I’ve been in Seoul for almost two months, and it’s crazy how much yet how little has happened. I haven’t done many touristy things or gone out much since this is my 3rd time here and I’m focusing on my own self-care and interests this semester. However, I think I’ve made up for lack of “picture-worthy” moments with academic, professional, and personal growth.
I’m taking Chinese Characters to improve my understanding of both Korean and Chinese, North Korean Society and Politics, Modern Korean History, and Intensive Korean (level 3 out of 6). None of my classes are particularly difficult or that much work, which is definitely a refreshing change from NYU! I’m still learning so much, though, and have been able to use my knowledge in all kinds of random situations, from discussing the “yangban” (intellectual elite) of decades past in Korea when my language partner brought it up to recognizing Chinese words while visiting Luoyang and Shanghai with my dad. Although my Korean classes are a grueling two hours per day, every day, it’s a great continuation of the four hours a day, every day schedule that CLS was! We have two different teachers, one for grammar/vocab and one for reading/listening, and they’re both great. The former is weird in the best way possible, quirky, energetic, and cute. The latter is calm, composed, and comforting. The former draws pictures of clogged toilets to explain vocabulary, and that’s all you need to know about her to understand why I love her so much. (If you know me.)
It’s a good thing that my classes aren’t too much work because I’m also balancing two virtual internships this year, one with EducationUSA Armenia and the other with U.S. Embassy Bishkek. Some of you may have heard about the State Department’s Virtual Student Federal Service program; that’s how I applied and was accepted to the Armenia internship. I actually received an offer for my first choice, EducationUSA Russia, but I realized that if I didn’t take the Armenia internship, I might never again have a way to learn about Armenian culture, language, and people. I’m really happy with my decision, and my supervisor, students, and fellow virtual intern are absolutely wonderful. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy to pursue projects I’m interested in, too. My original tasks were just to hold biweekly Facebook live presentations related to academic life in America and to work on profiles of university life in different states around the U.S., but because I love Instagram and blogging, my supervisor allowed me to create accounts for EducationUSA Armenia. 🙂 So I am doing biweekly blog posts and biweekly Instagram series featuring different schools around America! I love all my tasks because they allow me to get creative and use social media to engage Armenian students in American university life while also giving me an excuse to interview my American friends about their own college experiences. U.S. higher education is something I’ve always been interested in; I remember browsing college websites for hours, fascinated by all the different activities and majors and classes each offered. It’s been great getting to share that with people who are hopefully just as excited as I was to experience university life!
As for my internship with U.S. Embassy Bishkek, it’s actually kind of random how I got it. 😛 So I had applied for an in-person internship with U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi and listed Bishkek as my second choice even though I knew there was no way I could do it. But they accepted me, and I really wanted to work with them in some capacity, so they invited me to apply to a virtual internship with them. The deadline for the VSFS program had already passed, though, and I’d applied to other projects, so I assumed that I wouldn’t get this one. But then the week projects started, I got an email telling me what my assignments would be, and I was like, “Y’all didn’t even interview me?!” For once, I’m grateful for miscommunication because it gave me this awesome opportunity to learn more about a country I’ve been really curious about. So far I’ve been using Excel to track and make graphs out of terrorist events related to Kyrgyzstan, and it’s work I find relaxing (??) and interesting. Sometimes I have to read articles in Russian in order to find information I need, and although I obviously don’t understand much, I understand enough to locate the little facts I need, such as nationality, hometown, and number of people involved. 🙂 That always gives me a little confidence boost and motivation to continue self-studying Russian! Also, my supervisor is an FSO (diplomat) who has served in Vietnam, Taiwan, and now Kyrgyzstan, and speaks Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Russian. He probably has no idea how much I look up to him and how cool I think he is, though I never listen to his advice…. Example: I asked him if I should apply to CLS Azerbaijani or Russian, and he told me to apply for Russian with several reasons backing it up. Guess what I didn’t end up choosing? :,) But anyway, how can you not think someone is badass when they randomly send you an email saying “Sorry for the lack of communication, I was out in the provinces monitoring presidential elections”?? (And, might I add, the first truly democratic elections in Central Asia?)
Because I don’t live in dorms (I lived in a hotel for a month, then a goshiwon for 2 weeks during which I was never actually home, and now a guesthouse – I don’t even want to talk about all the complications and hoops I had to jump through), it’s been kind of hard making new friends here. But I have some really great friends from my CLS and NSLIY programs as well as the State Dept exchange world in general that are here, in addition to people I know from other parts of my life. One of few friends I do have through the Yonsei exchange program is a girl who recognized my name from the NSLIY Facebook group because she applied a few years ago. XD Is anyone surprised? I love spending quality time with all of them, but I’ve also been really embracing my introverted side this semester and allowing myself to just be alone and at home, doing things that relax and enrich me. I haven’t been putting too much pressure on myself to be social like I have in past years.
Things are going really well in all those respects, but this has been a really difficult semester for me emotionally for reasons too personal to share. My mood fluctuates without warning; sometimes I’m so angry that I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack, sometimes I’m so sad I just stay in bed and cry, and sometimes I’m fine and can look at everything with clarity. Something I’ve realized, though, is that this exact paragraph can be written for almost every phase of my life, so maybe I need to seek help with it and see if there’s something else going on that I’ve been overlooking.
I think it’s the challenges that have helped me to grow this semester, though. Maybe I’m not as wide-eyed and naive as I was only a year ago, but just because I’ve had to grapple with the realities of life doesn’t mean I don’t still believe in the good of people and the good in the world. The actions of those around further prove to me that kindness and love exist everywhere you look.
I don’t want to end on too somber of a note though. Something kinda cool is that where I’m living now is right by where I did my NSLIY program, at Sogang University. I still remember walking so many of these streets when I was 18, right before I started college. My spacial awareness was even more lacking then than it is now, so it’s kind of weird passing by things I saw then but viewing them from different eyes even though it’s all the same stuff. Like, that red tube by the Sinchon station used to be something I didn’t know how to find on my own during NSLIY, but now it’s something I see every day on my walk to class. Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t know when the next time I’ll come back to Korea or study Korean will be after this, but then I just remind myself that as I was a student on NSLIY only 3 years ago, I had no idea I’d be back so soon in the exact same area I was. 🙂
Now to finish the paper I’m putting off in order to write this post… All excitement upon hearing it was only 2 pages were dashed when it was also announced that we had to use single spacing and 11-point font.
Talk to you soon!