서울 생활

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.)

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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.

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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!

 

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13 Years Later

I’m currently applying to be a Fulbright ETA, and my application is due to NYU this week. I hadn’t written one of my essays yet, at a loss for what to say. Then for the first time in two years, I emailed my fifth grade teacher, a teacher who continues to impact my life even though we rarely get a chance to speak anymore. I have trouble talking about her because she means so much to me that I want any words I write or speak to do her justice. I wrote this essay in one sitting just feeling out for what felt right, and I hope it does. If I don’t get accepted to Fulbright, I’ll be fine knowing that at the very least, it gave me an opportunity to verbalize what she means to me.

“The bee symbolizes that Balboa was a stowaway to the Americas,” I explained, gesturing at the magnet-fastened figurine, “just like how whether they’re in their hives or pollinating flowers outside, bees are always making an impact on the environment and people.”

When I was ten, my teacher had our class use symbols to explain history, picking ordinary objects that wouldn’t normally be associated with the concept. Years later, this has translated into thinking outside the box in my own moments of teaching, whether that’s incentivizing my little Chinese cousin to practice her English spelling words by coloring them onto my notebook for “decoration” or guiding State Department exchange applicants in redefining the rules of “good” essay writing in their own pursuit to understand and convey their experiences. In my classroom in Kyrgyzstan, I hope to turn vocabulary memorization and essay writing into enriching and fun experiences for my own students, the latter being a platform for them to push the limits of thoughtful communication and substantive self-expression.

The impact of my teacher’s projects on me has also translated into adaptivity and receptivity in all situations. The former has helped me to integrate into daily life with the various host communities I’ve had abroad; the latter to become one of them.

“I think it’s a sign that you’re here to be our daughter,” my very host mother murmured to me between tears, setting down a photo of her late daughter, a girl who was my own age when she passed. “You know you have a home and a family here any time you come back.”

These exercises in symbolism taught me how to take on other perspectives, to look at the seemingly meaningless objects before me from a different lens and make something new and unexpected out of them. While my teaching methods will follow tried and true theories of education, I hope to look at the students before me and see them each as individuals with personalities, interests, and dreams to discover, nurture, and empower.

“This country is usually painted with one broad stroke,” I wrote as I explained to my professor my motivations for taking his class, “a stroke that contains only the colors of the government. I want to see the individuals that make up a complex society, the shades and textures up close before I comment on the whole painting.”

One individual I continue to see in the bigger picture is that very teacher who began it all for me. She’s in her beehive doing what she does best in the same classroom she’s been in all these years, making an impact on the environment and people by producing students who trickle out to splash some of their own color on the canvas of the world. Balboa sailed to the Americas in search of treasure, spurred along by his king and queen. I journey to Kyrgyzstan in search of language education and cultural exchange for my students, inspired by my queen bee.

8 Hours in Athens, Greece | January 2017

Excited at the prospects of being a multilingual 5th grade spy, I turned to my best friend, using her heritage as a spring board for my career: “Teach me Greek.”

I didn’t get farther than the alphabet, and since then, although I’ve only done some Duolingo and gone to a few sessions of an informal class at my university, Greek has always been a language close to my heart. It was my first step into the next decade and counting of polyglot aspirations, of Foreign Service dreams, of who I am.

So imagine my elation when, while booking an unexpected trip to Cairo, the cheapest flight option happened to have an 8 hour layover in Athens, the city whose language started it all for me!

The flight alone was already enough for me. I was on Aegean Air and finally got to flex the (tiny, almost nonexistent) Greek-speaking muscles I’d scraped together throughout the year. “Coffee with sugar and no milk. Thank you,” was about as far as I made it, but it still felt sweet to use what I’d studied. A kind man next to me helped me with more vocabulary and pronunciation. As we descended, we were surrounded by a swirl of hazy mountain islands nestled into the blue sea. Hong Kong? I wondered. No, Athens.

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It was simple buying a bus ticket into town, where we were dropped off in a square still sporting Christmas lights. Uneven stone paths gave way to standard European roads. Apartment blocks stood next to ancient architecture. It wasn’t like what I’d seen in pictures. I liked it that much more.

On my walk up to the Acropolis, I stopped to pet a cat who immediately greeted me with purrs and rubs. Not that I believe in superstitions anyway, but crossing this black cat didn’t bring about doom. I had no understanding of the city’s layout and didn’t look up what there was to do in town, but as luck would have it, a Greek couple with limited English abilities found me alone, talking to my only (furry) companion, and took me under their wing.

