Moving to a new country is always a little difficult at first, but coming to Chile was especially hard for me. During my last week in Korea, I tried to spend as much time as possible with my friends because I knew I would never see many of them again. It was so sad to say goodbye not only to my friends but also Korea itself. I really love the people, the food, and the culture in general.
I was so busy clinging to these memories and these people that I did not feel mentally prepared to go to another country. I hadn’t done much research about the country and its culture before I left. I hadn’t been in touch with any of the other students in the program. I didn’t want to think about leaving Korea! However, now I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on my experiences and say goodbye to Korea, I feel like I am ready to start a new adventure.
As a reflection of my time in Korea, I want to share my top 4 favorite and least favorite things about Korea.
New + old
Korea is very westernized. Koreans wear blue jeans and anything that has English written on it. Everyone has the newest smartphone (usually Samsung of course). New small businesses are constantly opening, and you never know what a street will look like from month to month. However, they also preserve their traditions. Traditional hanok houses are really pretty, and restaurants where you can eat sitting on the floor are still common (less so among younger people). In Anyang where I lived, there was a very large traditional market, and there were many ahjummas and ahjussis selling produce on the streets. Seeing the how the new and the old work can together is really something special.
Kimbap, kimchi, japchae, dalk karbi, nang myeon. There are so many delicious Korean foods! Some of my Korean friends taught me how to cook some Korean dishes, and I really hope I can find the ingredients when I get back home. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I will also miss the eating culture. In Korea, you never eat alone. In many restaurants, you can’t even order anything unless you have two or three people. While it may be annoying to always be splitting the bill, there is a certain conviviality to sharing dishes together. Even in my dorm everyone shared food, especially the Asian students. No matter who cooked, you could always grab a pair of chopsticks and join in.
Public transportation system
In Korea you can use your T-money card for everything. For the buses, subways (in any city), taxis, and even vending machines and restaurants. The subway was always spotless and was easy to use since everything is translated into English. The buses were a little more confusing because of the lack of English, but were still manageable if you knew a little Hangeul. The trains were also really awesome. For about $40, you can travel from Seoul down to Busan, which is on the southern coast. To save money, you can choose to take one of the slower trains (such as saemaeul or mugunghwa) instead of the fastest (KTX).
Style + Shopping
Koreans are so stylish. If I see Koreans wearing something, I can bet that I will soon be seeing the same styles pop up all over the internet. And somehow Korean women can make anything look stylish. Man sandals? Yep. Harem pants? For sure! Mom jeans? I want some now! It is so easy to find really stylish clothes as long as you aren’t a large person. Even for me (Korean food is partly to blame haha) it was a bit difficult to find skirts and shorts that would fit.
My least favorite things about Korea
Getting run over by ahujussis in the subway. Grandpas can be dangerous! Because they’re older, they can do whatever they want and get away from it since Koreans must respect their elders.
Mosquitoes. We have plenty in Kentucky, but I have worse reactions to Korean mosquitoes. I’m glad I left Korea before they got really bad 😦
Lack of public trashcans and bathrooms. The only place you are likely to find either is in a park or subway station.
Toilet paper. Carrying tissues is a necessity for women in Korea. Sometimes bathrooms don’t have toilet paper. Sometimes you have to find the toilet paper dispenser and take what you need before you go to a stall. And sometimes you get a roll of toilet paper at reception and have to carry it to and from the bathroom. Also, not being able to flush toilet paper is annoying and pretty gross, especially when summer rolls around.
Last Friday was Memorial Day in Korea which meant no school, so I took a little weekend trip with my boyfriend. We visited Jeonju and Daecheon Beach.
To get to Jeonju, we bought standing only tickets for a train departing from Suwon station (25 minutes away on the subway). We probably could have gotten regular tickets, but we were waiting to hear whether or not we got tickets for the free shuttle bus for foreigners (we didn’t, haha). The train ride was 3 hours long and we sat in the section between cars. The ride wasn’t too bad, and we ended up sitting a bunch of ahjummas. They didn’t speak any English, but they offered us weird tasting snacks and some of their cardboard to sit on. They were quite funny to watch. They pack an entire picnic for the train ride and made sure we got off at the right station. They said Quentin was really pretty and had a small face and asked if he was my boyfriend.
** Koreans tend to have wider, flatter faces than westerners. Sometimes they joke that their heads are too big for their bodies and Americans’ bodies are too big for their heads. They also think that a v-shaped jawline is the most attractive, and they really like tall guys. Also, it is normal for Korean guys to tell other guys (at least foreigners) that they are attractive.
