Spring Break in South Korea
May 11, 2022
Tim Martin ’22
Months of preparation to make a moment in time a reality. Spending my spring break with my partner surrounded by city lights and hearing the waves of the ocean crash against the white sand. Being able to get in the ocean in April, see Cherry Blossom trees in full bloom, and eat at the best food markets in South Korea. At first, it all just sounded like a dream, as I had never left the United States before coming to South Korea this spring break. My partner telling me they would be doing study away in South Korea was the motivating factor for me to get my passport. Next, I got my K-ETA, my Covid test results, and my Q-Code for quarantine-free entry. As the day of my flight arrived, my phone received many texts from my friends at Oberlin wishing me safe travels and giving me last-minute advice when it comes to traveling overseas. After a quick flight to Chicago, I started my journey and got on a flight to Dubai. It amazed me the number of movies the flight offered and the meals it provided while we were in the air. I spent the flight watching the story of Venus and Serena Williams while eating Indian food. Once I landed in Dubai I rushed through the airport as I was afraid to miss my connecting flight to South Korea. I made it with plenty of time to spare, though, so I started adventuring the airport. As I walked through the airport I took in the fact that I was really in a different country. I’ve always thought it was wild how a person can hop on a plane and within the same day be in a different part of the world. On this day I actually experienced that reality. After walking around the airport for a few hours, I headed back over to my gate to get on my flight for South Korea. I waited a few minutes and then got onto the plane when my group was called. Before I knew it I was in the air on my way to my final destination!
As the plane touched down I blasted my favorite songs in my headphones. Excitement isn’t a great enough word to describe what I was feeling. I got off the plane and went through South Korea’s Covid procedures. I was a bit nervous about the process and also found myself confused as everything was written in Korean. Luckily, I was able to speak with other people who had just gotten off of the flight and they directed me to where I was supposed to go. I quickly pulled the necessary information out of my backpack and after showing the government officials my Q Code I was successfully cleared from quarantine as long as my Covid test results came back negative. I was excited but still nervous as I headed to take my Covid test. If I was able to pass this test I would be able to be in Korea for the next two weeks quarantine-free, if not I would have to quarantine in my hotel room. After taking the test, I headed back to my hotel room to self-quarantine and waited nervously. I spent the time looking out the window and looking at different Korean TV channels as I waited to get my results. After a couple of hours my phone dinged and I checked it quickly; my results came back negative and I was cleared from quarantine!
As soon as I was cleared from quarantine I met up with my partner and we went out to eat. I let her do all the ordering as she said this was one of her favorite spots in Seoul and I quickly learned why it was one of her favorite spots as the food was delicious. At the time, she didn’t think I liked it that much as I didn’t finish my food but I explained to her that I was just sleepy and still stuffed from all of the meals the airline gave me when I flew from Dubai. Over the course of the next week, we went on adventure after adventure. I was taking in the culture of the city while having fun every step of the way. We walked through the streets of Korea and laughed together while we shopped in different stores. I jokingly suggested that I would buy clothes that I knew she wouldn’t like and I was also on the lookout to get us a matching outfit. It was exciting looking through all of the clothing racks and seeing all of the different Korean designs. I ended up getting a really cool light blue hoodie that I now wear all the time!
My favorite restaurant that we went to in Seoul was a Korean Barbecue where they provide you with the ingredients and you cook it yourself. Luckily, by the time we went all of the airplane food had worn off so I had a really big appetite, which was useful because the restaurant was all you can eat! Normally I’m not big on cooking but it was a really cool experience grilling the food and it ended up tasting amazing. My partner was pretty surprised at my cooking skills as earlier in the year we had tried to cook together and I couldn’t even make pancakes, but growing up I had always watched my dad grill on the porch so I had experience in this department. The same night we ate Korean BBQ, my partner and I did karaoke and I quickly discovered two things. The first thing I discovered is that I don’t sing as well as I think I do and the second thing I discovered is that there are a lot of songs that I apparently only know the hook to. After scoring a 46 out of 100 in karaoke we had to re-evaluate the songs that we were going to sing and quickly changed genres from rap to pop. This led to us scoring a 100 out of 100 on the next song we sang, as we gave it all we had trying to match the vocals of Adele. Despite this perfect score, I don’t think I’ll qualify for the Oberlin Conservatory before I graduate, but it was such a fun experience that I found myself putting more and more money into the machine to keep the songs going. After singing to our heart's desires, we walked the city and took in the lights and the amazing vibe while we popped in and out of different stores.
Usually, I like to order the same foods over and over no matter where I go, but given this was my first time traveling outside of the country I tried to be more adventurous with the food I ate. These adventures led me to eat everything from a bulgogi burger, to strawberries covered in caramelized sugar, to chicken feet at a Korean street food market. Never in my life did I ever think I would eat chicken feet, but honestly it was one of the most delicious things I ate while in Korea. The street market as a whole was a beautiful adventure as we got to try all kinds of different Korean foods and ended the night with a sweet pancake dish from a vendor set up along the perimeter. There were many funny moments, especially when my partner was having trouble finding the sweet pancake vendor and sped walked from section to section while over and over again repeating the phrase, “where is this guy” as if the whole night depended on securing the sweet pancakes. I have to say, though, after trying the sweet pancakes I see why she worked so hard to find “this guy” as they were absolutely delicious.
