Summer Study Abroad 2019 – 7-Eleven Ramen

After a long day of interviews and lectures, I would find myself in the 7-Eleven located in the Aventree Hotel Lobby. 7-Eleven for obvious reasons wasn’t unfamiliar to me. Of course, it was franchised in the United States, but there was an actual 7-Eleven that I frequented while growing up in California’s Bay Area. This 7-Eleven was a place my friends and I would bike to for cheap Slurpees on a hot summer day, or sunflower seeds to pack in our lips and look like our favorite baseball players. The fluorescent lighting graced the 7-Eleven on West Remington Drive with the essence of a hospital. The bright white light that would wake you up even if you found yourself there half-asleep past midnight on a Saturday. Regardless, the bags of Cheetos and packs of Snickers and all that other junk colored those racks in that 7-Eleven, teaching all of us at a young age what true “convenience” was in a convenience store.

In Washington DC I live across the street from another 7-Eleven. While the one I went to growing up was comfortable and had all my favorite comfort foods, this particular 7-Eleven can often be found entrenched by late-night college students. While behavior was civil, every customer was a passerby who came to that 7-Eleven on New Hampshire Avenue with the mentality to get in and out as quick as possible. The 7-Eleven I went to as a child was a spot where we could hang out by our bikes and spit sunflower seeds into empty Gatorade bottles. This new 7-Eleven shared none of that camaraderie. It was a pit-stop.

Upon learning that there was a 7-Eleven attached to our hotel in Seoul, South Korea only left me with confusion. What was something so true to my own childhood and college experiences doing out in South Korea? And more importantly; How would this 7-Eleven be different?

While the color of the 7-Eleven was radiant in its blues and reds and oranges, almost everything was different. Every now and then you’d come upon some type of American drink or candy, but now Fritos were substituted with Wasabi Almonds. I couldn’t read most of the wrappers’ labels, but I often found myself playing roulette and grabbing any snack and hoping they would taste fine. Most of the time they were better than expected. However, the real treat of a late-night 7-Eleven run in South Korea was the ramen. And no, the ramen isn’t like the kind you would normally find in a college dorm room. The different options of ramen that you could choose from took up an entire rack, both sides too!

Now let me paint a picture for you. It’s close to midnight and you’re stomach starts to growl. You head down the elevator of your hotel and waltz into the 7-Eleven, or any other local convenience store in South Korea. In the aisles, you can find families and friends, drunk college students, and drunk grandfathers, families with children in strollers and couples alone on dates, all congregating to the nearest convenience store for midnight snacks, maybe a late dinner, a beer, or some spicy ramen. I typically went for the ramen because there was a kind of magic to cooking ramen in South Korea. Everyone would wait in lines behind either the outdoor or indoor stovetops that would boil the water for you. Once the water is bubbling is when you add the processed ingredients. However, you could always add so much more to your plastic containers. Half-boiled eggs and shredded cheese were a personal favorite of mine. But cold cuts of meat, soy sauce, mushrooms, onions, and all were available to be tossed in.

The local convenience stores in South Korea were important to the local population. Whether they acted as places to meet with friends, have dinner, or just loiter, I learned that these convenience stores were so much more than just convenient places to eat. They were convenient places to find other people. It was always at the end of a long day where you’d find the local population come to these stores and just hang out, to enjoy the company of others, and sit outside under umbrellas that were attached to plastic tables. It said so much about the culture of Seoul, that at the end of a long day of work the people of South Korea find communion with their neighbors at their local convenience store just to relax. The 7-Elevens in Seoul were unlike the 7-Eleven on Remington or the 7-Eleven on New Hampshire. They were cheap and affordable spots that brought the neighborhood together and provided some cheap and tasty ramen.