We walked around the Acropolis area and passed through outdoor markets selling jewelry and trinkets. My new friend held up some earrings to her head, glancing at me for my opinion. “ωραίος” was my official assessment. Beautiful. Did I want to swing by a bookstore so she could buy some Astérix comics? “καλά” I affirmed. Okay.

Sandwiches and coffee were on me at a busy restaurant on a side street off Monastraki, a lively square full of teenagers and adults alike. My salmon flatbread ended up being too sweet, but I hope their coffee was just right. I was tempted to ask them for their social media or emails, but something held me back. Maybe I don’t need to stay in contact with everyone in the world I meet. Maybe some people are just there for the moment, but stay forever in your memory. And that’s enough.

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I took the subway back to the airport, feeling all proud of myself for being able to navigate public transportation on my own. That feeling never gets old.

I was hoping to spend the couple hours before my flight resting and reflecting, but I ended up meeting a talkative German girl who also spoke fluent English, Italian, Arabic, and Spanish. What brought her to Cairo? “Oh, I intern at the UN office there,” she explained, before engaging in an Italian-Arabic conversation with her friend, code-switching so rapidly between the two languages that I could barely keep up. I hope I didn’t catch too many flies gawking at her. As she scribbled down for me places to see and restaurants to eat at in Cairo, I decided I wanted to be like her someday. A multilingual badass who can code-switch seamlessly while kicking ass and taking names [by names, I mean notes on the most delicious Lebanese food she could recommend to me].

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I boarded my flight, surprised to find an exit row all to myself. More leg room than someone of my height needed, but I wasn’t complaining. Ευχαριστώ, Aθήνα!

And could I get a little extra ζάχαρη with my coffee? Perfect, thanks!

 

Age is just a number, but is 정?

“What do you think will be the most difficult aspect of your host culture to adapt to?” I reread the question, wanting to put down something thoughtful, something I would actively work to understand during my time abroad. I put my fingers to the keyboard. “The age-based hierarchy.”

Experiencing a country for yourself really does make all the difference in gaining insight into its culture, even more so than learning its language in a classroom or talking to a heritage friend. Before going to Gwangju this summer, my image of the Korean honorifics system was skewed. As an idealistic egalitarian, I couldn’t imagine myself being comfortable with the idea that someone should be more respected than you purely for their age, for the year in which they happened to be born.

At the same time, I was grappling with the concept of 정 jeong, an untranslatable word that denotes senses of loyalty, support, care, kinship, compassion. I wondered if I would experience it myself in Korea and figure out what it meant and how I could convey its feelings into action and words.

My time this summer showed me that the honorifics in Korean culture may well facilitate 정 for the fact that it creates the structure for people of all age groups to talk to each other. Talking leads to connecting, which leads to bonding, which eventually leads to a sense of camaraderie, of 정. Freshmen bonding with seniors. Children bonding with adults. In many Western countries, I’ve noticed there’s a discomfort with the idea that friendships can be made across ages, that as a college senior, it’s weird I could be equally as close to a high school freshman as I could my friend’s mother or grandmother. I wonder if that’s because this set of honorifics isn’t built into our languages, that there simply isn’t a linguistic skeleton that facilitates cross-age friendships.

As I saw this taking form around me, I realized terms like 오빠 oppa (older brother) and 언니 eonni (older sister) didn’t feel so bizarre to me anymore. They slipped out naturally and just seemed appropriate as my friendships with older Korean friends developed. When you are someone’s 언니 or 오빠, etc., you aren’t just commanding them around because as the older one in the relationship, you have all the power. You look after them. You buy them food. You act as a role model for them because you genuinely care about them. And isn’t that what 정 is all about?

My language partner took to heart my jokes about how the only food I can handle is bland food and packed me the most flavorless rice cakes and cereal pieces she could find so I wouldn’t go hungry. She handed them to me, beaming.

I smiled back. “Thanks, 언니.”

Bye CLS :( 나중에 봐요, 친구들!

This all happened very suddenly. One minute we were goofing off in class, another normal day, and the next we were shuffling onto our flight back to America. Didn’t we just arrive in DC for PDO??

