If I told myself a couple of years ago that I would live in South Korea for a summer, I would be shocked. Before the invitation to apply for IRIKA, I never seriously considered moving to another country. But now that it’s done, it is an experience I couldn’t trade for anything, and one I’ll never forget.

A photo from the KAIST bridge on my way to work.

When I boarded the plane for Korea, in America, Covid-19 seemed to be over (at the time of writing though… that has proven to be tragically untrue). Masks were no longer required for the vaccinated, and life was returning to normal. Korea, due to a shortage of vaccines, was still in the thick of it though. Despite the pandemic, Korea didn’t feel closed down to me. Even as the virus situation worsened through July, I was still grateful for how much I could do. Even at its worst, we could still enjoy ourselves as we adventured through Seoul, Busan, and Jeju.

Jeju International Airport

Those trips were really awesome expositions of Korean culture, food, and nature. Over the course of the trip, I enjoyed hiking to the top of mountains, exploring the urban environment, and trying new meals. A few days after returning to the US, I went to a Korean restaurant with two of my friends. I realized that even after such a short time, I already missed the abundance of kimchi, rice, and other items served at every Korean meal.

A restaurant on Jeju Island. I’m eating Jeju horse meat 😉 

I will also miss the people I met there. The other researchers at the lab were very kind to me, and helpful as I worked to 3D print hydrogels. Dr. Park was also very understanding, and worked with me to find the most engaging area of research in his lab. Beyond the lab, at KAIST, I met international students from China, Turkey, and even Finland. In my outings in Daejeon, I also met English teachers from America, who were also very fun to spend time with.

A copper-infused hydrogel. Are you really a scientist until you’ve worked with a bright blue fluid?

I had a great ally in Dr. [Gloria] Kim. Being Korean herself, she was an invaluable resource in navigating the unfamiliar culture. Even for things as simple as how to ask for a haircut or as complicated as going to a doctor’s office, she could be counted on for advice. When some crisis would arise, she would leap into action and see it through to resolution. I’m very grateful for her help.

Many things have changed on returning to the United States. I’ll miss so much of the Korean cultural experience. At the end of the day, however, at least one thing has not changed between Korea and Florida: the heat. There is no shortage of that in either location. In that respect, it’s like I never left!

Dawn over the Bering Sea, on the flight back to America.