The best week of spring semester: SPRING BREAK! Since traveling from the Galápagos is such a hassle, the majority of kids studying here go island hopping to the different islands in the Galápagos Archipelago for spring
break. Lucky for me, my family got to visit and I was able to show them around my home of San Cristóbal before we set out on an island hopping cruise.
Although this island is beautiful, it is very small, and getting to leave and see some new scenery was a nice break. And I got to do it with my favorite people! Our cruise traveled to 5 different islands, starting at San Cristóbal and then moving to Española, Floreana, Santa Fe, and ending in Santa Cruz. Each day, we usually spent the morning hiking around whatever island we were at, and the afternoons snorkeling, kayaking, hanging out on the beach, or hiking some more. However, the absolute best part of the whole week, was that our boat had air conditioning in the rooms and no bugs!! Two luxuries that I do not have at home here.
One of the coolest things about the Galápagos is that each island has its own wildlife and special things that it is known for. On San Cristóbal, we saw giant tortoises, Española was home to blue and red marine iguanas, Floreana has the only population of flamingos in the whole archipelago, Santa Fe has yellow iguanas, and Santa Cruz has Penguins! The islands are such a unique place, and it was so cool to explore more of it this last week.
I am now back on San Cristóbal and starting module 4 (of 5!!), which is crazy. I only have 6 weeks left here, and the time is flying by! Starting now, I am no longer taking Marine-based classes, and this module is Global Climate Change: People, Politics, and the Environment. I’m very excited to be studying something new for the next couple weeks, and to make the most of my last month here!
Module 3 is complete! This was my hardest class by far, but also the most fun! The class was called Marine Ecology, and we were lucky enough to have it co-taught by one professor from USFQ in Quito, and a visiting professor from Cal State who is on sabbatical doing research.
As part of the class, we helped our professors with their coral research, completed our own group research projects, along with normal class activities. We’ve done research projects in all three classes that I have taken here, but this one was my favorite by far! My group studied the relationship between turtles and the fish that are always seen swimming alongside/around the turtles “cleaning” their fins and shells.
We got to go snorkeling and searching for turtles at 3 different beaches everyday for 10 days as “homework” (take notes please, Linfield biology department).
With the little free time I’ve had outside of class the last 3 weeks, I have tried to see the few spots of the island that I have yet to see. On an island as small as San Cristóbal, after about a month of exploring there’s not too much new stuff to see. But, it has been fun to explore the whole island, and really get to know my favorite places.
Here’s a sneak peak of some of my favorite places on the island:
-Playa de los Marinos: This is my favorite beach to go to, and it’s one that people aren’t allowed on! It’s where all the sea lions hang out, so it’s full of mamma and baby sea lions all the time. If you’ve never seen a baby sea lion, they are the absolute cutest animals ever and if I could bring one home with me, I would.
-La Lobería: This is my favorite snorkel spot on the island, and one of the best spots to see sea turtles and lots of cool fish. It also has lots of cool hiking trails around it that lead you up to cliffs overlooking the ocean.
-Sabor Cuencano: Not outdoorsy, but this the only café on the island that has both air conditioning AND wifi, a real rarity here. They also have the best sweet treats to munch on during studying 🙂
-Playa Mann: This is the beach right across the street from my campus, and is one of the nicer beaches for just hanging out and swimming. Although there are lots of beaches around the island, most of them are super rocky and not really the type to go and hang out at.
Module 1 and my time in Quito are almost over, but the last two weeks have been full of so many adventures. Here’s a look into my favorite parts:
–Teleferíco: A gondola that takes you up into the mountains surrounding Quito. At the very top you’re at almost 15,000 feet of elevation! The views from both the ride up, and once at the top were spectacular. We hiked around the mountains a little bit, but none of us wanted to die from the altitude, so we didn’t do anything too strenuous. We did find a swing on the edge of the mountain that looked out over the whole city!
–Coast trip: For my Techniques of Marine Research class, we took a field trip to the coast of Ecuador to do research. We went to 3 different towns (Ayampe, Ayangue, and Canoa), and 5 different intertidal beaches to look at the biodiversity there. My job for the week was to look for whelks (carnivorous sea snails) at all of the beaches, and at the end of each day we would weigh, measure, and identify the species each whelk we were able to find. I did this for over 1,200 whelks by the end of the week! Safe to say I have no interest in seeing anymore whelks any time soon.