Jeonju is famous for its large traditional hanok village. From Jeonju station we took a bus to the hanok village which was very crowded because of the holiday weekend. There are over 800 houses in the village.
There is also a large, walled-off area which you can pay 1,000 won to enter. Inside there are many open spaces, traditional buildings showing how life was in the past, a royal portrait museum, and a sago (where royal archives used to be held).
Jeonju is also famous for its food, especially Jeonju bibimbap. We waited in line for about an hour just to try some. It cost 10,000 won for one bibimbap which is 3-4,000 more expensive than regular bibimbap. I was disappointed because it tasted the same as other bibimbaps I’ve had. I would’ve liked to try some of the other foods, but all the lines were so long!
After eating bibimbap we took a bus to Deokjin Park. It is a really lovely park known for its lotus blossoms. Unfortunately they won’t bloom for another month, so I won’t get to see them. I’m sure it is absolutely gorgeous.
To my delight, there was some sort of practice performance going on in the park. I think it was some sort of high school team. It was really awesome. I would love to see the final performance in full costume.
The park had duck boats you could rent. I really wanted to do this because I’d never been in a duck boat before. It only cost 6,000 won for one hour, but we didn’t stay out that long since it was getting dark.
There was supposed to be a fountain show with music and lights on the pond. We waited and eventually left when nothing happened. There were many people waiting around that left about the same time we did, so I don’t know why the fountain show didn’t happen.
The next day we took two trains to get to Daecheon. It was easy to take the bus to Daecheon beach and find our motel, which is literally 2 minutes from the beach. That evening and most of the next day, we just played on the beach. The pay-to-use shower facilities were closed (I guess because it’s not full season?), so we had to come all the way back to Anyang without showering.
Hello again! Today I wanted to share some of the special things I’ve done in Korea. This weekend I’ve got another trip planned to the historical city of Jeonju, which I will share on my blog next week.
LASIK in Gangnam
About 3 weeks ago, I made a major decision to get my vision corrected with LASIK! I’m so happy I did this. Most eye clinics are in Gangnam. This is also the district where you will find many clinics for plastic surgery, a common practice in Korea. The reason I decided to get this operation done in Korea is because of the price; it is much cheaper here. Most eye clinics will give you a 100,000 won discount for getting your eye pre-testing and operation done on the same day, which I did. The eye tests are free, so if your eyes aren’t able to be corrected (for example, your cornea is too thin) then you don’t have to pay anything. Three of my fellow international students also got this operation done at the same time. We had our own English translator who was there every time we went to the clinic.
During the procedure, you are awake the whole time. I won’t share the gory details on here, but it is a very freaky experience to watch people touching your eyeball. I cried during the whole procedure because, hey!, lasers and sticks in your eye are scary. I have no problem laughing about the experience though. My friend told me the doctor was sweating when he came out of the operating room. Right before I leave Korea I have one last eye checkup.
Paintballing is not very popular in Korea. One of my Korean friends organized an overnight trip to Icheon. We paid 15,000 won per person for three games (50 balls each). It looked like we were in the middle of nowhere. There were mostly sporting stores for skiing and snowboarding which were closed for the season. This was actually my first time paintballing despite living in the US where it’s a popular sport.
We stayed in a “pension.” There are several rooms which open up to a common porch. Each room has a bed, bathroom, and small kitchen area with plenty of room for people to sit or sleep on the floor (sleeping pads were provided). There were large picnic tables on the porch where we ate 삼겹살 (Korean barbecue) using groceries we had brought with us.
Banpo Bridge Fountain
Banpo Bridge is the world’s longest bridge fountain. Banpo bridge is one of the many bridges that cross the Han river. Every evening the fountains come one and do a show with kpop music. I was a little disappointed by the show, but it was still a fun (and free!) thing to do in Seoul. The bridge itself is quite ugly and looks like all the other bridges except for the water pipes and small spotlights set up on one side. I went for my friend’s birthday. We came in the afternoon with chicken, kimbap, snacks, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (it was buy 12, get 12 free day). We took the subway to Dongjak station and walked along the river to Banpo bridge. The weather was warm enough for camping, and we saw many tents set up along the river. It is a fun activity for friends and family. I would definitely like to try it but tents can be expensive.