Much to everyone’s displeasure, even though our graduation ceremony on Friday wasn’t until 10:30am, we still had to get to school at our normal time to wrap up classes. My teachers made personalized stickers for everyone, and mine says “SNS 여황 파울라” – Social Media Queen Paula :,) Aksha got 동가리 (“club”) because she’s obsessed with “making” them out of every common interest she shares with someone, and Liza got “리자 ❤ 브라인,” in reference to her boyfriend. A few of us may or may not have teared up.

The graduation ceremony was a lot of fun. Janelle’s language partner and Moira’s host mother spoke about what the experience was like for them, which was so sweet. It made me regret not being a better language partner and host daughter… I gave a speech in Korean about the importance of CLS and language learning, a speech I worked hard on to be as powerful as it could be. 🙂 I may post it and its translation on this blog at some point. I also performed Taekwondo with some of my friends from that class, but I messed up on the black belt forms I was doing with Kaitlin, embarrassing myself in front of everyone. It wasn’t one mistake, either – I barely knew any of it! But if CLS has taught me anything, it’s that you roll with the punches and don’t let your errors get to you, or else you will be stuck in the mud the rest of your time, accomplishing nothing and unable to move forward. Other classes also had hilarious, well-planned performances, and Zay, Janelle, and Jonathan made a Korean rap music video that had the entire room cracking up the entire time. Aksha put together a “Day in the Life” style video of CLS for Youtube, which she showed during graduation. It’s one of those videos that I know if I watch from this point on, it will just make me cry.

That afternoon, my class and our teachers got together at a super cute cafe, Grunmind Cafe, right by my homestay apartment. We all talked as friends, which is what we did during class anyway, but this time there were no learning objectives or new grammar points to teach. We were just chatting and getting to know each other as people and as friends, and it was refreshing and made me wish I’d had more time with all of them. (And that I’d visited Grunmind earlier! They were the first cafe in Gwangju that I’d visited that had soy milk lol. You’re welcome, intestines.)

At night, Peter and his language partner, Alexi and her language partner, Aksha and her language partner, and I (but not Kyeyoung, who was in lab – thanks for dropping the ball, 언니 -.- jk jk) went night hiking, where we got incredible views of Gwangju lit up at night. We also got incredible views of an enormous spider with a web that was like 10 meters long. I hadn’t exercised well in a while, so the hike felt amazing and made me want to get back into working out.

Aksha came directly over to my house afterward, and my little host sister read us (frightening) children’s’ books. Aksha was a hit with both her and my host mom because she’s so funny, outgoing, and good at Korean, and it made me feel really bad about myself. It made me wish I was all of the above, that I’d talked to my family more, that I could tolerate eating Korean food, that I was good with kids. But didn’t I tell you that if nothing else, CLS has taught me to move forward past mistakes? The old me of the beginning of CLS would have let that ruin my mood for the rest of the night, withdrawing into and hating myself for who I am. But instead, I was just happy that Aksha and my host family were having a good time with each other, and I was motivated to improve my interactions with others. Turning my negativity toward myself into inspiration to improve used to be something that I had a hard time doing but that I had to learn how to do in order to stay afloat during CLS, and I couldn’t be more thankful about finally learning to accept myself.

Speaking of things Aksha is good at, I was stressed out about packing, just throwing my things haphazardly into my suitcase and freaking out when they quickly filled to the brim of my bags. She swooped in to the rescue, rolling up my clothes and showing me where I should fit each item so that I would actually have room for everything. By the time she was done, my bags were fully packed, and I had room left over in all of them. Superhero, honestly.

The next morning, several of us attended a workshop organized by Korean high school at the Gwangju International Center. We learned Korean slang and had little competitions, both with traditional Korean games and more “worldwide” phenomena like the water bottle flip challenge. 😛 It was a great way to meet more locals closer to our own age, and I was really touched when I found out they’d spent 3 weeks preparing that day for us!

In Korea, there’s a 방 (room) or cafe for pretty much anything you can think of. Justin and I went to a room cafe so we could take a nap. Typical.

Then we headed over to Syejeong’s mother’s home for tea time, along with Yeji, Echo, and Riona! Syejeong’s mom went all out, loading the coffee table with an enormous fruit platter, chilled tea in a rainbow of colors, and homemade desserts. She didn’t end up talking to us much, but we did get to thank her heartily before we left. We also got to meet and chat with Syejeong’s sister, who has also spent significant time in English-speaking countries and therefore showed up our Korean with her fluidity in English. I’m really grateful they put together that tea for us, which was a chance for us to practice our Korean with locals who are close to our beloved RD (lol).

