For every NSLI-Yian, the two-day pre-departure orientation (PDO) marks the official start of long awaited adventures. You finally get to meet the other students with whom you’ll be studying for the next six to eight weeks! For me, PDO made everything finally feel real. I was granted the incredible opportunity to study Korean while immersed in the language and culture, and I fully intended to make the most of it. Everyday was a new adventure! Check out my first vlog!
The implementing organization for the Seoul Summer program is i-EARN, and our orientation was held at the University of Washington. The location of the orientation depends on the implementing organization and program, so this is not the same for everyone! Approximately three weeks before PDO, I received an email from i-EARN with my domestic flight info from my home city to Seattle, and also from Seattle to my home city upon my return to the United States.
The night before PDO, I didn’t sleep at all; classic me had procrastinated packing until the very last minute. I ended up packing one large check-in, one carry-on, and one backpack. My carry-on held my host family gifts, toiletries, two outfits, and other emergency items. (Pro-tip for flying international: in your carryon, put valuables and anything that would be necessary in the event that your checked bag gets lost!) In each of my three bags, I also carried a photocopy of my birth certificate and passport.
I would recommend carrying your host family gifts in your carry-on. In case my checked bag got lost, I still wanted to be able to thank my host family with gifts. However, don’t be like me and forget the TSA rules! I bought my host family some nice local honey, but, because it qualifies as a gel and was over 3 oz., TSA confiscated it.
By 6:30 am, I finally had everything packed and was ready to depart for the airport! At the airport, I met my friend Lindsey, another NSLI-Y finalist. In April, after we first discovered that we live in the same city, we decided to meet up, and we quickly became close friends! Having a travel buddy was awesome and definitely made the whole day of travel more fun.
We had a short one hour flight to Atlanta, with a two-and-a-half hour layover. During our layover, we tried some delicious pizza from Varasano’s Pizzeria, and it was quite possibly the best airport food I’ve ever had. Because our layover was so long, Lindsey and I started watching Princess Mononoke (we’re both Studio Ghibli fans!) to pass the time. While waiting at our gate for our five hour flight to Seattle, we discovered that two other NSLI-Y Seoul finalists would also be on the same plane!
In a previous email from NSLI-Y, we had received instructions on how to navigate the airport and find the shuttle that would take us from the airport to University of Washington’s campus. It took us a bit to find the right place, but we finally found it, and we met some more NSLI-Y finalists along the way!
It took us about 45 minutes to arrive at UW, and we were greeted by the NSLI-Y i-EARN staff, our Resident Directors, and some alums who were volunteering at the orientation. We checked-in and received our stipend for the next two days and our room keys. We also received the official NSLI-Y t-shirt and a NSLI-Y goodie bag with a notebook, folder, pen, and snacks! This t-shirt is given to all finalists to wear when traveling as a whole group (e.g. at the airport), and, if you follow any NSLI-Y’s social media accounts or other NSLI-Y finalists, you’ll see this iconic shirt pop up all over your feed. The color is different every year!
We arrived around 5 pm, but other finalists had been steadily trickling in throughout the day. The dorms we were staying in were clusters, with a common room attached to five or six other rooms with roommates. There was plenty of space for me and my roommate! If your PDO happens to also be at UW, just a heads-up that there is no wifi in the dorms, only in the lobby.
After Lindsey and I dropped off our stuff in our respective rooms, we headed back down to the lobby to socialize and finally meet the other finalists in person!
The girl in pink is my friend Claire, and we’d actually become friends during the previous summer thanks to Concordia Language Villages. (It’s an incredible language immersion summer program that you should definitely check out if you want to improve your language skills quickly!) We were both villagers in the same cabin at the Korean Language Village for one month. What are the odds that we’d end up going to Korea together??
Because our PDO was in Seattle, I also finally got to meet Jaime in person! We became close after first chatting with each other about NSLI-Y, but we had never met in person because we live in different cities. She’s an alum of NSLI-Y China 2016. (Check out her blog too!)
After hanging out and chatting with new friends for a bit, we ate pizza for dinner at 6 pm. Then, the i-EARN staff introduced themselves, and we did some fun ice-breaking activities to get to know each other! One of the activities was a bingo game with squares that someone signed if a fun fact applied to her or him. There was also some serious time during which the 50 of us finalists created a working agreement about how we would treat each other and behave during the program.
We were given free time until 10 pm, at which we had an orientation required by UW for guests on campus. During free time, everyone was just having fun and getting to know each other. After all, these are the people we would be spending the next almost 7 weeks with! The scenery of UW’s campus was beautiful, and the weather was actually quite warm and not rainy at all. (Hence the outfit change from jeans to overall shorts earlier haha)
Room checks were at 10:30, and I was exhausted by the end of our first day. I had barely slept in the past two days because I had procrastinated packing, and I was crashing after my energy spurt from the excitement of meeting everybody. A lot of people stayed up to chat with the people in their cluster after room checks, but I went straight to sleep so that I would be prepared for our very full schedule on the second day of PDO!
PDO Day 2 post coming soon!