I knew that studying abroad would be different, however there were some things that were surprisingly the same while some things were expected. Due to the fact that I used to be really into Kpop (now I’m into K R&B/Hip-hop) I had already researched on the culture, and what to do should I ever visit. I had already learned the basic greetings, practiced the basic formalities, and knew the spots I wanted to go. For the most part, I wasn’t that nervous about adjusting ’cause I’m a quick learner. Still, there were a lot of things that shocked me while in Korea, so here are a few of them.
I heard some good things about the nightlife in Korea, however it’s better if you just experience it for yourself. When you visit a place enough times, the staff will start to recognize you. It got to the point where I hardly needed to show my ID, because they had seen me many times before. The way people dressed also shocked me. I figured everyone would be decked out in heels, but if you’re not in Gangnam then expect to see street fashion all day and all night in Hongdae. While I heard a lot of rumors about how sometimes people weren’t all that friendly, I expected to feel that vibe in the bars and clubs. However, Korean girls AND guys would always come up and talk to my friends and I. They wanted to dance, talk, and even become friends (sometimes just for the night, and sometimes for the long haul). Some of my really good friends are the ones I met in Thursday Party. We would always expect to see each other on the weekend.
Another great thing about the Nightlife is the cheap drinks. Now if you go inside wanting a Margarita then you might be burning your wallet, but a lot of bars have shots for less than 5,000 won (which is like $3-4ish). There were even places where you could get shots for $1! C’mon and tell me that’s not awesome, I dare you! Also guys will want to buy you drinks, which is great because you don’t have to pay, but I would be careful with that. Seeing as Korea isn’t very strict when it comes to sex assault cases (from what I heard anyway) it’s better to be safe than sorry. Korea is a safe place, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t disgusting individuals there. Rapists exist all over the world.
I had vowed that when I had arrived in Korea I would only make friends with Koreans, because I was in Korea duh! That vow was non realistic, as it’s good to have a variety of friends even in a foreign country you’re studying in. I found that we all had a lot of things in common one of them being: we either spoke little to no Korean. Honestly, I left with more foreign friends than I came with so I’m thankful for that. I’m quite surprised at how well we got a long despite some of them hating (and constantly saying so) America. There are plenty of great benefits in having friends from other countries. When you visit they can hook you up with a place to stay, you have a tour guide, and you get a whole new perspective on the world. A lot of my views have been shaped by my studying abroad experience, and for that I am thankful.
You know that stereotype that Koreans are really conservative? Well that’s true, just not so much for the younger generation. In terms of clothes, yes they still keep it modest unless you’re out on the town at night, but for the most part I have the same juicy conversations with my friends there that I do here in America. I liked that we have a relationship where we can say anything to one another without judging. It’s strange now to be so far away from them, but from time to time we video chat so I can listen to them spill the tea.
As college students I don’t expect people to study everyday, but the week before (and sometimes only five days before) the exam is cutting it a little close. Not everyone I knew did this, but for those whose study habits I did know this was quite shocking. It was shocking because they were asking ME why I was studying so early. I tried to explain that studying earlier, even if it’s just for 30 minutes a day will help me retain the information for the exam, because studying for the exam a week before will literally do nothing. It also came to a surprise when they would say, “But you’re an exchange student you don’t have to try so hard.”O.O I really hope I broke some stereotypes about foreign students being lazy when it came to school. *crosses fingers*
Seoul is English friendly in terms of there are signs in English, but not everyone will speak English to you. This was an aspect I loved, because I was there to learn Korean so I preferred they speak Korean to me anyway. The shocking thing was when they would get all excited that I was speaking Korean. I visited the same coffee shop, and the girl who I usually ordered from would tell me how my Korean was improving. And while she did that she would correct me too. I always appreciated the ones who would correct me, because usually others would say “you’re so good” but I knew that couldn’t be true since I’m a beginner you know? I’d rather know how can improve versus getting constant validation that I’m doing fine for my level. I definitely learned better and faster with the friends that would correct me unapologetically.
Korea is a homogeneous society, so it’s expected that they would be prejudice when it came to foreigners. While there are tons of foreigners in Korea, that doesn’t mean that they have actually interacted with them on a daily basis. Once I had to explain to one of my friends why she shouldn’t just come up and touch my hair. She had a hard time understanding this at first, but once I explained to her that it’s polite to just ask rather than think that we (mostly women of color with curly hair) are animals that you can pet, she understood. I did a lot of education on my part when it came to black culture in America, because I was there representing black women in America. If I hadn’t, they’d continue to use film and music videos to stereotype us. Of course, I didn’t change every single person’s views about black America in Korea, but I’d like to think that perhaps their original thoughts got warped a bit.
It wasn’t just Koreans who held some prejudice though, it was other foreign people as well. Like I said, I did some major educating. 😉
Coffee Shop Culture
The amount of coffee shops in Korea was literally out of this world. While I’m aware there are other coffee places besides Starbucks in Cincinnati, they don’t get advertised as often. Coffee in Korea tastes like heaven. I could actually drink black coffee without gagging, and when you ordered a sweet drink, WOW, you got it sweet! Coffee shops was where friends would meet, where studying would occur, and where people would pass the time. I guarantee that most of my time was spent in a coffee shop of some kind. And when I wasn’t in Anam, I would always try a new place.
Hate Tipping? Here’s a Tip
In Korea there is no tipping.
Yes, you read that right.
No blasted tipping!
If you hate the idea of tipping, or not knowing what exactly you’re paying for then you’d enjoy shopping, and dining out in Korea. All the prices include tax so you know exactly what you’re paying for when you go out to eat. If it says your meal is 21,000 won ($19-20), then you are paying exactly 21,000 won. The same goes for shopping for clothes, shoes, jewelry, concert tickets, and more! Honestly, spending money in Korea was fairly easy to choose (or not to choose) since I could decide if I really wanted to get a scarf for about $20.
Korea University’s Gym
I didn’t really see a lot of girls show up to the gym, but when they did they usually just hogged the treadmill. I would get stared at when I lifted weights, and did actual exercising which made me LOL. Once I had a guy come up to me and tell me that I shouldn’t lift weights, because they aren’t meant for girls. I continued to complete my reps, but I wasn’t really shocked at the comment. I was shocked at how little the women worked out and could still manage to hold a slim physique. The cost of the gym was also quite expensive. I was surprised that KU didn’t offer the membership through the tuition. I mean that’s what my school does so I assumed it would be the same. The variety of the machines were quite limited, and I noticed a lot of people just sitting on their phones instead of actually using it for working out.
Korean food is divine, and I really miss it. One of the craziest things is that even though I ate quite a lot, I lost weight. I looked slimmer too. I swear there’s magic in Korean food or something. Or maybe it was the Kimchi. But I honestly believe that eating in Korea will make you slim. Well, don’t hold me to that.
Have you ever been to another country? Tell me what shocked you about it in the comments below!