That night, I went to the arcade with my host mom and host sisters. I think it’s generous to say that we were all atrocious at the games, so the older one and I ended up collaborating on different games, splitting the buttons between us. We also took funny photo booth pictures together that I’m excited to frame in my room. It was my attempt to spend some last moments together, to be a better older sister to the girls and a better daughter to the mom. Dessert afterward was on me, the least I could do after a summer of them providing me dinner every day, not an obligation under the CLS program.

Goodbyes on Sunday were difficult for most, but I felt better knowing that I’m going back to Korea next week and will certainly visit Gwangju again on a free weekend. 🙂 Walking through check-in, security, and boarding at Incheon was surreal, and I was disappointed to find that I was sitting with two strangers, somewhat far from any other CLS students. The flight was less than 10 hours long, and before I knew it, we were landing back in San Francisco, back in America. Thankfully, I got to say proper goodbyes to almost everyone, but unfortunately, despite thinking all summer that Justin and I were on the same flight to Chicago, we weren’t. 😦

And now I’m home, and it’s weird how normal it feels. NSLIY was certainly a lot more dramatic than this. NSLIY was full of crying and numbing sadness, as dramatic as that sounds. But being back home after CLS, it feels like I never even left. I do miss my friends so much, though, but I know it’ll be easy to stay in good contact with them. To my surprise, our cohort’s group chat has been popping, which I didn’t expect. I guess I assumed everyone would want to leave the chat at the end of the program, but it’s been the opposite! I also went to Chicago today to apply for my Korean visa, and it felt so good to be dunked back into a Korean-speaking world at the consulate, if only for 20 minutes.

I mentioned this on Facebook, but going into CLS, I really didn’t think I’d gain anything out of it (besides language skills of course) that I hadn’t already acquired from past study abroad experiences that changed my life. And for a good chunk of the program, that was mostly true. I was self-loathing, withdrawn, and wondering if I should just go home. But it was because of all the struggles, both personal and academic, that I was forced to face during those two intense months that I grew more than I ever have. After years and years of being the most sensitive person ever, CLS finally made me start growing the thicker skin that I desperately need. If I let negativity from myself and others affect me all program long, I wouldn’t have walked out of it with the amazing friends and enhanced Korean skills that I did. All of my goals – social, professional, personal, academic – feel so much more attainable now with these realizations and these experiences. But most importantly, I feel more comfortable with my flaws, my mistakes, myself.

So although my CLS summer wasn’t the earth-shattering trip that programs like NSLIY and my high school French exchange were for me, it’s certainly something that I’ll be talking about in my personal writings, to my friends, and on application essays for years and years to come. I couldn’t be more thankful to everyone involved. Not just the individual people that I interacted with on program, but also the entities, like the State Department, American Councils, and Chonnam National University. I know I’m a broken record, but I believe so much in the peace-building potential of language learning and State Department exchange programs, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to participate on CLS this summer.

CLS Instagram hunt #15 – What you’ll miss most about your CLS program: The people. I don’t know where I’d be without everyone involved in putting together this program, from my dedicated RD who stayed up with me till 5am until she knew I’d be okay to the teachers that supported me even as I felt my abilities were lacking. I’ll miss so much the friends I made, people who have similar interests, values, and senses of humor as me but also couldn’t be more different from me – people I can learn from. I can’t wait to reunite this semester with my host family and language partner, who welcomed me warmly into their country and made it a home. I hope I can be that person for others someday. I hope I am that person to others.

CLS Week 9: You can’t get rid of us that quickly!

I have a million things to do for graduation tomorrow, which is why I’m blogging now.

It’s the last week of CLS, and we’re leaving for America on Sunday 😦 It’s really sad realizing that we may not see each other for a while, and that the program is coming to an end, but I’m also excited to go home and do all that that entails, including but not limited to eating Portillo’s.

I think I’ve finally found a home of sorts here, though. I have a cafe I always go to, friends I always want to see, and a host family and language partner I love. Aksha’s apartment complex has a rooftop, so over the weekend we spent a couple late nights up there, just gazing at the stars and talking about everything, from the time her mango got confiscated at an airport a few years ago (“can’t you just let this man-go??!!”) to how we’ve grown during this program. It’s been nice, but the flooring leaves both of us stained with green. I thought I’d gotten bitten by a poisonous spider, and it took the bathtub turning green after I showered for me to realize the relieving truth!

