As promised, I’m posting today about my first true day in Seoul, and it was definitely a more exciting day than my arrival day (which you can read about here).
All of the ISA students were told to meet outside our dorms by 8:50 a.m. so that the ISA director could take us to Orientation. I was expecting it to last maybe an hour, and then I thought we would have the rest of the day free.
Boy, was I wrong. We had quite the day ahead of us.
전철 타기 — Subway Adventures
The first thing we did was walk to the subway station to take the subway downtown to the ISA office, which for pretty much all of us was an adventure in itself. We were all silly Americans, you see, and most Americans have never experienced a subway system before (or public transportation in general), unless they live in New York City or somewhere similar. The subway systems in Seoul are really nice, too, not at all grungy. I even noticed a lot of cute little poems on some of the glass walls in the waiting areas. There were also lots of little small stores, ranging from convenience stores to beauty shops. Riding the subway is fairly cheap, too, at 1250₩ (less than $1.25). Okay, I have no idea if that’s actually cheap compared to other countries, but it seems cheap to me.
After a little excitement (our director — aka the person who knew where we were going — missed the subway at one of the stations, but he caught up later), we made it to the ISA office downtown. (Boy, did I feel obnoxious on the subway. 47 Americans chattering away loudly in English in one subway car — can you imagine? I didn’t even talk, but I felt guilty by association.) Orientation, as I expected, didn’t take long. It was basically a short presentation about how Korean culture is different from American culture and what to do in case of emergencies, etc. Obvious stuff that they’re required to tell us. I thought that was all ISA had planned for us that day, but instead, I found out that we were going to go a street market for lunch.
광장시장 — Gwangjang Market
Another subway ride later, we arrived at Gwangjang Market, which was surprisingly large. We wandered around for about an hour and got lunch there. I was almost talked into eating live octopus by my roommate (they chop up the tentacles off a live octopus — the cut off pieces wiggle around like worms!), which is pretty surprising since I’m a super picky eater in general. But we didn’t want to mess up our digestion on our first day by eating crazily, so we settled for one of the more typical food vendors to get 떡뽁이 and 냉면. We wanted to get 팥빙수 too, but we ended up not having time. I’ve never had it, so I’m looking forward to trying it.
경복궁 — Gyeongbokgung Palace
After lunch, off we went on yet another subway ride, this time to see Gyeongbokgung Palace. On the way to the Palace, we were able to see the King Sejong statue as well as the Sejong Center for Performing Arts. Since we got to the palace right before 2 p.m. (if I were wittier I’d turn that into some K-pop 2PM joke), we were able to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony, which was pretty cool.
When we were told that we had 2 hours to wander around the palace at our leisure, we were surprised that we’d have to be there that long. Once we started walk around, though, we realized why they had given us so much time. That place is really big! I don’t even think we saw all of it.
A lot of people were sightseeing while wearing Hanbok, which looked pretty, but I definitely didn’t envy them, since it was a fairly hot and humid day outside. I was hot in my shorts and short-sleeved shirt.
인사동 — Insa-dong
Insa-dong is a neighborhood-area in Seoul that was relatively close to the Palace, so we walked instead of riding the subway, even though we were all super tired at this point. I couldn’t think of a good way to describe Insa-dong, so I’ll quote the Official Korea Tourism Organization instead:
Insa-dong Street is one of the most memorable attractions in Seoul and represents the focal point of Korean traditional culture and crafts. Stores in Insa-dong specialize in a wide variety of goods that can only be purchased or appreciated in Korea: hanbok (traditional clothing), hanji (traditional paper), traditional teas, pottery, and folk crafts.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. We window shopped for a little bit, and we all got to try on Hanbok, too. We were all pretty tired at this point, so we just decided to find a restaurant to eat somewhere and then make our way home. We ended up eating at a little restaurant kind of hidden behind the main street. I ordered beef bulgogi, as did several other students. I think everyone else got buckwheat noodles, and someone ordered an egg-based dish that I don’t remember the name of. I didn’t take as many pictures at Insa-dong, probably because I was exhausted.
전철 타기 — Subway Adventures (Part 2)
After dinner, we eventually found the subway (after asking for directions twice) and made our way down into the station. By this point, the director had left, leaving us all to navigate our own way home. The problem was that when he told us which stations to transfer at, he told us a station that apparently doesn’t exist, so we were really confused for a while. Thankfully, somebody remembered that we needed to transfer from line 3 to line 6, so we were able to navigate our way using the subway map/directory thing (which looks way more complicated than it actually is).
And that is the extent of my first true day in Seoul! Quite the packed day. I expected to be out for an hour or two for orientation, but ended up arriving back at my dorm almost 12 hours after I left it, once again exhausted.
Wow, that was a long post — it took forever to write. Be sure to stay tuned for more adventures of my stay here in Seoul!