finding my place in an unfamiliar home

Month: October 2017

A little trip to Seoul

I was able to take a little trip to Seoul this past weekend after taking three straight midterms the previous weekend. It was a great chance to get some rest and relaxation!

I kind of fell in love with Seoul… sorry Hong Kong! Seoul is such a beautiful combination of the busy city life with the quiet atmosphere you can only find in a quaint little town like Ithaca. I visited a few different areas during my stay like Hongdae, Sinchon, Myeongdong, Insadong, Jung-gu, and Gangnam-gu. Each neighborhood had its own personality and each neighborhood was unique in its own right. For instance, I visited Garosu-Gil on the last day which is kind of an upscale area (kind of like Soho) and that completely contrasted with Bukchon Hanok Village which is a traditional village I toured the day before.

During my trip, I stayed at a hostel called the Lazy Fox Hostel which provided my group with an apartment-style unit equipped with a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a common room that we shared with another room in the unit. Breakfast was provided in the morning and there was also roof access, which was a major plus! The hostel is also located in a nice area that is quiet, but close to the bustling streets of Hongdae and only a 5-minute walk away from the metro station. If you’re abroad traveling to Seoul and are looking for cheap accommodations, I recommend staying here. We had a little trouble with mosquitos the first night, but were lent an electric swatter by the staff.

There is so much to do in Seoul. Clothing, makeup, and accessories for sale line the streets of Hongdae, Myeongdong, Sinchon, and Garosu-Gil. There’s even a large underground shopping center in Gangnam Station. Many items were pretty good quality and affordable. No wonder everyone in Seoul is dressed so nicely… There are countless museums around Seoul detailing Korean history as well as palaces and traditional villages scattered throughout the city, which give a feel for Korean culture. It was hard to pick and choose which activities we would do and which sites we would visit!

A glimpse of my trip:

Ewha Women’s University – there were many street food stalls selling dukbokki, soondae, fish cake sticks, tempura, etc. as well as interesting shops around the area! The University was started by an American missionary and has a welcome center explaining its history as well as a museum on its premises.

My first meal in Korea! We had dukbokki and soondae at a street food stall right next to Ewha University.

A view from above of the Bukchon Hanok Village.

Another view of the Bukchon Hanok Village.

Street art! There were so many beautiful murals all around the village.

The N Seoul Tower from afar at another Hanok village.

Seoul at nighttime from N Seoul Tower Cable Car.

We also visited the Gyeongbokgung, a palace near the Bukchon Hanok Village and Insadong. 

You can rent a hanbok to wear around your tour of the palace. There are many rental shops nearby. Admission to the palace is free if you wear a hanbok!

I highly recommend trying samgyetang (ginseng chicken stew)! It is served with ginseng liquor and kimchi. My friend (a Cornell alum!) recommended Tosokchon Samgyetang, which was super huge and the stew they served was delicious!

Ssamjigil in Insadong, a shopping center with sloping sides that replace stairs! There is even a poop-themed restaurant at the top floor.

We had our last dinner in Seoul at a jimjilbang, a 24-hour sauna that has baths, fomentation rooms, entertainment facilities, a restaurant, and sleeping rooms. We stayed at Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station. It’s also a great, cheap alternative to traditional accommodations!

Me peacing out in one of the caves in the women’s dugout room. Until next time, Seoul!

I had an absolutely amazing time in Seoul and had a bittersweet departure, but I’m so grateful that studying abroad gave me the chance to visit this city. I watch Korean dramas and my sister is a big fan of Korean music, but I never imagined actually traveling to Seoul because it’s just so far away from the US! It would have been incredibly expensive for me to purchase plane tickets, let alone leave room in my budget for accommodations, food, admission prices, and shopping. But studying abroad closed that distance and really gave me the perfect chance to check off an item that has been on my bucket list for a really long time.

Thank you, Hong Kong and Cornell Abroad!

Finding my motivation

Sorry, I’ve been MIA these past two weeks because I’ve been holed up in the library and in my room studying for midterms! However, over the course of these past two weeks, I have not only done a lot of studying, but also a lot of self-reflection…

Studying for Sustainable Development in the library at 8AM 😢

Coming to Hong Kong, I realized that I would have to get used to a different academic atmosphere. After all, I would be enrolled in a completely different school that is bound to a completely different culture. However, that didn’t mean I knew how it would be actually having to adjust to the new academic setting.

I’ve grown extremely comfortable with Cornell’s rigorous and continuous downpour of assignments, group projects, and prelims throughout the semester, as well as informal interaction with professors and TAs during office hours. I’m used to running around campus all the time and juggling multiple assignments and exams all at once. But at HKUST, most of the classes I am taking are structured so that my entire grade depends on a midterm and a final, with very few assignments and group projects. Some classes have “tutorials” that are similar to discussion sections at Cornell, but for the classes I am taking, attendance is not required.

Because a majority of the time I have been here I have been relatively “stress-free”, I have been struggling to stay engaged and focused in my classes. I love being constantly challenged and at first, felt that this seemingly less rigorous academic environment was not challenging me as much as I would like it to.

