Bittersweet end

Something really interesting about my classes at SNU is that they feature Korean economics, business, culture, and language. For example, in my marketing class, we often talk about Korean corporations and big conglomerates such as Samsung, Sulwhasoo, Korean Air, Hyundai, and LG. At Notre Dame, I’ve heard many professors say something along the lines of “Let’s focus on the US and not go international” in the context of economics or business. This new perspective, aside from the US-centered one I was used to, was very refreshing and insightful. We often compared and contrasted Korean companies to American companies and had many meaningful discussions. 

On the 26th, I performed and presented my brand audit on Sulwhasoo, a Korean cosmetics brand. This was really my first time thoroughly researching and exploring the various facets of what a brand audit entails.

Friday the 28th was my last day at SNU before having to move out Saturday morning. I knew it would be a bittersweet day as I would have to say my goodbyes to the friends that I have met during these wonderful 5 weeks. As we all travel long and short distances to go back home, whether that be to Canada, California, Philippines , Vietnam, France, Australia, London, or South Bend, Indiana, I know that we will all cherish the moments that we have made in Seoul. To my world-class professors, thank you for introducing me to a world of endless possibilities perspectives and and helping me better discern my path. To my friends, thank you for allowing me to share my culture with you and in return, allowing me to learn about your cultures as well. I was so proud to represent Notre Dame in Seoul and will never forget my enriching summer experience.

After the closing ceremony, my friends and I went all out and explored the city. We stayed up until 5 in the morning, reminiscing on the past 5 weeks and enjoying each other’s company one final time. We went to noraebang (karaoke), ate good street food, explored Gangnam, and more.

SNU’s main gate. Affectionally nicknamed “sha” (샤). This icon points to the university’s complete original Korean name “국립서울대학교” which means Seoul (서울) National (국립) University (대학교). By taking the ㅅ, ㄱ, and ㄷ characters, architects were able to construct this avant-garde design. Many visitors and students like to take pictures in front of the sha, not unlike how people who visit Notre Dame take a picture in front of the dome.

Professor Chris Baumann (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) and TA (Ph.D under Baumann at Macquarie)

The left side is the Korean version of the right side

We made it!

My dorm room after we moved our stuff out//My roommate who is from Hanoi, Vietnam but studies Korean language and culture at her university in Hanoi.

July 21st – Second to Last Week at SNU!

On Wednesday I had a presentation in my psychology class on language and techniques to improve language retention and memory. This was an interesting topic to present because it was very applicable. Many of the students at the SNU ISI program came to learn the Korean language and through an brief in-class survey, many of the students spoke both English and another language (mostly Korean) and others even spoke a third language.

On Tuesday, I met with Hillary Powell, a reporter from WBST who came to Korea to interview Notre Dame affiliated students and alumni who were studying in Korea. I told her about my intention to study Korean and my hopes of increasing my overall proficiency. She also asked me about NK and SK relations and my thoughts on Korean culture and society. It was nice to be able to talk about my experience in Korea thus far and why it means so much for me to be back in my home country.

This Friday we took a trip to the Gocheok Sky Dome, home of the Nexen Heroes, a professional baseball team. Prior to this day, I had never been to a major league baseball game. When you think of baseball culture you immediately think of stadium food, cheering on your favorite players, and singing the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Baseball culture in Korea is not too different. However, there is one clear difference. In Korea, there’s one very important person who leads the crowds and the other cheerleaders (typically females) in chants and songs and dances and motions to excite the spectators and encourage the players. This person is called the cheerleader/cheermaster (typically male). He directs the crowd almost like how a conductor would lead an orchestra. Cheermasters are minor “celebrities” and are popular among the team’s fans. Hundreds of thousands of people chanting the player’s names and reciting songs at the top of their lungs has to be electrifying, right? Good news: the Nexen Heroes beat the KT Wiz!!!

July 14th – Han River Cruise

This week, we went to on a cruise on the Han River, one of the most prominent rivers in Korea that serves as a major water source for over 12 million people. It was beautiful because it was in the evening and the view of the city was nice from the water. When I was very very young, I remember flying kites around the Han River with my dad. I hadn’t been there since I was 4 or 5 years old, so it brought back great memories of my childhood. The cruise definitely exceeded my expectations because not only was the view fantastic but the food was also amazing.

July 7th – Second Week at SNU

I think one of the most challenging things about learning a language is getting used to different idioms and cultural nuances. Being bilingual comes with costs as well. I’d be trying to explain something in one language but I can only think of the specific phrase in the other language. After being around Korean speakers for a while, I definitely had gotten used to Korean sayings and phrases that only exist in the Korean language and would be hard to translate to English. For example, there is this one term “찌릿찌릿” and it loosely translates to “shooting pain”. This term is usually used to describe pains when you have a bodyache.

