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Introduction: Welcome to the Aurora Seoul Trip

Embark with us on a journey where culture, innovation, and sustainability converge. Welcome to the Aurora Seoul trip, a swift adventure organized by the Aalto Ventures Program that promises to be nothing short of extraordinary!

Picture this: Twelve days filled to the brim with exploration, enlightenment, and experiences that go beyond borders. As part of the Aurora trips by AVP, our mission is crystal clear: to delve deep into diverse cultures, absorb invaluable insights on entrepreneurship and sustainability, and ultimately share our newfound wisdom with the vibrant Aalto community.

The Mission: Convergence of Culture, Innovation, and Sustainability

But what drives us to embark on this exhilarating adventure? It’s more than just wanderlust; it’s about unraveling the intricacies of entrepreneurship ecosystems, embracing the essence of sustainability from varying perspectives, and embracing the thrill of taking calculated risks. Our goal? To learn lessons from every corner of the globe, to challenge conventional problem-solving approaches, and to champion the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as catalysts for positive change.

Introducing the Korea-Nordic Future Challenge, an electrifying initiative aimed at inspiring young trailblazers worldwide. More than just crossing borders, this international exchange program fosters deep connections, cultural understanding, and leadership among the next generation. Hosted by the Korea Foundation for Advanced Science (KFAS), it offers immersive workshops, online mentorship, and collaborative projects, paving the way for a sustainable future. Participants from prestigious institutions in Korea, Sweden, and Finland, including Aalto University, KTH, and Uppsala University, come together for a transformative journey from Seoul to Helsinki, fueled by passion and a shared vision for a better world.

So, buckle up, dear reader, as we set sail on a voyage of discovery, where the boundaries between learning and adventure blur, and where every moment holds the promise of inspiration. The Aurora Seoul trip awaits — are you ready to join us on this exhilarating ride?

Exploring Seoul: A Cultural and Culinary Delight

Our journey through Seoul was a blast of flavors, laughter, and fascinating discoveries. From mastering Korean cooking to stepping back in time to explore ancient palaces, every moment was a delightful blend of fun and cultural immersion.

We set sail on a voyage of discovery, where the boundaries between learning and adventure blur.

We started with a Brunch in the cozy Cafe 413 Project on our first weekend in Seoul. It was a popular choice, too, since we had to wait a while to get seated. Time being around 2 pm, most cafes in Gangnam would be crowded anyway, considering Seoul’s lively and versatile cafe culture. Rather than visiting merely to get a cup of coffee, the cafes in Seoul offer a place to study, work, socialize and relax. A bakery-cafe chain called Paris Baguette can be spotted frequently. The influence can be seen; Korean cafe culture resembles the French but with frequent sightings of laptops.

Our day continued at Lotte Mall. After walking in Seokchon Lake Park, we headed up 117 floors to the Seoul Sky Observatory. Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in OECD countries, offers breathtaking city views. You can buy a joint ticket to Seoul Sky and Lotte World Aquarium if visiting both on the same day. Alternatively, skip the aquarium and head to Aqua Garden Cafe for iced matcha and marine life admiration. The day ended with shopping at Uniqlo and Olive Young, both visited frequently during our trip. One recommended cosmetic purchase is Needly Toner Pads. If you appreciate views from above, there’s another observatory in Seoul, Namsan Tower, located in Namsan Mountain, with transport options including cable car or hiking.

Koreans have a high work ethic, but they also effectively find space for fun activities. Have you heard of board game cafes? They are extremely popular, and some of our Korean friends went there every night. On our last night, we rented a party room for karaoke, darts, pool, card games and beer pong. We noticed that going out is a social event for connecting with your group. And this goes for dining as well: meals feature a large communal dish to be shared. We made the mistake of ordering separately at first but understood very quickly that there were no individual meals on the menu. Besides, sharing is fun! You get to experience more flavors and discuss the cuisine with your group.

And now, we naturally get to the food recommendations. You cannot go to Seoul without getting a taste of their well-known BBQ. Yang Good, an excellent Halal-friendly BBQ restaurant, was conveniently located on the same street as our first accommodation. Choose the protein and sides of your preference, and they will be grilled at your table. Kimchi will be bought as a side whatever you pick to order. We recommend rice cakes and onions as a side to lamb and chicken dishes. The restaurant also offers noodle soups, but remember what we told you about portion sizes!

You cannot go to Seoul without getting a taste of their well-known BBQ.

The best vegetarian dishes were found on the energetic Myeong-dong streets. The shopping district offers terrific street food options, so be sure to take cash when you go. If you are not sure what to order, we recommend kimchi dumplings and for dessert, hotteok — a honey-glazed pancake with brown syrup filling.

