To the typical traveller, 이대 (pronounced e-dae) is Korea personified. Littered with boutiques carrying the latest Korean fashion, homegrown cosmetics shops bearing the life-sized cutout of the newest dazzling celebrity endorser, cute cafes providing a cup of Americano-warmth after a winter-fueled shopping spree, and the piping hot street food lined up along the road, there is almost nothing to pick on about these streets.
But 이대 is more than that. This was where I spent hours buried in grueling Korean lessons, laughing with friends from all over the world, and experiencing the delight of successfully ordering two bowls of jajangmyun over the phone.이대 was my home away from home.
I remember stumbling into the dorms on my first day in Korea. It was a cold winter day, and I was desperately shielding myself from the winds, while trying to stuff our oversized luggages into the cab. The cabbie seemed overwhelmed by the four foreigners in his cab, and struggled to understand our less-than-basic Korean. The winding roads in the campus made it a task to find the dorms, and the cabbie had to stop and ask four passer-bys, and drive around for 20 mins before we finally reached the dorms. His look of relief after dropping us, was no different from mine. It was after that, that we realized the dorm was situated a mere 5-mins walk away from the main entrance.
I remember knocking on the door of my home in Korea, and welcomed by the warm faces of Candy, my roommate, and her family. I was surprised at how squeaky new the dorms were, and Candy as excited as I was, gave me a mini-tour of the room. I hurriedly stuffed my luggage under the bed, and out we went onto the streets of 이대 for the first time. It was a rainy night, and we ended up having warm dumpling soup at a tiny shop in the corner of the street for dinner.
I remember the exhilaration of meeting the exchange students from all over the world, and my buddy, whom I have been communicating with via emails, during the orientation. There was a mini buffet, mixed with traditional music performance. It was there that I met the fellow SMU exchange students from Singapore.
I remember going on the first tour of the Ewha campus. I was fascinated with the beautiful campus, that had a mix of traditional and modern architecture. Notably, the architecture of Welch-Ryang Auditorium near the entrance seems to be reminiscent of the roots of the school, which was founded by the American missionary, Mary F. Scranton in 1886.
I remember my first taste of kimbap from Ewha Sarang at the Ewha-POSCO building. It was the most amazing kimbap I had eaten, topped with a generous serving of mayo. There would always be a long queue to get the kimbap, but I would not mind leaving the dorm 10mins earlier to rush and buy one before sneaking into my lessons at the next building.
I remember breathing a sigh of relief after taking a walk to the Hanwoori hall at the top of the campus. It was a beautiful sight to wake up to every morning, with its serene surroundings, and fresh “hill” air. It was also right next to the Ewha Archive building and the library. But I was utterly thankful that I need not climb up almost fifteen-storey worth of stairs to reach my dorm every day.
I remember all the early mornings I had to wake up for Korean lessons. It was painful to be at class at 8am while on exchange, and even more so with the chilly morning breeze. My classroom was at the fifth-storey of one of the oldest buildings at Ewha, which had no elevator. Not to mention, the cranky heater will only work 1.5hours into the lessons, which made having a hot cup of coffee a necessity during Korean morning lessons. It was here that alongside a whole bunch of exchange students, I slowly picked up the skills to converse with passer-bys on the roads.
I remember the evenings in the common cooking area in the dorm, where we managed to whip out Singapore-Western-Korean fusion dishes despite the absence of a stove. We ordered in jajangmyun for the very first time, and had less-than-healthy meals from the microwave. There were birthday celebrations, dinner get-togethers, and a whole lot of foreigners trying to speak in Korean.
I remember seeing the the modern French-designed Ewha Campus Complex (ECC) for the first time in the day. No wonder it is the most famous photo point for visitors to the campus, I thought to myself.
Then, I remember walking with my Korean classmates to a random building on our final days in the dorm, and seeing the ECC from the top at night. It was a mystical yet mesmerizing sight, as the downward sloping ECC was illuminated from the artificial lights from its interior. I remember thinking, this beautiful campus is my school.
Sure, 이대 (acronym for Ewha Womans University – 이화여자대학교) might be renowned for its shopping streets, or its position as the most prestigious university in Korea, out of SKY, the Korea equivalent of the Ivy League. But to me, 이대 is not that. It will always hold a special place in my heart for all the little moments that happened in the campus.
And I still can’t help but feel a small sense of pride when someone comments about the beautiful 이대. Because that is “my school”.