I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the 40 college students that the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and the Korea Foundation sent on an all-expenses paid trip to Seoul, South Korea. The program is called the “CIEE South Korea Scholarship Program”, and this week was and will remain one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We spent our mornings at Yonsei University taking classes on Korean history, language, and relations with the United States and other countries, then dedicated the rest of the day to exploring the city and learning about Korean culture first-hand. What comes to mind when you think about Korean culture? You name it, and I can guarantee you that we did it.
We went to kimchi-making school, took K-Pop dance classes, made Korean masks, watched a break-dancing performance, toured a KIA factory, meditated and prayed next to monks, and wore traditional Korean clothing. We crawled in tunnels at the DMZ, visited the National Museum of Korea (and many others), walked along the Cheonggyecheon Stream, explored the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace, toured the National Bank of Korea, posed on sets of popular Korean dramas, and much, much more.
Our nights were spent exploring the city on our own. It’s amazing how close you can become to people when you spend every minute with them. None of us attend the same school, but I know that I’ve made friends that I will keep for a lifetime. We finally mastered the subway after much trial and error (and a lot of help from all the kind souls who we met along the way). I had my own small list of things that I would not leave Korea without doing, and I am proud to report that I accomplished every single one of them.
1. Go to a cat café. This was number one on my list. I had never been to one, and they exceeded all of my expectation. If USC has a flaw, it’s that there isn’t a cat café on campus. There are dozens of cats running around the café for you to play with and cuddle while you enjoy a drink and a sandwich. A utopia, basically. I’d rather not admit how much time we spent in there.
2. Karaoke. Korean karaoke is everything that I have ever dreamed of and more. Our group bought a room for a few hours, and we sang everything from Disney songs to rap to Christmas music (my bad). We even attempted to sing some K-Pop songs. Attempted.
3. Buy socks. All of the hype about South Korean socks is true. They are unbelievably amazing. I bought 21 pairs. No regrets.
4. Dance to “Gangnam Style” in Gangnam. I did not hear Gangnam Style played a single time on that entire trip, except for on our bus, but we couldn’t resist singing and dancing as soon as we arrived in Gangnam. It was nothing like the music video led me to believe, but I’m not complaining. Clubbing in Gangnam was one of the greatest nights of my life, though it was not possible for us to be any more touristy than we were. For the record, you will be harshly denied if you ask the DJ to play “Gangnam Style” at any Korean club.
5. Hold a Korean baby. My host parents were the nicest people you could ever imagine. There was a huge language barrier, but I loved that. Communicating with another person without exchanging a word is one of the most amazing experiences in the world, and there was so much of that on this trip. They took my roommate and I on walks, taught us how to cook Korean food, showed us pictures of their family, and (much to my delight) brought their two little granddaughters over, both of whom I spent hours with. Best of all, my host dad is a Trojan! I squealed a little bit when he showed me his diploma and I saw that he graduated from the USC School of Architecture. Fate!
Did I mention the food?! Saving the best for last, Korean food completely changed my life. I am not joking. Thank goodness that K-Town is only a few minutes away. Anyone want to go with me?!
P.S. Shout-out to my best friends Kyle and Devon for helping me finish the application. I love you two!