| annyeonghaseyo - hello |
When I've lived abroad in the past I write in a journal every day without fail. I'm still journaling, but my experiences in South Korea (SK) have been and will be crazy unique (in the best way possible) and although many people can understand life in Europe or other western countries, SK is not in the same boat, which is why I feel a blog is something I am ready to try for the first time. So pretend you're here with me in the land of Gangnam style and my apologies in advance for how bizarre this blog will likely end up being.
Before even arriving in Seoul, while waiting in the Taipei airport I realized I was surrounded by Koreans. In fact, I was the only person who was clearly not a member of the homogenous country. If my ombré hair and total Americanness didn't give away the fact that I wasn't Korean then 1) not taking a selfie and/or 2) wearing a medical mask did. In Spain and Germany I dyed my hair, changed my clothes and did everything in my power to blend in, but for obvious reasons I will never look Korean (although maybe a SK plastic surgeon would say differently). Even though I myself am hyper aware of being different I think Koreans only really notice when they see me attempt to use chopsticks, because let's be real, using flat metal chopsticks to eat a pancake is not an easy feat (that was me at lunch today).
Hundred of rules seem to guide Koreans through everyday life and it has been intriguing learning how to best not offend someone. For example, when accepting or giving something use both hands, if you only use your right hand than you must touch your left hand to your right elbow, and if you try to use your left hand you will be deported immediately. There are other guidelines as far as the drinking culture - you can never pour your own drink so I'm guessing if no one notices that your soju (watered down vodka) shot is empty then you're forced to loudly sigh or make a passive aggressive comment. Maybe there's a wingman/woman specific to drinking? I'll inquire and let you know. If you happen to be at a bar with your boss (as I'm sure you so often do) you must turn away from them when you take a shot, which I can only imagine would mean accidentally bumping into someone else, spilling your drink and embarrassing yourself even more (or at least that's just me). In any case bowing excessively to any and everyone you meet can never hurt and is very Korean.
There are 350 exchange students from around the world spending a semester at my university, Sungkyunkwan (SKKU for short) which is the oldest university in Asia. If you google Sunkyunkwan perhaps you'll see something about a scandal (that was a great first thing for my mom to see) interestingly enough there is a super cheesy Korean drama, I assume with a surprise scandalous plot that was filmed here. It is the most modern campus I have ever set foot on, and arriving to one of the the numerous sleek glass buildings makes the long walk uphill worth it. I foolishly thought that being at an Asian institution would mean a very organized and strict structure; however, classes start Wednesday and registration is a near impossible task that I am praying to finally begin minutes before classes start. I seriously think we should reevaluate the disorganized label Spaniards are stereotyped with, because frankly the Koreans have not proved much better.
If you're planning on coming to SK and want to fit in with the grade A fashion then bring your best pair of sneakers. I have learned while intently people watching on the metro that sneakers are an important fashion staple for girls and guys alike. Long wool coats are very much in style and regardless of where you go in the world, hipsters have the best circular glasses. Korean couples can be seen wearing matching clothes, everything from shoes, shirt, coat and backpack, and although I am eager to adapt to Korean culture I refuse to adapt to this specific aspect.
Koreans are so welcoming and lovely, they are eager to befriend you and ask for your Facebook name or KakaoTalk username (the equivalent of Whatsapp). They are delighted that we have come to their country and university and often remind us that they're here to help us if we need anything. I cannot describe what a relief that is because throughout the day so many questions pop into my mind like "how does recycling work?" or "how can I get a phone plan?" or "what's the name of this food because it's delicious" and luckily I'm only a text away from an answer.
I live with four other girls in a dorm near SKKU and they are so sweet. It is wonderful to have like-minded ladies to explore with and rely on when I need backup assistance with charades. Today I went with my 2 French Canadian roommates (Vivian & Catherine) to a palace in Seoul. The juxtaposition between the 600+ year old Gyeongbokgung Palace (which stands in front of a mountain, just to make it even more jaw-dropping) and sleek skyscrapers is absolutely incredible. Even though I've been to this palace about two years ago, I think I could go back countless times and still be awestruck.
On Wednesday I begin classes, and although registration is a little shaky for the 2 liberal arts night classes I will be taking, I am thankfully completely signed up for my Korean Language Immersion program that will be from 9-4 Monday through Friday until the end of June. I can currently say about 10 words, but that is soon to change and I can't wait to see the looks on Koreans' faces when I can respond with something more substantial than a "I don't know what on earth you're saying" shrug.
Oh and because there is a 14 hour time difference here, as a good rule of thumb for my East Coast American family and friends, there is a 99.9% chance that I am doing the opposite of you. While I'm dreaming, you're awake, and while you're dreaming, I'm living my dream here in Seoul. xoxo
| cue inspirational quote |
"throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country" | anais nin