Reflection – August 20, 2021: Nathan

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.

Reflection – August 20, 2021: Busa

At Orlando International Airport [on August 11], I was greeted by my two sisters who came to pick me up. I didn’t realize just how much I missed my family until I was giving them the biggest bear hug right in the middle of baggage claim.

My two sisters welcoming me back at the airport 

Since being back, I have gotten to spend all of my time with family. With some things going on, I haven’t really had the opportunity to go out and see my friends just yet, so I would call this week quarantine part 2 – family edition. I really enjoyed catching up with them (even though we messaged each other and FaceTimed every week while I was away). Mr. Moser’s communications workshop has really come in handy as I’ve had to constantly present about my experiences in Korea. When my cousins came over they were particularly interested, I showed them our blog posts, pictures, and videos for hours. 

I was surprised at how quickly I returned to life as normal when I got back to America. It’s been nice to understand all the conversations around me, and to go to places without getting lost. Everything feels a lot easier than it used to. For example, grocery shopping. Being able to read every item and know generally where things are in a store was something I took for granted. 

With little time left before school starts for the fall semester, I have also been reflecting on changes I want to make in my school life routine. For one, after walking to most places on campus at SNU, I plan on being a lot more active and choosing to walk more on campus at UF rather than taking the bus. Working in lab this summer emphasized the importance of being organized and getting things done in a timely manner, so I hope to continue that discipline when it comes to classes. And of course, FOOD! It’s only been a week and I’m already craving Korean food. When I get back to Gainesville I plan on going straight to 대한 마트 (Daehan Mart) to find some.