Despite today being the last day of spring semester classes at UConn, I’ll be spending this weekend writing a midterm essay. Yonsei’s semester began in early March, meaning I’m approximately two months behind schedule when it comes to my home university, but also that I still have two whole months left in Korea. Having spent half of my allotted time here already, I figured now would be appropriate to reflect over some positive moments from the past few weeks.
Two months ago, I described how Korea’s COVID-19 guidelines affected my arrival, which was immediately followed by a week-long quarantine at my aunt and uncle’s house along with a number of consecutive PCR tests. The government-initiated curfew at the time was also 11 p.m. Nowadays, many of these rules have already been altered: starting April 1, those entering the country were no longer required to quarantine; curfew inched its way from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. until finally getting lifted last Monday; and current rumors suggest that the outdoor mask mandate may be lifted next week.
While these changes ensued, I was able to experience Korea’s swift transition from winter to spring — so swift that calling it a transition is honestly a bit of an overstatement. All it took was one abruptly hot day to occur, and suddenly every other day after that followed suit.
The arrival of warmer weather earlier this month ultimately allowed the beginning of Korea’s annual cherry blossom craze, where everyone and their mother seemed to flock toward every park and recreational area for the sheer purpose of taking photos. I never took part (mostly because I think cherry blossoms are overrated), but I did eventually give into snapping some quick pictures of a tree on a random street in Sinchon.
My appreciation for Korea’s top-notch springtime aesthetics ultimately peaked during a trip to Namsan Tower, one of Seoul’s most popular tourist destinations. Being located on Namsan Mountain, a hike up the tower leads to a large observation deck iconically covered in “Namsan love locks,” where visitors are allowed to purchase a lock, write down a sentimental message (markers usually come with the locks) and seal it onto a part of the railing. When my friends and I found out one lock would cost 15,000 won (approximately $12), we decided that the generous view overlooking the city would be memorable enough instead.
Leftover cherry blossoms lined our surroundings during our hike, along with colorful tulips, goldenbell trees and a gradually warmer sky as it neared sunset. It was a refreshing moment to say the least, after exclusively being in an urban environment for a while. As much as I enjoy exploring unique cafes and walking Seoul’s lit-up streets at night, I felt like giving some credit to Thoreau, whose pro-nature transcendentalist beliefs were immediately made clear to me right after seeing Korea’s abundance of flowers.
Namsan Tower is only an aspect of why my attachment to being abroad has grown ever the more stronger this past month. I actually feel like I’ve become well adapted to life in Korea, especially now that I’ve established a group of friends that I can share my experiences with. It also feels like the effects of my Korean language class are finally coming through — there’s a chance it could just be false confidence, but we’re just going to assume the best for once — after engaging in a full blown conversation with an Apple Store employee at Garosugil the other day. Getting complimented by locals for my ability to speak Korean is particularly gratifying for the ego, but most importantly it helps to remedy the whole cultural identity crisis that seems to affect most American minorities (including me!).
Simply put, I’m having a good time here. And although I’m envious of my friends back home who will be starting summer break within a week, there’s still so much for me to do while abroad. I wouldn’t mind making the best of it by the end of June.