–Otavalo: One of my favorite places so far! Otovalo is a small town up in the mountains in Ecuador that is home to South America’s largest local artisanal market. My friend Emily and I took the bus up there early in the morning and spent the morning shopping at the market. All of the handmade clothes, jewelry and trinkets were pretty and fun to look at. We spent the afternoon wandering around the rest of the town, and explored a couple old churches and stumbled across what I think is my new all-time favorite ice cream shop.
–Living with my host mom: I have kind of a unique situation, being one of the only kids in the program that lives with just a host mom, and no siblings. But I sure did luck out with my host mom! Her name is Bernadita, she is very classy and fun, and she is an interior designer. Getting to spend time with her (and her boyfriend Georgito) has been the highlight of this trip for sure. She has been so welcoming and has made my short time in Quito so much more enjoyable.
I have arrived in South America and survived my first two weeks here! It is so crazy to be here in Ecuador. After a whole day on planes from Montana, meeting my host mom, and going to my first weeks of classes, I am starting to get settled. While I am here, I’ll be living in a little “suburb” of Quito called Cumbaya. (It’s a very nice area of Quito, my host house is in a gated community with a guard out front!). This is where the USFQ campus is located, and as someone who’s not a big city fan, it’s nice to not be in the middle of the city.
The first week here was lots of orientations to the University and life in Quito, along with a tour of the city. Quito is beautiful and huge! It is an old city, with so many statues and old churches and buildings to see and explore. We had a blast! The USFQ campus is gorgeous as well, I’d say that the grounds keepers rival even Linfield’s J Of course, we still had classes this week, too. But since we don’t start our first module until next week, this week was an intensive Spanish course. Three-hour long classes are not the most fun, but the class good refresher and gave us an idea of what to expect from classes to come here in Quito!
Now that module 1 has started, I am in my first real class here! I am taking Techniques of Marine Research, so I learned all about marine ecosystems: how they work, the species that live there, and how best to study them. It has been super interesting already to study something different than my usual biology classes. And as someone who grew up landlocked in Montana, I don’t know a whole lot about the ocean, so this will be a good learning experience for me!
I wanted to talk about something that has recently been in the news and is becoming a more prominent subject in the world, but also Korea — sexual assault and harassment.
Before I came to Korea I understood its conservative status as being entirely opposed to religious differences, homosexuality, and differing political views. There was a period where I thought that I wasn’t going to enjoy my time here because I was so concerned about what might be, rather than figuring it out first. Now that I’ve been here I think it’s important to state that my views have changed a bit. Honestly my concerns were either very dramatic or misplaced.
Korea is still a conservative country. From what I’ve experienced though, the younger community is much more accepting to majority of beliefs, whether that be tattoos, foreigners in general, homosexuality, etc.
What is important to think about, something that I would say I was aware of but didn’t think about it too much, is the issues regarding sexual assault and harassment.
A few things to keep in mind, is that Korea is in a stage where there is a social battle to combat victim blaming, the stereotypical relationship is based on gendered roles, with this assumption that men are dangerous to women if they’re left alone together, and women are conditioned into feeling ashamed for “putting themselves” in a dangerous situation. I would also like to say that this is prominent in most of the world — I don’t want to single out Korea as if they’re the only country working through this.
For women specifically, there have been situations where women’s public toilets, changing stalls, and occasionally hotel rooms have hidden cameras in them. I wouldn’t say that it’s something that keeps me from using the bathroom all the time, but it is something that sits in the back of my head. Hidden cameras here have also become more subtle, some look like water bottles, battery charging packs, and flash drives. I don’t want to scare people at all, but I would say it would be a good idea to look around a stall occasionally. Restaurants are safe and the police will do walk-throughs to make sure there are no cameras in the stalls.
According to a trauma center, everyday 20-30 videos are uploaded per day on various sites (I don’t know what they are but apparently they are popular).
