Student Spotlight: Seoul Nights, Life’s Height by Johnny Nguyen

Authored by:
Vanna Vongchareun

Skeptical. Going to another country for almost a month, not being able to read or speak the language, not even really knowledgeable about KPOP in the slightest. I was skeptical. But when I tell you it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, it changed the direction of my life completely and has left me with a not so subtle lingering feeling of wanting to return.

The program run by CIEE is filled to the brim. I went into this program completely BLIND. I knew nothing about KPOP groups, I had no idea what kind of class I was going to be taking, and where I was going to be going either. I had no expectation, and I can safely say when the program ended that changed drastically. From tours of the beautiful surrounding areas of Insa-dong filled with restaurants, cafes, and shops on every corner, to the trips to Nami Island and struggling to ride a bike, to the dance routine at YG that we learned, to the indie concert that was exclusive to us- I was busy every day even when I wasn’t.  Aside from my packed schedule, the air and atmosphere in Seoul is so unique to itself. Being able to walk outside of the hotel and see somewhere to eat, do karaoke, shop, or just enjoy the scenery is a pleasure and privilege in itself.

I found myself as a regular at a place named “The Original Jinkook”, where I frequented almost every morning and afternoon. The owner who ran the shop, even though we couldn’t communicate with each other, treated me with hospitality and delicious food despite my lack of language skills. I ate many foods at her shop, but always came back to “Gamja Mandu” and Bibimmyeon- Dumplings and Cold spicy Korean noodles. It was to say the very least, comforting despite being a complete foreigner in the place. Saying goodbye to her on the last day was hard, even if it was through google translate.

Now, I could go on and on extensively about our day trips, or just the beauty of Seoul but I wanted this blog to talk about my experience with CIEE in Seoul, and why I highly encourage you embark on your journey with them. I am someone who knows how to handle themselves, but I also struggle with depression and severe anxiety. I’m able to keep my composure most of the time, but there are times when I have to take some time or space to handle myself, and times when sometimes I just feel sad for no reason. On this trip, you are warned that you are going to be “alone.” Away from your family, from your friends, and from all the people close to you. But, I disagree with that. Every program leader here, felt like an older sibling that I could rely on should anything come up. They were kind, funny, understanding, and most of all enjoyable to be around every second we were with them. You may hear the word “chaperone” and wince a little bit thinking it’s going to be like you’re being watched by your teachers in high school but it’s quite the contrary. The scavenger hunt around Seoul and using subways and buses encouraged us to explore and learn how to be independent, while also bonding with each other.

Even when my anxiety flared and I was having anxiety attacks, or I just woke up and wasn’t feeling well mentally- they were there for me and made sure that I was safe and cared for every step of the way and I am truly thankful for such an experience and miss them very much.

My experience all and all was a great one, and has left me pushing and searching for more opportunities in my studies to bring me back as soon as possible. Don’t sell yourself short or let your doubts stop you from experiencing this. You wont regret it :)

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