I went with almost all of the international students over a long weekend. Busan was very crowded because of children’s day and Buddha’s birthday. This was also the first time I went to a 짐질방jimjilbang, which is a Korean sauna. I stayed at Vespa jimjilbang. When you first arrive, you get a key for a locker, a towel, and a lounge uniform. It was very strange the first night. Women and men have separate floors, and once you are on the women’s floor there is no privacy. Everyone from little kids to grannies walk around naked even after they have already showered and dried off. There is no personal space, and there are tall mirrors everywhere so it’s impossible to ignore all the naked bodies. I never realized how weird and gross butts were before this! Hahaha. My second night, I had to go back to the same jimjilbang because all the guesthouses and motels were full. The jimjilbang was so full that my friends and I had to sit in the lobby until 5:30 am just to be let upstairs. At least by that time you’re so tired that having to sleep on the floor with no pad or mattress doesn’t keep you awake.
Here are several of the places we visited:
My first night in Busan I visited 해운대Haeundae beach. A few of us got some wine, soju, and snacks from a convenience store and sat on the beach for a while. We also went back during the day to play some. It was too cold to swim, but several people took a dip anyway!
Gamcheon Culture Village
One of my favorite places was 감천 Gamcheon culture village. We took a tiny, crowded bus up to the top of the village and walked through for a little while. Unfortunately we didn’t see that much because it started getting dark, but it a very cute and artsy place.
Jagalchi Fish market
Unlike Noryeong fish market in Seoul which I visited earlier in the semester, 자갈치 Jagalchi fish market was outdoors. We walked through and ate some grilled fish. It was a little strange looking into the eyes of my food, but I still enjoyed the taste. I have no clue what type of fish it was, but most of them were really tasty! Also, this was my first time eating fish with chopsticks.
Haedong Yonggungsa Temple
My last day in Busan I visited Haedong Yonggungsa temple. The bus trip there took a long time due to traffic, but it was worth it. It was absolutely gorgeous! It was very colorful and lanterns were hanging everywhere. It was also extremely crowded because of Buddha’s birthday. I wish I had more photos, but my phone was dead (one of the disadvantages of staying in a jimjilbang, no plugins) so I got these from someone else.
Even though I’ve been in Korea for a few months now, I am always learning more about the culture and the country. Here are some more things I’ve learned from living in Korea. Most of these seem normal to me now, and I’ve picked up some new Korean habits and phrases too. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up a new accent haha.
You can always bargain
You can always bargain for a cash discount, unless you are in a western department store. Not speaking much Korean makes this difficult sometimes, but sometimes it helps. Just keep repeating the number you want to pay until your lack of Korean exhausts the shop owner and they give you the discount. Be sure to carry plenty of cash when shopping. Some places don’t accept cards or they charge more if you pay with a card.
Whenever Koreans see something new, taste something really delicious, or are shocked they have exaggerated (compared to westerners) reactions. This can be quite funny if you have a mixed class of exchange students and Korean students. If something new or interesting happens, all the Korean will go “Oohhhhhhhh” at the same time with the same tone of voice. You will also notice this in Korean dramas. Koreans love exaggerated humor and cheesy emotional scenes.
People always ask your age
In Korea age is very important. It dictates the way you interact with others. Your Korean age is always higher than your international age. Koreans consider children 1 yr old when they are born and everyone gets one year older at the lunar new year. For example, my international age is 21 and my Korean age is 23. I add 2 years because I haven’t had my birthday yet this year (it’s in October). If my birthday were in, say, February then I would only be 22 Korean age.
Anyone who was born in 1992 is my “chingu”, which means friend. I’m supposed to call older girls “unnie” and older boys “oppa.” As an international student, I don’t use these titles often but they are important to know.
Old people don’t have to respect you
Korean society emphasizes age differences and respecting elders. Old people are at the top of the respect chain and can basically do what they want in public. Old men are called “ahjussis” and old women are “ahjummas.” Most old people seem like normal grannies and grampas, but some of them are pretty tough and could probably kick my ass. On the subway and on public buses, I’ve been knocked in the face, thoughtlessly plowed over, and purposely shoved for no reason by old people.
Despite Korea’s famed technology, they still use a lot of good old fashioned customer service. In the big grocery store chain Emart, there is a person who stands at the entrance and bows ALL DAY LONG to greet people. He also watches to make sure you don’t bring anything inside you aren’t supposed to, but he literally bows all day long. Emart also has women in uniforms and heels whose job is just to stand on every level of the parking garage and point you around the corner. A sign would get the same job done for less, but that’s too impersonal for Korea!
Sometimes the customer service can be overbearing. If you walk into a makeup store, there are at least 5 women whose job is to follow you around to make sure you don’t steal, and to push you to buy more stuff. They will show you all of the samples whether or not you’re interested, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Korean.