Communication between men and women here is indirect, it’s something that Yonsei will make sure you know at orientation since it could be considered a cultural difference for most people. That in mind, there’s this perception that foreigners are very open to people touching them, so I would just like to remind everyone that “no” is an amazing word that everyone should feel comfortable saying, and it’s okay if someone calls you something rude because they’re not expecting direct language. Never feel bad about prioritizing your own safety and comfort.
Thanks for making it this far (if you did), I know it’s an extremely uncomfortable subject, but there are too many people that are willing to gloss over this. I also don’t want to take away from the positives of this experience — I truly am having a great time here — just want to keep people in the loop.
We are officially done with the first two weeks of the school year!
For me, I have had an extremely manageable schedule — unfortunately I have classes on Fridays — but Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have one class so guess who’s going to be doing some adventuring :)))
When picking your classes I would advise you to be as clear as you can when selecting classes taught in English. Classes are too large for teachers to be able to accommodate for the individual, so make sure you clarify that before, so you don’t end up taking classes in Korean. Also make sure you sign up for more credits than you actually need so you can drop a class if it’s too much, or if you’re looking to add another one and don’t get in you’ll still have enough credits to not stress.
If you come here I highly recommend the Human Ecology class. It’s a great class to just learn to be introspective, but I have been able to learn much more about Korean culture and how social norms contribute to their everyday life — really it just helps me explain some things I’m confused about, like why women wear heals when walking on hills and uneven streets??? It seems so illogical and painful.
My Professor also taught in Chicago for eight years so she is really good at understanding the depth and complexity of American Culture and articulates Korean society very clearly — everyone needs to take this class!
In regards to Korean Language classes, I recommend the intensive course if you have enough time to dedicate to it. The regular Korean 1 class is really great for people who have never learned the language before but it’s really popular so you have to be really smart when bidding for classes. The intensive class, I can only compare to taking Japanese at Linfield. I tested into the Level 1.5 class, meaning we move really fast and they expect us to be able to read and write well. The teachers are there for you, but you have to do more stuff outside the classroom than other classes (in my opinion), and there’s definitely some stress if you take a day off (much like Japanese, I would say — 先生、 こんにちわ！元気ですか?)
Korea also has a large drinking culture. I’m underage so I don’t drink (let’s just clear that up) — but I think it’s important to be safe while you’re here. There have been several foreigners that have put themselves in unsafe situations with alcohol because in Korea you don’t refuse a drink from someone older than you (it’s considered rude). Even if you don’t drink, study the drinking culture before you come here so you know what’s going on because it’s a much bigger part of their culture than you, I, could’ve imagined. There are lots of foreigners that don’t understand their limits and need help, so just be safe, okay?
With that in mind, you have to actively seek out certain Korean friends that have interests outside of partying, because the most common thing people want to do is go to a bar or club — when I really wanna go to a palace ya’know?
Watch out for cars, I don’t remember if I’ve said this before, but they have no interest in stopping for you so you will die! they! do! not! care!!!
Fun activity wise, I basically just eat — haha! There are still so many places I want to try, but I found a really great Indian restaurant if you want something other than Korean or Japanese food, and there are a few places about 20 minutes from campus that are apparently famous for being delicious and inexpensive and I haven’t been yet — definitely an issue on my part.
There’s a Japanese curry place that I went to that has free refills — so you bet I’ll be back there, a pizza place which is also awesome, has a great view, and is reasonably priced (pizza is so expensive here), and a Vietnamese place I went to for lunch that was very cheap, delicious, and was very much a hole in the wall.
Also today is White Day! (not while you’re reading this), but it’s weird seeing just how many couples there are here. It’s weirdly assumed that there can’t be friendships between men and women, so if a girl and guy are together the first thought is that they’re probably dating — which is only more intense on a day like today where it’s literally for couples. I will also point out that you can also give gifts to your teachers as well — I found that out when my KLI teacher was like “it’s white day! Where are my gifts?” and when no one had anything, we drifted off into silence (THAT WAS EXTREMELY AWKWARD). To explain more, White Day is a day on the 14th of March where the men give the women candy! Valentine’s Day is when women give men chocolates (which is backwards compared to the West), and then there’s Black Day (dun-dun- DUNNNNN) which is for single people on April 14th to “mourn” the fact that they did not receive any gifts from anyone. On that day, single people eat jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with black sauce (apparently it’s from China). Sometimes people who eat that are matched with another person so they won’t truly be alone. A little funny, a little weird, and definitely a topic for deeper discussion of the Korean social standard for love and relationships, yeah?
