life blooms in seoul

| annyeonghaseyo - hello |

As the people of Seoul marvel at the recent blooming of cherry blossoms (while taking lots of selfies) I reflect on the blooming of my Korean adventure after nearly 7 weeks. My life here in Seoul is exactly that; a life. An Asian life filled with a tiring amount of classes, incessant bowing and most recently a new job. During the week I do not wander like a tourist, instead there are friends to see and places on campus to be; my day is full of obligations in the same way it is back stateside. 

Most exchange students take 12 credit hours and by most I mean 99.9%. However, I fall into the 0.1% category and my schedule of 21 credit hours has been rather intense. Because I secretly crave the stress of nearly being stretched too thin, it made perfect sense to tack on a part-time job to my schedule. As of last week, I am the first ever American addition to my university's Giving Development Office. My position is split into two distinct roles: 1) A student assistant that provides insight to my Korean university by researching how American and Western universities raise funds from private donors and 2) an English tutor for my coworkers. I now instinctively stand and bow as non-office employees enter, which happens quite often as there are many visitors who stop by to see me, the American girl they have heard about, with their very own eyes.  I refer to my coworkers by their position title for example, Deputy Director, which can be odd, but they are incredibly sweet and quick to remind me that we are more than coworkers, we are a family, and even though it's only been one week, I believe them. 

My Korean classmates are very intrigued with Western culture, but I have learned that there is absolutely no correlation with loving Western culture and having had friendships or even conversations with Westerners. Recently while at dinner with two Korean classmates, both boys refused to eat, instead staring intently as I attempted to eat traditional Korean food using chopsticks (practice has yet to yield perfection). But as I reached for another bite from our family style meal and encouraged them to do the same, they looked at each other and let out a huge sigh of relief. They confessed that they worried all day that I wouldn't like the food and would demand something else; their irrational fear left me feeling mortified. It wasn't until I asked them if a bad experience with an immature American had prompted this concern that they sheepishly admitted they had never even spoken to an American other than to give directions. As we sat at our table, surrounded by walls coated in hangul scribbles, doodles and the Korean version of "(Name) was here," Minwoo, Hansol and I clinked our bowls of makkoli (Korean rice wine) to their first American friend. 

I've become very comfortable with the odd and unexpected situations and encounters that I stumble upon daily. While walking on campus a middle-aged woman stopped me by grabbing my arm and inquiring, "Where are you from?" After asking me more about myself and informing me she had seen me on campus the day before (slightly creepy but in SK I'll let it pass) she asked if I had time to chat, but unfortunately I was on my way to class. In all of my courses I am the only American (excuse me, 'Murican) and consequently my professors have deemed me their personal walking factbook of all American culture, politics and language. What do benevolence and entity mean? Will Donald Trump be the next US president? What is the animal associated with playboy? I may need some backup on that second question though. Drumpf comes up a lot, unfortunately. In fact when I sat down at the welcome lunch my coworkers held for me, the first thing my boss asked me was "Abbie, what do you think about Trump?" We soon changed the conversation topic to practice English in a slightly more work appropriate way, which ended up being a lesson on the exact name of each finger (yes, you read that right). 

Often times, tourists on the metro or street smile at me like our shared whiteness gives us some kind of special connection, and usually I pretend like I can't seem them (sorry if that's petty). I recognize that I'm a bit of a hypocrite though because all of my non-Korean friends and I have bonded over the very fact that we do not fit in. The friendships I have made with other international students and foreigners working in Seoul has been incredible; although instantaneous they are no less genuine. It is wonderful to surround myself with French Canadians, Chinese, Brits, Indonesians, Germans, French and Spaniards in addition to Koreans. xoxo

Want to send me mail (before June 22)? My address is:

Abbie Bernet
M House A, Room 201
Hyehwa-ro 3 gil
20-9 Jongno-gu
Seoul, Korea

| cue inspirational quote |

"find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower" | shigenori kameoka