The company, cultural, and college visits are all over, and today was our last full day in South Korea. I started off the day at the hotel breakfast buffet, where I finally have gotten in the habit of remembering my meal coupon. Then, everyone split up into smaller groups and we took a taxi to the beach.
Our hotel is around 45 minutes from the beach, and due to that and a more relaxed start to the day we arrived in Haeundae around 11:00. We spent the morning playing music, talking, napping (in my case) and swimming (not my case). Lying on the sand with everyone, it was hard to believe that all of these people were strangers to me before this trip. I remember visiting the study abroad office before applying to Plus3 and hearing older students talk about how many friends they had made on the program, feeling unconvinced. Those feelings couldn’t be farther from the truth now.
After a few hours everyone started getting hungry and we decided to find some lunch. We settled (slightly guiltily, in my opinion) on a burger restaurant a block away. To be fair, this was the first western-style meal I’ve had all trip, and it was served with a twist: doused in teriyaki sauce with a fried egg on top. Any doubts I was feeling faded the moment I took the first bite; it was incredible. I followed the meal with an ice cream cone from a nearby stand – I ate it in about five seconds so sadly I don’t have a picture!
By then it was mid-afternoon, and we decided we should head back and freshen up before our final project presentation and farewell dinner. The taxi ride back was probably the best one I’ve taken all trip: the driver didn’t speak any English, and we didn’t speak any Korean, but he pulled out a voice-activated translator so we were able to have a conversation with him. When we mentioned we were from the US, he beamed in approval, a reaction that we have gotten a few times before. One of our tour guides mentioned this earlier in the week, saying that many Koreans (especially older ones) feel immense gratitude towards the US for intervening during the Korean War. Regardless, I felt as if I should be thanking him for welcoming us into his country so kindly.
I don’t know what I was expecting for the farewell dinner, but it wasn’t the decadent buffet restaurant housed in the penthouse of a nearby building. We began the night with our group project presentations, for which we had to imagine a technology based off our observations in Korea and market the business to the public. My group proposed a multilingual, interactive map complete with step-by-step directions for Seoul’s subway system. This would have been especially useful last week, when Dr. Yun challenged our groups to find our way back to the hotel using no phones and only public transportation. Afterward, we sat down for one last dinner together. The buffet was so extensive there was no way for me to taste everything, but I tried my best!