Friday, July 22, 2016

June 30, 2016

In-Country Orientation Day

Woke up at around 7 in the morning again after a long night to an amazing surprise... My RD's had brought us Honey Butter Chips, Muffins, Doritos, and Apple Juice for breakfast! It was my first time getting to eat the infamous Honey Butter Chips. 

Honey Butter Chip explanation: South Korea has a honey butter craze. They love the unique flavor so much, they even made it a beverage. It's really unlike any chip I've ever had but I was mostly interested in eating them because when they first came out, people went so crazy for them, they would sell out everywhere and sometimes the convenience store clerks would have to hide bags behind the counter so no one would take them all. 

South Korea also has a banana craze right now... Banana Milk is my latest obsession. You can probably find some in an Asian supermarket, but I haven't seen any where I am from. When I first had it, I was amazed. It is very smooth, sweet, and tastes like a ripe banana! There's also things like banana flavored Choco Pie (Korean dessert) and banana flavored ice cream. I even got a banana key chain in Hongdae... 

ANYWAYS, after eating breakfast, my roommates and I headed down one of the conference halls in the youth hostel to get ready for our in-country orientation. We learned how to play the Sogo (Korean drum instrument) and even got to take one home with us. We played more ice breakers to get to know each other, and got the opportunity to split up into groups for the afternoon "Survival in Korea" session. 

Before starting Survival in Korea, the staff bought a bunch of Korean treats like candy and chocolate and other popular drinks like Pocari Sweat and Milkis for us to try. I fell in love with White Heims and the Milkis (carbonated milk) was actually pretty good too. 

Survival in Korea is basically when the groups go off into different parts of Seoul (wherever your group leader decides to take you) and shows you how to use the subway, gives you a T-Money card (don't try to get around Korea without one), tour a district in Seoul, and learn important Korea phrases, etiquette, and WHAT NOT TO DO (Example: sit in an elderly seat on the subway). 

I went off in a group with one photographer (she's so sweet I love her), one group leader, and three other people in my program. Our group leader chose to take us to Insadong, a tourist district in South Korea. Insadong is very close to Gyeongbokgung Palace, and it is a well known place where tourists can come to buy souvenirs from South Korea. 

In Insadong, my group leader decided to take us to Sulbing, a very popular bingsu (Korean shaved ice dessert) restaurant. She taught us how to order food in Korean and we got to order Green Tea bingsu and Patbingsu (popular red bean bingsu). It was my first time eating bingsu and I can honestly say that Sulbing never disappoints. I love bingsu so much, especially with the condensed milk they give as a side option to make it even sweeter. After eating at Sulbing, our group leader decided to take us to the main street in Insadong, where we encountered a four story outdoor marketplace. 

After finishing up in Insadong, we headed back to the youth hostel and ate lunch. My first time eating lunch in South Korea was incredible, but the second time surely did not disappoint. I ate bulgogi (Korean meat dish), rice and dried seaweed (to wrap the rice in), kimchi, and seaweed soup. I got to eat with metal chopsticks and a rice spoon for the first time in Korea and the chopsticks were a lot heavier than the ones I was used to using in the US (the wooden ones). 

After lunch, we headed back to our dorms and got to explore the hostel a bit more. We discovered that there was a miniature world expo on the second floor with a wardrobe full of garments from all over the world, and there was also a cafe by the main lobby.

After getting to hang out with my program friends again, the staff surprised us by ordering chicken, pizza, and soft drinks for all the dorms. Korean chicken and pizza are so unique and delicious, it's no wonder Korean barbecue is becoming so popular. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

June 29, 2016

The Flight to South Korea

Woke up at around 6 am. and got ready to head to the airport. My friends and I met up in the hallways before heading out to make sure no one was missing and that we weren't forgetting anything. 

Unfortunately, for some reason the charter buses couldn't pull up in front of the dorms, so we had to walk about a mile down the road with our luggage and I couldn't feel my arms. 

The buses finally arrived about 20 minutes later, but it took another 15 minutes to load all of our suitcases on. When we got to the airport, we pulled out our passports, checked our bags in (I accidentally threw my carry-on in there oops), and went through security, which in total took about another hour and a half. Once we were all done, we headed to our gate and split up to have lunch. My friend and I ran to a Starbucks, bought food, and also got sweatshirts for the plane ride. 

