I have been in Seoul for 2 weeks now so (of course) I’m still in that puppy love stage with South Korea. Everything is new, foods taste great, the views are breathtaking, and the people are beyond friendly. Classes haven’t started yet so I have been living the tourist life since I landed and let me tell you, it’s the best way to live your first two weeks in a foreign country.
My first three days consisted of orientation with my program (see my last post about it here) and with my school’s buddy program. After that, I visited several of the places that you have to visit when in Seoul. This has included Han River, N Seoul Tower, and Gyeongbukgung palace. These excursions have kept me busy so I have not felt homesick or lonely.
Although I haven’t had these feelings yet, there have been a couple of thoughts that have been bothering me so I want to share them with you so that when you study abroad, you understand these feelings are normal. After talking with several other people in my program, we all noticed that we fear the part of culture shock where you start hating the country you’re in. This has been a little scary to think about because, right now, every new experience I have is an adventure and I can’t imagine hating it. The consensus seems to be that since we knew what we were getting into, we won’t experience a strong culture shock to the point where we hate the country. I guess I’ll be updating you all on that if/when I get to that point.
In addition to this, a lot of people have asked me if I feel weird or if I feel like I stand out as a foreigner in South Korea –specifically because of what I look like. However, I’m kind of shocked to say that all my experiences with diversity so far have been positive. Although I’m not the only foreigner in Seoul, it’s still rare to come across another person that looks like me; and while I might stand out in a crowd visibly, I have not been treated as such. If anything, my difference has gotten me compliments from the older Korean women who think my hair is fun. But I think it’s just a matter of keeping a positive mindset if people do look at you even in a malicious way. But I have noticed that most people keep to themselves in South Korea so there will rarely be a case of someone being outwardly rude –at least it has not happened to me.
I can also confidently say that the reason I have felt comfortable these past few weeks is that I knew the following things before coming to South Korea:
- The culture: I studied the culture for almost two years so I was prepared for it. If you know what to expect, you won’t be surprised at every little detail that is different than in your home country. Even if you decide that you don’t want to study in Seoul or in South Korea, the biggest advice I can give you is to just watch videos, movies, shows, etc. On anything and everything, you can find about living in the country of your choice. Preemptive research can help you avoid an awkward situation and deal with them too.
- How to keep an open mind and a positive perspective: Being in a new country, it’s inevitable to encounter awkward situations and/or misunderstandings might arise quite easily. Even though it’s only week 2, I have already learned that it’s rude to stay standing on the left side of the escalators, that the youngest person in the group has to serve the drinks, and that you have to ask to buy a bag when you go to the convenience store or else you will get stuck walking back holding all your things in your arms. It’s relatively easy to let all these small cultural differences get to you and frustrate you. However, if you just remind yourself that these are the little things that make this country so unique, you can make yourself enjoy these little
- The language: If you’re going to South Korea, you can get by easily by yourself if you at least learn how to read Hangul. The writing system was specifically made to be learned in 15 minutes so it’s extremely easy to get a hang of in a short amount of time. Many things in Seoul are written in Korean but they are English words so knowing how to read it will make your stay much easier. For example, in the picture shown on the right, the building name is written in Korean Hangul but reads as “Starbucks Coffee” in English.
Besides that, I’m sure I will discover more tips for making your study abroad a great experience, but for now, that is all I have. As always, feel free to ask me any questions!