Chuseok, International Fireworks Festival, Dragon Scholarship, and Other Stuff!

Wow! A lot of fun things have happened in the past few weeks.

Diplomacy! Talk Workshop:

I got to visit Sungshin Women’s University to take part in the Ministry of Foreign Affiairs (MOFAT)-hosted “Talk Talk” diplomacy event before Chuseok holidays. This was thanks to a CAU Global Ambassador who’s volunteering for the youth volunteer wing of the ministry, called “Friends of MOFAT”. First off, I want to mention that Sungshin Women’s University is the most beautiful, clean, and modern university I’ve ever been to. I know what you’re thinking – “come on, it’s because it’s a women’s university!”. No. I lived at another women’s university here in Seoul for four weeks, and while it was nice, it  did not compare whatsoever. The place looked like an art gallery. Either they’ve got some very generous donors, or tuition fees are out the roof.

Anyways, we were seated in a big auditorium where we got to watch this talk show-style interview featuring three important guests, one of whom was the first female Korean ambassador. They had some really neat insights to give.

Then we had a discussion session; I got put in the one with the focus being on Asia. It was really cool. After the event, they gave out free neck rests. Cool.

Above is a group photo of my discussion group ^

After leaving the event, I went to Namdaemun market in search of some PSY socks (not for me; just as a gift, I promise!). I failed. However, I succeeded gloriously at finding some delicious street food! I had tteokbokki, my favourite, and my new SWEET favourite, hotteok!!! Dear lord, hotteok is amazing. It’s a deep fried pancake with syrup, nuts, and cinnamon inside. And, like most Korean food, it’s dirt cheap! It’s roughly less than $1 for one. Photos to come later.

Chuseok:

First, I recommend watching this video, which gives a great summary of what the Chuseok holiday is all about:

Last week was Chuseok, a Korean holiday very similar to Thanksgiving. We had nearly a week off from school, so lots of people decided to go travelling (Taiwan, Japan, Busan, Jeju-do, etc) but many of us stayed behind in Seoul. Sadly, I had a rather large assignment due at midnight in the middle of it all, and of course I didn’t have the foresight to complete it before the holidays. So, instead of travelling I decided to stay at the dorms.

On Saturday morning, I participated in Justice for North Korea‘s South-North Friendship Family Sports Day. The Gaebong Defectors’ Church and Unity Vision Self-Support Centre also helped host the event. Chuseok is a time to come together with one’s family and celebrate the year’s harvest. Sadly, North Korean defectors don’t have this option, so the point of the event was to give them a fun time to enjoy the holidays. Since this was partially a religious event, there was a small service held before the games started. It was conducted in Korean only, and while I didn’t understand much of it, it still seemed very nice.

The next day, I did a homestay at a Korean CAU student’s house for Chuseok. This was organized through the CAU International Office. While it wasn’t as “traditional” as I’d expected, it was still quite enjoyable. My host sister and I took a walk through the Insadong district of Seoul, and saw many families with their young children dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean attire). We then went out for Korean BBQ with her dad, whose English was quite good as a result of his time spent working in Boston. Her and I then went out and saw “Taken 2”, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.

I left the morning after to head back to CAU to work on some school stuff.

That night, I joined some friends for a trip to a $7 all-you-can-eat sushi buffet in Sinchon, Seoul’s most vibrant college town (it’s got four universities surrounding it, after all!). It was pretty decent; what you’d expect for that price range. The other side of the buffet had spaghetti, salad, sweet bread, and occasionally pizza if you were lucky enough to grab a slice before they all disappeared!

After that, I went back home and worked on my Powerpoint due for my Project Management class. Currently, it stands at 42 slides! Oh my..

Dragon Scholarship: International Office Internship

Thursday night, I had my first shift teaching conversational English to several professors and administrators from CAU. Since I’m not technically being paid for it, it’s 100% legal. (Korea has very strict regulations for foreigners teaching English without a proper visa. Penalties range from: a slap on the wrist, to several thousand dollars worth of fines, to incarceration, to [almost always] deportation).

My internship duties have so far been during office hours (ie: 9:00am to 6:00pm), and have ranged from researching prospective partner universities, to social media updating, to other administrative odd jobs. So, when I heard that I had been chosen to be one of the lucky two interns to tutor English after hours, I was a little grumpy – evenings were my free time; I had no desire to sit around and correct professors’ English speaking when I could be doing fun stuff. Thursday evening, I met the International Education Director and a couple of my other superiors at 6:30pm with a forced smile on my face, and we walked off to the classroom together.

I sat down and was introduced to my students, and before I knew it, the hour of conversational English I was supposed to be teaching had already sped by. As I wrapped things up with five minutes to spare, I checked my clock again and realized we’d all still been enthusiastically talking five minutes after class was supposed to end. My students were energetic and fun; one had even come to class with a page-long self-introduction already prepared. As I wiped off the board (where I’d proudly spelt my name in Korean characters), one of the students said, smiling, “I think this is going to be a really fun class!”

