As I´ve lived in Seoul now for three months I have made some reflections. A city I believed would swallow me whole, as it has 25 million people living in the metropolitan area of Seoul, does now feel very much ok. There are still some days I feel like the city wants to chew me up and spit me out, but for the most part I am in control. I know where stuff is, places I like to go, and where my friends live. The essentials.
I don´t know how much people know about Seoul or South-Korea in general, but it is definitely not as it is depicted in dramas and the entertainment industry. They know their propaganda. This does not mean that it is a bad city or country in any sense, just that it is different from what you might think.
In the media this country is described as the new technological powerhouse and the home of where the Hallyu wave started, aka kpop and k-entertainment. What most people don´t know is how this powerhouse just a few decades back was a broke and recovering country after a war and invasion. They have done an incredible job to build themselves up like they did. However, the people’s way of thinking is not as fast-paced as the industrialization and the economy. A lot of them are very much traditional, as the Confucian way of living is heavily influencing their daily lives even now.
Even though they are making a lot of effort to include and empower foreigners, they still have a long way to go. A lot of times the Immigration Office will not have English speaking people on duty for example. This one shocked me. And the rules of conduct makes it difficult to integrate. But, a big but, I do see a will to change, especially amongst the young. Times are changing. Don´t let this change your wish to visit however, it is just meant to be a heads up. It is definitely worth going, as I will 100% visit South Korea again!
Let me introduce you to the SKY universities, Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, the three leading universities in South Korea. They have such a chokehold on the people and the competition is unimaginable. Luckily for us at UiA, we can apply for Korea University and only compete against other UiA students. We would have zero chances if not. Just have a look at the educational system in South Korea and you´ll understand… I don’t wish that for anyone. Luckily for us, that rigid culture stops when you enter university.
University life here is very different from Norway. Attendance, projects, assignments, class participation and exams make up your grade. In addition to this, they have both midterm exams and final exams. As a UiA student you will have to have 5 courses (smaller than the ones we have at UiA), that gives you 10 exams per semester. Fret not as these exams usually last from 45 minutes and up ‘till a max of 75 minutes each.
When it comes to making friends, the university has a great program called KUBA, which is the Korea University Buddy Association. They will divide all the exchange students into smaller groups where the buddies will host dinners and get together throughout the whole semester. I´ve met some super nice people through this program. My best friends however, I met in class and outside of uni, so the options are endless! I will truly miss them when we leave <3
The city is big, and there are endless options of things to do and places to discover. One of the reasons that I HAVE to come back at some point.
Nightlife and food
If you go clubbing in Hongdae get ready to take the morning train home and be in bed by 9AM. I identify as more of an occasional drinker rather than a regular one, and therefore I´ve only gone clubbing three times so far this semester, but it is truly an experience. Aside from the clubbing, you can drink everywhere. It is completely legal to drink in parks and public areas. A popular place to drink at Korea University is at the front lawn by the main gate. These nights can be even more fun than clubbing if you are with the right people!
As the biggest foodie it has truly been, I don´t even have the right words for it.. It has been great! Just trust me! If you have dietary preferences or restrictions, it can be tricky, but not impossible. If you are someone like me who will taste just about anything, be ready to have the time of your life! Some of my favorite foods have been raw soy marinated crab (Ganjang Gejang), pigs feet (Jokbal), cold noodles (Naenghyeon), back bone stew (Gamja Tang) and fish cakes (Odeng/Eomuk). For drinks I highly recommend the traditional Korean rice wine, Makgeolli. Makgeolli is superior and I will take that over Soju every time.
So far, I´ve been to a couple of different cities, but mostly around Seoul. The country is 1/4th of Norway and it is not hard to get around. The inter-city busses are great, and cheap too! KTX is a bit pricey, but still a great option. Because of the size it is very possible to travel out of the city during weekends. Most weekends I´ve been in Seoul however. Walks in Seoul Forest, picnic by the Han River, eating foods at traditional food markets and exploring new neighborhoods has been occupying a lot of my time. The peak for me was when I participated in a dance class hosted by a former idol. Not just any idol, but from the first group I loved way back in 2012, and this guy was my absolute favorite! It felt like the biggest gift to my 12-year-old self as kpop was not really accessible at that time.
I went to South Korea because that has been a huge dream of mine. I love nerding about cultures and comparing cultures together. Being able to not just read about it but live here and experience how it feels on a daily basis has been such a good experience. Doing things for yourself just because you deserve it is something I´ve been working on, and this has been a huge step for me.
And the food, oh I love the food!