GRIP, Internships Abroad Food: A Universal Language

July 8, 2022
By Lynn Larabi, CAS '24

International Development in Seoul

It was a really hot day. Like, a REALLY hot day. It was sunny, it was 97 degrees, and there was no breeze nor cloud in sight. Now, this is a typical June day in Seoul. Everyone around you wears light fabrics and colors with hand-held fans blowing in their faces. It was clearly a good day to go on a mission for some ice cream.

Once I exited the hotel, I began to tread down a path full of convenience stores, tiny restaurants, and houses. The buildings were all painted in a cool blue tone with pink trimming. As I got deeper into the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice a bright red shop at the end of the road with a sign reading “냉면” (naengmyeon), or cold noodles. Before coming to Korea, I was always skeptical of this delicacy, for I never understood how good cold noodles could be. Intrigued by the dish, I walked in, hoping to understand the enjoyment behind this dish.

When I walked in, I was met by an elderly woman who was full of energy and had a bright smile on her face. After we greeted each other, she walked up to me to take my order. At first, I panicked. My rudimentary Korean was definitely not reliable enough to help me hold a conversation with her, nonetheless, properly say my order. After a series of pointing from me and a lot of patience from her, I was met with a steel bowl filled with noodles and ice, topped with Korean pear slices, cucumbers, and an egg. Yearning for something cool, I picked up my chopsticks and dove right in. The noodles were very rich in flavor and the temperature was very refreshing for a hot summer’s day.A picture of the dish

As I continued to eat, the woman walked up to me. Suddenly, she lifted two squeeze bottles, one red and the other yellow, and motioned to me to add some into the bowl. The first, I soon found out was mustard. The second, was vinegar. After mixing them into the noodles, I was further pleasantly surprised by how well the flavors worked, how filling the dish was, and how refreshing it proved to be.

The elderly woman would come by and check in on me through gestures and even a translating app I had on hand. She told me about how not many foreigners eat at her restaurant and how this dish has been passed on through generations of her family. She was able to share some of her culture and family with me through this dish, despite my inability to effectively communicate with her. 

As I continue to visit places in Korea, especially those pertaining to delicious food, I will always feel a sense of gratitude towards that woman for her kindness in sharing her story through food and being patient with me as I tried to order. It was definitely a great experience to begin my journey in Seoul and this just shows me that good food indeed is a universal language. 

The Global Research and Internship Program (GRIP) provides outstanding undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to intern or conduct research abroad for 8 to 12 weeks over the summer. Participants gain career-enhancing experience and global exposure that is essential in a global workforce.