Korea Diary | Seoul Adventure Begins (Day 1)

7:42:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

After gathering our luggages, we had to wait 3 hours at the airport so Bestie C could pick up the SIM card she pre-ordered at "K Books" bookstore. Nothing too exciting but we were both ecstatic to just be there.

South Korea ICN airport bus South Korea ICN airport bus to Hongdae
Once everything was sorted out, we were ready to finally leave the airport. The both of us discussed our airport departure plan a few days prior. Although the normal all-stop train at ICN would have been the cheaper option, we ended up deciding to take the bus due to the big suitcase factor (mainly my ginormous luggage). The airport bus ticket was ~ ₩10,000. I'm glad with our choice now! After experiencing the subway all summer, it would have been a pain to drag just the number of suitcases we had 'round and 'bout the public transport.

Our destination was to Hongdae since the AirBnB place we booked was closest to that area. Once we got off the bus the next big challenge was finding our way to the provided address. Our host, Euna, had sent us lovely picture directions and suggestions, one of which was to take a taxi from Hongdae to her studio/apartment.

It wasn't hard to find a taxi in Hongdae. It was difficult trying to tell the driver where we wanted to be. We had the address in Korean and English, but he still had a hard time finding the place. When the taxi driver got frustrated with us, in part because we were foreigners. He got even more agitated when he told us to call Euna but we couldn't.

Our host did say her building was really new and not all the GPS had it in their systems. But the driver insisted we didn't even show him the Korean address. We were ultimately able to find the place after he called Euna for us, but...it was not a pretty conversation. I don't remember the exact words, nor did I understand most of the conversation at the time, but judging by his tonality and the few words I could make out things were getting heated.

When we finally met Euna in person, I was so afraid that she would have a bad impression of us due to the "argument" with the taxi driver. She was everything but! Euna was so nice and even said that he was completely not understanding. She thought we were overcharged and even said she would call the taxi company later on.

We were guided into her building and shown our room for the next 3 days and 2 nights. Even though she wasn't finished with cleaning the room from the previous guest, she allowed us to "check-in" early and leave our things there in order to explore a bit. (I had asked beforehand for an earlier check-in and she was very accommodating!) But oh her poor husband had to lug our suitcases up to the 3rd floor since they did not have an elevator - forever grateful! (I had a difficult time trying to get everything down the stairs when we left, forget about up!)

Seoul South Korea T Money Card Seoul South Korea Paris Baguette Caramel Macchiato Seoul South Korea Paris Baguette Red Bean Streusal Bread
T Money Card - Paris Baguette Iced Caramel Macchiato - Paris Baguette Red Bean Streusel Bread

Euna even showed us around her area a bit and helped us purchase & load our T Money card for using public transportation. (Our card was ₩3,000 but according to Bestie C, typical T Money cards cost about ~₩2,500. The card we got came with a coupon book to various things in Seoul/Korea.) Euna asked us where we were interested in visiting and even pointed us in the direction for transportation.

We were suggested to take a nearby bus route to Hongdae, but neither of us felt confident enough then to take on that adventure. Since we already passed through Hongdae earlier and saw the route the taxi driver took to the studio/apartment, the two of us walked back to the main Hongdae streets for our first mini-adventure. Along the way we stopped by one of the many Paris Baguettes to grab breakfast and tried our best to figure out the SIM card situation, which we still couldn't resolve then.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Entrance Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum
First major tourist stop ~ Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae
I don't remember if we had directions or not before hand, but we did ultimately have to ask the person at the Tourist Information booth for help because the museum was actually located on a small side street.
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ticket Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Souvenir
The Trick Eye Museum ticket was ₩15,000 . It was really fun trying to get the pictures just right in order to capture the optical illusions and seeing how the optical illusions worked. But be forewarned, the museum is a tourist (especially group tourists) hotspot! Prepare to "fight" to get your shot amongst all the others. May not be everyone's cup-a-tea, probably applies more for the perfectionists out there.

