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No Worries in Café Clazic

A typical day for me looked like this:

My friends and I walk, three in a line, down the sidewalk to the café I had looked up online two hours prior to our designated meeting time. We met at the CU, “convenience store 4 you!”, outside our shared campus dorm, and started the familiar stroll down the sidewalks leading away from Dongguk towards the Chungmoro subway station.

The thing about walking after driving a car for, well, forever is that it seems like a hassle at first. But then it becomes less annoying. Then it starts to turn into a slight enjoyment. And then that small joy in the act finally culminates into a full-blown appreciation. Walking is now like second nature and I wish more of the United States was walkable.

The sky is overcast and looks like it could pour down rain any minute, but none of us had thought to bring an umbrella. On our walk to the nearby café, we make small talk concerning our university course load, the other areas in Seoul we’ve been to, and the topic that had my stomach in knots: our last days in South Korea.

They were coming fast and dwindling down into hurried goodbyes, tearful promises of meeting again, and long flights back to the countries we came from.

My last two weeks in Seoul made me realize something. Nothing big or dramatic, but still relevant to the person I was growing into. That something then slowly crystalized into a myriad of feelings and emotions that eventually snowballed into a seemingly all-encompassing pressure on the person I thought I was.

Our trio passes the familiar GS 25, their signs a signature blue and red and white – inviting and welcoming to all searching for the nearest convenience store, then the Two-Two fried chicken restaurant which was always busy, and finally the ever-faithful Tteokbokki Party. The chain store acts as a marker for me, either traveling to campus or to the station, that I am on the right path and close to where I want to be. Instead of taking the left to cross the street and find the stairs that lead underground to Chungmoro station, we keep walking across the pedestrian crosswalk spanning six lanes hoping the drivers, who weren’t known for their “pedestrian first” mentality, wouldn’t do anything reckless.

After safely making it across, we continue straight on our path watching the darkening sky hoping it wouldn’t decide to rain. This part of town seems darker and gloomier than the other side of the street – the streets we knew well and came to love. It seems like a “wrong side of town” kind of feel. Much less tourist-y and full with hole-in-the-wall mom and pop type of shops. Finding the café I chose is much harder and more difficult than I anticipated. We wandered the streets crisscrossing and backtracking multiple times, all three of us too stubborn to give up.

Finally, I pull out my Naver maps, the Google maps of Korea, and type in Café Clazic. According to my maps, we were standing right in front of the coffee shop. Frantically we look around hoping the map app is trustworthy and we were closer to getting some caffeine. My friend spots the sign advertising the café and pointing to the building on our left with the letters “2F” indicating it is on the second floor.

Relieved, we make the climb to the second level and pause at the unassuming door double-checking within the group we are entering the right place. Reassured, we slide the door to the side and are greeted with the rustic interior of Café Clazic. The inside is dark, an old attic type of ambiance, with wooden chairs and desks scattered around. The ordering bar and expresso machines are located on the far right side. At least one mirror adorns every wall, giving you a glimpse of not only yourself but the other customers in the single room. Off to the side, another small room is connected but with a drastically different theme. This room is bright and light and filled with plants and flowers. In the middle, for decoration and the main point (according to the multiple Instagram posts tagging the location) is the claw-foot bathtub artfully filled to the top with leaves and petals. Small stools and crates surround the tub indicating the tub itself is usable as a table. This is further supported by the clear covering laying over half the tub on the end allowing drinks to be placed on top of that side.

Cafés like this, themed and artistically decorated, dot the landscape and seem to be deeply embedded into the culture of Seoul. From a complete pink environment, to plants and flowers bringing nature to the concrete city center, to animal-inspired themed cafes – Seoul has it all. This is the place to come and be surrounded by environments you see in magazines, movies, Instagram discover page, and what you imagine how you would decorate your future apartment when you have the money and the freedom of adulthood. These are places to meet friends, do business, study, or just enjoy what the city of Seoul has to offer.

Within the cafes of Seoul, for me, there are no worries. There are only good coffee and good company in a city I have come to love and feel comfortable in. Here in the center of one of busiest cities in the world, there’s peace and quiet in whatever café you choose or happen to chance by. Sitting in the chairs, nestled in the atmosphere that is quintessentially and unmistakably Seoul, enjoying either your own singular presence in the bustle of the country capital or that of a like-minded friend there is a quiet inner understanding and feeling of being settled for that small moment of the forever that seems to be your life.

Seoul is cafés and friends and traveling and endless opportunities to do and be whatever you want. At least as an exchange student. These past two weeks, I have learned I am stronger than I give myself credit for and I can endure much more than I think.


