Chapter 13: 졸업 여행: 제주도 (Graduation Trip: Jeju)
Strap yourselves in because this is honestly probably the most exciting chapter I’ll be writing on this blog.
Yes, I have finally traveled for real outside of Seoul and all the way to the island of Jeju!
Jeju is a volcanic island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula and is one of the official provinces of South Korea. It is a very popular travel destination not only for visiting tourists, but Koreans as well. It’s basically one of the only tropical getaway locations that’s within a convenient traveling distance from the rest of the country, so I get it.
Jeju is known for its tangerines (한라봉: hallabong), seafood, pork, natural wonders, green tea, peanuts(? Yeah I was shocked about that one too), and language.
Being the linguistics major I am, I must share that the dialect of Jeju, while a dialect of Korean, has transformed so much over time that it is actually considered its own language separate form Korean, since most mainland Koreans can’t even understand what is being said. It’s mostly the older generation who speaks the Jeju language, since they purposefully teach standard Korean to children, but (according to our tour guide) they are trying to incorporate the Jeju language into more broadcasts and general media in order to preserve it, which I think is awesome. The power and importance of language diversity!
Alright, so that’s Jeju in a (pea)nutshell. Now, let me set the scene for this travel story, as I’m going to attempt to recount everything before I inevitably forget some things.
Also before we get started, go take a listen to this song! It’s the unofficial anthem of Jeju haha and will definitely put you into the relaxed mood you need for traveling.
So, this trip is honestly probably the most exciting thing that our program had planned for us. After dealing with the stress of Covid and the stress of studying Korean non-stop for the last nine-ish months, this was a much needed break. I’ll be honest, I thought that this trip would be more of a “We’re going together, but you can go off and do whatever you want” kind of thing. But contrary to this, the teachers and assistants had actually prepared a very packed itinerary, with activities, transportation times, and meals planned down to the minute. Since there were some things that I wanted to see that weren’t on the schedule (read: the Snoopy Gardenㅠㅠ I’ll have to go back) I was a bit disappointed, but it ended up being a very fun (and tiring) time.
We departed on Friday, April 29 at 10:25 AM from Gimpo International Airport, but we had to gather at the airport at 9 AM to get our tickets sorted, get through security, and all that fun airport stuff.
Side note: Korean airport security is definitely not on the same level as the US’ TSA and I have never been so grateful. Almost took my shoes off on instinct when going through the scanner thing, but luckily caught myself before doing something embarrassing.
Unfortunately, right from the get go, problems arose. One of the other students had apparently overslept and had just gotten up when we were all already gathered at the airport. Needless to say, that kind of sent the teachers into a bit of a panic, especially since it was (surprisingly) a busy travel time and it wasn’t guaranteed whether or not they would be able to get another ticket for a later time. Luckily they did manage to find an open seat on a flight that would leave two hours later, so our friend was able to join us later in the day. But again, just a very chaotic start, which isn’t exactly what you ever want when traveling.
Aside from that, everything went smoothly as far as getting on the plane and getting there. The flight was only about an hour, yet I still managed to sleep for that entire time because I had been up the previous night writing an essay for that (insert profanity of your choice) Korean history class I talked about. Literally the bane of my existence.
Also, I’d just like to show you the safety video that they play on Korean Air. Because it’s hilarious and amazing. Yes, it’s a K-Pop group singing about airplane safety procedures. A very fun way to start your flight. Just listen to it when you have a moment.
And then we arrived!
Our first stop was to get lunch, which was noodles and soup along with Jeju’s famous black pork. Delicious.
After that we went to Arte Museum (아르떼뮤지엄), which is kind of like the Wonder Museum in Chicago. Basically, lots of rooms with cool projections and other props that were created to be the ultimate photo zones for trendy young people. It was definitely cool to see, but considering I’m not the biggest fan of having pictures taken of me, it was kind of an “Okay, I’ve seen what I need to see. Let’s goooo~” experience But I can’t deny what a cool concept it is for a tourist attraction, and some of the pictures turned out good, so there you go.
After that, we finally did what I had been most looking forward to: going to the beach!
