My semester at Geumgang University has officially ended. I took my (mock) TOPIK test yesterday, and today was our graduation. We dressed up and filed into a conference room and sat in swivel chairs around a lacquered table. We listened to a short speech from the president and from one person from each country who would not be returning next semester. First Yeoryeong from China spoke, then Sahogi from Taiwan, Haruka from Japan, Lulu from France, Haejeong from Vietnam and Bryan from Canada. Since I was the only American, I turned on my microphone, and for the first time, I presented a speech in Korean.

Holy fuck, I was nervous. My hands were shaking, and my jokes were not as funny as they could have been. But I did it. While I was speaking, I heard some sniffles in the background, causing me to shed a few tears of my own. Eventually the room erupted in a mild version of Sob Fest 2013. (The original took place last night after our fried chicken party, when I participated in my first Korean heart to heart.)

During my speech, I thanked my classmates and teachers for their friendship, for teaching me about their cultures, and for helping me when I had difficulties learning the course material. I told my classmates that I would miss them, and would remember all the good times together, especially our mandatory Templestay at Guinsa.

Honestly, when I first arrived at Geumgang University and realized that most of the students were younger than me, I didn’t expect to make many close connections. However, since we all lived in the dorm together, it didn’t take long to discover the beauty and quirkiness inherent in each person’s character. And we certainly are a quirky bunch–I suppose anyone who accepts a scholarship to study at a rural Buddhist school hidden in the mountains of Chungcheongnam-do would have to be. I’ve made some solid relationships that could definitely sustain in the future.

Today, I wanted to capture my classmates through a series of photographs. Some students are in my intermediate class, while others are in beginner or advanced. I wasn’t able to photograph everyone (maybe tomorrow) but I feel grateful that I’ve met such a diverse group of people. Hopefully we’ll see each other again in the future. Maybe in ten years we can have a reunion at Guinsa.


Nacira; France. Hilariously clumsy. Hours late to appointments. Constant giggler. Frequent user of the word “putain.”



Sachiyo; Japan. Overwhelmingly cute. Charmer. Frequently bursts into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Promised I would take her to Disney World’s Harry Potter theme park in Orlando.



Jana; Philippines. Food thief. Wearer of clothing with inappropriate English text. Shouts “fuck you!” when drunk. All-around bad ass.



Haedang; China. Lovable Buddhist monk. Recovering computer game addict who never does his homework. Knows way too much about Mike Tyson. One of the coolest people I’ve ever met.



Aka; Indonesia. Obsessed with 최시원 from Super Junior. Butt lover. Incredible singer. Thinks I’m her mother.



Wentze; Taiwan. Strong. Sweetheart. Loves to call Aka “stupid.” Always takes naps during our class’s break time.



Jim; Philippines. Prepared for the Apocalypse. Frequent dweller in the city of Nonsan. Extremely devoted to his religion.



Lulu; France/Ireland. Capable of seducing men in Korean. Lover of Asian film and Japanese accents. Frequently bedridden by the effects of soju.



Val; Philippines. Emerging K-pop star. Really fit. Devoted to his dream. Asshole hip hop teacher.



Fiona; New Zealand. Has seen every episode of “Ancient Aliens” at least twice. Active member of the 하루나루 stargazing club. Can frequently be seen lurking in the shadows by herself.



Astrid; Indonesia. Sweet as a Choco pie. Always dressed in style. Astrid Lee by night.



Bryan; Canada. Oppa. Really fucking good at speaking Korean. Impresses the ladies with cutesy Korean songs like “귀요미.” Awkward hip hop dancer.



Sa Hogi; Taiwan. Independent. Diligent student. Has her shit together.



Wei Yun; Taiwan. Too adorable for words. Daydreamer. Dominates Hyuna’s “Ice Cream” dance.



Elif; Turkey. Talented linguist. Reserved. K-pop lover. Will be rich one day.



Lei Tzi; Taiwan. Has maternal instincts. Always friendly. Extreme meat lover.



Chisato; Japan. Cute and sweet. Sensitive. Put together.



Haruka; Japan. Beautiful singer. Always smiling. Pleasant to be around.



Haejeong; Vietnam. An immigrant to Korea. Diligent to master Korean. Soon to be a mom.



Daria; Romania. K-pop and K-drama enthusiast. Makes subtle jokes about killing people with knives. Appears to have many secrets.



Anita; Romania. Daria’s other half. Vixen. Capable of extremely high-pitched laughter.



Noemi; Hungary. Flirty. Fast Korean learner. Addicted to texting boys on Kakao talk.



Csenge; Hungary. A sensitive soul. Musically-inclined. Smiles only when necessary.


Never underestimate the people you can meet when you step outside your comfort zone.

여러분 진짜 보고 싶을 거야~


-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ All rights reserved.