On Monday, I met up with my friend Sejin, whom I hadn’t seen in 3 years! If you know me, this story of how we met won’t be surprising: she’s the second cousin of the hometown best friend of one of my best friends from my NSLIY program. XD We met while I was in Seoul for NSLIY, and it turns out she’s spending the summer near Gwangju, so we hung out! I love reunions. ❤

Wednesday was a really fun day. We played a board game for speaking review, watched a funny Korean sitcom, and had a 윷놀이 match with 4반! 윷놀이 is a popular Korean “board” game that involves throwing marked sticks and yelling at your teammates over strategy. Whenever people propose playing a game that doesn’t involve a screen of some kind (phone screen, computer screen, TV screen…) I always assume I’m going to not like it and be bored, but then I end up getting really into it. (Settlers of Catan, anyone?) Also because I used to be in 4반, I didn’t quite know where my loyalties were. 😉

Because all Justin and I do in our lives is take naps, we went to a study room, pushed some desks together, and napped on top of them. Eventually a knock came on the door, and I opened it to some confused looking CNU stuff who were like, “모른 외국인들이 여기서 자고 있대요…” (“I heard some unknown foreigners were sleeping in here”) When they saw it was just us, though, they hurriedly told us we could get back to sleep LOL.

Everyone was dreading the 2-hour re-entry orientation that would replace our usual 1-hour RD meeting, but I was actually looking forward to it all week lolll typical Paula. Moments like that, I know I truly am fit for a career in international exchange, especially State Department programs. :p Our RD came up with a hilarious line graph describing her mood throughout this program, with one point being called “I used to like OPI as a nail polish brand” in reference to the Oral Proficiency Interviews we all need to take in order to measure how effective CLS is for future State Department funding. We also did a lot of ~self-reflection~ and ~goal-setting~ and we talked about reverse culture shock. My entire life is just reverse culture shock so it was good to know that I’m not alone in suffering through it.

That night, I got dinner at an Italian restaurant with my host mom and sisters. The restaurant is called “La Conne”… I don’t know if “conne” means anything in Italian but it means “bitch” in French so I feel uncomfortable whenever I see it. Anyway, I had good talks with my host mom about Korean-Japanese relations, especially in regards to islands they both claim to have sovereignty over and the Korean comfort women of the war, which Japan still has not apologized for. It’s interesting because my host mom is a Japanese translator and clearly loves the language and country, but she’s also not blind to the issues her country and her “adopted” country face with each other. I also got to teach them all a bit about English and French grammar/vocab and how they differ from Korean! 🙂 It was fun explaining to them that French only has 천대말 (formal speech used with those older than you) with the tu/vous pronouns, and that English doesn’t have it at all. So ever since I really got into French in high school, I’ve always felt weird addressing people older than me in English as just “you.” I feel even weirder now with Korean because Korean doesn’t even use pronouns that often, especially not “너” (“you”).

Today we had our final exams, which I think went well. 🙂 I spent hours the night before writing cards for everyone and finishing up my graduation speech, so I didn’t end up studying much, but I guess putting the grammar and vocab to practice through my writing is studying enough, right? 😉 Later my classmates and I met up to get flowers for our teachers. After a lot of arguing about which ones would be best, we settled on simple bouquets plus cute potted succulents!

And now Aksha and I have been “working” at each other’s houses for many, many hours, and by working I mean I took a 3 hour nap on the couch. (I woke up panicked because she told me it was 10pm, but it turned out she’d just read the 20:00 on my military timed phone wrong…) We’ve been friends since we first “met” through the CLS hashtag on Instagram about a year ago, and it’s been surreal actually getting to experience this program with her. I don’t know what I’ll do without her in a few days. 😥

But this isn’t over. The friendships made, language skills gained, and lives changed through this program will continue showing themselves through how we carry forward in our futures, applying what we’ve learned and felt to the decisions we make. Graduation may be tomorrow, but this is only the beginning of a journey that will continue the rest of our lives. 🙂

But first, I need to memorize some black belt forms for Taekwondo if I don’t want to make a fool of myself tomorrow at graduation.

CLS Instagram hunt #15: A piece of advice for future CLS students – It’s so hard to pick just one. In fact it’s hard to even come up with one because everyone has vastly different backgrounds, goals, and experiences. Maybe that’ll be my advice, to keep an open mind to the people and happenings around you. I think I went into the program with expectations that were too firm. I expected everything to be like NSLIY, and I expected too many things of myself without taking into account that CLS is not NSLIY, and I am a human being with flaws and insecurities and needs. I finally started to make the most progress on all fronts, social and academic and emotional, when I let go of those expectations.