I think so too – after all, how often as a university student do YOU get to grade the professors? It’s payback time, muchachos! Okay, okay, I don’t intend on stringently assigning or marking homework (unless of course, the professors request me too, like the other ones did to my colleague!). But the morning after, when I arrived in the International Office to do my shift, I was so excited for our next class that I prepared my first “lesson plan” (more like a loosely-organized set of discussion topics) on the subject my superiors assigned for our weekly class, which was “Hallyu” or the “Korean Wave”.

So, this is what I get to do in exchange for free housing and a monthly stipend – a pretty sweet deal.

Party Weekend!

On Friday night, there was yet another campus party. I’m not sure if the Korean students post flyers about these around the school (mostly because I can’t read Korean) or if they’re just word-of-mouth, but it seems like every week I walk past the familiar plastic tables and chairs set-up and see people taking shots, munching on Korean BBQ, and just generally havin’ a good time. This time though, a few of us exchange students heard about a couple campus parties in advance and decided to go check them out. I arrived a bit later, and everyone was plastered already (even though it was only about 10:00pm!). I’m not sure if the students running the event were holding it as a fundraiser, or just as an excuse to have a good time, but they kept bringing us free KGBs (canned lemon vodka spritzers).

After that, we made our way to the Beerking Pub, where the table behind us sent us a cheese fondue platter. No, we didn’t know them, and no, they spoke basically no English. They were just really nice 😛 After miming out our gratitude, followed by several heart-felt “kamsamnida”s (“thank you” in Korean), we gobbled up our free fondue and made our way to another bar. This place had a sort of self-serve concept; upon walking in there were several fridges filled with bottles of domestic and imported beers, which you were free to help yourself to. At the end of the night, you bring up the bottles to the cashier and pay for what you drank.

At 1:40pm, curfew was a meer 20 minutes away, and no, I did not want to wait until 5:00pm to go back home. So after some careful thought, I so maturely decided to depart with the smaller group who went back to the dorms and slept, instead of joining the larger group to go clubbing. Yes, I am finally starting to grow up!

International Fireworks Festival and Myeongdong Dance Party!

So Saturday night was the International Fireworks Festival held in Yeouido Park. Four countries competed: Italy, China, the US, and of course, Korea. While I arrived too late to see Italy’s display, I did catch the last three. Yes, Korea’s was the best; you know what they say about “home sky advantage”… or was it “home ice advantage”…? Anyways, it was great. It was also stupid busy, though.

Check out a video of the beginning of Korea’s performance here:

My photos:

The Korean team shot fireworks off the side of the bridge

After a useless 30-minute walk + a 45-minute cab ride that should’ve only taken 10 minutes in regular traffic, a few of us girls made it halfway to our destination (the Myeondong Street Party #2) and decided to abandon the cab in favour of taking the subway the rest of the way there. At this point half of our party of four was feeling a bit tired and wanted to head back to the dorms, so the remaining two of us bid them farewell and continued onto Myeondong.

The party was good, but I don’t think it was as fun as the last street party, which was significantly busier.

Here’s a video of the prior dance party: (at 0:28 you can see two of my fellow exchange students dancing)

Wow, so yeah! That’s what I’ve been up to as of late. Here’s some random stuff:

RANDOM STUFF!

– Because I did the Chuseok homestay, I get to have a nice sit-down lunch with the President of CAU and all the other exchange students who did the homestay! It’s kind of like the school’s way of saying “thank you for going into someone’s house, eating their food, sleeping on their bed, and joining in on their family activities”. Yeah, I know 😛 Doesn’t make a ton of sense to me either, but hey! It’s an incredibly nice gesture, despite the fact that we’ve done pretty much nothing to deserve it 😛

–  A couple weeks ago, I found this post on facebook from a KTO-sponsored tour/shuttle bus company called “K-Shuttle: Must-see Routes”. They were looking for foreigners to blog about their K-Shuttle experiences on a bi-monthly basis. In return? K-shuttle would provide: a free three-day/two-night trip on one of their tours, plus two more free trips for family or friends, plus a free dinner party invitation for all the K-shuttle staff and country representatives. I wasn’t supposed to find out if I’d gotten the position for Canadian representative until Friday, but they informed the applicants today of who’d got in! Yes, I’d made it! So, this weekend I’m taking the tour outlined here: http://www.k-shuttle.com/rb/?r=en&c=45/47. I was really sad about not being able to travel for Chuseok, but this will definitely make up for it 🙂

Below is the information on the tour I’m taking this weekend:

– Oh, and I also bought a really cheap phone from the giant indoor used electronics market at Yongsan station. The only crappy thing is that the credit expires every month, so essentially I’m paying $10 every month even if I don’t use up all the minutes/texts :\ Oh well. It was the cheapest option.

– In other news, wow. This month has gone by so fast!

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2 thoughts on “Chuseok, International Fireworks Festival, Dragon Scholarship, and Other Stuff!

  1. Wow! You have been busy! I love that you are embracing every moment and opportunity that comes your way.
    Total score on being chosen to write a review/blog while touring some pretty great places for free, well done!
    Miss you lots beautiful-
    Aunty Shannon
    xo

  2. Gabrielle, you never fail to amaze me…you are doing so many wonderful things and are really getting into being in Korea..make the most of it. You will be a well versed tour guide when we get to visit. Your ‘teaching’ outline was super and now a blogger for the touring company..I don’t know how you fit it all in. Love you supergirl… Gma

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