Summer Back Home

August 30, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

So we’re down to our last couple of days before the new academic year commences. Trust me, I’m as depressed as you are. But let’s change the topic. How did you spend your summer? Crossed anything off that bucket list? Gone somewhere you’ve always wanted to go? Learned anything?

I’m kinda proud to say that I answer yes to every question above. I’ve crossed bungee jumping off my bucket list, hopped on a plane back to the country I was born in – after 18 years being away -, learned so much about other cultures,

and seen dogs riding on scooters.

I spent my entire summer in South Korea this year. Some of you may already know (or can tell by my name) that I’m Korean. But I grew up in Malaysia (my mom’s Malaysian) and so I never really got the chance to know the country I’m a citizen of. My Korean is atrocious and my knowledge of Korean culture and history is even more pathetic. And because I was fed up with friends telling me about their wondrous trips to Korea, I packed my bags one late night in May and left for my own Korean adventure.

And a lot has happened since I touched down in Incheon International Airport on the 1st of June.

I moved into a Goshiwon (Korea’s cheapest choice for long-term accommodation)

but left after 2 nights because the bed barely fit my 5’2” stature and I didn’t feel like settling for a closet room as my sanctuary for the rest of the summer.

Then I moved into a guesthouse in Hongdae called Kimchee Hongdae Guesthouse as a work-exchange staff (which means I receive free accommodation in exchange for a fixed number of working hours per week).

I stayed in an 8-bed-mixed dorm with other work-exchange staff and long-term guests –  and they’re an interesting group! In other words, it’d be hard to find a more diverse gang anywhere. We had a bartender who’s a German-Korean mix whose snores can drown out any storm, an avid Shinee fan from Hungary here on working holiday, a Korean with a teaching and volleyball coaching license who is studying to be an air steward, a German b-boy, a Russian unni who’s a whole new level of photogenic, a Morroccan masters student at Yonsei, and a certified yoga instructor who’s transferring universities next fall. Simply put, there is never a dull day here at Kimchee.

Guests from all around the globe stay at our guesthouse. People from U.S, Poland, Mongolia, Denmark, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, France, Singapore, New Zealand, China, Australia, Thailand, Ghana, Russia, etc. They came and went – and ultimately many return for their next stay! I’ve learned a lot about different cultures during my time here as a staff. I can tell who’s on duty depending on what music is playing in the lounge (we have a wide variety of playlists from Maroon 5 to Skull to French pop to Danish rap). And then there’s our manager who has a specific playlist reserved for rainy days.

I’ve also witnessed people falling in love. This poor guy from Sacramento came to Korea for a 3-week vacation and ended up falling for a work-exchange staff (the yoga instructor in my dorm) at our guesthouse. He went home but missed her so much, that he came back last week to see her again before the fall semester commenced. Ngawww… I think we all know where she’s transferring university to.

Also, I tried soju.

A group of guests and staff were chatting and having drinks in the lounge one night. I sat down and asked if I could try some soju. They passed me a bottle and I poured myself a full cup. They looked at the cup, and then looked at me. Then someone said if it’s my first time trying soju, I needed to one-shot it. Everyone else nodded. I did. And that is how I was introduced to Korea’s drinking culture. They call me a ‘tank’ here now.

FYI, I didn’t drink everything here.

I worked at a bar called The Vault for two months. My boss had a passion for making different shots and cocktails which made working there so much more interesting.

I also helped a friend sub funny Korean videos on his Facebook page despite my hopeless Korean. Adobe Premier Pro CC is really not that difficult to use, actually.

I went bungee jumping.

Now I know, many of you may have done it at more exotic places than I did but hey, this was just a test-run. I’ll definitely be bungee jumping again when I go anywhere else.

I visited relatives who I haven’t seen in over a decade, at least. Among the relatives I met, includes my 92 year-old grandmother who can cut vegetables faster than me, a cousin brother who’s 6′ 3” and crouches whenever he moves, a nephew who just got accepted into dance school as a b-boy major, and a cousin sister who’s an art therapist. Many said that I haven’t really outgrown my childhood features, and they can still see the 5 year-old face in me. I mentioned this to my mom and she commented that I had never been a pretty child.

….thanks for the confidence boost, Mom.

And let’s not forget the food! I’ve definitely had my fair share of Korean cuisine and street food. I think I’ve had enough tteokbokki and soondae to make up for the last 18 years.

I’ve had quite a number of culture shocks during my time here in Korea. Such as the absolute lack of trashcans in public; being bombarded with flyers from fried chicken and pizza places at Yeouido; getting lost in Namdaemun market because every turn looks exactly the same; IU’s face plastered over nearly every soju bottle in Seoul; the countless cosmetic surgery ads that are as common as food commercials;  and oh good lord – the amazing food delivery service.

I have always been ashamed to say that I am Korean, because I know nothing about the country. And yet, I can’t exactly say I’m not because who’s that passport gonna kid? But despite the initial doubts, fears and insecurities I had prior to beginning my summer here, I’ve had a phenomenal experience. True, I haven’t been doing an internship, nor have I been on any fulfilling service trip or learned a new skill for my resume. Anyone else would say I just spent my summer back home doing nothing. But this summer doing precisely nothing has taught me about different cultures, how to make shots and cocktails, hopefully some more Korean,

and earned myself friends for life.





I’m still a long way from becoming a fully-fledged Korean but at least I know where Insadong and Gapyeong are now!

And to end it with a bang, I just came back from a week-long stay at Jeju Island.




Though I’ve seen many guests come and go with their tearful farewells, I’ve never really thought about my turn. It’s my last night here and everything feels weird. I originally came here to find out exactly how culturally different I am from the locals but I think I’ve managed to blend in just fine. I guess I do have some Korean blood in me after all.

I’ll miss Kimchee (both the guesthouse and the side dish);

the countless street performances in Hongdae-that-never-sleeps;

the socks with every pattern imaginable;

 the nights out by the Han River with Chi Maek (fried chicken with beer – heavenly);

and the…

I’m coming back.