The University of Iowa

Orientation week in Seoul

September 11th, 2018
Buseoksa Temple

Buseoksa Temple

My name is Taylor Wertheim. I am a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in Italian, International Studies: East Asian Track, and minoring in Korean. This year I decided to take a big leap outside of my comfort zone and study abroad in Seoul, South Korea. I chose to use CIEE’s program which is connected with Yonsei University, one of the top universities in South Korea. However, that is not the reason I chose this program. I chose to use CIEE because they give the option of staying with a host family which I believe is one of the best ways to learn the language and culture. This process was hard for me considering the price differences between CIEE and other programs at my school, but I am soon finding that this program works very hard to make it worth the price. 

I arrived in Seoul after what seemed to be the longest flight of my life filled with leg cramps, endless movies, and sleepless rustling; not to mention the jitters of the unknown after landing. I met other CIEE students briefly at the airport before taking a bus to the hotel I was staying for the night. The first night all the homestay students (there are four of us this semester) stayed in a hotel before meeting their host family the next day at dinner. I arrived early along with another girl, Maggie from China. We decided to explore the hotel area and grab a bite to eat. We stumbled upon a restaurant where we got seafood pancakes and seafood spicy rice cakes which were spicy but so delicious!

First Night’s Dinner of Spicy Rice Cakes and Seafood Pancake

First night’s dinner of spicy rice cakes and seafood pancake

The next day we met everyone else in the program on Yonsei’s campus which is by far one of the prettiest campuses I have ever seen. After orientation, the homestay students went to dinner with their new host families. My host family brought their granddaughter who is the sweetest seven-year-old girl I have ever met! As we finished dinner, I walked down the street holding her hand as I tried to talk to her in Korean. In my homestay, I live with a very kind elderly couple that don’t speak much English. Luckily, I was hoping that my host family doesn’t speak English so that I would practice my Korean more.

My room at my host family’s apartment.

My room at my host family’s apartment

For the next week, CIEE planned student bonding activities and an excursion outside of Seoul to further our understanding of Korean culture. For example, we broke into groups and explored Seoul which was helpful in better navigating the transportation system, seeing more of Seoul outside of homestay and campus life, and being able to meet more of the students from the program. We also had a class about Korea’s attributes to astronomy and quickly went over a little bit of culture, during which I was volunteered to wear the hanbok (the Korean traditional dress) and bow as if it were a new year. The hanbok itself is very different from other traditional dresses because it is not tight; instead, it is flowy and loose towards the bottom.

Students exploring Seoul! We found King Sejong!

Exploring Seoul - we found King Sejong

CIEE also took the students on an excursion to Yeongju which is about three hours from Seoul. On the way there, we stopped and ate grilled meat and vegetables which was delicious. Once arriving in Yeongju, we found that we would be staying in traditional housing meaning we would sleep on the floors with lots of blankets and a firm pillow (it was quite comfortable). Then we went to Buseoksa (Floating Rock White Mountain), a Buddhist temple that was also the second oldest building in Korea. The following day we went to a neo-Confucius school located next to the sight of our sleeping location. After we returned to Seoul.

CIEE students wearing the traditional hanbok.

CIEE students wearing the traditional hanbok

The next day was the last day of orientation, during which we talked about volunteer opportunities CIEE finds for our and Seoul Buddies which is a way for us to connect with local students here. After which, a group of students decided to get spicy rice cakes and explore a little of the Sinchon area we live close to. The orientation was great because it helped us get familiarized with the campus and Seoul life. It also gave us a chance to adjust and make friends before the start of school. CIEE does a good job of creating a support system and giving us cultural excursion and trip opportunities both inside and outside of Seoul. The following day was one of the most impactful so far. I was feeling a bit down, so I decided to join CIEE’s planned trip to Namsangol Hanko Village which was being led by a group of Korean volunteers around my age. We went to the village and had a good time playing games and just exploring the site. After we finished exploring, we went to a nearby coffee shop and just talked. This was one of the first times that I felt less like a foreigner and more like I was among friends. It’s hard to not stand out in Korea with blond hair and blue eyes and blending in seems less like an option than when I studied abroad in Italy. However, it was nice to be around people who were interested in knowing you beyond the foreign exterior.

CIEE Students and Korean Students hanging out at Namsangol Hanok Village.

CIEE Students and Korean students hanging out at Namsangol Hanok Village



Taylor Wertheim is an Italian and international studies major at the University of Iowa, pursuing a minor in Korean. She will be spending an academic year in Seoul, South Korea, on CIEE's Arts and Science program.