The South Korean Impeachment and Election

By a stroke of fate I happened to be in South Korea to witness the entire impeachment and election process firsthand. There were some very prominent differences that I noticed between America’s presidential election and theirs. Especially considering how our recent election went. This made the whole process all the more fascinating and nerve-wracking to watch.

The dismissal and impeachment of Park Geun-hye was obviously a prominent topic in Daegu. My Korean friends were exited and relieved to see her out of office and explained her corruption to me during the impeachment. In order to avoid a power vacuum, the election was held very soon after she was removed from office. There are six parties represented in the National Assembly and a record number of fifteen candidates initially registered to run. The Democratic Party candidate, Moon Jae-in won with over 40% of the vote, and on March 10th took office. This was a big relief to many, especially us there on a visa.

During the campaign, it was common to see rallies around to city along with the giant banners and trucks that doubled as musical billboards with bright colors and bold print along with each candidates original and unique theme song. South Korea has very strict regulations on how and what candidates can advertise. So each truck, poster, and sign looked like part of a set with all of the other member’s running. All of the messages seemed to be very upbeat and positive. There was little to no mudslinging or discrediting from any side that I could see, and a distinct absence of lavish or grandiose rallies and setups. I doubt billions of dollars were spent in there election, unlike what recently happened back home.

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Film and History

My favorite class while at KNU was hands down my Korean Cinema class. The professor, a Canadian-raised Korean, gave detailed historical context for each film we studied and for the industry as a whole.

The film my group presented on was centered around the extremely rigorous and strict Korean education system and its effects on modern students. The film, Pluto, dealt with a great deal of extremely dark material to drive home the main themes. There were quite a few of the selected films that centered around either the Korean war or military in some way. Which makes perfect sense considering the history of the country and surrounding area. The topic of censorship was very prevalent in our discussion due to Korea’s former and current strict content censorship laws.

He showed us how intertwined the government and the entertainment industry can be and how people tell their stories trough film. My favorite parts of the class were our group discussions. We had an incredibly diverse group of students so the conversations could confront a topic from nearly every angle. We learned a lot not only about South Korea, but about everyone else’s home country. So at the end of the semester, when our professor showed us his own documentary that took us into his family life as a Canadian-raised Korean and the transition that everyone in his family went through, it felt much more personal and much more real than most of my classes in the past have ever been.

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Friends in Many Places

Aside from being immersed in Korean culture, I also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the other exchange students. There were people from all over the world at KNU along with me. I got to learn some Irish drinking songs and improve my salsa and bachata skills. We were able to fill an air b&b in Seoul with people from seven different countries. Thanks to countless nights of laughs and getting to know each other, I now have a place to crash through most of Europe. There’s a network of friends around the world who I can keep in touch thanks to social media and who are already planning a reunion trip.

I was one of the only exchange students in a number of my classes, so I made some Korean friends whom I still chat with as well. Group work was a bit challenging due to the language barrier. It was an interesting experience to be so clearly the odd one out so often. I think that may have helped us bond as a group. (Although some made the association a bit embarrassing at times) There were so many unforgettable moments that I’m so glad to have gotten on camera.

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My Internship at the Daegu Arts Center

I applied for this internship for a number of reasons, the foremost being professional development. I knew that I possessed relevant skills for the position and a background in the arts. Also, the chance to learn about Korean culture in such a direct and hand-on way was very appealing to me.

On an average day working at the DAC I would help generate promotional content on various media platforms for the DAC or specific events they hosted. I would also often aid in translation from Korean to English. My other duties included basic classroom management for some of the classes held on the campus. I also got to participate in these classes and learn how to play some traditional Korean instruments. One of my larger projects was helping to write an outreach and partnership letter to UNESCO and researching other music centers within their organization.

I was fortunate enough to be able to see and participate in a wide variety of performances. This gave me a very clear window into the Korean culture that people without this internship would not find as easily. Music has always been one of my passions, and has deep meaning for me personally. So being able to hear and play the traditional music of Korea opened me up to them as a people more than many other things probably could. So, the jangu class was highly entertaining for me.

I absolutely loved being able to go to the concerts and plays. the work environment was very welcoming and my manager was eager to help the interns any way she could.

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Beauty in Korea

I’ve seen many beautiful things while I’ve been in Korea. I got the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and cover the city in pale pink petals and bring green back to the previously barren trees. I’ve seen conversations between friends break down into five separate languages and eventually devolve into laughter. I’ve seen Seoul lit up at night and people who perfect strangers not a few weeks ago forge deep friendships and let go of most of our inhibitions. Thanks to my internship at the Daegu Art Center, I’ve been able to watch a number of classical and contemporary performances from violin and piano sonatas to modern dance, along with several traditional Korean pieces.

But I have experienced all of this form a unique position of privilege that I didn’t really think about before coming here. South Korea is a culture in transition. Their country has gone through incredibly rapid urbanization in the past few decades. This relative leap into modern industry has also pushed them to the forefront of fashion, cosmetics, and the beauty industry. However, their beauty standards are extremely westernized. A large percentage of the population gets “double eyelid” surgery, which basically makes their eyes fit into general white beauty standards. Plastic surgery of all kinds is actually quite common and relatively inexpensive in South Korea.