An unlikely 1st souvenir from a little boutique shop at the museum but how could I resist?
The things there didn't have much (if anything) to do with the Trick Eye museum, but there were tons of just cute bits and bobs & the typical souvenir-fare items.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ice Museum Seoul South Korea Hongdae Trick Eye Museum Ice Museum
The Trick Eye Museum ticket that we purchased also allowed admittance into the Ice Museum. It felt great to go in given how hot and stuffy it felt in the Trick Eye portion of the building (hot day + tons of people = no bueno.) This section in comparison was much smaller but given that it is really just a walk-in freezer, it probably isn't wise to spend too much time in the ice box anyways. The little cold-protectant pull-over did help a little, but it was still a "run in, snap photo, and get out" kind of situation. Nonetheless, there was a really cool ice slide for those who aren't afraid of getting their tushies a bit nippy ^^

Playground Park
Seoul South Korea Hongdae Playground Park
Maybe around noon-ish we were finished with the museum and wandered Hongdae a bit. Familiarized ourselves with the streets, stores, and came across the Hongdae Playground Park. Since it was the middle of the day there wasn't much going on when we were there.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae ABC Mart promoting
Promoters/Performers for the grand-opening of ABC Mart (shoe shop) in Hongdae
Nice to see marketing stuff in a foreign country!
All decked out in their store uniform (I am assuming) cheering and dancing all coordinated.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303 Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303
Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303 Seoul South Korea Hongdae AirBnB Sweet Seoul Residence 303
Around 2-3PM we headed back to our home for the time being, hoping to cool off from the heat and most of all to drop off our bags full of electronics and such. Luckily Euna was able to finish tidying up while we were gone and we were able to finally relax a bit. There was a little trouble trying to figure out the Wi-Fi password for the room. When we got some sort of service we were able to resolve the situation with a quick message to Euna.

Euna calls her building the "Sweet Seoul Residence" and our room in particular was ~USD$55 per night. She has other rooms available as well that are in the same figure range. For the price, the place was nicer than you'd think! It was like a pretty typical Korean studio one would expect after seeing dramas. Of course it isn't as big but the amenities were all relatively the same: washing machine only, a small stove-top (ours electric though, not gas), low-height furniture, and shower stall-less/tub-less bathroom. The bed was more than enough for the two of us and having a TV with cable channels was the icing on the cake.

We tried and was finally successful at figuring out the whole SIM card scenario. Otherwise we would have had to plan a trip to their store/office location. Despite the lengthy instructions that came with the SIM and on the website, it apparently seemed to have automatically started after either the card was placed in or the first run-through of the manual.

Seoul South Korea Cheonggyecheon Seoul South Korea Cheonggyecheon
Once those little things were settled we devised our route to Namdaemun Market. Along the way we passed by the City Hall - Cheonggyecheon area. There was a memorial site of sorts for the Sewol victims, as well as an international student/foreigners type of gathering event. Unfortunately we weren't able to go down to the stream itself but it was pretty nonetheless.

My only goal the first day in Korea was to get prescription sunglasses to use for the rest of my trip in sunny Asia. I read that Namdaemun Market was apparently THE hub for glasses wholesalers in Seoul and prices are pretty much cheapest there.

Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun
Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Sungnyemun
While on the look-out for the market, we came across the Namedaemun/Sungnyemun (Great South Gate). One of the multiple fortress walls that use to enclose Seoul. The one we saw was sadly not the original though because (if I remember correctly) the gate was recently burned due to arson. I love that another one was built to at least symbolically represent the past history of the gate. I also really like the juxtaposition of "old" and new. The gate is literally in the middle of a bunch of tall buildings and seemingly very out of place.

When we finally found an entrance into the market, dark clouds were rolling in and vendors all seemed to be covering up for the day and/or due to the impending weather condition. Even though I was really set on getting my sunglasses, it wouldn't have been nice to get rained on. Plus there really was an overwhelming number of optical stores in every corner of the market. I was honestly a little intimidated to walk into any one store to just browse and gauge prices on my first very day in Korea.
Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Market Wang Hot Bar Odeng Eomok Seoul South Korea Namdaemun Market Wang Hot Bar Modeum Odeng Eomok
Bestie C and I were both pretty hungry when we got to the market so we grabbed some Odeng 오뎅 or Eomok 어묵 (fish cake) for ₩3,000 before heading back home. Luckily they had a Modeum 모든 (everything) version that had a piece of all the flavors available on one skewer.

Seoul South Korea Hongdae Byulchonji Seollontang Mool Naengmyun Seoul South Korea Hongdae Byulchonji Seollontang Mandoo
Our night ended with eating take-out Mool Naengmyun 물 냉면 and Mandu 만두 (from Byulcheonji Seollongtang 별천지설농탕) while enjoying the cable TV service at our "home" ~ a familar activity in a foreign place.

Exploring Namdaemun Market was destined to be for another day...

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Korea Diary | Leaving & Arriving

2:06:00 PM mandy 0 Comments

Let the journey begin! (Cheesy, I know ^^ Bear with me here)

This series will probably be a whole lot more detailed than anyone will be ever interested in reading, but hey I want to remember every little bit of it.

