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It’s been a busy week since we arrived in Seoul, South Korea. Our guesthouse sits in a quiet alley just off of the busy main street near Hongik University station. The apartment is quite small, but equipped with all the essentials (to our surprise, we found a washing machine in our room on the 7th day of our stay). The staff of Lee & No guesthouse have been extremely kind and genuine towards us, which is something you don’t get in a hotel. This trip marks my third time visiting Seoul. Each time, I discover something new while also find increasing comfort and familiarity in this city. As I walked down the streets of Hongdae, Itaewon, Gangnam, etc, I find myself able to point out places and attractions to my fellow DESKers as I had the chance to visit in the previous summer. This week was a combination of settling in, exploring the city of Seoul and visiting the Institute for Reunification Education on the outskirts of Seoul.

As we stepped foot outside our guesthouse to explore our neighborhood, the first thing that caught our eyes were the large variety of food options and cheap prices in the convenience stores. Korea’s convenience store culture never ceases to amaze me. You get the basic choices of chips, sodas, cookies to even sushi, bento boxes and freshly cooked sweet potato. I can already foresee the late-night food runs we would make in the next two months. The more we walked, the more we were astounded by the tremendous food culture that dominates this city. Coffee shops after coffee shops and restaurants after restaurants. It’s only been a week, but I don’t know how many times we’ve said, “we have to try this before we leave.”

Over the past week, I’ve used more conversational Korean skills than I have ever used in the couple years I’ve spent learning Korean. Whether it was talking to taxi drivers or ordering food, I spoke in a level of fluency that even surprised myself. As I now use Korean on a daily basis, the concerns mentioned in my predeparture blog post slowly diminished. With the upcoming Korean lessons, I hope it would take my proficiency to the next level.

Having grown up in Beijing and Singapore, to me, Seoul is just another large metropolitan city that takes quite a few similarities to my hometown. At home, I take the subway or bus whenever I go out; I stand on the side of the road and eat street food from a food cart; I enjoy exploring in small cheap clothing stores. These things are the signature representations of Asia city culture. Although I knew this wasn’t the life everybody lived, it only hit me now that something as simple as taking the subway or pressing the call button in a restaurant to ask for the waiter can be completely new to someone. It made me notice the small things I took for granted growing up as well as making a mental note to not make assumptions about other people.

Tomorrow we will begin teaching. I will be in charge of 5th graders along with our team leader Jea. Although we got our lesson plans finalized, there is no way to predict what would actually happen within the classrooms. I’m nervous, but more excited about our classroom adventures to come.