We gathered again about 30 minutes later and began boarding. Not much happened on the flight, most people slept. It was a total of 13 hours but at least I got to eat Bibimbap for the first time... on an airplane... somewhere above Japan?? It was alright, definitely nothing compared to authentic Korean bibimbap. 

When we arrived to Incheon International Airport I was amazed. No wonder its the best airport in the world. It's immense. The weather was pretty overcast in Incheon, but the feeling of finally being in South Korea was like no other. 

We headed straight for baggage claim, and once everyone had their belongings, we exited the gate. I had seen the airport in Korean dramas before because it's a popular filming site, but to actually be there myself, felt so unreal. The Better World staff and photographer were waiting for us as soon as we entered the main lobby of the airport, so we put all of our suitcases aside and gathered for a program picture with a large banner. (Photographers will follow you around a lot on this program to capture what you are doing whether its in class, during In-country orientation, or with your supporters). 

When we finished taking pictures, we went outside and loaded our belongings onto the Korean charter buses. I had seen them in pictures before, but in person... wow. Once I stepped outside the airport, the reality of being in South Korea started to hit me. There were still foreigners surrounding us, because of course, we were at the airport, but all I could hear was Korean. The most exciting feeling, for me personally, was when I could understand what the people around me were saying. For those that are just now starting to read my blog, I WAS SELF TAUGHT until I began the NSLI-Y program. To know that all my hard work was finally paying off was truly an amazing experience. 

Once we were on the buses, we headed for a youth hostel in Seoul. The youth hostel was really nice. There were about four people to a room, and the beds were actually very comfortable. Many things were obviously noticeably different: the rooms were powered by a single room key, the bathrooms had bar soap (common in South Korea), shower towels were the size of hair towels (also common), the food in the cafeteria was completely Korean style, the elevators in Korea have a woman that speaks every time you get on, go up or down, or get off, and the most interesting part: Our youth hostel was in the center of the city. This meant we could see the Namsan Tower very clearly from the top floor of our hostel, we could also see buildings and a miniature hanok village. 

The first day we were there, we ate bulgogi for dinner, and got to meet Korean high school students that were staying at the youth hostel for a field trip. They were very sweet and eager to talk to us. 

Also, when we got to our dorms, Better World had left a another care package on our beds. It had a fan (please bring one to Korea it is very hot and most people here have them), a new shirt, a water bottle, a notebook, a bar of Korean soap, and a Korean pencil pouch. 

Once it was about 10:30 pm, it was lights out again so we went to sleep and got ready for the next day (First day of In-country orientation). 

June 28, 2016

Pre Departure Orientation Day

I woke up at around 7 am., got ready, then headed down to the school cafeteria to meet up with program friends and eat breakfast (School meal cards came with the dorm keys). 

PDO began at 9 am. so we all headed down to a banquet hall and watched instructional videos, learned about cultural differences, things to be aware of, how to get around, what to do in certain situations, and NSLI-Y invited two alumni from previous years to talk about their experiences on the program, which I thought was really nice because they both had interesting stories to tell. 

Throughout the day we had a couple of lunch breaks, so we often went to the school's lobby and played ping pong or Avalon (One of my program friends is obsessed with that game, you know who you are). We also got to interact with the Japanese foreign exchange students and share previous exchange stories. We used a lot of free time to get to know each other, tour the campus, and get to know more about each other.

At around 10 pm. it was lights out again, so many of us went back to our dorms and finished packing because we had to be at the Seattle airport early the next day. 

June 26 and 27, 2016

Leaving for Atlanta

I left my house at around 1 pm., so that I could arrive in Atlanta and stay in a hotel room for the night. My flight was scheduled to depart for Seattle, Washington the following morning at 8 am. 

I brought one big suitcase, one carry-on, and one book bag for the trip.