I'll be primarily writing everything in time order. Sometimes things may seem oddly organized, however, it was really just how the day played out.

Our flight to Korea was on 6/21/2014 at 12:50AM, New York time.
We were arriving a few days before our Jeju-trip day to get adjusted.

I did very very last-minute packing the entire day prior to our departure. Since our flight was at midnight and would arrive in Korea early morning on the 22nd, I took advantage to shower and put on a fresh set of clothes before flying off. Luckily for me, I was able to eat one last home-cooked meal before I left for my 50 days away.

Funny story~
My mom told me to remind my dad a day or so before our flight that we would need a ride to the airport.
I didn't think he would forget such a big day.
You know...his "little" girl/only daughter going away from home practically all by herself for the first time...
But lo 'n behold, his response was "What? You need to go to the airport?"
Oh dad...

After eating, my parents and I went to collect Bestie C and her dad. Then off we went to JFK International Airport. While waiting on line to retrieve our boarding passes, I was really paranoid about whether I would be charged extra for my suitcases being overweight and/or oversized. (I measured my suitcases only AFTER buying it to find out the dimensions were indeed over the said allowance for Korean Air. Plus, I was not confident with my suitcase weight measuring method.)

By the time we got to the counter and I put my check-in bag onto the weight/conveyor belt, I didn't ask the guy helping us about my worries nor did he say anything to me about the topic. Either I was nervous for nothing or he was nice enough to turn a blind-eye! ;)

Entering JFK New York
Even though we had a midnight flight, there were a TON of other flyers at the airport as well (but we were there a couple hours early).

Just as we got on the TSA check-in line, we already had to say our good-byes. My mom was surprisingly rather cool about the whole thing, said "bye" and continued to WeChat away with her friends. I think I did get a bit teary-eyed (knowing me...I most likely did). Since my dad had to mind the car after dropping us off, I don't remember getting to see him before we got further into the security line.

Landed ICN South Korea
Thankfully our flight was on time and it took more or less a total of 14 hours to reach Incheon International Airport.

I really wanted to keep the jet lag to a minimum since we were landing in the early morning. (I've had jet lag from just going to California before!) I made sure to keep myself awake at the beginning of the flight, watched most of "Secretly, Greatly", and had a long sleep at the end. Even though I was really exhausted in the beginning, the schedule was definitely worth it when we arrived.

Despite having a middle seat, it didn't feel too bad considering I only got up 2-3 times the whole flight. It was a bummer that there was no pretty view to see out the window. A majority of the time we were asked to keep our blinds down. But even if we were allowed, it wouldn't have made that much of a difference. The path the plane flew had us mostly in darkness anyways.

I was a bit flattered when the flight attendants thought I was Korean the whole flight. When all the non-Korean passengers received a Customs/Immigration slip to pre-fill, I received none. Ultiamately had to ask for it when we were close to landing. Not really sure how the misunderstanding happened as I answered most of their questions in English. I did make out some of their basic questions but they also asked it in English most of it time...Eh who knows?

Arrival ICN South Korea
At ~4AM, Korean time, we were finally able to leave the plane! Good thing Bestie C has been out of the country pretty recently. I would have been a paranoid mess and take me a while to figure out the exiting procedures required to officially enter a foreign country.

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Korea Diary | Pre-Trip Preparation

1:36:00 AM mandy 0 Comments

The thing that I was meaning to announce, since way back when, was my then-impending Summer 2014 study abroad trip to South Korea. Yes, yes, I am many months too late now. But the next, long, series of posts will be a [photo] diary of sorts for my own reference or anyone else who may be planning a trip there in the future. Hopefully it'll come in handy to someone!

My memory of the whole process leading up to the trip is a bit fuzzy now. (Ah...the procrastinator in me.) But I'll try my best to share my experiences of everything that happened pre-flight, in Korea, and my return home.

For those that might want a much more detailed account (especially potential YISS applicants), click HERE! ~ Bestie's version of the our trip.

(More rambling and back stories. Feel free to skip over the rest of this if you'd like. But there will be some tips for fellow students. ^^)

As you may or may not remember from my past ramblings, I had been wanting to visit Korea for the longest time. Four years ago when I was applying to colleges, I also asked all the schools I was interested in about their study abroad programs to the country as well. (Even though the chances of me going were completely up in the air.)