Hope you found this interesting or helpful!
나중에 봐요! (see you later)
— 아이시스 (Isis)
P.S. — did you know my name is a water bottle brand here? I only drink me haha
Some of the biggest things you’ll notice when you study abroad are the differences in culture between your home and host countries. Those are often the motivating factors behind taking the leap to study abroad.
One of the most obvious (and fun) is the number of carnivals. While I have been in France, I have experienced lots of historically rooted festivals and parades in celebration of holidays that still go on today. These celebrations highlight the history and uniqueness of certain cities and towns.
While the French may not like to change their traditional celebrations, they do like to have change. (I apologize for how bad that pun was, but I wanted a smooth transition here.) The French people like change – always have coins and small bills on you. I’ve heard that some merchants won’t even take a large bill if they can’t break it or if it would drain their coin purse. Coins are more popular here than they are in the US. This is especially true in the markets.
Markets are a major thing here, and are beneficial to broke study abroad students. They occur several times a week from mid morning to early afternoon. Here you can buy your fresh fruits and vegetables of the week for a reasonable price. Charcuterie and fresh fromage are abundant, and you can get a baguette for around two euros. This is a great place to grab you picnic lunch for the day or prep for a hike. Many host families do most of their shopping for the week’s meals at the market, as opposed to the supermarkets which dominate American culture.
In general I have found that people here keep different hours. Many small shops close for an hour or so for lunch. Smaller boutiques also tend to close on Mondays. It feels like almost everywhere is closed on Sundays. This should be remembered before you make your lunch plans. In addition to this, my French friends stay out much later than I am accustomed to. For example, salsa night at the local cafe does not begin to get popular until the wee hours of the morning. As someone who prefers to go to bed at 9 pm, I have had to adjust to this lifestyle.
If you’re planning on studying abroad in the future, I’d recommend bringing along a really good pair of walking shoes. Aix has more of a walking culture with everything being so near in the city center. I have seen that there is reliable public transportation especially in between different, nearby cities because of commuting. Trains are more popular and run frequently. While you are traveling between places, you might notice how dirty the streets seem and how prevalent smoking is. It is not common practice to pick up after Rover. The increase in smokers was surprisingly hard to adjust to because I felt like I was always inhaling smoke while on my morning runs.
Cultural changes in the typical morning routine are evident as well. My host mother is emphatic about opening the windows every morning to air out the entire house no matter the weather. When I drink my tea with breakfast it is done so out of a bowl. This surprised me at first but I learned that it is typical for the French to drink hot drinks out of a bowl so they can dunk things (like pastries) in the beverage.
Being green, like at home, is emphasized. Families are more conscience of conserving energy and water because utilities tend to be more expensive in France. Turning off lights, unplugging electronics and taking shorter showers are strictly enforced. Going further with that, things are typically smaller here. Apartments, streets, cars, even dogs. People just tend to have less stuff.
I’ve heard that it is more common to talk politics here, but so far I’ve found it pretty comparable to back home. I think it really just depends on your interests. At French universities there is more of a divide or distance between students and professors. IAU in Aix is an American university so I have not necessarily found that to be true. College is less expensive and so are textbooks. For example, at IAU I did not have to buy a single textbook. All the required chapters and readings were given to us by our professors or scanned and online.
While differences in cultures are important to highlight so that we as people can learn more about each other, students shouldn’t focus entirely on them. That can be alienating and isolating (it’s a part of the culture shock timeline). We should remember that there are similarities between cultures and we are alike in both our practices and values. That is what matters as it is what unites us.