I honestly thought it would be really hard for me to leave my family, because I have relied on them for a lot throughout my whole life, but as soon as I went through security, I was on my own. Well... not exactly. Before I went through security I ran into one of my friends from the program, who was also flying for Atlanta.Luckily, getting though security in Atlanta was smooth, because my friend and I both had tickets with TSA Pre-Check. Our group was the largest flying from one airport (we were a total of 7). We were all very familiar with each other, because prior to meeting up in Atlanta, we had made a group chat on KakaoTalk to share advice and just get to know each other better. (There are 49 of us in the Seoul program, and around 15 in Jeonju and Songdo). Once I met up with everyone in the Atlanta airport group, I finally got to meet my "host-nephew". Apparently, my host family is related to my program friend's family, so he can technically be considered my host-nephew. Either way, I like to joke with him that he is...
At the airport, we waited about 40 minutes or so until it was time to board the plane. 

I sat with a couple of friends and the rest were kind of scattered on the plane since it was a domestic flight and there weren't any seats available. 

We were not only the largest group flying from the same airport, but we were also the first ones to get there. We arrived to Seattle at 10:05 am. PST and unfortunately had a tough time finding our shuttle that would eventually take us to the University of Washington, where our Pre-Departure orientation was going to take place. 

Our driver was really quirky and out-going, and getting to see the Space Needle was also pretty cool, considering I had never been outside of an airport in the West Coast. 
Once we made it to the university, we met the people in charge of the program and our Resident Directors! If you ever take part in a NSLI-Y program, know that you will be around your Resident Directors constantly and go to them for just about anything. 

We got our room keys for the dorms and they were set up with a two person per room rule. Girls were on one floor and the guys were on the floor above us. There wasn't air conditioning in our dorms, but it's okay because we weren't in them for a lot of the time we spent there anyways. We ate pizza for dinner at around 6 pm. and continued to wait for the rest of our friends to arrive from different parts of the country. The last group arrived at around 9 pm. 

One of our RDs (RD= Resident Director) gave the group that had already arrived a tour of the University and it was actually pretty nice. We also went to the lake and got to meet other exchange students from Japan that were visiting the University as well. At about 10 pm. it was lights out and we had to prepare for the PDO the next day. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why I wasn't able to update until now...

Why I wasn't able to update my blog until today:

Unfortunately as soon as I left my house to drive down to the Atlanta airport, it was very difficult to get a hold of internet access. The following day, I flew to Seattle only to find that the dorms within the University of Washington also did not provide us with any internet access (we were guests for only two nights). When I arrived in South Korea, I came across yet another obstacle. My host family also did not appear to have wi-fi. Since I have been here (about three weeks), I have been mainly using wi-fi at the university our program is studying in or borrowing it from cafes. Fortunately, as of today I officially have access to wi-fi at home, so I will begin uploading what has happened until now. 

On a side note: 

My Korean mid terms are tomorrow, so I will not have much time to get through all the posts in one night... (there's about 25 I'm working on).

Again, I'm sorry for the delay.

If you have any questions about South Korea or the NSLI-Y program, leave a comment and I will get back to you soon. 

Thank you!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Packing and Things to Know


Prior to your departure, NSLI-Y will e-mail flight itineraries by around May 31st and send out host family information two weeks before departure to the host country. Along with itineraries, you will need to bring your passport (along with four passport photos) and your ID. The itineraries that are e-mailed to you by NSLI-Y, will need to be exchanged for boarding passes once you arrive at the airport that will be taking you to the Pre-Departure Orientation location.


We were informed by the organization to pack lightly. This year, PDO will take place in Seattle for two days before departing for South Korea. NSLI-Y has mentioned that the organization will only waive the fee of one bag that will be checked in. If the bag weighs more than 50 pounds, there will be an extra charge. For my year, several people have decided to take about one week's worth of clothing, because many of us know that we will have the opportunity to go shopping at least within the first week of arriving in the host country. There is no set dress code for the program, but in the Student Handbook students were notified that modest clothing is encouraged. For example, in South Korea, you will not often see women wearing crop tops or shirts that show too much skin, therefore those are  not something I would choose to bring. I know that I will be doing a lot of shopping in Seoul, so I have chosen to leave a lot of space in my suitcase for clothes, shoes, and other souvenirs that I plan on buying while I am there.


In terms of toiletries, you will generally be able to find a lot of affordable options in South Korea. However, one item that is very hard to find would be: deodorant. Deodorant in South Korea is not nearly as important as it is in the United States. For this reason, I have decided to take two for the seven week trip. One more important fact to keep in mind, is that in South Korea, bath towels are very small. A bath towel in Korea can normally be compared to a hair towel in the United States. 

