There is only so much google, YouTube and asking questions (or in my case pestering your friends for information) can tell you about a place before actually going there. And trust me, I did A LOT of research before going to South Korea, especially since I had never travelled to Asia before and its such a drastically different culture. But even I was surprised by what I encountered. Most of these surprises were positive, some not so much, and others were just interesting observations. If you are thinking of travelling to Korea I hope that this post will give you a bit of insight about what it is like.
*Please bear in mind that these are just my experiences, that I was only there for 11 days and that I only visited Seoul – this isn’t a completely accurate and universal depiction of what Korea is always like, or what Korean people are like. If you have experienced something differently or similarly, please do let me know in the comments*
I didn’t look like most people there, but it didn’t seem to matter.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting to see loads of other people who looked like me. And neither was I expecting people to point and stare and say “와. 외국인!” everywhere I went. But it was nice being in a completely different place and not feeling like I was weird or like I stuck out too much. To be honest, I did stick out a little bit. In fact once of the friends I hung out with was able to find me in a crowded subway station because, and I’m quoting here, I was easy to spot as “the tallest, blondest girl in the Hongdae area”. But at no point did I feel unwelcome, although there were some older Korean men who gave me a few evils… but that wasn’t very common. And there were actually a lot more non-Asian people than I might have thought, and not just in the studenty or the touristy areas. Which leads me onto my next point.
I actively enjoyed the touristy and studenty areas the least.
While yes, it was great being able to not worry about the language barrier, the areas where the most foreigners were actually where I had the least enjoyable experiences. Things were more expensive, the food wasn’t as good, it was really loud and obnoxious. But the worst experiences were when I went out at night in Hongdae and Itaewon. My experiences in these areas weren’t all negative, I did have fun too, but if your a foreign girl on a night out in a studenty area in Seoul you might encounter some guys who… behave in ways they might not usually. In fact, in Itaewon, I was dancing and one guy was so inappropriately touchy a friend had to step in. But again, this wasn’t that common, and I never felt like I was in danger or like I was being taken advantage of. I think it was because I was an ‘exotic’ foreigner or something which I found a baffling concept.
Even without speaking fluent Korean, I felt like I was able to communicate well and make new friends.
When I go back for September I really want to have improved my Korean so that I can talk more comfortably with everyone, but I was really surprised with how much I was able to understand (even though it was still next to nothing) and how well my new friends were able to understand me. I was surprised with how many people said they understood Korean but didn’t want to speak it too me cause they were worried it wasn’t any good. If any of you guys are reading, 걱정 마세요! 너의 영어 회화 실력은 나의 한국어 실력보다 훨씬 낫니다. 나는 너를 영어로 도울 수 있고 너는 내가 한국어를 향상시키는 것을 도와 줄 수 있어요~ On top of this was another point.
Strangers were so kind, and people were happy to introduce themselves, offer help and become friends.
I don’t know if its just me, but the idea of approaching a stranger in the UK and asking them for help, or to just be friendly and introduce myself fills me with dread. Sometimes, more so up north I find, you can strike up a chat with a stranger or I can maybe ask someone if I’m on the right train or bus… but never would I approach someone I didn’t know, ask them where they’re from and if they are okay. This happened to me so often in Seoul, it was the nicest thing. Maybe it was because I was wandering around in a permanent state of awe and confusion, plus I got lost like 70% percent of the time I was there, but so many people were so willing to help me out without me having to ask. Everyone was so friendly, and if I did ask someone for help if they could help me they would find someone who could.
There were some habits that alarmed me at first.
So here’s the thing. I didn’t think I fell into the whole stereotypical-overly-well-mannered British person thing, but it turns out I do. Cause when I arrived in Korea there were things that Korean people (honestly mainly Korean guys) did all the time that would not be considered normal in the UK. There were only three things that I noticed and they were smoking (almost everywhere), spitting everywhere (probably because of the smoking) and coughing without covering your mouth (also partly because of the smoking I imagine). But I’m not kidding, there wasn’t a single day where these things didn’t happen. I got used to it after my third day, and I get that it was probably just a cultural thing, but I was surprised. That was something that was very different from the UK that no-one told me about.
I’m sure there are other things that I missed and that other people might have noticed, but if you have been to Seoul, or if you are there now, and there is something you want to mention please do. Let me know in the comments below. 당신은 어떤 이상한 영어 습관을 알고 있나요? 코멘트 남겨 주시고 알려 주세요.
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