“What do you want to do before you die?”
“I want to travel.”
This is one of my answers to this frequently asked question. I’m still growing up and it seems that all my dreams are pretty unattainable at this point. I always come up with an excuse that holds me back from doing what I want to do. “I have school, I’m a college student in debt, I don’t know foreign languages, how would I even start?” But with a few signatures, advising meetings, and a reasonable amount of calling my mom for advice and planning, I found myself in South Korea during my sophomore-to-junior-year summer. It was my first time going to another country and my first time traveling by myself, but this quest for personal identity wasn’t burdensome at all. It was unforgettable.
So now the question becomes, what are you going to do there? Well, how many can say that they’ve been to a Korean Pop music concert in the Seoul Olympic Gymnastics Area? It was the best concert I’ve ever experienced. The fans were high energy, insanely organized with fan chants and banners to hold up all at once, and many had lightsticks that created a silver ocean. The concert was so energetic – I jumped to the music, held the lightstick digitally wired to my seat and the stage to change colors with the beat of the music, and laughed when the band members spoke to the audience. It’s true that music transcends language; it doesn’t take extreme brain power to have fun in such an environment.
How can you travel anywhere without eating the local food? Authentic Korean BBQ in Korea is a must for anyone who loves meat and barbeque. You haven’t lived until you’ve had samgyeopsal fresh from the grill wrapped in lettuce with various sauces, kimchi, banchan, and vegetables. It was so mouth-watering, tender, and seasoned to Korean cuisine perfection. Korean food looks extremely spicy, but don’t be scared because there are options for everyone’s preference.
South Korea definitely knows how to have fun. Going to an amusement park needs to be added to your travel checklist. There are so many amusement parks for all ages including animation museums, water parks, and multiple theme parks. On my trip I visited Everland, which was also a zoo, and Lotte World. Lotte World is broken up into two parks: an outdoor Magic Island and a multi-story indoor Adventure. I only had time to play indoors, which was a great idea because it was insulated during the high heat of summer. One floor was connected to the Lotte Mall and the lowest floor had an ice skating rink right in the middle of the park! I stayed on the top two floors with bigger rides, food stalls, a live stage theater, and parades. After the night performance of the Let’s Dream parade, all the lights flickered to life and it was a very beautiful scene that seemed like it was straight out of the movies. There definitely was magic in the air.
I had such an amazing time and made quite a few friends I still stay in contact with over social media and international texting apps. I learned a lot about the culture and language while exploring a country new to me and also in the classes I took for four weeks. It may have been a little difficult taking my language in Korean, because the teachers didn’t speak English, but being immersed in the language in the classroom and outside really helped me get used to the speed and flow of conversation. I’m glad I chose the option to teach English for three weeks at the same university because I now have a new dream to move to South Korea after graduating to teach English for a year or two. I worked in a group of native English speakers from around the world to follow a conversational workbook for about 20 Korean university students. We also had to plan out-of-the-classroom activities to get to know each other and teach them about American culture.
I remember hiking to a nearby Buddhist temple and eating BBQ together. Another time, we had a picnic dinner at the park while playing games like Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Light, Green Light until evening, when we played with sparklers to teach the students about the Fourth of July. I definitely found new interests, friendships, knowledge, experiences, and a global citizenship as a traveler. Even if you have worries and might not be too sure, I hope you can take that step to find your own Seoul.
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