Study abroad info brochures

After getting into college and being in a program that provides some funding for study abroad/research/etc., I couldn't wait to at least try to go abroad. BUT the caveat was...if I didn't meet the GPA requirements, those special conditions that I was entitled to would be prohibited for the time being. It didn't seem like a big deal at first - No biggie! Nothing to worry about!

First semester into my freshman year, my GPA was under the mark by (I think) 0.08. I was scared and a little devastated that it would have happened so quickly. The next year or so was spent dedicated to bringing my GPA up to be over the requirement. During that process studying abroad really didn't cross my mind at all, a luxury I thought I couldn't even consider. Sure, I could have went abroad with my own money but every little bit of scholarship and/or funding money helps and can't be dismissed.

I went to a couple of study abroad panels before and most students warned that transferring their major credits back was a pain in the butt. They mostly recommended taking the core requirement or general education classes while abroad. Problem for me was, I had taken most of those already which meant I couldn't really study abroad for a semester.

Until I met two classmates in my Spring of Sophomore year, who were set to go to Korea that Summer, I had forgotten about study abroad for the time being. I was honestly a little envious of them. However, by the time I found out they were going it was already too late for me to apply anyways. At least when they come back, I would have someone to help me through the process when time comes.

Program of Choice

Fast-forward another school year, Bestie C and I talked (constantly) about how great it would be if we could go to Korea together. We'd been to multiple Study Abroad Fairs at our college throughout the years and this was the year that things seemed to finally coming together. We were both filled with schoolwork to do at the time but the potential trip lingered in our minds.

Since Bestie C is the more timely of us two, she had been searching possible options we could take and told me of the ones she was interested in applying for. I was pretty much up for whichever program that was the lowest in price and allowed the most traveling (alongside the courses portion of the trip).

Yonsei University YISS

In the end, we applied to Yonsei International Summer School (YISS) via direct enrollment on their website.

▶︎ It was a program that past students at our school went on.
▷▷ Less paperwork

▶︎ Other organized third-party programs to Yonsei in the Summer were all based around the same YISS program anyway.
▷▷ Less extra fees to third-party people

▶︎ We could apply to go on their pre-classes trip to Jeju Island in addition to their one-day tours.

Applications

Once we picked the route, we had to:
1. Apply to & be approved by our school (a surprisingly long and detailed application
• General info
• Few short answer questions: Why I wanted to go, what I wanted to get out of it, etc.
• Program of interest
• Pre-approved courses I was interested in
• Professor's recommendation

2. Apply with & be accepted by Yonsei
• General info
• Courses interested in

While our school required much more work than originally anticipated, Yonsei's application was relatively simple and to the point (basic info and an application fee).

I can't say this is true for every applicant or even every year, but it seemed like YISS accepted both Bestie C and I as soon as they received our application fees.
Baruch study abroad approval
Yonsei University YISS 2014 acceptance

Logistics

After receiving approval and acceptance on both ends, the next steps were just the nitty gritty things (not really in any specific order):

▶︎ Making sure our potential classes would be transferable.

▶︎ Apply for
▷▷ Study abroad funding/grants
▷▷ Dorms or hostel (up to you)
▷▷ One-day trips
▷▷ Classes

▶︎ Wiring
▷▷ Tuition + extra trip(s) fee(s)
▷▷ Dorm fees

▶︎ Buying
▷▷ Plane tickets
▷▷ Travel insurance (required by home school)
▷▷ Packing related things

▶︎ Medical stuff
▷▷ Filing our emergency/medical forms for our home school
▷▷ Tuberculosis reports for Yonsei's dorm check-in
▷▷ Get recommended immunizations

▶︎ Visa?
▷▷ This depends on your home country
▷▷ For USA students, it isn't necessary for a short stay

▶︎ Have 2 copy of all your important documents hand for yourself + your family
▶︎ "Get our of airport & into the city" plan

Pre-Arrival Tips

▶︎Apply early so you can be accepted early & therefore buy plane tickets EARLY
▷▷  Summer prices are super duper pricey

▶︎Try your best to wire anything in Korean won if possible!
▷▷  Overages and shortages due to exchange rate can be a pain to deal with there
▷▷  Make as few wires as possible (the whole process requires at least 3 independent wires: application fee, tuition + trip fees, dorm fees)
▷▷ Wire fees are usually pretty hefty
▷▷ Ex: Chase USA had a USD $40 charge each wire

▶︎ Everyday amenities & personal care stuff
▷▷  "Use up & throw away" OR travel-sized mentality
▷▷ There are plenty of stores by Yonsei to get anything you'll need
▷▷ BUT!! Might as well pack those already used bottles of amenities from home to finish instead of buying new ones there and potentially not finishing them OR to relieve yourself of one more headache as a foreigner in a new place.

