By Katie Lee
After three days in Korea, still suffering from jetlag, I was hopping on another plane. The plane was headed towards Jeju Island, a separate island offshore of mainland South Korea known for its bountiful nature, seafood, and the embodiment of a tropical getaway. The trip to this island was essentially a vacation within a vacation, and although I had my expectations of an ideal one, such as staying in a nice hotel and going to the beach, the trip itself certainly lived up to the height of my expectations but took the form of surprises.
The first and most troubling surprise was the language barrier. Quite frankly, I’m not the most fluent Korean speaker, however, I can communicate and understand — thanks to my Korean parents. Yet, here I was on this island surrounded by words that sounded familiar but were not being processed. As I was standing in front of a shopkeeper at a local marketplace, I stood frozen. It had felt like I had the last piece of a puzzle, and to my surprise, it didn’t quite fit. I kept jamming the pieces of knowledge of the language I thought I knew and days after, realized that I shouldn’t keep trying at a misfit piece, but start the puzzle over again. I stopped trying to make sense of a language I obviously could not understand and decided to view myself back at square one. Although it was a bit disappointing and quite frightening to be in a place with little means to communicate, it was the most refreshing and beautiful experience because I was able to witness the history and evolution of a community within this island. Korea, like most nations, has distinct dialects with the Jeju dialect, also known as Jejueo or Jejuean, referred to as “an unintelligible Korean dialect” and classified as its own language by the Korean government. This community may have originated from South Korea, but by no standards are they constrained by the language of their mainland.
The second surprise was out of my own ignorance: I was also in the belief that I would be spending my days on a densely populated beach, having come in with the knowledge that Jeju was an island for vacationers. Although there was a multitude of beaches all around Jeju, they were far different from the ones I knew in America. First, they were clean, which was a big surprise to me whose closest body of water is the polluted Hudson River in New York.
Besides that, I spent most, if not all, my days hiking up gargantuan mountains. Of course I was upset over the fact that I was hiking for at least two hours every day in denim clothing and uncomfortable shoes, yet, the feeling on top of that mountain, overlooking what seemed to be like the entire island, was all worth the actual sweat and tears.
The third and final surprise, and what I concluded to be the best part of the entire trip, were the most delicious fruits and the symbol of the island — hallabongs. They’re overwhelmingly sweet with the exact amount of tart and just healthy enough to not feel guilty after eating ten, making them the ultimate snack food.
The fruit is very versatile and used in several local dishes, especially sweets, and comparable to the foods of the gods. I love the physical fruits, like how there is ambrosia and there is nectar, there was a delectable liquid form of Jeju Mandarin Juice. After being confused in foreign conversations and hiking for hours, the connecting force between this new community and myself were these fruits.
About the Writer:
About Guac: Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.
Join us on our journey and follow along real-time on our instagram.