Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Aloha from Korea!

Changdeokgung Palace
Annyeonghaseyo! ("hello" in Korean)

It's been about a month since I first arrived in Korea and it's been a blast so far! Within the weeks I've been here, I've made a lot of friends from both Korea and around the world; I'm grateful for that. My adventure so far has been filled with traveling to different cities, trying new foods, experiencing authentic Korean culture, and of course having fun!

When I first seen how visually different this place was, I was even more excited to explore this it's beauty. Studying and living in the countryside of Korea (Sinchang), I feel that I can grasp more of the authenticity of Korean culture.

Being here in Korea really opened my eyes to a whole new world. Studying here at Soon Chun Hyang University and staying in their 'Global Village' dormitory, I'm learning a lot of new things everyday about Korean culture. In my suite, I live with a large number of Korean students. Not only they were welcoming, but they really had an interest in learning more about my culture as much as I wanted to learn about theirs. I often learn a lot of useful Korean words and phrases from my suite mates a.k.a. my suite brothers. With that, I also try to understand their customs and traditions. This usually means the customs of eating, drinking, and also addressing elders. Significantly, these customs focus around the idea of 'respect'.

Changdeokgung Palace
In addition to developing friendships with a lot of Korean and international students, I've been traveling around learning about Korean history, food, pop culture (fashion, music, art), and business. During my trips to Seoul, I would usually try to visit few historical places such as Changdeokgung Palace. This palace is one of five "Grand Palaces" built by kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Another place I visited was Bongeunsa Temple which allowed me to see some religious practices take place. I've also visited Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower) which gave me an awesome 360 degree view of Seoul.

Namsan Tower
When it comes to food, I can't complain. Not only the food here is cheap, but you'll definitely get a lot more than what you pay for. For example, a bi bim bap (mixed rice dish) in Hawaii would cost around $8-$9. Here in Korea, it will cost about half the price, so about $4. I'm always open to trying new foods and with my experience so far, I enjoyed everything I tasted. From street food (tteokbokki, mandoo, kimbap, fried squid), raw beef, bi bim bap, spicy chicken, and kampitang (just to name a few), I'm satisfied with not just the price of each dish, but how delicious the food is here. To be honest, I might've gained a pound or two in first week I arrived. There's a lot more things I do want to try while I'm here.

Samgyeopsal dinner with my suite brothers in Sinchang
Here's a few things about the eating culture in Korea: 
  • Sharing food is common (eating from the same pot)
  • Table is always filled with Banchan (unlimited side dishes)
  • Oldest usually eats first
  • Rice, Soup, Chopsticks & Spoon, Main Dish
  • Sometimes drinking (soju, beer, makgeolli) while eating
  • Slurping is okay (noodles)
 It's really interesting to see how different their culture is when it comes to eating with others.

Alongside this unique characteristic of Korean culture, pop culture is something that makes Korea come alive. If you're walking down the streets of Seoul, you
"Selfie" in the streets of Myeongdong
can definitely here k-pop songs on every street block or corner. Whether it was shopping in Dongdaemun or Myeongdong, I would often hear these kinds of songs and at times sing along to them. They're pretty catchy once you hear them a bunch of times. I also noticed how everyone here is fashionable. It's really interesting to see how similar everyone dresses. Reflecting on my sense of style, I feel that I do dress a little different from the Koreans. One significant thing to keep in mind would be the clothing size. I wear mediums in America, but here, I'm more of a large. Clothing sizes run pretty small in Korea. I learned my lesson after buying a medium shirt that almost fit like a rash guard.

When I first went shopping in Seoul, I was introduced to the concept of bargaining. Similar to it's already fast-paced lifestyle, street vendors try to sell their products as quickly as possible. Bargaining usually refers to getting something for a cheaper price. I've experienced this situation about 5-7 times now and I always find it so unique. There were some cases when some of the ahjummas (older ladies) would stare at me for a while, trying to convince me to buy a shirt or backpack. One good bargaining experience I had was getting back pack for half the price. Instead of a $40 bag, I got the bag for $20. It was an interesting, funny, and lucky experience. I'm sure that I will encounter a lot more bargaining in the near future.

As I write about my first month here in Korea, I really have a lot more to say and a lot more to show. I often wake up in the morning and realize that I'm thousands of miles away from home and yet, I'm making the best of my time abroad. So far, I'm really grateful to have the opportunity to experience something so unique. I still have a lot more things to explore and experience before traveling back home. This is only the beginning of my wonderful adventure!

1 comment:

  1. I Love the photos and reading about all your new experiences. You seem to be taking Korea by storm and taking advantage of everything Korea has to offer. Glad to hear you're having such a wonderful time and everyone has been so welcoming!!!