However, I have started to see that it’s not that HKUST isn’t challenging… but that it poses a different type of challenge: developing the initiative to be actively learning and actively engaged in your classes. I think that Cornell gives a perfect environment to stimulate academic curiosity and it has given me a lifelong thirst for knowledge, but I’ve learned that I have become too dependent on my professors, TAs, and fellow Cornellians to keep me motivated and academically active.

I have started to suffer the consequences of this dependence while studying for my midterms this week. It has been extremely hard for me to focus and concentrate. (Luckily my exams went well, but the moments leading up to each exam were very difficult.)

Being at HKUST has also given me a unique opportunity to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of Cornell and re-evaluate my interests. Being left to my own devices has taught me a lot about what I am actually interested in academically and career-wise. For instance, I realized that I have an interest in product design and want to figure out how I can combine that interest with my passion for sustainability.

I came in this semester thinking I was pretty much set with my plan to pursue a MEng in Environmental Engineering through the Early Master’s program. I wasn’t planning to budge. But 7 weeks later, I am now contemplating taking my time with my last 3 semesters at Cornell, spreading out my classes more, and focusing on reflecting on what I am truly passionate about, what I really enjoy doing. I think that these past two years, I have been rushing to the “finish line” when I should be cherishing these life-changing  moments of my college career. Coming to Hong Kong has helped me realize that this was my way of running away from feeling uncertain about my future, but I am finally ready to slow down and be brave enough to face the fact that I may not know exactly what I am doing.


Belated 中秋节快乐!Happy Belated Mid-Autumn Festival!

I had the opportunity to attend the Mid-Autumn Festival Carnival in Victoria Park on Wednesday night and bought a box of snowy moon cakes to try in the spirit of festivities. I’ve only had traditional moon cakes gifted to my family by the supermarket my grandpa used to work at and by friends before, so this was a completely new experience for me! I’m so used to eating the savory moon cakes, it was delightful to try some sweet ones. They are so interesting because they need to be kept in the freezer… it’s kind of like mochi ice cream!

The box of snowy moon cakes I bought from a stand in the Sheung Tak Mall across from my hall. Delicious!

I also had a lot of fun at the carnival and even got to see the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance (大坑火龙舞).

I had always celebrated this holiday back home in the States so it wasn’t new to me, but because it isn’t a national public holiday at home, we never had a huge celebration like this. I would usually share a few moon cakes with my family, maybe light some lanterns in my front yard, and eat good food cooked by my grandma with my family. Nowadays, we don’t even really light lanterns anymore or have gatherings to celebrate.

That’s why it was so surreal to attend a carnival for Mid-Autumn Festival and celebrate the occassion with a whole nation. It was strangely nostalgic and made Hong Kong feel a little bit more like home.


Weekend in Hanoi

Being in Asia for study abroad has its perks. One of them is being able to travel to another country for a weekend trip without spending too much money!

This past weekend I was able to venture to Hanoi with my friend Emilie. We flew to Vietnam on Thursday via Cathay Dragon and landed at around 8PM. This was my first international leisure trip without my family, so it was pretty exciting!

Our first order of business after landing was getting our financials in order. I exchanged about HKD$1000 (~USD$100) at one of the money exchange counters at the airport, but there are also ATMs available for cash withdrawal. Next, I decided to get a SIM card just in case. I got my unlimited data SIM card for ~USD$7 at a Vinaphone counter. We also booked our car service to and from the hostel ahead of time at the same counter to save ourselves the headache of dealing with the Uber app which refused to work with us. But it was pretty much all smooth sailing after getting all of the logistics sorted out and arriving at Hanoi Centre Hostel in the Old Quarter.

Over the course of our 4-night trip, we were able to get a lot done! In total, we visited 4 museums, 1 mausoleum, and 2 temples. It was a cultural experience that I am so thankful I was able to be immersed in.

Here is a glimpse of some of the places we visited (and the delicious food we ate):

Taken from the airplane heading to Hanoi

The busy streets of Hanoi scared me at first! I could barely cross the road through the hordes of people and motorbikes, but I eventually got used to it.

The Vietnamese Women’s History Museum was one of the first museums we visited.

Ho Chi Minh was in Russia getting his mustache fixed at the time, but we just had to stop by the mausoleum anyway.

This is the house where Ho Chi Minh used to live in the Presidential Palace.

The Banh Mi was delicious, especially with pâte!

We stumbled upon this temple while wandering around.

This was taken at the Hoa Lo Prison Museum where John McCain was once held captive. It was eye-opening to learn about the US from a Vietnamese prospective.

We saw some interesting mixed western and eastern architecture all throughout the French Quarter.

I tried egg cacao while overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. The view was breathtaking!

I tried Poly Juice Potion in a quaint Harry Potter cafe smack dab in the middle of Hanoi!

I ended up keeping all of tickets I bought at each site as souvenirs. They are tucked away in my schedule book.

I learned so much at Vietnam’s culture and history through the museums I visited and by just walking on the streets of Hanoi. To my surprise, I even got to learn more about the US’s relationship to Vietnam during this trip. I’ve never been much of a history buff, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about how the US interacts with the world on a global scale and was surprised that there is still so much to learn about my own country when I am so far away. I think with this trip, I am starting to get a better grasp of what it means to be a lifelong learner and global citizen.

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