Laura Viera Gonzalez is an alumna of the 2015 CLS Korean program in Gwangju, South Korea. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and Spanish is her first language. She recently graduated from Universidad del Este with a B.S. in Culinary Management; she loves cooking for people and traveling, and once spent an exchange semester in Finland where she volunteered at a vegan restaurant.

Why Korean?

Where I live in Puerto Rico, there are no Korean language classes available and the culture is scarcely known. I applied to the CLS Korean program because I wanted to better understand the Korean language and culture. The knowledge of another language opens doors to job opportunities! My goals are to establish my own food and beverage business in the hospitality and tourism industry. I want to educate people through food by serving healthy food alternatives and using international ingredients as inspiration.

Learning more than language

I gained a number of different skills during the CLS program, including time management, interpersonal relationships, and cultural competence, all of which have contributed to making me a better person and professional. This experience gave me a new perspective on my country and the host country, and it made me appreciate my culture even more. I even found many similarities between the two cultures – especially the important role of rice in cooking, and the respect towards the elderly in the families.

Nourishing relationships

I am a vegetarian. In South Korea, the idea of vegetarianism is not as widely known nor practiced as in the U.S.A. This made it very difficult to find a complete vegetarian meal when eating out. After my first meal with my language partner, however, she made sure that everything that we ate was vegetarian and always made it her mission to take care of me. She even invited me to her house to make vegetarian dumplings together because we couldn’t find any eating out. The fact that my language partner cared so much about my diet really meant a lot; it was a way of showing that she cared and wanted me to have a great experience in her country. I developed a strong bond with my language partner. The people I met in my host country were definitely the most rewarding part of this experience!

Unhip “hooray!”

I attended a “dancing orchestra” presentation with my language partner. We were the only youth at the performance; everyone else was probably over 45. I noticed that the MC kept chanting “얼씨구!” (“ol-shi-goo-!”). The audience repeated it gleefully, myself included, even though I didn’t know what it meant. My language partner told me that it means “hooray!”, so I told her that I would chant it at a Super Junior concert (a K-pop band). She couldn’t stop laughing! Apparently it is an old saying and used mainly by older people, often when listening to traditional/folkloric Korean music/instruments. I’d be out of place chanting that at Super Junior…

If you had one meal in Gwangju…

Go to this amazing restaurant called “떡뽁이 대통령,” which means “Tteokbokki (‘rice cake’) President”. The funny thing is that I never ate tteokbokki there. The menu is pretty extensive, and my favorite dish was udon salad and the fried veggies. It’s a five minute walk from the back gate of Chonnam National University!

Words of wisdom

When visiting a new place, culture, or country, do it as if you will never be able to return again. This will motivate you to live your experience to the fullest. Also, remember to make time to not only know the customs but to know the people. They give life to the culture.