(I’m literally referencing the itinerary as I’m writing this because I don’t know the names of anywhere we went)
We went to Hyeobjae Beach (협제해수욕장), which was probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. The ocean was a nice clear blue, and then there was the black of the volcanic rock and the green of various mosses and grasses growing, and it all just came together to make a very vivid and stunning picture.
It was also really windy that day, so we didn’t stay long, but I still managed to get really nice pictures!
Afterwards we went to (*checks English spelling) Osulloc (오설록) which is a green tea farm / cafe / museum. I think we were originally supposed to go to the museum, but ended up just going to the cafe to get ice cream and lots of other green tea treats, which was honestly way more worth it. I wasn’t originally a huge fan of green tea or matcha, but after coming to Korea and now after going to Jeju, I am most definitely in love. The teachers bought us all green tea ice cream and then my friend and I each bought a matcha latte and shared some matcha cheesecake. I’m lactose intolerant / sensitive, but it was so worth it.
And our last stop of the day was dinner! We feasted on more of Jeju’s black pork in a classic Korean barbecue style. Lots of food, lots of laughs. A good time. Oh, and there were dogs outside. So cute.
We then headed to the hotel for the night. And let me tell you, I was having war flashbacks of the hotel I stayed in for the 2-week arrival quarantine. Pretty much the exact same setup. Not sure if that’s a standard thing for Korean hotels or what, but yeah. It was odd. But the view was great! If you want to know what the actual room looked like, just go back and read my quarantine post. Basically the same thing.
The second day started off bright and early, with all of us meeting at the hotel lobby at exactly 7:50 AM to board the bus and head out to breakfast. Our first meal of the day was a nice hot bowl of rice porridge, a perfectly bland yet slightly salty dish that isn’t too heavy but is just satisfyingly filling enough to get you started for the day.
Day two consisted of all outdoor activities, so we’d definitely be needing the energy.
Our first stop was another beach, though this one was a lot less rocky than the first and looked more like the stereotypical beach you’re probably thinking of. Though this beach actually had black sand that was made from lava rocks, which I honestly didn’t even notice until I looked back at my photos. I’m quite observant. But this was probably my favorite spot out of the entire trip. We were able to just walk along the beach, take picture, skip some rocks, and I even went on a hunt for sea glass (Note: there was a lot. Probably all the broken soju bottles lol). Overall, it was just a really nice time for healing and just taking a moment to actually breathe amongst all the non-stop (metaphorical) running I feel like we’ve been doing.
쇠소깍 (soesoggak. I have literally no idea how to translate that. I think it’s just a name), a very lovely escape.
Then it was on to 정방폭포 (Jeongbang Waterfall). I don’t know, not much to say about this location. I mean, it was a waterfall. Very pretty. It was a bit of a treacherous climb to get down there, and I’m pretty sure I fell(?). I don’t remember. But again, the pictures turned out nice.
Then we went to probably my most anticipated meal of this entire trip which was black pork cutlet. Not going to lie, it kind of just tasted like all the other pork cutlet I’ve had here, but that’s probably because I’m neither a pork expert nor a religious foodie who can distinguish the two, so maybe some of the novelty was lost on me. But I certainly enjoyed it and ate well, and isn’t that all that matters?
After we had fueled up on pork and all the assorted side dishes (The single smiley face french fry was honestly so funny to see. Such memories of my childhood), we went ahead to go get our cardio workout for the day at 새별오름 (saebyeoloreum: again, I don’t know what this translates to, sorry), which is just a very big, very steep hill. It’s not tall enough to be a mountain, but god, getting up there was honestly harder than some of the mountain hiking I’ve done.
It all starts off with a nice little walking path with a pretty view that I’m sure is there just to lure you into a false sense of security before your real trial begin. Then, it’s a straight 45-degree hike up the side of this godforsaken hill that leaves you with the taste of blood in your mouth and the feeling that you lost a lung along the way. Honestly, it’s best to just run up the thing and get it over with. No sense in prolonging your suffering.
But to quote Miley Cyrus from The Hannah Montana Movie, “Life’s a climb, but the view is great.”