Emily Stahl is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Marketing at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Emily will spend the semester abroad in South Korea participating in the Dongguk University exchange program. She is a member of the Delta Zeta sorority, Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. Being from a small town north of KC, Emily is excited to live and study in the city of Seoul for 4 months. She looks forward to gaining a better perspective and understanding of the culture and society within South Korea. Emily is also eagerly anticipating expanding her knowledge of business interactions on an international scale and to meet people and make new connections while abroad.


Disclaimer:  Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

A Never Ending City

It takes a day to learn to love a new environment. And another day to learn to enjoy being in the new environment. And another to continue to love that new environment.

It takes only a few minutes to hate being the out of place piece in a foreign puzzle. It takes only a few seconds to be homesick. It takes a fraction of a second for your stomach to drop and your insides to feel as if they’re in a food processor being blended into a squeamish realization of being so far away from everything you know.

There are so many things one takes for granted – being able to communicate fully and articulately thoughts and feelings. Being able to confidently say what you mean and mean what you want to say. It’s odd how comforting being able to read words and letters subconsciously and be able to comprehend them can be. All these little things build to become an enormous weight of experience.

But here, there’s peace in being out of place. For once, I am in the majority. I am the majority. I never realized how it felt like I was holding my breath when I was in the minority. Here, I am breathing. And it’s quite liberating and reassuring.

That is, until I open my mouth to speak a less fluent version of what used to be my native language. But I’m working on that. That is a whole different feeling for a different post.

A few days ago, I rode the subway during peak rush hour, a mistake I assure you, to the Hyehwa exit on line number 4 (the blue one). A month ago, I wouldn’t have known what any of those words in the previous sentence meant. Now I understand why people lament about the state of public transportation in the United States. It’s amazing and efficient and cheap – the subway system here will forever be my baseline on how well a country implements inter-country travel for its citizens. Anyways, let me set the scene: there I am patiently waiting for the escalator to end its automatic descent and close to the bottom a view of a well-packed crowd of all types (businessmen, college students, ajumma’s, ajusshi’s, children) are all packed together like ants waiting for the next train. Here personal space is not a factor, it’s not even an option and entirely out of the equation altogether. For a moment, even if you are a foreigner or not – visibly out of place or not – you’re just another faceless, nameless person in a crowd simultaneously taking up too much space while having not enough. Once the train arrives, it’s just a sudden push of bodies against one another like a concert without the dim lights, bad smells, and annoying crowd moshing.

Once on the subway, there’s no room to move. It feels as if there’s no room to breathe. Every time the subway goes a little too fast or takes a turn a little too suddenly, you only move a fraction of what you would expect to because there’s a sea of people cushioning the impact you would have had. You just jostle against the stranger next to you. Like a self-contained bouncy ball. I recommend avoiding the subway between 6:00-7:30 in the afternoon if you don’t want to experience this.

After getting off at the Hyehwa exit, my friend and I made the trek up, way up, many, many hills to get a glimpse of this breathtaking view.

I can’t even begin to describe the pure beauty of this scene. I’ve never been to New York City, but I would confidently make the statement this view beats anything NYC could offer. The biggest difference between the two is that Seoul holds more meaning to me than NYC ever could.

The first hill isn’t bad. Climbing an incline that’s reminiscent of the acute angle we’re taught about in fourth grade is not ideal. It’s not hard, but it isn’t easy either. The second hill still isn’t awful. By that point, I was slowly adjusting to the climb, but then the third hill came and I was just annoyed at the steep incline and how frequent they were. By the fourth hill, I wanted to abandon the climb and go back down the last three hills. But my friend reassured me the view would be worth it and, fortunately, she was correct. Here, the sun sets around 6:30-6:40 so we were able to watch the sunset over the city, the sky being clear for the first time in weeks. The city skyline laid bare before me was, and still is, one of the prettiest scenes I have witnessed. In both directions, buildings of various heights sprawled across the horizon paired against the orange-pink-cerulean watercolor painted sky creating the illusion of a never ending city. To the far left laid Namsan, distant and untouchable, the mountain I use to guide me back to where I need to be. It was a breathtaking view and at that moment, the nagging feeling of being out of place faded away for a brief moment. The view was a balm, a blissful reprieve to all the negative emotions that were slowly bubbling beneath the surface slowly compounded by all the miscommunications and cultural differences that were too distinct to patch over in the few weeks I had been here. We stayed until nightfall, content to watch as the city began to reflect the stars I can no longer see and miss.

