Life in Korea, Anecdotally

Some of my more interesting thoughts from my first month in Korea…

June 18th, day 1 – Asiana flight – The flight attendant gave me a customs card for Korean citizens.  Do I look that Korean?

June 20th – mid-morning at Yonsei University – Well…I think I just failed the speaking section of the placement test. Oh well.

June 21st – late morning – “AGHH, I am a klutz… So much for my plans.”  Tripped going down the stairs of the hasookjip, so I’m stuck in my room keeping my foot iced and elevated.

June 24th – 9:52 pm – Feeling very alone, missing my family, and wanting to go home.  I hate being cooped up in my room with a swollen left foot, and I haven’t met any friends yet because classes start tomorrow and I haven’t been able to get out much.  [Don’t worry, it passed!  And since then, I found a post on The Nomad Grad that relates very much to my experience and is called Things Travelers Never Tell You: When Travel Bites.  Made me feel much better about it all in retrospect.]

June 27th – afternoon at Cheonggyecheon – “Sitting in Cheonggyecheon, couldn’t be happier. Okay, not in, at.” (A direct quote from my journal.)  Clearly I’m feeling much better about life.  Also took the subway for the first time, and on my own, too!

July 8th – 1:10 pm in eastern Seoul – “This looks really familiar…”  Walking down the street towards my cousin’s grandmother’s apartment building.  The last vivid memory I have of being there was at least seven years ago…I think.  As soon as I walked into the parking lot, it all came rushing back.

July 10th – 6 pm at the Lotte Hotel Seoul – Wow.  Just wow.  Luxury hotel buffets transform meals into something else entirely.  Eating dinner becomes a marathon, tap water isn’t good enough anymore, everything is mouth-watering, and you are suddenly keenly aware of the limitations imposed by your stomach size.  I had the best scallops ever (I like scallops a lot more than I thought).

July 19th – afternoon at the National Museum of Korea – I love museums on off-days, during off-hours.  By off, I mean off-peak.  In other words, I like going to empty museums by myself.

July 20th – 10:40 pm on the subway – A harabuji (grandfather/older gentleman) seated in the section reserved for the elderly, injured, and pregnant tells me to sit down in the empty seat between him and an older woman.  (I’m standing right in front of the empty seat with a bunch of other younger folk.  It’s what you do, out of respect for your elders.)  I shake my head slightly as I try to politely decline, but he insists, saying that I can get up if someone in need of the seat comes by, so I sit down even though I’m getting off at the next stop.  Though I feel really out of place, I really appreciate his kind gesture.  I awkwardly smile his way as I get off the train minutes later.

July 20th – 11 pm at a bakery down the street from the dorm – “I want to be a regular here.”  There’s a little bakery on the main street by the university, and it’s run and staffed by the sweetest old couple.  It’s always open late and full of trays of freshly baked goods.  I buy two pastries for breakfast tomorrow morning, and the halmoni (grandmother/older woman) gives me a third for free because it’s so late.  But first, she asks, “Are these for dinner tonight or breakfast tomorrow?” with a slight hint of concern and care in her voice.  Yup, I’ll be a regular.

July 21st – 1 pm in the dorm – Oh boy.  I’ve discovered Korea’s Yelp.  (  Better stick to my workout schedule, or the kilograms will start piling on…

July 21st – I’ve mastered the Korean look.  Just kidding, sort of.  As of today, I’ve been asked for directions by confused Seoulites in five different situations.  Once by a young person, four times by elderly women.  Does this mean I’ve successfully blended in?  On the surface, yes.  Otherwise, no.  Because each time someone asks me, my reply is the same, “잘모르겠어요 (Sorry, I’m not sure),” even when I think I know which way they should go.  Before I start directing people, I have to learn to communicate with them in a way that makes it sound like I know what I’m talking about (aka in much better Korean).


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