Personal

It has been 4 years already?!

Only recently was I able to put down my 2013 exchange student experience into words. I wrote them here and here.

4 years. It took me that much time to write about it— and I’m just getting started. Even if I have great faith in the magic of words, some experiences just takes time to be processed, more than others.  Especially something with life-changing magnitude such as this.

4 years. The length of time needed to finish most college degrees. The length of time for a baby to learn crucial life skills such as walking, talking, eating solid food, and studying basic academic concepts. The length of time that enables so many changes.

Even with the awareness that many things will inevitably change in this long time, I still find myself surprised every now and then.

Recently, while I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I read a status of one of our American dorm managers in my former dormitory in Cheonan. They are now moving back to United States, more than 8 years since they first moved to South Korea.

I clicked “Like”, but shock is my real reaction. I don’t know why, but I always kind of expected them to stay there ’til they grow old.

When people are a huge part of our memories, we sometimes expect them to remain the same forever.

With this, I recall comments from my relatives whom I haven’t seen in a long time, things such as, “Wow, you’re all grown up!”, “You’re so tall now!”, etc.

Before, I want to roll my eyes and say, “Of course I’ve changed! You haven’t seen me in YEARS!”

Now, I understand them more.

My special memories are carefully preserved in a corner of my mind. The places I’ve been and the people I met there will always be the same.

Of course, this cannot be true. Now, most foreigner friends returned to their country of origin. Most Korean friends have graduated for college. Some are even married and have children.

Even I had changed a lot. I have graduated from school and had my first job. I found an amazing guy who later became my boyfriend. I now wear red lipstick almost everyday.

The first few months I came home from Korea, my bones ached from the heaviness of nostalgia. Longing for the surprises that later became my comforts. But as news of changes reached me bit by bit, I realized it’s the nature of everything to change. And it’s an inevitable, necessary, and even amazing thing.

Time flies and we should use its wings to take us to greater heights.

 

 

 

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Travel

Best Year Ever! A Year as an Exchange Student in South Korea (Part 2)

halloween

(Continued from here.)

Gains and Losses

As that popular song goes, “How do you measure a year?” For me, I measured 2013 with gains and losses.

As for gains, one of the best was Heechul’s undying love. Kidding of course! Hey, a girl can dream!

The truth is, one of the things I gained was weight! I can go on and on all day talking about (and of course, eating) Korean food, and I still wouldn’t be done.

I also gained a handful of friends from all over the world, not just Koreans, but people from other nationalities, and even other Filipinos as well.

Since some of them had been in Korea for months or even years, they helped us adjust to life in Korea. It was fun getting a glimpse of their own colorful cultures.

I lost a lot too— or should I say, I got lost. A lot!

There was a time my friends and I ended up walking a much longer route from a folk village to NSeoul tower, and we ended up walking around a jogging path in our dresses and heeled boots.

Once I also I rode the wrong train, and I was all alone! The train was bound for Seoul, where I am planning to go to anyway, but it had reserved seats and a much more expensive price. Good thing the conductor didn’t ask a ticket from me or I would have been embarrassed!

But it was all worth it as we were able to explore many places in and out of Seoul; UNESCO world heritage sites (Seokguram Grotto, Bulguksa Temple), traditional treasures (palaces and folk villages), Seoul staples (N Seoul Tower Myeongdong, Insadong, Hongdae), nature adventures (Nami Island, cheonggyecheon stream, parks), countryside charms (Yeosu, Boryeong), and many more.

I also lost many of my fears, like my fear of extreme rides. In theme parks Everland and Lotte World, there seems to be every variation of tossing, turning, dropping known to mankind.

I felt like my friends and I were like fruits put into a blender; put whole, and turned into unidentifiable mush. But it was so much fun!

I also lost my fear of the unknown. Daily, mundane tasks like buying something from the convenience store or riding the bus was a challenge when you can’t speak their native tongue well.

But the unknown became less daunting as long as I am armed with a ready apology and the ability to laugh at mishaps.

Suddenly, I stopped considering them as fears, but as adventures.

No matter how difficult something seems to be, it can be fun when you are with friends. But being alone isn’t so bad either; you gain more independence and self-love!

 

Love and Hate

I wasn’t able to make Heechul fall in love with me, but I did fall in love with South Korea even more.

The kind of love nurtured by spending memories together, through the harshest winter to the most blazing summer, the misunderstandings to connections that transcends words.

But there is one thing I did hate about South Korea: I hated saying goodbye.

But I am not too sad because the memories will remain. Anyway, I can always book a ticket and comeback!

If you haven’t done so yet, I wish you will have your own Korean adventure as well, whether as an exchange student, traveler, or whatever else.

You just might have the time of your life too!

Annyeong, Korea! Til the next Annyeong!

Travel

Best Year Ever! A Year as an Exchange Student in South Korea (Part 1)

Hanbok pic

It was one humid afternoon five years ago. I was staying in our dormitory, striving to cram one semester’s worth of information into my brain for a test I will take in a few hours. Suddenly, my phone started vibrating and ringing, dancing to its own song.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Kat! You don’t know who I am, but I know everything about you. You are a burnt out college student whose life energy is derived from Super Junior and all things Korean.”

“Well, that’s obvious from my Facebook posts, so I am not impressed.”

“Oh really? How about this: we know you lined up for 12 hours under the scorching sun, just so you can have the best spot in the Standing VIP area for Super Show. We know you empty your piggy bank so you can splurge on Super Junior merch and Korean products. We know you want to be an exchange student, and once you are in South Korea, you’ll make Heechul fall in love with you.”

“How… how did you know this?! Are you an S.P.Y.?”

“And yes, we recognize that reference from that Super Junior song. Anyway, your prayers have been answered. You will be an exchange student in South Korea for one year!”

*cue trumpet sounds and confetti*

Or at least, that’s how I imagined it to play out. Actually, I did not receive a phone call, but a much less dramatic text message. But that doesn’t change the most important part: I am going to South Korea!!!!

*cue trumpet sounds and confetti as I fall down on my knees and ugly cry my heart out*

Goodbyes and Hellos (or should I say, Annyeongs and Annyeongs) 

In the program I would participate in, I would receive air fare, tuition fee, dormitory fees, and a modest stipend. I would also go with three other students.

The name of our university is Korea University of Technology and Education. It is situated in Cheonan, South Korea, around an hour from Seoul by train. 

After months of fulfilling school requirements, accomplishing forms, securing a visa, packing bags, and saying tearful goodbyes to friends and family, the day had come!

We left the Philippines and arrived at Incheon International Airport on March 7, 2012.

On that cold spring night, we set foot on our temporary home, the International House Dormitory. Here, will also work part time as English teachers and residential assistants. We helped Korean students learn English through playing games, shooting videos, and chatting away.

It was both work and play for us, and getting paid for it was sweet bonus!

We also had to focus on our studies too. We continued our Korean language education, and also had courses on Management, Education, and even Personality Development. Good thing these courses are offered in English!

Also, our professors were kind. We even had bonding moments outside the classroom, like when our Korean instructor bought us on a field trip, and our Linguistics professor treated us to a scrumptious lunch at a fancy Chinese restaurant. They helped us feel welcome.

(To be continued here.)