This Friday, we went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and was able to go into the third infiltration tunnel, a tunnel built during the Korean War for the purpose of sending North Korean troops all the way to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. This tunnel was discovered in 1978 and the North Koreans were accused of violating the 1953 Armistice Agreement. This is the third of four known tunnels, but there could be up to 20 more. It was really eerie being inside this tunnel. The North Koreans disguised it as an abandoned coal mine by smearing the walls with coal dust. There were also many holes in the walls, which turned out to be dynamite holes, and they all faced the South. Additionally, as we went into the tunnel, the decline was pretty noticeable. This was so that any water in the tunnels would automatically drain out to North Korea. We also went to Dorasan Station which is the train station that used to connect North Korea and South Korea. The best part of this experience was going to the Dora Observatory, situated on Mount Dora, which is where one can see into the reclusive North Korea.

Peace bell near the Dora Observatory

Behind me is a sign that says “To Pyeongyang” which is the capital of North Korea

“End of separation, beginning of unification”

views from the observation deck (north korea)

“Dora Observatory”

June 30th – First Week at SNU

On Monday, I moved into my dorm at SNU. My true home is under the dome at Notre Dame, but I quickly came to like it here. My room had AC, which actually saved my life because the heat is so intense in Korea during the summer. My room also had a bathroom and a shower, which was weird at first since I was so used to sharing a bathroom with an entire section of girls at ND. I was already in the room when my roommate walked in. I was surprised by her Korean speaking proficiency, since she was Vietnamese. I soon found out that she was studying Korean at her university in Vietnam for about two years and that she was driven to learn the language because of her love for Korean culture. Throughout the week, after meeting people from all over the US and all over the world, I found out that almost everyone was somehow influenced by Korean culture and wanted to learn more about my country. This made me extremely proud of my heritage and I was more motivated to share my story and my dual identity as a Korean-American.

Classes at SNU ISI are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. This week, the first class was on Wednesday. I was excited to start learning and meeting new people and studying under renowned professors. For Korean, I had to take a placement test to determine what level I would be in. I ended up being placed in level 5, primarily because I could speak fairly well. It turned out that all of my peers in my Korean class are like me: Korean-American and proficient in speaking but lacking in other areas. In every Korean class, it was stressed that we only communicate in Korean so as to improve our skills and on-the-spot thinking.

Every Friday, the program goes on “field trips” which give us opportunities to see many facets of Korean culture. This Friday, we went to go see a popular musical called “Hero” or “영웅”. It was about the real-life story of An Chunggun, a Korean independence activist responsible for the 1909 assassination of Ito Hirobumi, a Japanese administer of power in Korea, just as Japan was preparing to annex Korea. Though An was imprisoned and subsequently executed, he is also said to have inspired various Japanese officials — including prison guards and prosecutors — through his humane spirit and kind demeanor.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the quality of the dining hall food at SNU. Unlike American colleges, universities in Korea serve meals instead of having a buffet style system.

the cast of “Hero” at the end


pictures of some meals I’ve had this week

pictures of some of the key locations on campus

  1. students and faculty enjoy relaxing by this pond when they have free time
  2. athletic field (definitely doesn’t compare to our stadium)
  3. the main administration building
  4. the newly built modern library

June 7th – Jeonju Hanok Village (전주한옥마을)

This past weekend, I went to the Jeonju Hanok Village in a city called Jeonju. I participated in a “Hanok Stay” which meant that I spend a night living in a traditional Korean house. One very special thing about this city is that while most of the city became industrialized and modernized, it preserved an entire village of old hanoks and turned it into a tourist attraction by inviting people from all over the world to experience the traditional Korean lifestyle and enjoy the food and culture.

A unique feature of the hanoks is the special heating system. During the old days, the ingenuity of the Koreans kept everyone warm in the winter and cool during the summer. Houses were built with Ondol, a sub-floor natural stone heating system. One side of the floor would be closer to the fireplace while the other side of the floor would be closer to the chimney. In the ground under the house, heat from burning the wood would course throughout the space and therefore would heat the floor, allowing people to survive the cold. Of course, if it got too warm, people could sit near the chimney side, where it would be naturally cooler since it is furthest from the heat source.

There are a variety of hanoks. I happened to stay in a more modern hanok, which was equipped with both modern and antique technologies. For example, my hanok had a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower, but it did not have an AC because the hanoks are kept cool by the natural structure and the natural building materials. It was built with traditional giwa (roof tiles), paper walls, and tree trunks as pillars. However, there were also electrical sockets.

In the village, there are countless restaurants that serve delicious korean food and many summery drinks. Additionally, there are many shops that allow people to participate in old fashioned cultural activities, such as making and designing paper fans, playing traditional games, engraving stamps with your family name, and getting the chance to wear traditional hanboks. There are even historical houses that preserve and showcase Korean history.

This is the view of the hanok I stayed in from the outside.

These are some of the meals that I ate while I was in Jeonju. The most famous dish that comes from the Jeonju region is Bibimbap, which literally translates to “mixed rice”.

I got a stamp made engraved with my own name (양지연). On the side of the stamp, it says “늘행복” which means “always happy”. A lot of tourists come to Jeonju Hanok Village to try on hanboks (traditional Korean dresses). I also got to design and paint my own fan.