In a bizarre and somewhat compelling turn of events, I found myself now held in a higher esteem of beauty. I had a lot of mixed feelings about this and didn’t quite know how to handle some situations. From complete strangers stopping me on the street to my boss saying she envied me, I was confronted with these awkward scenarios. This feels self-aggrandizing and narcissistic, which is why it was so uncomfortable to deal with. But it got me thinking about the beauty industry on a global scale and how it differs from country to country. I already had a some awareness of this topic, but being exposed to a completely new culture really deepened my understanding of how profoundly the ideas of beauty and success can affect a culture.

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Korean Food and Alcohol Culture

For these months I’ve been abroad I’ve been able to try a wide array of new food and explore a bit of the alcohol culture in Korea. I find it really interesting to find out how different cultures view drinking and see how it fits into the society. I found myself surprised at the very prevalent drinking culture here in Korea. Along with all of the amazing food I was able to try, soju and beer were available at practically every restaurant, but there is a wide and rich cuisine to explore outside of the party scene. (Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed)

My favorite Korean dish was probably jjimdak (see below) but it’s honestly really hard to pick. As far as desserts go, bingsu definitely takes the cake!

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Feeling Overwhelmed

Studying abroad in general can be a somewhat stressful experience, but it can open your eyes and broaden your horizons in so many ways. And while all of that was very true for me, I am also someone who struggles with anxiety. So, living in such a fast-paced dense and bustling city with over two million people who are part of this extremely homogeneous society which was completely new to me was definitely a challenge. Nearly all of the buildings are made up of three of four separate businesses all stacked onto each other. Everyone of them equipped with a flashing neon sign all fighting for attention.

After the first month however, everything started to click for me. I started branching out more and exploring as much as I could. I tried to eat at a new restaurant every day, and talk to as many people and take as many pictures as possible. Some days definitely needed to be rest days though.

This exchange program has been the longest I’ve been away from home by far. Although I’ve been out of ten country twice before, it’s never been for more than a month. So getting the chance to engrain myself in a culture for an extended stay is very new to me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my home since I’ve been here. I’ve grown more independent and confident in my abilities. So the seemingly endless list of things to do ended up being just enough. It’s been overwhelming in the best possible way, and I’ll be sad to leave, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience.

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My First Few Weeks in Daegu

As my days abroad continue to rush by, I haven’t had a great deal of time to sit and process everything around me that has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time. So far, my study abroad trip in South Korea has been a whirlwind of new experiences and new friends to share them with. However, I find myself noticing so many little things within daily life here in Daegu that are so similar to back home. Despite the wide array of difference, there is so much that seems fairly universal.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been exploring Daegu and trying to find the best coffee houses and restaurants I can! My KNU buddy has been extremely helpful in navigating the campus and their online systems. Most of my exploring has actually been with other exchange students. there are people from all over the world living right next to each other in this new environment. My roommate is Russian and I’ve become good friends with people from France, Portugal, Ireland, Mexico, Italy, and Japan to name a few. Most of my classes are of course mainly Korean students (besides Korean 1) so I’ve made some Korean friends with the help of group projects! Most everyone is very friendly, although I definitely feel the shift of perspective from majority to minority.

Korean is slowly but surely coming more easily to me. the alphabet can be a bit confusing due to how similar the syllables can sound, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Making Korean friends has definitely helped with this! Also, I’ve been trying to eat as authentically as I can while I’m here, which can be a bit difficult when fried chicken and beer is on of the most popular group-hang destinations! But I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve eaten thus far.  (except the dorm cafeteria)

Pre-Departure Korean Immersion

Regretfully, in fall 2016 the Korean Conversation Club met on Wednesday nights, which is when I had Spanish class.  So, to continue learning about South Korea before I move there to study abroad in spring 2017, we met at different Korean restaurants to eat together and talk about Korean customs.

First we went to Midwest City to Korea House https://www.facebook.com/Korean-House-117502098268996/ Our host and guide was Cassade Davis, who studied abroad in at Kyungpook National University in Daegu for a summer program, then returned in spring 2016 for a full semester.  She speaks Korean well, which surprised the restaurant owners. She taught me a few basic phrses while we were there. Cassade explained the basic chop stick table manners, and several other cotstoms and norms for meals and in general. We had kimbap, dukbokki, kimchi, bulgogi, and the accompanying banchan. All of which was delicious.

I’ve since gone exploring for all of the authentic Korean restaurants and markets that I can find, along with people I’ve met who have either studied abroad in Korea before, plan to, or are actually Korean.

International Community Fall Festival

ON November 19th, I got to stop by the International Community Fall Festival. Since I’ve been living in Kraettli Apartments all sememster, is was nice to be able to see all of my neighbors having a great time and  enjoying the festivities and bonding. The apartments are definitely a diverse population. I’ve done laundry next to people from so many countries and backgrounds in such a small amount of time. Getting to see how all these families interact has been one of the highlights of living there.

The handful of events that we’ve held throughout the semester have definitely added to the sense of community in Kraettli. From garage sales to BBQs, each one has helped to open me up to meeting new people and learning about their lives and experiences. (not that I didn’t already love doing that) I think I’m a little less anxious about studying abroad next smester thanks to living in Kraettli.