Culinary Immersion: Cooking Up Korean Traditions

Our culinary spree continued at the ABC cooking studio, a heaven for food enthusiasts eager to dive into the heart of Korean cuisine. Thanks to the gracious hosts at KFAS, we found ourselves rolling up our sleeves and donning aprons in no time. Splitting into groups based on our dietary preferences, we embarked on a culinary quest that promised to satisfy our taste buds and ignite our imaginations.

Under the guidance of an expert instructor, we delved into the art of crafting classic Korean dishes, from the iconic kimchi rolls to the savory delights of Tteokbokki and the refreshing simplicity of salad. But as any budding chef knows, the path to culinary mastery is rarely smooth sailing. Our kitchen adventures were peppered with laughter, mishaps, and a fair share of trial and error. From accidental spills to missteps in seasoning, we embraced each challenge with enthusiasm, learning and laughing along the way.

Yet, despite the occasional culinary catastrophe, our efforts bore fruit — or rather, delicious Korean delicacies. As we gathered around a communal table, plates filled with our homemade creations, the air buzzed with excitement and anticipation. Amidst bites of savory goodness, we engaged in lively discussions about the evolution of Korean cuisine, tracing its roots through centuries of cultural exchange and influence. It was a feast for the senses and the soul, a celebration of friendship, culture, and the joy of shared experiences.

Journey Through History: Exploring the Joseon Dynasty

But our adventure didn’t end in the kitchen. Our next stop took us away to the royal realm of the Joseon Dynasty, where history came to life amidst the hallowed halls of an ancient palace. Dressed in traditional Korean attire, we embarked on a journey through time, guided by stories of kings and queens — and the secrets they left behind.

As we wandered through the palace’s puzzling corridors and explored its meticulously preserved chambers, we were transported to an extinct era of lavishness and intrigue. Our knowledgeable guides amused us with tales of palace life, from the meticulous planning of its location — chosen for its auspicious placement amidst mountains and rivers based on Confucianism ideology that such location brings prosperity — to the ingenious floor heating system designed to keep the king warm on chilly nights.

With each step, we peeled back the layers of history, uncovering the richness of Korea’s past and gaining a newfound appreciation for its enduring traditions. From hidden chimneys to royal chambers, every corner of the palace held a story waiting to be told, a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of Korea’s cultural heritage.

As we reflect on our journey through Seoul, let’s hear from some of the participants who joined us on this unforgettable adventure. Their words capture the essence of our experiences and the impact this trip had on each of us. From culinary delights to cultural immersion, these testimonials offer a glimpse into the diverse perspectives and cherished memories we shared together.

Participant Testimonials: Reflecting on the Seoul Experience

“The week I spent at KFAS was a blast, and I am so grateful that I not only got the chance to meet the most wonderful people but also to gain a better understanding of the UN SDG goals and how to tackle them.

The sessions provided by KFAS were very intuitive and gave the participants insights about how to utilize useful tools when designing and building the project. The design thinking lecture and Miro-using lecture were impressive in that context, and we were given the opportunity to try out different thinking processes, which also helped a lot in our group discussion.

KFAS offered us many exciting cultural experiences as well, such as culinary class, lunch at the Swedish embassy, and a tour of the royal palace. Thanks to the program’s perfect schedule, participants had enough time to spend their free time hanging out together around Seoul and getting to know each other more deeply. Throwing a Korean-style party last night was unforgettable! I loved every second of that week, and it really helped me break out of the shell and go beyond my limits.” – Yudam

“We spent only a week in Korea, but it was so much fun and fulfilling that it felt like a month. First, I was happy to meet friends from different majors and countries, and I was able to broaden my horizon by listening to them. Next, I was able to set the project goal and think of methodologies by listening to lectures from professors from Korea, Finland, and Sweden. It was also great to meet and talk with my teammates in person, and we had fun working on the team project in various locations. Finally, I enjoyed the cultural experience, and it was very new to me to experience Korean culture with foreign friends. Visiting the Swedish Embassy was also an unforgettable experience. After all those experiences, I can’t wait for our next journey in Sweden and Finland.” – Inhui Han

This post was written by two of our Aurora students who visited Seoul as a part of their program:

Muhammad Muneeb Javed is an Innovative Sustainable Energy Engineering Master student, whose goal is to leverage entrepreneurship as a catalyst for positive impact. By exploring sustainable business practices, he aims to contribute to solutions that address environmental challenges and promote responsible entrepreneurship, fostering a more sustainable and inclusive future.

Nelly Niemi is a Bioinformation Tech explorer at Aalto, where she blends her love for medicine and engineering. When she’s not studying, she’s outdoors, hiking, practicing yoga, or on long walks. Her highlight? The Aurora trip: a journey into sustainable development with a diverse group. Her takeaway? Adventures like these are priceless.