In five, ten, or twenty years from now, I will look back on this study abroad experience. There will be many moments and scenes that will flash through my mind, but I know that my trip to Gangneung will stand out as my favorite trip.
Gangneung is a city on the East Coast of Korea. I had registered for a free tour for foreigners with some other CIEE participants. We took the KTX on an early Saturday morning. Two hours later, we arrived in Gangneung and sat down (with on the floor) for a lunch of delicious fish and other meats.
After that, we made our way to the Gangneung Curling Center. We were taught the basics of sweeping the brooms, pushing the stone, and scoring. Once we had the basics down, we played on half the typical length of the ice. Curling has been one of my favorite Winter Olympic sports to watch for a while, so it was so great to be able to try it myself!
Following curling, we visited some traditional sites like the home of 이이 and his mother 신사임당 who are on the five and fifty thousand won bills respectively. We also visited a traditional market known for fish where we were able to try ice cream hotteok! It was VERY delicious. After a quick cafe stop for a warm drink, we got shabu shabu for dinner. I ate so much, and we didn't even finish it all!
After dinner, we went to the Gangneung Ojuk Hanok Village where we stayed in traditional hanok houses for the night. We each got our own house, and they were so modern on the inside! Mine had a total of three rooms and a bathroom. The heated floor felt great after a cold day exploring Gangenung.
The next day, we checked out in the early morning for breakfast. We had sundubu that was very delicious! After breakfast, we went to another traditional spot where we got to try some traditional Korean games like throwing an arrow into a tall, narrow container from a distance and running with a metal hoop. I wasn't good at the second activity, but I was able to get a few arrows into the container!
Our last activity was traditional wood carving. We carved little birds that are supposed to guard one's home against disaster. It was fun, but a little bit difficult to get just the right pattern on the little blocks of wood! After wood carving, we stopped for lunch. We had the most delicious chicken ginseng soup! It was hearty and fun to eat with the entire group!
Once we finished eating, we made our way to the beaches! At the first beach, we took in the beautiful view of the ocean. Some people took off their shoes to dip their feet in the water, but I stuck to collecting seashells, haha. The second beach we went to was situated along a long strip of cafes. According to our tour guide, there used to be some ladies who would brew coffee for couples on the beach! I and three Chinese foreigners who were also on the trip ended up breaking away from the group to wander the beach, go on the swings, and pop into a cafe. We were able to sip our warm coffees on the fourth floor of a cafe with an amazing view of the ocean. After a rooftop photoshoot, we wandered the beach once again before we had to return to the bus to go back to Yonsei.
This trip was so amazing for many reasons. Typically when I go on bigger trips like this, I go with my close friends from university. This time I didn't know anyone on the trip very well, so I got to get to know new people. Additionally, all of the activities were super fun, and the food was amazing! Lastly—and this part is a bit unique to me—I enjoyed getting to know the other Chinese friends I made. Since the tour itself was offered to foreigners, the target audience was English speakers. Two of the Chinese people were students and one had recently graduated. Their strongest languages were not English though so I communicated with them in mainly Chinese and some Korean. It was my first time being able to talk with Chinese nationals outside of college-sanctioned language events. I felt very supported and at home with the new friends I made, so I'm thankful to them for being patient with my iffy-Mandarin skills.
Overall, the memories of Gangneum will be rosy, and I hope to return again to those beautiful beaches and the cozy hanok houses! If you get the chance to visit, I 100% recommend you go!