Hi my name is Elaine, and if you’re new to this blog, just a quick self introduction: I spent the 2014-2015 school year studying abroad in South Korea, with NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth). There were 15 kids in my year, and six of us were the “Incheon Girls.” With the exception of our three all-girls schools in Incheon, all of the other schools in our program were co-ed schools in Seoul. While we anxiously awaited our school assignments last summer, all of the girls hoped that they wouldn’t be one of those unlucky enough to be placed in Incheon. I mean, think about it, cool and popping things/places are only in Seoul (untrue), most of your NSLI-Y friends live an hour commute away (true), and while Korean guys are attractive, you attend an all-girls school (true, but there’s a plus side). Haha, getting placed in Incheon seems like you really got the short end of the stick right? Well, you kind of did. But at the same time you honestly didn’t. To be truthful, I was a bit disappointed to be placed in Incheon at first, but looking back now, while there were a few cons, I wouldn’t trade my experience in Incheon for any Seoul school.
Why Incheon isn’t as bad as you’ll initially make it out to be.
1. You’ll go to Seoul anyway, so you get the cool opportunity to explore two cities, while your Seoul friends are lame and stay mostly in Seoul. As part of the program, we attended Korean classes three days a week (Mon, Tues, Thurs), and these took place in Seoul-Hongdae to be specific. Since classes ended at 5:20, there’s time after class to hang out with friends, explore the vibrant Hongdae area, and still make curfew, even for Incheon girls (Songdo girls…it’s another story, but I have a section solely devoted to you later, so read on). Also, Hongdae has a lot of famous people undercover around and about, great shopping, good food options, nice music, and the best noraebang in Seoul, so out of all the places in Seoul to be almost everyday, you’re in a fun one.
2. Boys are everywhere. “Yeah, but I won’t be able to have that high school romance that I’ve seen in Korean dramas and dreamed to experience myself.” Okay, let’s back up for a second. Even if you were in a co-ed school, chances are, dating is not going to happen. While Korean dramas sometimes do show how much Korea stresses the importance of education, the focus is usually put on romance and such, and rightly so, since it is, after all, just a drama. In real life though, these kids go to school early in the morning, before school starts, and leave at 10 or 11 at night, only to go to another 학원 afterwards. These kids study hard, and while you’ll get to hang out, it’ll take a lot of effort to date. So don’t be too down about having no boys at your school. While you’ll sometimes say you miss guys at your school and wonder what could have been, you’ll truly stop caring after awhile. Also, like I said earlier, boys are everywhere. I remember talking to my host mom about how difficult it is for girls in China to find a boyfriend, since there are so many girls, and comparatively fewer boys. In surprise, my host mom said that it’s slightly the opposite in Korea. More boys, fewer girls (not sure if this is actually statistically true, but it sure feels that way!) You’ll have boys in your host family, boys at your host family’s church-if they attend and you decide to go with them, boys on the subway, you’ll pass all-boys schools on the way to your all-girls school, AND boys at those Korean-American youth camps you’ll go to with NSLI-Y. You’ll have plenty of chances to meet a wide variety of guys.
3. Going to an all-girls school has its perks-lots of them! I actually wrote about one of these perks in my reflection of the program, “Something about attending an all girls’ school in Korea, whether it be having wildly popular middle aged male teachers because of the lack of male (students), the freely changing of clothes in the classroom because of the lack of males, not caring about appearances because of the lack of males, or showing their true personalities because of the lack of males, was very liberating. By being surrounded by these confident, self-empowering young women, who had no one to put on an act for, I too have taken off my outer shell, become more at ease with myself, and I find that now I care much less about what other people think of me than I did nine months ago.” Being in that kind of environment helped me understand who I am, and at this tumultuous age, who doesn’t want to learn even just a little bit more about themselves?
On a completely different note, Incheon girls get free stuff outside their schools-notebooks, fans, wet napkins, etc. Some schools in Seoul get these occasionally at best, but we get so many notebooks, we end up giving them away. (One day, I received seven. SEVEN!) My personal favorites are the notebooks from the art 학원s, since they have nice, thick paper and a lot of it. You’ll go through these notebooks fast thanks to Korean class, but you’ll be set while all of the Seoul kids have to keep running to Morning Glory to buy yet another 4,000~10,000 won notebook.
And there are so many more good things about these schools (from the best friends you’ll make, to the family you’ll gain…but I’ll let you learn about that yourself!!)
4. There are a lot of fun places to go and things to do in Incheon, especially Songdo. I am currently compiling a list with my other fellow Incheon girls, and the link to it will be found here.
5. For Songdo girls, I’m going to be completely honest: the commute sucks. You’re luckier in the fact that the other Incheon girls have to transfer on the subway, while you have a direct bus from Songdo to Hongdae (and another direct bus from Songdo to Gangnam, for when you want to play it Gangnam style), however, your bus, M6724 comes basically never (every 20-30 minutes if you’re lucky), and with traffic, the forty minute commute will often stretch to more than twice that. Also, for Hongdae to Songdo, don’t think that getting a seat during rush hour is a given. There’s a science behind it, but you’ll have to look at how many buses are currently at the bus stop, and estimate where M6724 will pull up. If you don’t, good luck finding a seat after the twenty other people before you, and have fun standing in an aisle for more than an hour in stop-and-go traffic. But that’s only happened to me twice, and if you get a seat, it’s not too bad, unless you get motion sickness from the stopping and going.
HOWEVER, the commute aside, Songdo is fantastic. You will fall in love with the city, even though it is half-finished. This is another topic that I will have to write a separate blog post about (here-when I upload it), so just know, that if you were placed in Songdo, you have all of the perks of Incheon (Songdo is technically part of Incheon, but we don’t like to admit it), plus more. The whole point of this post was to prove that getting placed in Incheon is not as bad as it will seem to be initially, but if you were placed in Songdo, you can rest assured knowing that you really scored in terms of the NSLI-Y placement lottery.