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Research Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen Blogs and Postcards

Discovering the (K-)Beauty of South Korea

Marijke Valk

Finally, the trip to Korea which I had dreamt of for so long! I was ready to see and do all the things which I had done research on beforehand, and I am glad to say that it met most of my expectations. The students who attended the summer school in Busan came from lots of different countries, which was very interesting because this was a good chance to learn more about not only Korean culture, but cultures all over the world. Upon arrival, we were divided in different groups and were assigned a buddy, a student from PNU, who would help us throughout the weeks. The staff and buddies were always willing to help us and very nice in general, but on top of that also up for a drink, wanted to watch movies together and go to the karaoke bars. This system worked pretty nicely and made sure that we somewhat knew what was going to happen, even though not everything was always as clear as I would have hoped it to be.  

The classes were very diverse. It ranged from language classes to culture classes, from cultural experiences to field trips. One of the main classes we had was the language class. We were divided into a beginner class and an intermediate class based on the results of a test we did before we arrived. I was glad to find out I was placed in the intermediate class, since that meant all of my hard work studying the language had paid off! However, once I arrived in the classroom, it was quite a bit harder than I had expected: the teachers only spoke Korean, explained very advanced grammar structures and almost ¾ of my classmates already spoke Korean fluently, making the lessons rather difficult. This made me wonder if I should indeed go back to the beginner class, but in the end I was glad I did not. Like the teacher said: even if you only understand 10% of the lesson, that is still 10% more than you will learn repeating basic phrases you already know in the beginner class. Apart from the grammar classes, which were still quite hard and sometimes stressful since I did not understand everything they said, we had very enjoyable classes. This included a singing class, in which the teacher explained the lyrics to a song which we then tried to sing along to, and a class in which we watched Korean advertisements and read along with the script. The teachers were very nice and understanding of everyone’s different levels of Korean, but moreover: enthusiastic! In the end, all the classes were definitely worth it, since I thought that the teachers decided to use an easier form of speaking so that everyone could understand what they were saying, but this is of course not the case: I could understand more of what they were saying!

Apart from language classes, we also had four culture classes. This was taught by a teacher with a lot of passion for Korean culture and history and you could see she really cared about us having the best time in Korea as possible. I have to admit that some lessons were more interesting than others, but overall the topics she picked were vital for the understanding of the culture and really eye opening in lots of ways.

The cultural experience classes were most of all very fun: it was nice to have a break from the long hours of ‘real’ class we had. The classes included: calligraphy, k-pop dance, taekwondo, k-beauty and a cooking class. Each class had something unique and fun to it and were really only things you could do if you went to a summer school. One of the classes I enjoyed most was the cooking class, in which we made traditional eomuk: fish cakes, a snack Busan is famous for. We went to a real cooking studio, where we were allowed to make our own eomuk by using the dough and utensils they provided us. It was really fun seeing and doing the process behind the snack you could see everywhere around you, even though I have to admit they are not really my taste.

The highlight of every week would have to be the field trips on Fridays. These allowed us to see all the spots Busan was famous for, and more! Not only did we visit beautiful temples and sightseeing points, but also received explanations by a guide and experienced true Korean-style living and culture. We went to see beautiful and interesting spots like Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple, Gwangan Beach and took the Songdo Beach Cable Car. On weekends, where we had free time and were allowed to go anywhere we wanted, we could visit all the places we did not visit on the field trips, making it possible to visit spots like the Line store, Jagalchi market and Gamcheon Culture village. Since Busan is such a diverse and beautiful city, we were never bored by the views and activities: the city itself is quite modern, but it also holds some traditional gems which are a nice contrast. The fact that the city is by the sea is also a huge plus for me, since it makes for a relaxed atmosphere at the end of a busy day and has an incredible view of the city skyline at night.  

One aspect which I really looked forward to was the food! Beforehand, I had already made a list of things I wanted to try in Korea, from which I tried to cross off as the weeks went along. I was surprised by how much flavour every dish had! Even the meals in the dormitories (which were not seen as the most high class food) were most of the time very delicious. If you ever come to visit Korea, you should not be surprised to suddenly find an octopus leg or a crab in your soup. Spicy flavours are also very common, but you will (have to) get used to that, since it is even in the meals you do not even expect to be spicy. Street food is a thing I can really recommend: the street vendors, who mostly come out at night, sell delicious snacks and sometimes full-on meals for relatively cheap prices. I tried various things like hotteok (sweet pancakes), tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) and gyeran-bbang (egg bread), which were all full of flavour and exceeding expectations.

I was very excited to see what campus-life was like, and I was pleasantly surprised. The campus was HUGE. It did not help that our dormitories were at the back of the campus, on top of a hill, meaning that we always had to walk a while through the immense heat before we would arrive at the classrooms or the shopping streets. That did not hold back on the fact that the dormitories were very pleasant and had an enjoyable atmosphere, which I really liked. Sharing a room with a roommate was a new experience for me, which was something I had to get used to. This was however not as bad as I had expected, since my roommate was very nice (even though her bedtimes were not always as nice). The entire campus felt like a (not so) small student city, with a sports field, shops, cafes… all the things a student would need in a close distance. And if something was not on campus, you could easily walk to the shopping streets of the university, which were always buzzing with students and locals with enough activities to do and shops to visit to spend all your time there.

All and all it was a very enjoyable trip, which I am sure I will remember for years to come!

Last modified:12 September 2018 5.18 p.m.