I am also bringing:

  • Two tooth brushes
  • a hair brush
  • makeup remover 
  • cotton balls
  • q-tips
  • shaving supplies
  • tissues
  • floss
  • wipes
  • soap
  • body lotion
  • perfume
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • a shower cap
  • a hair towel
  • toothpaste
  • facial cleanser
  • moisturizer
  • nail clippers
  • nail file
  • tweezers
  • hand sanitizer 
  • sunscreen

Host Family Gifts

The stressful part. Once host families are sent out, you generally receive your family's ages, genders, names, occupations, and other things. In the Student Handbook, the organization encourages host family gifts to be: 

  • Photo Calendars from your city
  • US themed items 
  • Coffee table books from your state
  • Photo Magnets
  • Key chains
  • American cookbook (with pictures)
  • Sports souvenirs
  • Local college/university apparel 


In the back of the Student Handbook, students are given a list of recommended vaccines to have before departing for South Korea. These include: 

  • Routine Vaccines (ex. Tetanus, annual flu shot)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis B
  • Malaria
  • Rabies
I only took the oral typhoid vaccine, because I was already vaccinated for some others. 

Along with the vaccines, I have chosen to bring: 
  • Midol
  • Tylenol
  • Dayquil and Nyquil
  • Tums
  • Eye drops
  • Cough Drops
  • Prescribed antibiotics from the travel health agency 


South Korea's currency is the Korean Won (KRW). About 1, 200 won = 1 dollar. The organization encourages students to bring credit or debit cards to use while in Korea, because walking around with cash can be dangerous. Also, aside from spending money that you plan on bringing to the host country, NSLI-Y will provide its students with a stipend to use for transportation purposes. 
I have chosen to bring a credit card and a debit card to take cash out of an ATM if needed. 

Internet Access

In the Student Handbook, it is stated that host families will be equipped with internet access. Internet access in South Korea is not hard to come by, and many times there are no password requirements. The university we will be studying in has wi-fi as well. Just a quick fact, South Korea has the fastest internet in the world. I decided to also opt for a hotspot while I am in South Korea, which I will be purchasing from SK Telecom. For the six week period, it will cost me about $240. There is also an option to get a South Korean chip installed in your cell phone. I recommend both options if you're someone who can't stay off the internet like me. 

Keep in Mind

  • It will be monsoon season. Bring an umbrella. 
  • The outlets in South Korea are different, so buy an adapter and check the voltages on your electronics.
  • Bring comfortable sneakers, you will be walking a lot.
  • In South Korea, if you decide to go street shopping, many clothing items will be "free size". Korea's "free size" can relate to America's "one size fits all". However, "free size" in South Korea is limited to a size 0 to 4 for women. 
  • Shoes in South Korea are hard to find for women with an American shoe size 8 1/2 or larger. You may have to look in department stores, but the shoes may be a bit more expensive.
  • Sunglasses are a must since you will be outside frequently. 
  • Sunblock is also a necessity, however this is easy to find in many convenience stores. 
  • Bug repellent. I have heard that mosquitoes tend to be more rampant in the countryside, however it is better to be safe than sorry. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Korean Pre-Departure OPI

My Pre-Departure Korean Oral Proficiency Exam (OPI) 

May 11, 2016 - 8:30 pm. 

Today, I had my pre-departure Korean OPI. If you are chosen for the Seoul Korean Summer language  program, you will be required to take the oral proficiency exam twice (before and after the program).
You will only be required to take this exam, if you mentioned in your application that you have previous knowledge of the target language. The pre-test exam is used to record how much you know prior to your departure, it will not be graded.

This exam will NOT affect the following:
  • Language class level placement
  • Program participation
The exam occurs over the phone, and can last anywhere from 15-30 minutes. 
My exam lasted about twenty minutes.
Unfortunately, I cannot disclose too much information on this exam, for reasons pertaining to the program guidelines. 

Below I will attach a video link from a former NSLI-Y Seoul Summer Finalist, which helped me prepare and get a better idea of what to expect from the pre-departure exam.