After my journey to Japan concluded and second semester kicked off, Chinese New Year was just around the corner. Seeing as I’m staying with a host family, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. About a week or two before the holiday, my host Mom informed me we’d be going to their house in the suburbs of Tianjin for the festival, to celebrate with relatives. A few days before we took off, my host Mom’s older sister and husband came, and soon enough Grandma, my host Mom, and my host Aunt and Uncle all took off to the suburbs as Beijing quickly became a ghost town, with most of its residents heading back to their hometowns to be with family. The drive was short and was mostly fine aside from Grandma getting a tad car sick. At one point, we even had to stop by a nearby elementary school to let her use the restroom, the poor dear. However sick she may have felt, she kept a calm demeanor to her, insisting we need not help her, modest as she is.
The house was very nice and the neighborhood seemed very new as well, although people were scarce, likely because the homes all seemed to be used as getaway spots for people working big-time jobs in either Beijing or Tianjin. There was enough space for me to have my own room, so I settled in nicely. During the first few days, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with both my host Grandma and host Mom, and well as my host Aunt (who’d come all the way from Jiangxi Province in the South to spend the holiday with us all). My host Mom is a lawyer, so she’s incredibly busy, working most weekends and going away for work almost weekly for days at a time. It was the first time we really got to do stuff together. She had a nice coffee machine there, so I took the liberty to make everyone coffee, which turned into a daily ritual as I put a twist on it, adding a small chunk of chocolate to each cup I gave out. We also baked some bread together, and on New Years Eve–as is tradition–we rolled dumplings and at them as the clock hit midnight as the New Years Extravaganza rolled on the TV, the nation’s biggest TV event of the year.
Each day during the afternoon, my host Mom, Aunt, Uncle and I would all go to the nearby gym and play badminton together, something I hadn’t done in a while but still really enjoyed. We also would go to the nearby markets to buy food and snacks, often blabbing back and forth about what to buy and how much. Each night, Grandma only wanted to do one thing–play Majiang. Being the first time to play Majiang, I was a very intimidated. While I could read the bricks with Chinese characters, many of them have separate symbols, which are different suits, much like cards. It took me a few days of watching and reading online before I had the courage to sit down and play, but it was really fun when I did. The game is fast-paced and always moving; you really have to be on your feet the whole time.
Despite her age, Grandma schooled us all most of the time. The whole experience was awfully immersive, and it was just so fascinating to see how the holiday works; the traditions, customs, food, games etc. all play a big role in the liveliest time of the Chinese year.
I found out people actually read these which is wild, but thank you for finding my life interesting 🙂
Today I want to talk about homesickness.
I would like to start by saying that I am not homesick. I have yet to experience it, and I love being here so much. If the air quality was better I would want to stay here forever — haha 🙂
But there are moments of unfamiliarity. For example, I have been sick for the past three days, and the first day I was really, really, confused. I don’t think enough people acknowledge that homesickness can be more than just missing people. When I was sick I missed the comfort and ease of knowing what to do when I need medicine, where to buy it, how much to take. You don’t have that comfort in another country. There’s lots of googling and calling your parents, and asking your RAs — I asked one of them what to do and his actual answer was “I don’t know, I don’t get sick” (hehe).
The other day I bought Korean medicine from the convenience store, and had a legit “F-it” moment because I didn’t know what it said and I was just so tired of feeling bad (not the best move I’m know, but google wasn’t working out). Bless my spontaneity because that random stuff I bought works wonders. It costs two dollars, and it tastes gross, but I feel way better than I did before. You can also get this drink in the hotboxes of all the convenience stores that’s kind of syrupy and helps if you have a sore throat. It costs a dollar at all stores but if you go to the smaller store in the student lounge you can get it for 45 cents. (I’m hitting you up with all the fun facts)
I am also experiencing homesickness from my roommates perspective. Sometimes I feel bad for how happy I am here when she is struggling to adapt to this new environment. She’s this fiery ball of chaos and I love her, and watching her home culture (as a Mexican-American) clash with Korean culture is…interesting. It’s not my place to comment, but I wouldn’t go into study abroad while in a relationship. The miscommunication that can occur across thousands of kilometers and different time zones is too much for some people to handle. My roommate is currently going through this and I know it’s contributing to her homesickness because she misses home, misses stability, and there’s this lack of it because her partner isn’t communicating on the same level, and therefore in turn, she wishes she was at home where everything could be easily explained.