It was honestly like looking at a real life version of the windows desktop default background. Lots of green against a blueish (it was cloudy that day) sky, and no sight of the high-rise apartments and office buildings that I’ve become used to seeing everyday after living in Seoul. It was very refreshing.
And at the bottom we were rewarded with some hallabong juice for our struggles. It’s like, fancier orange juice, if I had to describe it. I’m also not a fruit expert. All I can tell you is that it tasted good.
Then it was on to another beach, though this one had more of the “resort beach” type of atmosphere, complete with lots of seaside cafes, restaurants, and surfing lessons! Sadly, the spot we were originally going to go to was way too crowded, so we ended up driving about five minutes down the road to a quieter walking path that ended up having way more interesting things to look at.
The statues in the pictures below are called dolhareubang (돌하르방) or “stone grandpas” and are another trademark of Jeju.
Our next activity wasn’t on the original schedule, but we had some time to kill before dinner. So our teacher decided to let us all go go-kart riding. I personally did not drive because, ha, scary, but I enjoyed being a passenger.
Then onto our last schedule of the day: a five (six?) course seafood dinner.
Now, I’ll admit, I am not a fan of seafood. Sure, I enjoy my sushi and some forms of fish from time to time, but I’m definitely not a sashimi (hui, if you want to use the Korean term) type of person. But I tried my best! The line was certainly drawn when they brought out an entire grilled fish (unfortunately I didn’t take a picture), but other than that it was all pretty good.
After returning to the hotel, I promptly fell asleep at maybe 10PM that night, thoroughly exhausted from such an activity-filled day.
Our last day only consisted of one major activity since our flight back to Seoul was leaving around four in the afternoon.
Breakfast was a nice big bowl of seaweed stew (미역국) which some people say just kind of tastes like sea water, but I really like it? It’s not bursting with flavor or anything, but I just…really like soup.
Then we took our adventures underground to (*checks itinerary because I forgot) Manjanggul Cave (만장굴). It kind of reminded me of when my dad and I went to Eagle Cave in Wisconsin for one of our YMCA camping trips. Dark, damp, a bit claustrophobic. Okay, very claustrophobic. Honestly, I was doing fine the entire walk in, and then suddenly on the way out the air was just getting a bit too thick and the end just couldn’t come into sight fast enough. I didn’t take that many pictures because it was really dark and the lighting (obviously) was not good, so I might leave this one up to you to google if you’re curious.
To be honest, the highlight of this activity wasn’t the cave itself, but the cat that was there to greet us before we went in ♥(ˆ⌣ˆԅ)
Then it was time for our last meal in Jeju.
But not just any pizza! More of that famous black pork as well as shrimp. Believe me, I had my doubts about the shrimp pizza but it actually ended up being my favorite of the two? Who would’ve thought.
Our very last destination before the airport was, of all places, Starbucks. Because the Jeju Starbucks has a special menu, consisting of mugwort lattes, hallabong ade and smoothies and other assorted tropical drinks. I didn’t get anything, but it looked good. And they also of course had special Jeju Starbucks tumblers and other merchandise, of which my friends took great advantage. I was just there to watch the consumer behavior. Fascinating, might I add.
While others were enjoying the Starbucks, I and a few others went out to enjoy the ocean view one last time ㅠㅠ
And then it was back to the airport and back to Seoul, and our 2-nights-3-days graduation trip had come to an end!
Overall, it was just a very fun and relaxing time. Just three days where I didn’t have to worry about assignments or presentations or tests. Still had to use my Korean of course, but my mind was the most relaxed it’s been in a long time. I also found that I really liked having the entire trip planned out from start to finish. All I had to do was show up, walk around, take pictures, eat, and sleep. No pressure at all. Really, this was the ideal vacation. Maybe I should look into those guided tour packages for the future. Something to keep in mind.
Here are some group photos to finish off this post~
So there you have it! That was my trip to Jeju! I’m hoping I can do one more trip kind of like this before I go back to the States. Maybe not quite as activity filled because planning = stress, but we’ll see! I’ll need to research places I want to go.
Here’s hoping I’ll come back with an interesting post soon! Until then~