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.