Learning About Culture: Rice in Korea, a Study Abroad Experience

Author: Leilani C., ’21

On May 18, 2019, eleven students landed in Seoul, South Korea for the Rice in Korea (RIK) program, a 6-week immersion study abroad experience in the capital. While some students I knew from my KORE 141 and 142 (beginner Korean) classes, I had never met 5 of the students before orientation and was a bit apprehensive about spending such a long time with strangers, and living with a host family that spoke very limited English. However, through the program, I gained 10 great friends who still hang out throughout the school year.

After the first day was spent recovering from jetlag, my roommate and I decided to venture out into Dongdaemun and Myeongdong, two famous districts in Seoul popular among tourists. We randomly ran into three other students and spent the day exploring the bustling district. Gorged on delicious food and boba, we went home to our host families in order to prepare for the first day of our class.

 

The RIK program is an immersive Korean language program taught by one professor from Rice University (Professor Song), and another professor from the university we attended, Kyunghee University (Professor Kim). Earning 6 hours of credit for KORE 263 and 264 meant that our six weeks in Seoul would be crammed with class work and studying. However, classes were usually only 3 hours a day, allowing us the opportunity to spend a lot of time learning more about the culture on our own.

While we had mandatory culture classes, including learning a K-pop dance at a popular studio, going over the basics of taekwondo, and learning how to cook traditional Korean dishes, the majority of our cultural learning came from our own exploration of the city. One of my favorite experiences in the program was going to the Gyeongbokgung Palace, where our class dressed in traditional attire (hanbok) and toured the beautiful palace. We also ate samgyetang, a very traditional ginseng chicken soup, at a restaurant close to the palace. Our class also traveled to Gangneung, a province east of Seoul, known for its historic sites and beautiful beaches.

A very important aspect of a culture is its food, and we had so many opportunities to eat a great variety of Korean food. All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ was a favorite among our class, especially when followed by late-night karaoke in Hongdae, the trendy hub of nightlife in Seoul. We visited several night markets in Seoul where we ate dishes unique to Korea, including sannakji (freshly killed octopus that is still moving), their famous chimaek (fried chicken and beer), and many noodle dishes. Even the food in the university cafeteria was delicious (and very cheap, with an average price of $3 per meal). While we tried as many dishes as we could, our favorite meal was fried chicken on the Han River, where we listened to street performers and hung out for hours. While desserts are extremely popular in Korea, with tons of cafes and bakeries, my personal favorite was the bingsu, or shaved ice topped with different things (such as strawberry macaroons, mango, or Yakult).

We visited both historic and trendy places in Seoul, allowing us to experience many different aspects of Korean culture and turning our study abroad program into the experience of a lifetime. I will always cherish the memories I made there and long for the delicious food and drinks, and consider it the best summer I have experienced. While I decided to take Korean, Rice also offers several other languages that have a similar study program, including Rice in Spain, France, Italy, China, and Japan. I highly recommend to every student to take a language class, because the culture you are exposed to truly completes your Rice experience.