 

A glimpse of our time at Korea

We visited Cheongwadae Sarangchae which is really close to Cheongwadae (the Blue House). Before our visit, I was wondering the meaning of Sarangchae and I finally had my question answered there. Sarangchae is a room where traditionally the host welcomes the guest. In the museum, Korea Tourism Exhibit Hall introduced to me the history of Cheongwadae and many interesting facts about it. For example, there are some cats and dogs in the Blue House because President Moon advocates animal protection and puts it into practice. I took a picture at the Bullomun Gate as well which represents long life. I read the major policies in every president’s period and tried to identify if he or she is conservative or progressive. The hall listed the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Korea and I took notes on them for future visits. Most importantly, there was a special exhibition on diplomatic gifts received by Korea from leaders of other countries. How lucky we were!
Then we took a bus to Bukchon Hanok Village. I learned from the Seoul Museum of History last week that it was an old residential area for the rich and government officials. I was surprised to see these Hanoks have been well preserved since 600 years ago. This allowed me to get a glimpse at what Seoul was like in the past. We went to the Bukchon Hanok Hall and were able to appreciate the view of the Gahoe-dong neighborhood through the windows.
After wandering in the village and having the delicious Samgyetang, we went to the Jongmyo Shrine where the tablets of the royal ancestors of the Joseon Dynasty have been enshrined and the memorial activities are performed. I found that the facilities in Jongmyo are not very lavishly decorated. After watching the introduction video in the exhibitions, I understand that this embodies simplicity, solemnity, and piety. Jongmyo inspired me to think about the meaning of life and death.
We finally arrived at the Kwang Jang Market in the evening. It was full of different kinds of Korean food. We tried a lot and they were all great! I saw local people talking and eating in small restaurants in the market with their friends. They really enjoyed their lives!
On Sunday, we took a tour to the Jogyesa Temple right next to our hotel. It is a temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Built-in the 14th century, it served as a fortress defending Korean Buddhism from Japanese suppressions. In the courtyard, there was a 500-year-old big White Pine tree which is gorgeous. There were also many lotus flowers inside and outside the temple which could also be found in the Gyeongbokgung Palace we went to. The tour guide said it represents purity because its roots deep in the dirt but its flower burst out of the water. I was moved by its spirit.
In the afternoon, we visited the Olympic Park and the World Peace Gate. It is amazing that this place has so many Korean historical and cultural elements embedded inside. For example, the floor of the Peace Plaza is decorated with pictures of hunters discovered in an ancient tomb from the Goguryeo Dynasty. What’s more, the Olympic Movement Monument constructed in the park has stones from the countries that those athletes were from. Piles of stones represent peace and progress in the history of Korea, so this monument is really meaningful. Additionally, I was wandering this creation symbolized far from the traditional culture, but the wish for harmony in 1988, the year of the Seoul Olympic Games and the time when the Cold War was close to its end.
Then we went to the COEX for shopping. On the way back to the hotel, we passed by Bosingak which is a bell pavilion. The bell gives Jongno, the district where we are in, its name. Nowadays, it rings at midnight on New Year’s Eve when there will be many people visiting and celebrating. I wish to visit Korea around a New Year to attend ceremonies and listen to the ringing in Bosingak.
To put in a nutshell, this is a wonderful weekend and I have learned so much about Seoul and the history and culture of Korea.

 

Yuchen Dai, B.A. International Affairs 2022
GWIKS Summer Study Abroad 2019

Sounds of Korea: A Travelougue

GWIKS’ summer program to South Korea offered an experience filled with history, contemporary events, thoughtful discussions, culture, and great food. Throughout the two weeks, I complied the sounds and visuals of the activities that were planned. The sounds and visuals will offer a small perspective of all the knowledge I gained during and after the program. Some activities not featured in the video were lectures from SNU and the Korean Diplomat Academy professors along with a discussion with Sejong Institue, which offered various perspectives on unification, Kim Jon Un, and the future of diplomacy. The day spent hearing and talking with North Korean defectors are not present, however, the experience has sparked curiosity in learning more about Korean relations. The trip set a great foundation in delving deeper in Korea.

 

Summer Study Abroad 2019 – DMZ Trip by Mahima Gunapooti

This is the ribbon wall at the DMZ. All the ribbons have people’s wishes written on them, and they are tied up here to make their wish come true.
This is the train station that goes from South to North Korea, although it is not in use.
This is the view from the top of one of the buildings at the DMZ. In the distance, you can see North Korean land.

 

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