By Sophie Wambua.
It is the dream of most, if not all students who study Korean language to visit South Korea and get to experience the country’s unique and authentic heritage, an experience that speaks to the mind and soul of those who study it. I was lucky enough to get a TOPIK scholarship to study for one semester at Jeju National University located in the beautiful Island of Jeju. This was a dream come true. I prepared all my travel documents and when the 25th of February 2017 got by, I bid my country farewell and left for S.korea. The flight was long and exhausting but I finally got to Jeju Island. The director of the Foreign Students’ department picked me up from the airport and gave me a well organized schedule with all the program requirements.
My first night was a blacked-out blur due to the exhaustion. After I was well rested, my roommate showed me around campus. I was immediately captured by the beauty of the place. The architecture of the buildings was majestic and the standard of hygiene was rather high. Our hostels looked like some ‘5 star hotels.’ Well, everything surpassed my expectations.
I have to admit that it was not easy for me at first. This is because I am not really good at meeting new people or making friends. My Korean by then was not so good and so the thought enhanced the hibbie jibbies . I could only speak little Korean despite having studied it in UoN. All in all the Korean people that I came across were so impressed that even people from Africa are aware of their language let alone speak it.
With no time to waste, we were set to sit for a level test at the beginning of the week to determine our level of proficiency in the Korean language. Thereafter I began my language course. Our class was oozing with diversity; two students from Japan, two from Mexico, one from Colombia, one from Brazil, one from Russia, one from France, ten from China and I from Kenya. Before we started learning, the teacher taught us a fun game that helped us to know each other’s names, nationality, favorite food and hobbies. Suffice it to say, I had already made friends by the end of the first class. Our classes were conducted in a very organized manner. The teacher was very kind and patient with all of us. She taught at a perfect pace that enabled us to grasp the language even better. We managed to polish our conversational skills, which made it easier for us to communicate with other students in the campus and Korean people at large. Occasionally, the teacher could bring us treats like sweets, cookies and nuts, and this went way to lift our spirits.
From the schedule that I was given, we had three cultural trips that were organized and funded by the school. They provided an opportunity for foreign students to tour the Island and get a feel of what Korean culture entails. For the first trip we were given a tour of Yakchusa temple stay located on Daepo-dong, Seogipo-si in Jeju. It is the largest temple in East Asia. The view was breathtaking. The rocks and the surrounding wild growing tangerine trees created a beautiful and a peaceful scenery. The temple was very ancient yet it looked maintained. It consisted of high ceilings, beautiful decorative Chinese and Korean characters, and a big golden like statue of Buddha that rested in the middle of the room. We all gathered and a Buddhist monk gave us a brief description of the temple. For lunch we ate temple food, then went ahead and learned more about Buddhism, and later made Buddhist bracelets.
Come the second trip (a different day), we visited Jeju Stone Park and watched a newly released movie “fast and furious”. For the last cultural trip we visited Udo island. To get there, we boarded a ship. Udo island is located on the north eastern of Seongsan-ni, 3.5 km off the coast of Jeju. Udo, literally ‘cow island” in Chinese, has the name because it looks like a cow lying down. Udo is famously known for its delicious ice creams. I tried and confidently testified it to be the best Ice cream that I had ever tasted. Over the weekend I got to travel the island and visited other well known tourist attractions like the Hallasan, Loveland, Jeongbang waterfall, the hots prings of Seowgipo, a human maze park, the teddy bear museum and Manjangull cave. The island was very beautiful and its black sandy beaches were a sight to behold.
I can’t fail to talk about the food, my favourite part in the entire trip. I got a chance to try out all the Korean cuisines I had dreamt about. The most bizarre food that I ate was raw octopus,sannakji. It was unexpectedly delicious . I also tried Beongdegi which is steamed silkworm larvae(complete with the juices that come out during steaming process), soondae-blood sausages, and jjajangmyeum.
To mark the beginning of spring, the school invited some well known Kpop musicians like Crush, Dynamic duo and girlfriends to perform at our campus. It was so much fun as we got to groove along our favorite jams. The blooming of the cherry blossom flowers is one of most the beautiful scenery I have ever seen.
Life in Korea is extremely convenient and comfortable. The developed infrastructure and elaborate transport made it easier for us foreigners to navigate the area. The Korean people were warm hearted, kind and more than willing to help in any way that they could. Every time, the locals wanted to interact with me and would often stop in the streets just to say hi. All in all the experience was an eye opener. It made me appreciate my African heritage because it was shocking to realize how other people admired it.