Most Koreans want to keep their skin as white as possible. When it’s sunny, it’s not uncommon to see women carry umbrellas for sun protection. Women also use LOTS of beauty products and makeup stores are on every corner. When Koreans apply creams or moisturizers to their faces (men and women), they do so by lightly slapping their skin instead of rubbing it in. They insist it’s the best way to do it. Plastic surgery is also common in Korea. In the subway, you see many advertisements for plastic surgery. Koreans really like western looks. Popular operations give Koreans double eyelids, a more pronounced nose bridge, thinner face with “V” shaped jaw, and injection underneath the eyes (this makes you look cuter, like you have some baby fat on your face).
Everland is Korea’s largest theme park, located in Yongin. I bought my ticket at a discounted 33,000 won in Hotel President at City Hall station the day before I went. It is a special offer just for foreigners. The park is a little over two hours away from Anyang. I took the subway to Beomgye station and then bus 8839 to Everland. The park is owned by Samsung, and there’s also a water park called Caribbean Bay (you have to buy a separate ticket for that). I didn’t go since the outdoor park of Caribbean Bay wasn’t open until the next week. However, I really enjoyed Everland! Since I specifically planned to go in the middle of midterm week, there was no waiting in line! Koreans almost always cancel class during midterm week 😀
There is really only one big rollercoaster, the T-Express. It is wooden, and a lot of fun. I rode it twice. The best thing about the park is the variety. There are many live animals, gorgeous flowers, kid friendly rides, carnival type rides, food, fountains, and some live shows and parades at special times. I highly recommend going to Everland!
Lotte World is the world’s largest indoor theme park. It also has an outdoor park called Magic Island. I came on a Monday after applying for my alien registration card in Seoul’s immigration office and spent several hours here. There are so many cute things! Lotte World is really popular for couples and families with small kids.
Hangang River bicycle trail
There are many stations around the river where you can rent bikes. Some are free and some cost by the hour. I went to Oksu station for bikes with a small group of friends. It was a bit windy, but overall the weather was good. I want to go back now that the weather is warming up!
Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower)
Noryangjin Fish Market
Climbing Suri Mountain in Anyang
I recently climbed Suri Mountain the second time as part of a class project. There are multiple starting points for climbing the mountain. One is on campus, next to the library. The other is just down the street behind the international student house. Here are pictures from both trips.
One of my goals for studying abroad in Korea was to meet my mom’s side of the family, and now I have! I actually lived in Korea for a short time as a baby, but this was the first time I really met them. I am so thankful and happy that I have this opportunity to spend time with them. Here are a couple of pictures, but this is only part of the family- there are 14 of us total, but I don’t have a picture of everyone.
Almost everyone lives in Daegu, which is the third biggest city in Korea. It is 2-3 hours by train or 4 hours by car from Anyang. My first time taking the train was a little stressful since I watched the train take off as I was running to the patform with my bags. However, the station worker spoke English and was really helpful. I took the metro to Suwon station where many trains pass through and bought a new ticket to Daegu. I even arrived in Daegu the same time as originally planned.
My mom is visiting Korea for four weeks. Most of my family has pretty limited English, so she acts as a translator and culture guide as well. One advantage of having family in Korea is that I can experience more culture. For example, in America you always know what to expect when you walk into the bathroom: toilet, sink, tub/shower. I’ve visited the apartments of several family members and they are all different mixes between Korean and Western styles.
I’ve also gotten to use traditional Korean toilets on my travels to and around Daegu. I thought it would be really weird, but really like Korean bathrooms. Except for the toilet paper! Half the time, there is no toilet paper or you have to get paper from a dispenser outside the stall. Also, Koreans don’t use many paper towels. Even in the student house I’m living in now, we use a huge roll of toilet paper for everything- as Kleenex, to clean up messes, and drying hands. I miss Bounty paper towelsssssss D:
Another plus of having Korean family is that I get home cooked food! My grandma has sent me lots of small containers of food. I was told to try them all, share them with my friends, and tell her what my favorites are so she can make more. I think I’m in kimchi heaven! I also love stir fried anchovies ❤
I’m taking KTX (the fastest type of train) this Saturday to visit Daegu again. All the regular tickets were sold out, so I actually have a seat in the theater room! It sounds cool. It’s the last weekend my mom will be in Korea, so I’m happy I get to spend it with her. I look forward to making more memories with my Korean family 🙂
In other news, I ate dog meat today. Tastes like beef.