Again, not the happiest post, but I’ll end on something happier.
First, if you come to Yonsei, go to the cafe on B2 in SK Global House — sounds weird but you’ll get it when you come here — the ajumma (older woman) that works there is the sweetest person you’ll meet and always makes sure to smile and wave whenever you come in. She definitely makes everyone feel at home which matters a lot for several hundred kids that are as far from home as they possibly could.
Secondly, my friends and I went to see a movie here and I HIGHLY recommend going. Tickets for the premium theaters are cheaper than tickets at home for regular theaters so it’s great deal.
Finally, I LOVE my life here. Sometimes I think about how this is going to change me in the future and I get really happy because this is such an amazing thing that’s happening and every time I experience something new, I am just overwhelmed with the desire to hold onto these positive moments.
So yeah! There’s today’s posts, I promise to talk about happier things next time :))
School has just started. Although I was nervous about not being successful in my classes, with an extra touch of concern regarding my teachers and classroom size, so far everything is great.
I think the most challenging part about my classes will be that they are larger than the ones at Linfield, and that classes are in two hour blocks. Since I get distracted easily, I think I’m going to have to find alternative ways to stay focused. It’s also really cool because all my Professors are so high in their field that it’s kind of intimidating — but I know I will learn a lot.
I would have to say that my favorite thing so far is the food. Food here is super cheap and delicious so it’s really hard to be disappointed. There’s something called Korean shaved ice that I recommend to everyone. It’s super light and sugary but it doesn’t actually leave you full. I think if I didn’t have to walk everywhere I would be gaining so much weight!
There are a few things that I’d like to talk about. Once you leave the honeymoon stage there are a few things that you need to be aware of.
One thing that no one really talks about is the air quality. The air here is super bad, and everyday it has gotten worse. The face masks help, but everyday I get an emergency alert telling me that it’s unhealthy to be outside for long periods of time. I’m not super concerned, but no one talks about it which I think is weird because it is something that matters. I didn’t know South Korea had the 2nd worst air quality in the world until the other day. I think it’s kind of funny because they use lots of coal for production of goods, but the government said it was street vendors and people barbecuing that was the main problem — that and desert winds from Mongolia and China bringing yellow sand to us (that’s actually true). People are protesting for more sustainable ways of production for their kids sake but the government doesn’t seem interested in making any changes.
Anyway, I figured people should know what they’re getting into before coming here. It’s great, just don’t forget your mask!
Also something I want to talk about is the reaction of Koreans towards foreigners. If you pay attention, you’ll definitely realize that there’s a spectrum of how okay Korean’s are with foreigners. People have a tendency to stare and point and whisper, which you have to get over, but then you meet some people that really don’t want you there — this one lady in a museum was very rude to me and made me feel very uncomfortable — whereas younger college kids either don’t care about you at all, or really want to get to know you. Then there are the ones that stand out because they actually date foreigners which is seen as a really wild thing.
It’s important to note that it’s hard for me to feel accepted all the time because people think I’m this crazy exotic thing (it gets worse the farther you get from foreigner-popular areas) but I think it’s worse for people that are Korean-American. I have a friend, Jake, who was adopted from Korea when he was a baby and raised in a white and Jewish family. He speaks openly about how he was bullied growing up for being different, but it’s hard watching him be here because where I know people already count me as different and approach me with that in mind, they approach Jake like he’s one of them, and when he can’t respond in Korean or has no knowledge of the culture, they push him away and laugh sometimes.
It’s hard being bullied already, but I would say it’s harder when you are pushed away by people that you should have a connection to.
I know this post isn’t the happiest but I think it’s important for me to tell the truth. Not a lot of people want you here. It’ll be okay, I have an amazing group of friends that I wouldn’t change for the world — it’s strange how close we’ve gotten within the week I’ve known them — and that makes up for any animosity I receive from other Korean people. The best you can do is stay respectful, control how you act because you can’t do the same for others, and make sure you present yourself well. People don’t like foreigners because in the past foreigners were disrespectful. All we can do now is try to reshape their perspective.