There is a picture I came across on the internet where an iceberg is depicted and serves as an analogy for the small, intangible distinctions that come with different cultures. It’s aptly labeled “The Cultural Iceberg”. The top, the tip of the iceberg, are things that are easy to see: language, fashion, food, visual arts, et cetera. And the rest of the iceberg, the part you can’t see, the one submerged under the water are the things that are difficult to view and make it hard to acclimate to a culture and country that isn’t yours or one you didn’t grow up in. Family roles, relation to authority, body language, gender roles, pride, rules of conduct, beauty standards, humor – these, among several others, are the aspects of a culture that are hard to grasp. These are some of the contributing factors that act like bricks in the foundation of a difficult adjustment period.

 

But there is beauty in learning and seeing and being able to experience first hand the type of culture I could have grown up in and had my childhood in. To play the what-if game. It is an odd feeling, undoubtedly, but to have this opportunity, to experience all these feelings, is one I feared I would not be able to have. So I welcome all the emotions – the good and the bad.


Emily Stahl is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Marketing at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Emily will spend the semester abroad in South Korea participating in the Dongguk University exchange program. She is a member of the Delta Zeta sorority, Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. Being from a small town north of KC, Emily is excited to live and study in the city of Seoul for 4 months. She looks forward to gaining a better perspective and understanding of the culture and society within South Korea. Emily is also eagerly anticipating expanding her knowledge of business interactions on an international scale and to meet people and make new connections while abroad.

Disclaimer:  Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Taking The Leap

I could not even begin to imagine the trouble I would encounter trying to pursue a semester studying abroad.

As a disclaimer, not everyone will experience the same problems, or even any problems, as I did. But with so many obstacles and hurdles I have had to jump over and through and around, I’m honestly surprised I stuck with it. No one can list all the troubles you may come up against because there are so many types and because no two people are alike every situation will be different. It was unfortunate that the mixture that comprises my background and history just happened to work against me. In order to detail my entire story from start to finish, and to do it justice, I would need a completely new post dedicated solely to that one topic. That post may come in the later months, but having just finished dealing with the entire ordeal I want to anything other than to think about it.

The one thing I did learn from this experience is that if you really want to pursue something, you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. And this is that something I wanted. Studying abroad is not something you just want to do and then you do it. It requires a lot of work and preparation and time. I was caught unaware multiple times these past few months. Even before starting college, I had a vague idea of wanting to study abroad before I graduated. But it was just that – a vague desire that I hadn’t done much with besides occasionally thinking about it and talking about it in passing with friends. It’s one of those conversational bits you have with other college-aged friends and acquaintances. Something to give substance to your conversations. Not many people pursue it to fruition, at least not the people I know. My advice is, if you do decide to study abroad, start as early as possible so you can give yourself time to solve any problems that may arise during the process.

Straying away from the topic of the unexpected level of difficulty encountered, trying to get into the mindset of actually being able to participate in this semester abroad was filled with excitement, anxiety and suspense.

One minute, I’m excited and happy and bursting to the brim with an undirected need and desire to do something, everything, anything. I don’t know what I need to do or want to do, I just had this feeling of wanting to do it. But then there is a switch, seemingly apropos of nothing, to a dread that knots my stomach that leads me to examine and dissect how new and strange and unknown everything can be. Soon the people around me, the clothes, the smell, the driving, the walking, the way people live and breathe and go about just existing will be foreign to me. And I don’t want it to. Right now, I know how to get to all my favorite places. I know which road to take and where to go if I need to turn left and traffic is heavy so I don’t have to make that turn. I know how to act in different settings – what is expected of me and how I can modify my actions in response to that.

But when I’m in South Korea (where I’m doing my semester abroad), I won’t know how to get around. I won’t know where my favorite coffee shops are. I won’t know what the fastest route from point A to point B is depending on the time of day and traffic level. I won’t know how I fit within the larger picture of society. And that terrifies me.

Sometimes, thinking about these things brings a sense of uneasiness because I know when you are new to a place there is this initial sense that feeling of newness will never end – it will never go away and you will always feel slightly out of place. As if you are a puzzle piece crammed into a space you weren’t meant for; only there in order to complete the picture. This is a tough barrier to overcome and being in a city overflowing with other people and feeling isolated will only make it more difficult. But this is expected, is it not? In search of the new and exciting, you give up comfort and safety.

And the only way to know if you can truly do something is to do it. You have to take the leap.

You’ll either land on both feet or you won’t.

And that’s what I’m doing.


Emily Stahl is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Marketing at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Emily will spend the semester abroad in South Korea participating in the Dongguk University exchange program. She is a member of the Delta Zeta sorority, Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. Being from a small town north of KC, Emily is excited to live and study in the city of Seoul for 4 months. She looks forward to gaining a better perspective and understanding of the culture and society within South Korea. Emily is also eagerly anticipating expanding her knowledge of business interactions on an international scale and to meet people and make new connections while abroad.

Disclaimer:  Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.