▶︎ Having less clothes will probably be just enough
▷▷ You might buy clothes
▷▷ Dorms have laundry rooms (washing machines, drying machines, and drying racks)

▶︎ Ideal suitcase situation: 1 big suitcase + 1  carry on/medium-sized suitcase + 1 large duffel
▷▷ Go with an empty duffel and use it just in case you need it on your return flight
▷▷ 2 large suitcases is handy for rolling BUT most taxis won't be able to fit it into their small cars
▷▷ Some drivers will be super accommodating while others will probably mutter and get mad at you
▷▷ If you don't mind that, go for it!
▷▷ Van service is available but requires a reservation. Unless you have the Korean skills to call and request, it is the more difficult option. Someone at the front desk at the dorms could help you call if you have a number though.

Currency

Something totally optional, but a thing we both decided we wanted do, was getting Korean won to bring with us to avoid the said terrible airport exchange rates. We both "exchanged"/bought won via Chase and had enough to last our 50 days there. (I don't recommend Chase that much though, at least not a big sum. Their rates were well below the typical day-to-day exchange rate at the time. Although...both of us did end up using our debit/credit cards as well. We wanted to be sure that we had enough "emergency cash" on-hand until we left.

Let me tell you, card swiping is super convenient in Korea!

▶︎ Most places, more likely than not, allows credit/debit card use
▶︎ Most of those places also don't require a minimum purchase or charge extra fees for card use
▶︎ MAKE SURE!! The card you use DOES NOT have a foreign transaction fee
▷▷ If it does, know what it is and swipe wisely

▶︎ Call your card or ask a representative at a branch to have them call and let the bank know that you will be using the card out of your home city/country
▷▷ Avoid a frozen account

If you do need more won/cash while in Korea there are a few options:

▶︎ Have your home currency with you?
▷▷The friends we met at YISS had good experiences exchanging their currency in Myeongdong and Jongno

▶︎ Don't have any more cash of any kind?
▷▷ATMs are pretty much everrywhere
▷▷Be careful of your bank fees
▷▷There are more Citi bank locations than Chase (if that is of help to anyone)

Korean Won front
Korean Won back
How pretty is the Korean won?! Granted, we did get new bills. But still, they were so colorful and vibrant in color. It is hard to tell in my photos but the bills actually increase in size in correlation to their denomination. That was hard for me to get used to but it's a neat concept. If you exchange money anywhere, I would recommend to just get mostly the smaller bills (1,000-10,000 won). I found that most place will look at you "funny" when you use the 50,000 won.

There was a pretty big hiccup along the way that almost hindered/stopped our trip but luckily things worked out in the end! Otherwise, I wouldn't have such lovely stories to share soon. ^^
Anyways...Get ready!! I'm committed to starting and finishing this series.

I may also do a few more detailed posts on tips but we'll see!

KSIP

(Super side story about something that did not work out.)

Although I was really psyched about the trip, the idea of using the "precious" summer of my Junior year in college for something non-internship related burned in the back of my head. When I saw that Yonsei had an internship program during the summer (Korea Summer Internship Program - KSIP), I was really interested in applying. They had positions at a wide range of firms in many fields. But for my major/interests, in particular, there were Korean advertising/marketing agencies, start-up tech companies, entertainment companies, etc.

But...there were quite a few problems that came up when applying:
▶︎No one at my school, who studied at YISS, applied for this and go in before
▷▷Needed additional paperwork and approvals in order to get transferable credit

▶︎Trying to get my major department's approval for said potential credit transfer was pain
▷▷In the end, the answer was more or less "We have no idea what it is you're talking about, so no."

▶︎Finding others' experiences in KSIP in the past years via the interwebs was unfruitful
▶︎I had no/limited work or internship experience to give me an edge
▶︎I have heard that some people got accepted via connections (home school departments, personal, etc.)

Ultimately, I didn't get an intern position but that was alright. I would have been happy either way, honestly! I felt good that at least I (kind of) did try to get some work experience in, even if it never worked out. Bestie C and I did meet with a fellow student from our school who was going to YISS and received an internship offer. Plus while in Korea, we met a two new friends who also had research internships with KSIP. It isn't impossible to get in but it would be safe to say that the Korean companies' standards are quite high and competition for the limited spots (1-3 per company) is pretty tough. If you plan on applying, I wish you the best of luck!

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