The next day we got breakfast from a pastry place and then took in one of the temples that I had learned about previously in my Korean history class at Oberlin. The temple was so beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen before. If I had to pick a word to describe the vibe of the temple, I would have to say it was tranquil. Cherry blossoms aligned the perimeter and birds sang songs as they flew through the air. I felt like I was in a movie and this was the most peaceful scene ever filmed. After taking in the temple we spent the evening with friends at the Han River sharing our life experiences while learning and laughing from each other. I also had some of the best chicken I had ever eaten in my life while at the Han River and left feeling so stuffed that I had flashbacks to the plane trip from Dubai. The same night we hopped on a train and visited areas that were filmed in Korean TV shows we had watched together previously. Everything had come full circle, this was truly an exciting and peaceful time for me.
We wrapped up our time in Seoul by going to a popular amusement park in the city and then going up the tallest building in South Korea. The amusement park provided lots of laughs as my partner doesn’t like rides that cause her to feel dizzy, and the first ride we went on made her feel dizzy. We had to sit down and after recovering for fifteen minutes we decided to get some ice cream. We walked around the amusement park for a little longer and went on another ride before heading over to the tallest building in Korea. I’ve always been afraid of heights ever since I was a child, so going up the building was an opportunity to challenge myself. After reaching the top of the building I stood on a floor made of see-through glass that allowed you to look straight down to the sidewalk below you. Needless to say adrenaline shot through my body, but after a few moments of standing there I relaxed and took in the amazing view that I was seeing. Taking in the city from its highest point made me appreciate just how beautiful it truly is, and it was a moment where I sat there and thought to myself, “Wow, I’m really in Korea.” Reflecting on that moment I definitely am happy that I pushed myself to go to face my fear of heights.
After almost a week of taking in the beauty of Seoul, we traveled to Jeju Island. We were a little nervous about going to Jeju as the weather wasn’t forecasted to be great, but luckily it pulled through for our five days there! Jeju’s beauty was striking from the start; after walking for about a half hour we reached the beach near our hotel and were greeted by crystal clear water and white sand. The sight was so beautiful that we had to take a detour from the main destination we were walking to and instead walk the perimeter of the beach. As we walked the beach I thought about how incredible it is that Oberlin allows students to experience study abroad opportunities like this for an entire semester. I’ve had multiple friends do study abroad in previous years and heard all about their wonderful experiences, but this was my first time seeing a person’s experience up close and personal and seeing how exciting an opportunity it is. It truly allows you to grow as an individual while experiencing and learning about a different culture, all while getting an amazing education!
After walking near the water we headed over to Hallim Park where we were able to see the cherry blossom trees. The beauty of the park was immense as cherry blossoms floated through the air as we walked around. Something really cool that was inside the park was a path of caves. I had never been inside a cave before and it was a hot day outside, so it felt amazing to get into the cool environment of the cave to get away from the heat while we took in nature. Before we came to the park we had grabbed some sandwiches from a local restaurant and a picnic blanket, so after finding a nice spot we set up a picnic. The food was delicious, and we smiled and laughed while taking in the views of Hallim Park and planned what area we wanted to go to next. After finishing up lunch we continued to walk and saw some of the most beautiful tulips I have ever seen. We had a quick photoshoot in front of the tulips before leaving the park and heading back to the beach. I have to say, Hallim Park was definitely one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful place I have ever been to and I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to see it.
Continuing the exploration of Jeju, we bounced from coast to coast over the next couple of days, checking out the beaches and the amazing restaurants the island had to offer. The calm vibes of Jeju was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip, and every evening we would take in the sunset from the beach and then go get dinner. The restaurants were a huge highlight for me as the views and vibes were incredible. From eating Korean BBQ next to glass windows overlooking the ocean, to eating pizza on top of a cliff that overlooked the waves, dining in Jeju was an amazing experience.
One thing I couldn’t get out of my mind was the taste of the chicken feet and sweet pancakes that we had in Seoul, so I definitely made sure I went to the food market in Jeju to see what they had to offer. After we took a taxi to the wrong food market and almost gave up and got Korean BBQ instead, we made it to the market. It was definitely worth the wait, as in my opinion Jeju had the best food market that we went to. Selling everything from seafood to red bean buns, the market smelled delicious and had an abundance of positive energy. Eating the best oysters I’ve ever had in my life while laughing between bites and taking in the culture of South Korea, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my spring break any other way.
Going from never leaving the country to traveling to the other side of the world, my spring break was quite the experience. From taking in the big city vibe of another country to traveling to the islands of Korea, I feel fortunate to have been able to experience such an opportunity. I would highly recommend anyone that has the opportunity to study abroad while attending Oberlin to do so. The resources Oberlin provides for the students is truly incredible and the college will have your back throughout the whole process! Make sure to comment below and say what country you want to study abroad in during your four years at Oberlin!
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