Words and photos by Jason Perez
Location: Seoul, South Korea
This was a last minute decision, but I’m glad I went through with it. It started as a fun idea to say “Yeah, I’ll go to Korea for summer,” and not really thinking much into it. But before I knew it, I had everything set up, packed, and as the days got closer it became almost surreal. I was really going to Korea for a summer session! The rest is history.
I went to Korea for a month through a program called HUFS (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies). Even though it was for school, I still had my fair share of exploring. These are some of the main highlights from my trip to Korea.
Small Trip to Myeongdong (명동)
In Myeongdong, there was a ton of street food, shopping centers in every corner, and the biggest Nature Republic I have ever seen. One of the most unique foods I’ve ever seen was this impractical spiralling potato on a stick. I’ve seen it in Hawaii at Eat the Street, although I’ve never tried it. But don’t be fooled — it looks pretty, but when it comes down to eating, it becomes a challenge (as you have to nibble on it when you just want to eat the whole thing).
I went back to Myeongdong on a second trip with another group of friends and our main goal was to eat octopus. As we searched the streets (munching on Egg Bread (계란빵) along the way), we found the promised land: a section with carts full of seafood and octopus. In Korea, it seems that every dish is served on a stick, so naturally, we saw a few octopi on sticks. We enjoyed them with some hot sauce of sort.
DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) Trip
Sadly, we did not have a chance to go to the JSA (Joint Security Area). That is where you can get a clear view of North Korea, where they have guards on the North and South entrances, staring at each other all day. During this trip, we had an opportunity to go to the tunnels, which were dug by the North in order to plant a surprise attack in Seoul. The area was tense. In some locations, they don’t allow people to take photos, for security reasons. However, I did get a picture of the tallest flagpole in North Korea. Although I will not put it because it was in one of those areas you were not supposed to take photos. See photo on the right for the opposite. The South did have the tallest flagpole, but the North was like “naw fam” so they built an even taller one.
Mix of Everything
I’ve experienced so much that I can’t fit it into this essay. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a few other things, besides the foods and culture. First, I went to traditional restaurants where I had to remove my shoes to enter and I had to sit down on a leaf plate while I ate my meal. Secondly, I visited a very packed marketplace; the concept of “personal space” didn’t really exist with everyone brushing up against each other. Lastly, I entered the Palace of Sejong, where people dress up in Hanbok (a traditional dress in Korea). Through the HUFS program, I have made friends with people from all over the world. Some include the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Nigeria, Spain and Mexico. Even people from Hawaii in the program joined in from UH Manoa and Leeward. All in all, it was a fantastic journey and I wish to return back for the winter next year!