebrating, and I decided I would put off the festival until Tuesday when I wasn’t bombarded with people — so my friend Jake and I went to Inwangsan — a place where you can hike up a mountain to see the wall that once surrounded Seoul to protect the palace.
It was amazing! The steps were old and you had to climb up weird ways sometimes, but it was amazing to stand on top of Seoul and just acknowledge how small you are compared to everyone else. I recommend it to everyone that comes to Korea — it’s been my favorite part of my trip so far.
While on top of Seoul, we met this married couple and their three year old. They’re in the Air Force and are stationed in Ilsan, and they invited us to come stay with them so I might do that one weekend haha.
When I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival, I went to my friend Nouria. She’s Indian and Ethiopian (wow! cool! I’m Ethiopian btw), she lives in France, and she’s here in Korea attending Ehwa Women’s University (across the street from Yonsei) for her Master’s degree. I have the biggest friend crush on her — she knows where I can get Ethiopian food, she took me too a really cheap sashimi place, and she did my hair (woot! woot!). After we went to the festival, we went and got bubble tea then went dancing — it was truly an amazing day.
Testing is over! Wow do I love not having midterms anymore. I feel like I can finally breathe again.
To celebrate, I went to HipHopPlaya, a Korean hiphop festival that’s thrown in Seoul every year. It was crazy! I was really close to the front, and I got to dance with one of my favorite rappers. I was there all day Saturday, totally got Sunburnt (I didn’t expect it to be hot) and had a blast. I could also rest in hammocks and just listen if I didn’t want to be close to the stage.
I’m gonna link a video, but I’m not sure if it’ll work.
Lately the weather has been getting much better. I don’t think enough people talk about how many bugs are here, but it’s something I didn’t realize was going to be a big thing.
As promised, I have finished up finals and begun my month-long spring break trip. The trip is still ongoing, and I’m writing to you from the airport now! However, I began in London to visit some familiar faces. My high school friends, Micaela Levesque and Phoebe Whittington are studying in England, so we met up to explore the U.K.
The visit began with a rocky start, as Phoebe got pretty sick on the first day which lasted throughout the duration of our stay in London. The long day walks and hostel living did not provide for the most restful environment, but she powered through, and we were able to make some great memories in between doses of cold medicine.
Micaela played tour guide and showed us many of her favorite haunts, including her campus in central London, Camden Town, and the British Museum. They keep Cleopatra in there! We also became proficient in “tube” travel, a necessity when navigating such a major city.
We hit many of the famous London tourist destinations to get to know the city and take advantage of photo opportunities. We followed Micaela’s favorite jogging route which takes her across the iconic London Bridge. Not everyone can say that!
A pair of guys set up typewriters near the bridge and offered to compose a poem on the subject of our choice for a donation. After careful deliberation, we decided to ask one of them to write a poem about a “spiky sisterhood of seagulls.” In moments, the man was typing away, and he did not pause until the poem was finished. I don’t think his composition skills were half bad!
We went on several additional excursions, including to Westminister Abbey (although it was closed, so we couldn’t go inside) and an ice skating rink.
One of my favorite excursions in London, however, was to see Toast by Nigel Slater. The performance is somewhat autobiographical, and tells the story of an English boy in the 50’s, navigating the challenges and grief of his life through food. The interactive performance included a dynamic set, musical numbers, and most importantly, treats for the audience based on scenes from the play. We truly had a taste of English culture, as we tried what for many audience members were classic childhood sweets.
Our stay in London concluded with no shortage of memorable times. Despite having to balance lingering homework assignments and illness amongst our group, we were able to learn about the city Micaela has called home during her study abroad experience and have a great time! And the tourists that we are, we managed to take some London aesthetic photos to capture the experience in the meantime.