Like the expectation that I wouldn’t pass out for hours every day.

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Blogging Inspiration + Foreign Service Thoughts

My good friend Alexi is also into the Foreign Service and passed me a couple links to FSO blogs she really likes. How did I not think of this earlier?! I spend all my time these days on people’s blogs, so I’m surprised it didn’t cross my mind to find some foreign service blogs to binge read.

For those of you don’t know, the Foreign Service is the corps of diplomats (Foreign Service Officers, ambassadors, etc) that performs services at embassies and consulates all around the world. These tasks can range from visa issuance to emergency response. You get rotated to a new city every 1-4 years, oftentimes with language training to complement your technical training! 🙂 Ever since I stepped into the Chinese consulate to get my visa 5 years ago, I’ve been determined to join the Foreign Service because it aligns with everything I love: helping and getting to know people from all over the world, learning languages, living in different countries, and serving my country. I know this sounds extremely idealistic, but now that I’ve met so many FSOs in several different countries, I can see that it’s not some far off dream. It’s something that I can actually make happen.

Of course, there are several steps to pass along the way. There’s the dreaded FSOT (a written exam that has questions ranging from US foreign policy to American pop culture), the even more dreaded personal narratives, and the most dreaded group interviews, where you need to show that you are a leader who also cooperates well with others. Contrary to popular belief, being a diplomat doesn’t just require language skills. In fact, that’s not even counted until you’ve passed those other 3 steps. Since I’m 21, I can now officially start taking the FSOT until I pass, which I hope I do one day.

But enough technical stuff! These are all things you can read all about with a quick Google search. Reading these Foreign Service blogs invigorated my desire to someday be a diplomat while also reaffirming my passion for blogging. I love how the internet has made it so easy to gain insight into others’ lives and the cultures, histories, and politics of places near and far. Of course, if you’re not a social media person, it’s totally fine to not be sharing your perspectives and experiences. But I personally find that doing so helps open a new world to others, just as it has for me. I keep up with a lot of study/working abroad blogs, especially State Department programs, and they’ve taught me about countries and languages that I didn’t even think about until I was exposed to them through social media. Not everything being posted online is going to be profound or academic, but I think that’s better because people are more likely to connect with daily life and small victories.

I was never good at updating this blog until I came on CLS, when I realized that talking about my experiences was a good way for me to self-reflect and for others to learn about Korea, Korean, and the CLS program. 🙂 I’m really excited to keep this blog going through my experiences abroad this year, and someday, if I get CLS again, Fulbright, Peace Corps, and/or the Foreign Service, I would love to continue to share my experiences through this platform. I’ve read books and articles about the Foreign Service, but it was devouring the aforementioned blogs that made me really get an idea of what being in a diplomat is like. 🙂

Speaking of all this State Department stuff, I recently received my informal offers to work at the US embassies in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and Abu Dhabi (UAE)! Of course, I still need to receive my official offer and security clearance, but even just getting to this point makes me happy because this was my third time applying to a State Department internship. 🙂 (Maybe fourth??) If I do end up getting to work in Abu Dhabi, I will certainly blog about my work and what life is like as an intern at an embassy! I was in correspondence with someone at the embassy in Bishkek, who recommended I apply for a virtual internship with them since I cannot physically be there. I did apply to the Virtual Student Foreign Service, but for other projects, so I’m not sure how I could go about applying to something in Bishkek now that the application has closed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though, because a chance to work with that embassy in addition to Abu Dhabi would be amazing! I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

And you guys all know that I’m very open about things I’m applying to because I have no shame in rejections. So I’m currently applying for Fulbright ETA in Kyrgyzstan, CLS Azerbaijani, and Peace Corps, though I have yet to decide on a country. I’m thinking somewhere in Central Asia or Eastern Europe. If any of you are in the same boat as me with applying to any of these programs, let me know so we can help each other out and give each other some moral support!

I have no idea where this post is going or why I’m even writing it. I guess it’s because my CLS posts have been very focused on my CLS experiences, when really I’m constantly bursting with excitement about the State Department and its programs in general. So it’s been nice to just word vomit about all the things I care about for a moment. 😉 Now back to the scheduled programming.